Noni Hazlehurst faces her family’s story on new series of SBS’s Who Do You Think You Are

Noni Hazlehurst. Photo: James Brickwood.

Noni Hazlehurst. Photo: James Brickwood.

Noni Hazlehurst always knew she came from a long line of performers.

But not even she could have imagined the extraordinary story of her family’s artistic feats, unearthed during the new series of Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS.

However it wasn’t an extra sense of razzle dazzle which drew Hazlehurst to the show. Instead, it was turning the spotlight on family secrets.

Renowned actor Hazlehurst, a national treasure in her own right, decided to undertake the television journey because of a sense of something hidden in her own family growing up.

The result is a powerful and very moving episode of the show, as Hazlehurst questions the way family members keep secrets from one another.

“Particularly with the relationship with my parents, with my mother, it was profoundly affecting … I felt a lot of regret actually, because I didn’t know [what she was hiding], that was sad,” Hazlehurst says.

“She was the victim of her own upbringing, just as we all are.”

The episode also sheds incredible light on the intergenerational collection of performers in Hazlehurst’s family.

There’s no denying acting is in her DNA.

She recalls attending a lecture at Flinders University where the class was told only two of them would ever make a career out of it.

“You know there’s a couple of hundred students all sitting in the theatre … I remember being 17 and looking around, wondering who the other would be,” Hazlehurst says.

Her sons Charlie, 30, and William, 24, also get the benefit of understanding their full family history.

Their father actor John Jarratt, Hazlehurst’s ex-husband, also appears in this series of the SBS show.

“I know, how lucky are they? I think they’re really aware of what a privilege this is,” she says.

Hazlehurst on location for Who Do You Think You Are? Photo: SBS

Hazlehurst on location for Who Do You Think You Are? Photo: SBS

In her own episode exploring the family tree, Hazlehurst travels to Britain and France. “I was so grateful for the opportunity,” she says.

Despite her successful career in Australia, she has not had a chance to visit Europe for more than 30 years – not least because of her renowned work ethic. “Too busy being a single mother,” she says.

The most poignant journey Hazlehurst faces in her episode of Who Do You Think You Are? is discovering the family secrets held from her throughout her life by her mother, Leonie. (Hazlehurst shares the same first name as her Mum, but was nicknamed “Noni”).

Hazlehurst was born in Australia to her British parents, who left the other side of the world to start a new life.

“I know she had a lot of grief and a lot of secrets,’ Hazlehurst says of her mother, in the episode. “She was very fearful, she always locked doors, she never felt safe.”

Her mother’s sense of reserve affected her so much, Hazlehurst admits it has infused into her work. “The character I play in A Place to Call Home … part of her is based on my mother and that kind of facade that so many people have,” Hazlehurst says.

Hazlehurst in character in A Place to Call Home.

Hazlehurst in character in A Place to Call Home.

“Still, most of us act all the time because we either feel we’re not worthy to be ourselves or we don’t think it’s advisable to be ourselves. But I did miss a relationship with my mother, I wished she could have talked to me.”

Other well-known Australians including Patti Newton, Natalie Imbruglia, Justine Clarke, Ernie Dingo and Dr Charlie Teo and Todd McKenney will appear in the ninth season of the SBS series.

  • Who Do You Think You Are? airs Tuesdays at 7.30pm on SBS, or SBS on Demand

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