Noeline Brown – Arts and Health

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Many will remember actress Noeline Brown from the early ‘60s ‘Mavis Bramston Show’, which made her a household name. Following its success, Noeline was seen as a regular panellist with ‘Ugly Dave Gray’, Barry Creyton, Stuart Wagstaff, Carol Raye and Noel Ferrier on the ‘70s television hit game show ‘Blankety Blanks’, hosted by ‘The King of Comedy’, the late Graham Kennedy.

> Noeline’s most recent stage appearance was in the successful two-hander ‘Duets’ at Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre in September/October, where she was reunited with Barry Creyton.

In her role as Australia’s Ambassador for Ageing, 71 year old Noeline Brown is coming to Port Macquarie to be a special guest at the official opening of The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing international arts and health conference in November. Local artist and writer, Nicole Osborn talks with Noeline about the importance of the arts in health and wellbeing.

> Noeline, you became Ambassador for Ageing last year. Tell us about this role.

Yes, I am the first Ambassador for Ageing in Australia. It is a role that was established by the Office for an Ageing Australia as an initiative of the Department of Health and Ageing.

I think it’s a really good thing to have someone promoting healthy and active ageing and explaining a few myths about ageing, because all we ever hear are bad news stories. It’s time we heard some good news!

I spread the word of what people are doing, people who have retired from the workforce, but haven’t retired from life. They are often in unpaid work. Volunteers in Australia are worth $75 billion annually to the budget. There are going to be so many older people in the coming years, and you hear they are going to be a drain on resources. But they are contributing to society.

Some people go into other work. They stop the work they are doing and take on something that might have been a hobby at some other stage in their life. They sometimes work three and a half days a week instead of what might have been a seven day week. They just rearrange their work time.

I think that these people’s stories are worth telling. The stories, for example, about people who are doing PhDs well into their 80s, and some are over 100. So that’s my job, to let everyone know those good news stories.

> How do you spread the word?

I travel around Australia. I’m like the Leyland Brothers! In the past 18 months, since the position was created, I have travelled to so many places. It’s a staggering amount of air and road miles, because I go to places across the country where people are doing inspiring things. I let people know what is available to them so they can do something other than just retire.

> How do you see the arts playing a part in peoples’ lives as they get older?

Noeline Brown

Noeline Brown

Lots of people learn how to paint and draw or to hone the skills that they had as a young person and had largely forgotten about. There are plenty of people who are writing stories or who are fulltime painters, but there are other forms of ‘lighter’ art like ballroom dancing or joining a choir. It’s all ‘art’ in different forms and it’s good for you on many levels – cardiovascular workouts, socialising and staying a part of the community. All of those things are important and you don’t necessarily think they’re going to be good for you, but they are. They help people’s physical and mental health in every way. People don’t think they are benefiting, because they’re just enjoying themselves.

> Creative ageing is one of the key themes of the international arts and health conference in Port Macquarie in November. Do you see your career as an actress as a way of validating the importance of healthy ageing?

Yes, I am speaking at the Official Opening Ceremony on the 10 November – which is a very nice thing to do as the Ambassador for Ageing, because I am still an active participant in the workforce as an actress. I have just finished a play with Barry Creyton. We have worked together over a period of 47 years and often do a play together. Barry is also a playwright and lives in Hollywood. The play was not one of his; it was a play written by Peter Quilter, who is an English playwright. ‘Duets’ was written for just 2 people. The combined ages of the 2 people in this play is 140 … so not too bad! I had 5 changes of wigs and costume. We were very busy and the show was an unbelievable success, which is great! It has been really heart warming to meet all the people who enjoyed the play and my work. People like to have someone out there who is speaking for them.

> You have performed on television, on stage and you’re a writer yourself. How has that helped you in health and life?

As an actor you have to be really physically healthy. I have always been careful with diet and exercise. I think that’s really important, as we have to learn a new play every 4 years or so. All those plays are then in your head and you can pull them out again if you have to do them, which is extraordinary, and that can’t be bad for you! You use every part of your body, especially if you sing or dance, or both, which I have done in another play ‘Glorious’, in 2008, also at the Ensemble. I worked for 3 months with an opera teacher to learn how to sing properly.

> You grew up in a loving family, in Sydney’s inner west, who encouraged you to think you can do anything. Is this a message you like to convey?

Yes, you can do anything and it’s really important to plan for the future. I used to see this sign when I was a kid at Central Railway. It said, “What you eat today, walks and talks tomorrow”. It was probably an ad for sausages, but it does mean something.

You can’t wait until it’s broken and then hope to get it fixed; you have to live a good and healthy life. I’m not being a wowser or anything – there’s been plenty of wine go past my lips! But you need good food with an emphasis on vegetables.

I do talk about the importance of keeping up that good healthy lifestyle because a lot of people, especially when they’re widowed, think, “Oh it’s only me, I’ll just have a bit of toast and vegemite.” It’s very important to look after your body.

In cases of people with limited mobility as well, there are still tai chi exercises to do while sitting or watching TV – anything that will keep your balance. That’s why dance is such a good thing. If you do have a fall it won’t be as catastrophic.

> Do you see comedy as important?

Laughter releases a lot of endorphins, makes you feel good and it also uses calories. Don’t take yourself too seriously, because that’s the beginning of the end, when it’s all about you. That’s the good thing about volunteering – people go out and they help other people. They don’t even think about their own problems, even though they might have many.

When you are on your own, your mind can take over and your life can be all about ‘you’. When you visit someone who lives that way, they will wait until you stop talking and bring the conversation back to themselves. That’s why it’s important to keep people a part of society for as long as possible.

> Do you think that older people living on their own would benefit from pursuing creative pastimes?

I live in the Southern Highlands with my husband, writer/producer Tony Sattler and recently was invited to an aged care facility to open an art exhibition that featured artworks by local artists and by people living in the facility.

The show featured the happiest, most gorgeous paintings, so somebody is doing the right thing in that place. I was astonished at these lovely paintings. They were not childlike, but they had the colours that come with paintings from young children when they first explore paint. It was wonderful to see. And they have made them into cards to sell for Christmas. That means the show isn’t something that just goes on for a week or so – those cards are probably going to be in circulation for a few years. And it’s terrific for self-esteem.

> You’ve also been involved in quite a few charities over the years, including Starting Point.

This is a charity for children with disabilities, from mild to severe. It concentrates on the family unit and there’s a lot of cross-pollination with families talking about things that work for them. It’s a really terrific program. I was involved with it 10 years ago, and I’ve been with it ever since. I am their patron. I will be doing a sort of ‘Dancing With The Stars’ experience in about three weeks. They have a charity night, so I will be dancing with my ‘Dancing With The Stars’ partner, Carmelo Pizzino.

> Do you think that allowing children the freedom to express themselves in an art form is important?

It’s so important. At Starting Point, we have art classes and all the materials available and then they sell those pictures at the Charity Auction night, where I will be doing my dance. They are joyous, lovely pictures. They have exhibitions as well. I also think there’s nothing wrong with getting your hands dirty in the paint.

> With all these activities and roles, what do you do to relax?

I am very busy! But working with the Actors Benevolent Fund and helping people in need helps me relax. I have a dog, and we live in the mountains, so a walk is a very cardiovascular exercise.

I cook for my husband and our friends, and he was really disappointed I couldn’t get on Celebrity Masterchef. He doesn’t say I’m a cook, he says: “My wife is a chef!”

> It’s been a pleasure Noeline. Thank you.

The Art of Good Health and Wellbeing international arts and health conference runs from 10 to 13 November 2009 in Port Macquarie. Pre-conference workshops on Creative Ageing and Art and Alzheimer’s and other topics are being held from 7 to 10 November and are open to the local community (registration fees apply). For further details, call into the Arts and Health Australia office, Suite 2, The Macquarie Garrison Building, 26 Clarence St, visit www.artsandhealth.org or email: info@artsandhealth.org – ph 6583 5040 during office hours or after hours on 0416 641 482.

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