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Comment > Love Thy Neighbour: Valda Sheergold by Moe

Love her or loathe her, it cannot be denied that since Valda Sheergold burst onto the Ramsay Street scene in 2002, Erinsborough has been a lot less quieter. Whether she’s running around the neighbourhood pursuing various men with vigour, or breaking down in tears at yet another personal heartbreak, Valda has become a much-loved addition to the Neighbours family..

Before Valda made her Neighbours debut in 2002, it had been several years since Ramsay Street had played host to a character of her kind. The 1980s and early 1990s saw various legendary characters such as Mrs. Mangel, Eileen Clarke, Madge Ramsay, Hilary Robinson, Dorothy Burke and Faye Hudson fulfil the battle-axe/nosey neighbour/light relief quota in the show. But not since Julie Martin fell to her death in 1994 had Neighbours been treated to a character of this kind. Suddenly, Ramsay Street was home once again to a character who meddled in the affairs of her family and neighbours, made deliciously loaded comments in her thick Liverpudlian accent and provided dozens of hysterical moments for the audience at home, renewing Neighbours’ great strength in the area of comedy.

The first we heard of Valda was in the lead-up to the wedding of Stephanie Scully and Marc Lambert. The Scully family made a couple of references to a dreaded ‘Auntie Valda’ coming to the wedding, and there was relief all round when young Michelle broke the news to the rest of the Scullys that Valda was no longer able to make it. However, although she missed the actual ceremony, Valda did indeed turn up in Erinsborough in time for the dramatic fall-out that ensued after Steph discovered Marc had been seeing her sister Flick in weeks preceding the nuptials and called the whole thing off. With too much going on at the Scully house, Joe and Lyn shipped her off to the Kennedy house where Valda made herself very much at home. Karl and Susan looked on incredulously as her pampered poodles, Blanche and Stella, who Valda treated like her very own kids, quickly joined Valda. To the horror of the Kennedys, she used their best china to cook up a candle-lit supper for the pooches and helped herself to a gin at every opportunity.

After the Kennedys had had enough of Valda, she was sent packing across the road to Harold Bishop, who soon found himself having to fend off her amorous advances. Valda, it quickly transpired, was something of a man-eater and she pursued Harold - and his good friend and lodger Lou Carpenter - with vigour. Harold soon realised Valda fancied him when she sneaked into his bedroom in the middle of the night, having got ‘lost’ on her way to use the bathroom. A mortified Harold had Rosie Hoyland have a word with Valda, but that didn’t quite work either. Valda misunderstood Rosie’s explanation - that Valda wasn’t Harold’s ‘type’ - and Valda took it to mean Harold was gay, and Lou was his boyfriend!

Upon Valda’s return in 2003, we got to see a more tragic side to her character. Underneath all the bright clothes, big hair, gold jewellery and larger than life personality, Valda was actually a very lonely woman. She had lost her sister Bev the year before, having lived with her and worked alongside her as a postmistress for many years. Her other sister Connie - Lyn’s mum - had recently died too, and Valda regretted not mending a long-standing rift with her beforehand. Valda had also had her heart broken in her youth, when Charlie Cassidy stood her up at the altar. Fresh romantic heartbreak occurred when her latest fiance, Andreas, a younger man she had met on her world cruise dumped her over the phone. As is often the case with characters of Valda’s kind in soap, behind the laughter, there’s an enormous amount of pathos.

Valda’s most dramatic moment occurred when it was revealed that she was actually Lyn’s mother, and not her aunt. In a startling confession to Lou - with whom Valda had become close upon her second stint in the show - Valda revealed that she had become pregnant by Charlie in her youth and when he jilted her, it was decided by Connie and Henry to pack her off until after she gave birth and then for them to raise the child as their own. Valda, it turned out, had led a life full of regret and bittersweet moments, as she had to stand by and watch Lyn grow up thinking Connie was her mum and Valda was simply ‘Auntie Val’.

More drama followed when Lyn found out the truth, and rejected Valda for a time. It was only when Lyn went to meet her real father that she learnt to accept Valda as her mother, and in a tender moment, mother and daughter waded into the water together and splashed about in the waves. Valda was truly chuffed at the end of that year when she and Lyn spent their first Christmas together as mother and daughter, and Lyn gave Valda a locket containing a picture of her as a child in it, along with a card addressing Valda as ‘mum’.

Valda is a character that works brilliantly on Neighbours. She can slip effortlessly from comedy to high drama and has won a place in the audience’s hearts. Valda is played brilliantly by veteran Australian actress Joan Sydney, well known to soap fans as Matron Sloane on A Country Practice. And her status as a recurring character means that Valda never becomes stale. Each time she pops back to Erinsborough, in much the same way the late Myra De Groot’s Eileen Clarke did in the 1980s, it is always wonderful to see her. Long may it continue....