What I know about men

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"I am stupidly optimistic like my dad": Belinda Giblin.

"I am stupidly optimistic like my dad": Belinda Giblin. Photo: James Brickwood

BELINDA GIBLIN, ACTRESS, 66, MARRIED

I was a strong-willed, determined little girl. When my brothers Ted and Graham would say they were going down the gully with their friends, I would say, "Take me," as I never wanted to miss anything. But I didn't want to just tag along as the silly little sister, I wanted be a part of it. So I'd ride my bike a bit faster than everyone else. Go up steeper hills. There was never a sense that boys can do something that girls cannot.

I loved my parents Phyllis and Ted equally, but I adored my father. He was a doctor at the Tamworth Base Hospital and was loved by the whole town. He was eternally positive and had a crinkly-eyed smile. I am stupidly optimistic like him.

An early memory is of him carrying me in his arms as he did ward rounds. Then I'd go with him in his green DeSoto when he did house calls. He was also a devil, as he used to get us kids to jump off the fridge at a great height, straight into his arms.

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Dad was also a bit of a showman. He had a beautiful tenor voice and was trained by the woman who taught Joan Sutherland. He sang in local musicals. Mum was also theatrical, and acted and directed in the local theatre.

Dad couldn't bear to give up medicine at retirement age, and so did locum work into his 70s. He died at 83. Mum died of breast cancer when I was 23 and my sister Alison was 15. It was a horrible time.

I have great envy for my parents' marriage. Dad would constantly say "I love you darling" to Mum. "Stop it Ted," she would say, but she loved it. Dad told us you have to work at marriage, that it's tough. I'm sure it was tough for them, but they demonstrated great love for each other.

Rather than getting a boyfriend, I was academically ambitious at secondary school. But at Sydney University while doing an arts degree, I made up for it. It was the time of the Vietnam War, moratorium marches, and we had the Pill. I went a bit mad, we all did. It was fantastic. We didn't use condoms and didn't worry about STDs. It was a kind of blessed period.

At 21, I met a doctor 13 years my senior. We had an immediate rapport. We lived together for seven years, but didn't marry. He has remained my confidant and lifelong friend.

I went to NIDA for one year, and then following an audition with Crawford Productions, I landed a role in Matlock Police. I did TV productions with them for the next 12 years. The 1970s soap opera, The Box, branded me a sex symbol. I was never comfortable with that tag, because I was not a bimbo. I was intelligent, well read, and felt I was a better actress. It took me a long time to get away from that.

I moved into theatre and at 29 met my husband, Axel Bartz. The play Bedroom Farce toured Adelaide and he was the resident designer at the Adelaide Theatre Company. Axel was gorgeous with very dark hair and brown eyes. We shared a lot, artistically. A year after we met, he got a lecturing job at NIDA. Then, in 1981, our daughter Romy was born. We married when she was three.

People warned me about marrying in showbiz, saying it was difficult. Axel and I are not always in work at the same time, and sometimes we are both unemployed. So I would describe our 36-year marriage as explosive. We're both pig-headed and alternatively anxious about survival.

I spoke to my doctor friend, who was a child in Hungary during World War II, to prepare for my new play Blonde Poison. He was by himself and the Gestapo chased him for five years. I play Stella Goldschlag, a German Jew who, to protect her life and that of her parents, agrees to betray Jews to the Gestapo.

My father-in-law was in the German music corps. He hated Hitler. I read his diary, which was fascinating. Axel's parents died a few years ago, but I can still hear their accents. I play Stella for every inch of what she was – a traitor.

I have lovely female friendships. Occasionally, there is a subtle schadenfreude among women actresses, which is to do with the fact that we compete with each other for work. So in a way, there's never complete relaxation. I feel comfortable among the male directors, writers and actors I work with, as they don't have that agenda. And there is a flirtation with male friends, so I don't lose my femininity.

It was really interesting watching my son Nicholas, who's now 28, turn into a man. I have empathy for young men, because at times strong women can be confronting for them. But Nicholas finds that trait attractive. I guess he saw that self-determination in me. Oddly enough, though, all his girlfriends have had dark hair and brown eyes. 

Belinda Giblin is starring in Blonde Poison at the Sydney Opera House from April 28.