The Women Who Shaped Me

"Women have shaped everything about who I am today, and I’m very grateful."

Behind every great woman is a man who feels inspired and enlightened. In celebration of International Women’s Day, we asked six people to describe their leading ladies.

(Credit: Image: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Brooke Boney

Aspire Talent Group Director Mark Jones on the Today Show Co-Host

I first met Brooke in 2018 when my client [Paralympian] Dylan Alcott was working with her at triple j. Later that year, she was approached by the Today show, and as she didn’t have a manager at the time, Dylan asked if I could help with her contract. We had a meeting that became one of the most defining two hours of my professional and personal life. I came away thinking Brooke was someone who has the ability to change Australia and potentially the world. At that time, [my company was called] The Sport Group, but I went back to my business partner and said, “We have to work with this girl, and rename and reshape our business to do that.”

She’d been on Today for three weeks when she delivered that amazing editorial about Australia Day and changing the date. The aftermath of that moment, for me, was incredibly confronting and transformative. I thought I was educated and aware, but I realised how little I knew and understood about social justice and equality through the lens of Indigenous Australians. Brooke is an amazing communicator. She speaks from her heart, but also from a place of very deep knowledge and, of course, lived experience. That is something that you can’t replicate – it’s the lived experience of her mum, her grandmother, her mob. I consider it an absolute privilege to be able to pick her brain and learn from her. She’s deeply aware of the responsibility that comes with being seen by people across the country, who start to understand her life story and challenges, but also of the opportunity to inspire others. She breaks down barriers just by being herself. Brooke has fundamentally changed the way I view the world and operate within it.

(Credit: Image: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Courtney Act

Performer Shane Jenek on becoming their muse

I was drawn to drag from a young age. In 2000, when I was 18, I was coming out and discovering myself. I moved to Sydney, and there wasn’t really an opportunity for me to express femininity in any sort of socially acceptable way. So I stepped out as Courtney and felt my way into drag, which was a place where you could express femininity and it’d be celebrated. When you go out as a boy, there are all of these rules you have to conform to. Drag was such a bucking of the system that the rules were left in your hands.

Courtney has been the biggest influence on my sense of self. I was always trying and failing to be more masculine. Even up until 2013, despite doing drag, I still had a lot of shame, and it was very compartmentalised: Shane on one side, Courtney on the other. It took conversations evolving and for the gender fluid label to exist, for me to realise, “Oh, that fits better.” That was when the compartmentalisation of Courtney and Shane stopped. Over my life, I’ve come to understand being Courtney and performing in drag is authentically me. It was the thing I was never able to stop doing, despite most of the world telling me I should. That’s always a good yardstick; if it’s something you love, makes you happy and isn’t harming anyone, then that’s the thing to listen to. Unless it’s drugs, in which case you should probably stop.

(Credit: Image: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Kylie Kwong

Environmental educator Clarence Slockee on the esteemed chef and restaurateur

I’ve been yarning with Kylie for more than 10 years, since we met at the Australian Botanic Gardens. She’d reached out to learn more about First Nations culture and native species. Something I really admire about her is that she just gets shit done. She’s very driven; she doesn’t have time to muck around, but she gives of her time – when she is with someone, she’s totally present with you. That’s rare for busy people like her. And she’s such a positive person, that’s what struck me when we first met; her positivity and energy.

She’s not a First Nations Australian, but she has this amazing love for and affinity with First Nations people, which is truly authentic. Kylie has had a huge impact in really bringing to the fore how our native ingredients can be incorporated into dishes. She’s been so passionate about reminding people, particularly other chefs, of where these ingredients  come from and the importance of engaging First Nations people in the conversation around those plants and seeds. She’s been a real game-changer.

(Credit: Image: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Leah Purcell

Actor Hunter Page-Lochard on the powerhouse actor and director

I was brought up in the theatre and film world, and the Black community was vibrant within the arts – it was a unit. Everyone knew and supported one another, and that’s how I came to know Leah. But it wasn’t until Brothers Wreck in 2014, which I starred in and she directed, that our relationship really evolved. It was such a personal play, and Leah was like a mother throughout that whole experience. She knew exactly what we, not only as a mob, but as individuals, have gone through. She could nurture, as well as dictate, to get the best out of you. She really fucking pulls it out of you, as a director. There was one instance where I had a breakthrough because of Leah. Back then, I would perform anger, rather than just live in it. But Leah pressed me and didn’t stop until I made her believe it. That day, she said the most beautiful thing to me: “Now you’re an actor.” I’ll take that moment to the grave. I still look in the mirror and say that was the day I became an actor.

She’s taught me that there’s a beautiful side to your ugliness and to not overprotect yourself. What I admire most about Leah is her resilience and passion. She is a strong-arsed woman and a phenomenal talent – a real trailblazer who should  be celebrated by all of Australia as someone who always pushes boundaries to create memorable performances that continue to shine. She is an absolute inspiration.

(Credit: Image: Cameron Grayson)

Hilde Hinton

Actor Samuel Johnson on his sister and acclaimed author

I was three when my mum died by suicide. My sister Connie was four, and our elder sister Hilde was 12. From then on, Connie and I modelled ourselves on Hilde, who was our mum, our big sister and our best friend. She was our everything girl – she taught us how to be bold and adventurous, how to jump off cliffs, to try to fly. We came from heavy dysfunction. Our family was screwy; shit went wrong all the time and it was a very uncertain upbringing. Hilde provided a critical ballast for me and Connie. When Connie was sick with cancer and we started our charity, Love Your Sister, Connie got quite a bit of shine and I’ve had my shine through showbiz, but Hilde’s the shining light behind the scenes. Both my sisters urged me to become a better man and a better human. Without them I’d just be another empty showbiz shell – I wouldn’t have a substantial life that I’m really proud of. Women have shaped everything about who I am today, and I’m very grateful.

For my upcoming book, Dear Mum, I asked prominent Australians to write letters to their mums; it’s such a gorgeous and important tribute to women. One of the things to emerge from the shadows of Connie’s passing [in 2017] was my resplendent relationship with Hilde. She’s always been the interesting one. She’s sparkly and bubbly, and she’s not shy with her heart or her ideas. She’s got a razor-sharp wit, a deep intelligence, a keenness for fun. She’s our bold pioneer who taught us to go to the places that scare you. But underneath it all she’s just a loving human and a terrific mum. She was Connie’s hero, she’s my hero, and to us she was always the sister in Love Your Sister.

(Credit: Image: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Edwina Forest

Aje CEO Adrian Norris on the label’s co-founder and creative director

I met Edwina at a shop in Queensland in 2005. She thought I was a lost Norwegian tourist, but I thought she was the one who was out of this world. She was incredibly beautiful and impeccably well dressed. Edwina radiated friendliness and warmth, and nothing has changed. After that initial meeting, we became solid friends.

She moved to Sydney to work for a fashion magazine and I had my own retail store in Noosa. I started creating a fashion line, but after a collection or two I realised it just wasn’t very cool, so I called on Edwina to help me make adjustments. Needless to say, Edi has incredible taste and a very attuned eye, and our collaboration as Aje was born. We’ve now worked together for 13 years and I admire so many qualities in her; she likes to dig deeper and has a sincere curiosity about the world. We have a bit of a brother/sister dynamic and I can’t imagine my life – or business – without Edwina. She’s one of a kind.

This feature originally appeared in the April issue of marie claire Australia, on stands now. 

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