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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Naomi Canning by Carol Ann Wood

We had gleaned a little about Naomi Canning before the talented Morgana O’Reilly brought her character to life in Ramsay Street: She was estranged from her mother Sheila, due to Sheila’s disapproval of Naomi’s affair with a married man, Charles Tranner, (Naomi’s then-boss). But, knowing Sheila as we did, there was a good chance there was another side to the story, and so it proved. Naomi and Sheila are alike in more ways than they might care to admit. They’re both strong-willed, and resist being told what to do. We were informed that Sheila had ‘shopped’ her daughter to Charles’s wife Polly, and that this was what led to the mother and daughter’s estrangement. And, of course, neither stubborn woman would back down and reconcile their differences, for five years.

It was immediately apparent why Morgana was chosen to play Sheila’s daughter. What perfect casting: as Naomi’s vibrant personality played out, we could see why the pair would clash. Sheila had regrets about her relationship with Naomi; she was fond of giving advice to anyone else in a similar situation, telling them to mend their family feuds before it was too late. She commented to Ramsay Street residents that Naomi, a surprise late addition to her and Frank’s family, had been spoilt by her father, who had adored her. Sheila also admitted that she had blamed Frank’s fatal heart attack on the fact that he was so upset at Naomi’s affair. This immediately placed the viewer in a position of empathy towards Naomi, even if they disapproved of her actions. After all, it’s a pretty harsh burden of guilt to place on your daughter. At that point, I desperately wanted Naomi and Sheila to work through their differences, and to recognise that this was not a black and white situation. For the most part, they did, eventually. I was glad to see Sheila conceding that the cause of Frank’s heart attack was more the fact of his poor diet, than Naomi’s dalliances.

Naomi is one who makes an immediate impression on others. She breezed into Ramsay Street, and heads turned in her wake. She’s saucy, a bit of a vixen, and although she has acted inappropriately on many occasions during her residency, one cannot help being amused, and sometimes even impressed, by her audacity and her determined nature. We soon saw that she had a taste for the finer things in life, and that her former lover had supplied some of those finer things, including a painting worth a lot of money. Her designer handbags and shoes have taken on a life of their own, each more glitzy than the last and, knowing Naomi, more expensive. I can only assume that some of the scenes involving grassed areas are filmed on astroturf, given the height of some of Naomi’s vertiginous heels and the fact they don’t appear to sink from view whenever she struts across a lawn!

Whilst I have described Naomi as a vixen, nevertheless, it is apparent that she is vulnerable beneath the sassy, confident exterior. She desperately wants to be loved by someone loyal and steady, but she recognises that sooner or later, she is likely to mess it up. That’s why, for the most part, she takes risks and seeks out fun. She hits on men who are either unavailable, or with whom she’s incompatible, at every opportunity. She fell heavily for Toadie, which concerned and shocked Sheila. Sheila feared Naomi was going to repeat her past mistakes, but thankfully, Toadie was horrified when Naomi threw herself at him. He had genuinely bonded with her, over their shared love of wrestling, and he admired her competency as his PA, but would not dream of being unfaithful to Sonya. Viewers were generally unsympathetic towards Naomi’s brazen pursuit of Toadie, and angry with her when she pretended to have a stalker in order to gain his attention. But even then, it was obvious that ‘Nomes’ wasn’t all bad; rather, she was covering up her feelings of loneliness, desperately wishing that she could have the sort of love that others around her seemed to enjoy.

Naomi’s saucy ways have given the writers much opportunity for comedic scenarios. My own favourite was the elevator moment. Yes, that moment, when the minx took advantage of her thensecret lover Josh’s company, pressing the emergency alarm button to stop the elevator so the pair could have a passionate encounter. Sheila’s innocent concern for her opportunistic daughter after rescue was hilarious: Seeing Naomi out of breath and red in the face, she believed the ‘poor love’ had experienced some sort of claustrophobic panic attack. Oh Sheila, we thought you knew your daughter better than that! Then there was the hot tub moment with Josh’s head pushed under the water to hide his presence, and most recently, the mother and daughter face-pack scene. Naomi cringed at Sheila’s mention of the love life she’d enjoyed with Russell Brennan. Call me prudish, but I think Naomi is right: no matter how close a mother and daughter are, there should still be boundaries and that was definitely a ‘too much information’ moment. It made for amusing viewing!

Naomi always thought that brother Gary was their mother’s favourite, and it bothered her greatly. She felt that she had been judged harshly by Sheila for every mistake she’d ever made, whilst Gary’s misdemeanours were ignored or excused. Moreover, Naomi knew something which Sheila didn’t: Gary had been involved in the infamous Frankston robbery, and had shot through. His years of exile from Frankston – and from his family – were to protect himself. Thus, Naomi saw justification in allowing the truth to emerge after Gary turned up at the family’s new base in Erinsborough, despite knowing it would hurt Sheila. Happily, there was eventually a truce of sorts between mother, son and daughter, albeit an uneasy one. Sheila had to admit to herself that Gary was a lawbreaker. Gary had to make a big decision, and confessed to being Paul’s latest ‘heavy’ who had beaten up Ezra Hanley. With Gary facing jail, Sheila, recovering from her heart attack, reassessed her opinion of her daughter. This ultimately led to a warmer, more honest relationship between them. There would always be fireworks, but maybe now they’d be the everyday disagreements about the mundane, rather than huge emotional explosions.

Many viewers commented that they liked Naomi and cop Mark Brennan together, but others felt him a little too serious natured for her. I tended to fall into the latter category. Whilst Naomi enjoyed her fling with Mark, you couldn't help think that it was more about physical attraction on her part, rather than a shared philosophy of life. Sooner or later, Naomi would get bored. Additionally, there was the fact that Sheila wholeheartedly approved of Mark, actively encouraging the pairing. You can imagine Naomi thinking to herself, hang on, this is someone my mother likes. Do I really want to be with someone my mother likes? It’s just not in Naomi’s nature to conform that much! Hence, she started questioning why she was with Mark, and explored her feelings towards the much more complex and roguish Paul Robinson.

Naomi’s involvement with Paul was played out wonderfully. She certainly doesn’t let an age gap get in the way of a potential relationship, and veers from one age extreme to the other. Paul is old enough to be her father, and in choosing to date him, we see the longing she has for that clichéd father-figure, the feeling of security she gets from someone looking after her and providing her with a luxurious lifestyle. Well, to an extent. Because, despite this yearning, Naomi is also fiercely independent. She is a career woman who likes to make her own decisions and won’t let a man tell her what to do. Paul seemed to have learnt from past mistakes, treating Naomi with a fair amount of respect and actually listening to her views. The way that she supported him during the time he believed he had leukaemia seemed to have softened his heart, and it was very touching to watch. We thought, and hoped, that Paul had finally realised what was most important in life. He even forgave Naomi for going against his wishes and contacting his estranged daughter Amy, bringing her back into his life. In fact, he would come to thank her for giving him another chance at a relationship with Amy, and with his grandson, Jimmy.

However, once Paul had learnt that he hadn’t ever been suffering from leukaemia, regained control of Lassiter’s, and was firmly back in the rôle of the powerful businessman, we could predict that his old ways would resurface. Naomi had made a difference to him, but perhaps not to the extent needed to solidify their relationship. She initially accepted Paul’s proposal of marriage, but we could see that she was wavering. After all, they hadn’t been a couple for very long, and does has five failed marriages behind him. You could therefore understand her hesitancy! Paul’s ego was resurgent, when he ‘advised’ Naomi that, as the fiancée of someone as important as the mayor, she needed to reassess her wardrobe. He then unveiled his plans for a more philanthropic approach to her business, and spoke enthusiastically about PR shoots to ‘promote’ their engagement. Despite Naomi having had to apply damage limitation to Canning Enterprises after Toadie’s bouncy castle accident, there was no chance that she was going to comply with Paul’s demands.

Naomi’s rebellious streak came flooding out, culminating in the drunken night spent with Josh. Whilst many of us felt that she was perfectly justified in telling Paul where to get off, she might have been best advised not to rebel to that extent! It’s a pity, because I enjoyed seeing Paul and Naomi together; they were a fascinating combination of two very strong characters. I think the viewers can believe Paul really did love Naomi, and that she would have been good for him. However, his ruthless, often heartless approach towards others proved to be intolerable for her. We knew that Paul was acting shiftily once he discovered Naomi’s unfaithfulness, and you could guess he had a trick up his sleeve. Old, revengeful Paul had resurfaced writ large. Naomi discovered missing CCTV footage amongst Paul’s belongings, showing someone planting drugs in Josh’s sports bag. Once it was evident that Paul had been involved, we knew it would spell the end of Naomi and Paul’s relationship.

Many viewers besides me will be sorry to see Naomi depart Ramsay Street. She has been offered a ‘dream job’ in America and I can’t help but think the lifestyle will suit her character perfectly. As with many departees, everything happened in one episode, from Naomi telling Sheila she had applied for the new post, to being interviewed, to leaving Erinsborough the next day. I am a bit disappointed there was no farewell party, but at least we still got a send-off to remember. I nearly spat my coffee out from laughing, when Sheila flashed her ‘puppies’ (as Naomi referred to them) at Naomi, exemplifying my earlier point about the two being more alike than they might admit. And only Neighbours could pull of Sheila’s speech about Great Grandfather Canning having being a convict, then working hard for the good of future generations with I Vow To Thee My Country playing in the background!

Morgana, I hope that you enjoy being a new mother, which is, after all, the most important job in the world, and so for that reason, we can understand your decision to leave Naomi behind. You’re an extremely talented actor and I’m certain that you’ll be in demand whenever, and in whatever genre, you decide to resume your career. But don’t forget Ramsay Street: if you ever have a yearning for vertiginous heels, sassy outfits and designer handbags, the viewers would be more than happy to see Naomi Canning back in town any time.

Good luck, and thank you for Naughty Nomes! It’s been a blast!

This article originally appeared on Carol's blog, Levelling The Playing Field.