She was a big part of my childhood. Noni Hazlehurst taught me everything from the word ‘bok choy’ (because Play School doesn’t dumb down vegetables for kids) to the Dingle Dangle Scarecrow song (and his flippy, floppy hat).
And last night, in her Logie Hall of Fame induction speech, she was teaching me all over again, in her usual gentle-but-no-bullshit way.
She’s a household name, but not one that I use often. She was a big part of my childhood, and I hadn’t thought about her in ages. She’s been one of the most consistent, virtuous and pragmatic actors in Australia for the past 40 years, and until last night, I hadn’t felt the wave of gratitude that I’ve now realised I’ve owed her for decades.
Noni Hazlehurst as Bernice Waverly in City Homicide. Image via Channel 7.
But watching her speech, watching her tell a room full of celebrities exactly what the 'prevailing zeitgeist' is, watching her say all the things I didn't even know I was thinking until I was on my feet like a worshipper in church crying "Amen, child! Sing it!", gave me the same warm fuzzy feeling of familiarity she used to give me as a kid.
Because Noni Hazlehurst feels like family to all of us. And like family, we never stop learning from her.
What she said about children, from their bullshit-detecting abilities ("If they sense you're not really talking to them, an ant crawling up the wall will quickly take their attention") to seeing the world through their eyes ("How easily abused, and particularly how empathetic they are. No child is born a bigot.") was not only beautifully true, but exactly the reason why she was so good to watch on Play School - she just gets kids.
And then there was the scary truth. The thing I didn't know I was already feeling. That we are all living under "a heavy and constant cloud of negativity". That depression and anxiety and suicide are prevailing, because we are bombarded with heart-breaking news, day in, day out. That "our hearts are growing cold", and that our children are being saturated with sadness.
Thank you, Noni. Thanks for not sugar-coating that bit. Thanks for telling us we're not alone in feeling the current heaviness of the world, in exactly the same honest, wise tone you used when you taught me 'bok choy'.
And thank you for bringing us hope.
Despite the fact that Noni is only the second woman in history to be inducted into the Logie Hall Of Fame (but 27 men. Don't even. Get me. Started...) and her perfect comment that the "odious suggestion in some quarters that the eligibility of our esteemed colleagues Waleed Aly and Lee Lin Chin to be considered for the Gold is questionable", she made us feel hopeful.
Watch Noni's speech below.
"Things are clearly changing -- here we are -- but they’re changing glacially slowly. The great things about glaciers though is if you’re not on them, you go under. I’ve been riding that glacier for 40 years and I’m staying on top of it.
We can only hope that her pitch of a show that "counters bad news with good, that encourages optimism not pessimism, that restores our empathy and love for our fellow human beings and the Earth, that redefines reality, that heals our hearts" gets put into immediate production by one of the channels, with her at the helm. Because she made me realise how much I want it, and how much I need it.
Noni also summed up everything that we love about our parents, and everything we strive to be as one. "The ideal mother and father is someone who nurtures us and protects us, who tells us stories to help make sense of the world, who gives us non-judgmental acceptance and unconditional love, who teaches us that we’re not special but we are unique, who encourages our empathetic instincts and teaches us the responsibility that we have to each other."
"We're all vulnerable, and we're all ordinary, although a lot of our energy is spent trying to prove the opposite."
Like you said, Noni, we are all vulnerable, and we are all ordinary. We're not special, but we are unique. Though, dare I say it; last night, and for the last forty years, you have proved that you are actually pretty special.
Noni with her Logie. Image via Getty.
From the times you read us books to teaching us to DIY our own cushion covers to moving us with the characters you created. Thank you for continuing to teach us with such wisdom and honesty. About life and everything in it, from bok choy to beyond.