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Character Profiles > Bess O'Brien Diana McLean

Bess O'Brien 1999
Children: Chandra Rain [Catherine] and Chakira Sunshine [Sarah]
Occupation: Environmental Activist

Broad-minded and calm, and mother to Sarah Beaumont and Catherine O’Brien, environmental and political campaigner Bess O’Brien raised her daughters to have an awareness of those around them, but, as she helped others, she often neglected to notice that her children needed her. Arriving in Erinsborough to give a talk, everyone was surprised when she ended by introducing her daughter, Chakira Beaumont. Embarrassed Sarah then listened as Bess explained to Sarah’s surprised friends that she had been given the name Chakira Sunshine, as she was born at dawn but she and Catherine, who was born Chandra Rain, had changed their names when they started school.

Planning to spend some time with her daughter, Bess took over one of the bedrooms at 30 Ramsay Street – despite claiming she’d be happy to put up a tent in the back garden - turfing Sarah’s housemate Toadie, and his young cousin Tad, into the lounge room for a few weeks. As Bess tried to catch up on Sarah’s news, she sensed that something was troubling her daughter, and Sarah admitted that she’d had a terrible twelve months, culminating in being fired from her job at the hospital, after helping a distressed patient with breathing problems, when she wasn’t allowed to. Disgusted, Bess went behind her daughter’s back to speak to the director of nursing at Erinsborough Hospital, managing to get Sarah’s appeal brought forward, and also agreeing to come up with some fundraising ideas. That evening at the pub, Bess noticed a poster for Lou Carpenter’s missing rat Monty, and an idea came to her – the men of Erinsborough could perform a Full Monty, which proved to be a huge success.

As her visit continued, Bess noticed Sarah’s odd behaviour at any mention of her love life, and was confused when she met Susan Kennedy, whose eldest son, Mal, was living with Catherine in London. Though the two women got on well, Susan made excuses when she was invited to dinner at number 30. When Sarah then turned down a job as temporary receptionist for Susan’s husband, Dr Karl Kennedy, and refused to go back to her old job as a barmaid, as Karl’s daughter Libby worked at the pub, Bess worked out that the married man, who she remembered her daughter mentioning once before during a visit home, was Karl. Not one to judge, Bess told Sarah to be strong and move on with her life, but Sarah was growing increasingly frustrated by her mum’s presence. When Bess found out that Toadie had been having erotic dreams about Sarah and started joking about it, Sarah snapped and told her mum that she was sick of her being so blasé about the feelings of her own children. Relations got worse as Sarah struggled to find work, with no hospitals wanting to employ her, so Bess suggested she find another way to help people – or even get a job with Greenpeace and help the planet. Furious, Sarah told her mum that she wanted to help people, rather than whales, and would never be a campaigner like Bess. She then told her that she had never been there for her daughters when they were growing up, and Catherine felt the same way.

Bess was hurt to realise that her daughters felt that she had spent more time with other people’s kids, on marches and crusades, and only given them love when there wasn’t a cause to think about. Hurt, Bess started chatting to Madge Bishop at the Coffee Shop, and it was suggested that she cook Sarah a roast as a peace offering. Explaining that she was a vegetarian, Madge gave her a recipe, which Bess followed to the letter and, moved by the gesture, Sarah forgave her mum.

The following week, Bess was heading to the country to visit some friends, and persuaded Sarah to join her. However, rather than the relaxing bed and breakfast with swimming pool that Sarah was expecting, she actually found herself making mud bricks with an environmental group. Though unwilling to participate at first, Sarah soon found herself joining in, even letting out some of her aggression by having a mud fight with her mum. The next morning, Sarah received a call from the hospital to say that there was a fault with the buzzer she’d pressed and it was enough reason for them to reinstate her. Back in Erinsborough, Bess and Sarah went to the pub to celebrate her good news, but Bess received a call to say that she was required to attend a conference in New Zealand. However, as she realised that her daughter was worrying about having to make a compensation claim against the hospital, Bess changed her mind at the last minute and decided to stick around. With number 30 about to be sold, Bess also suggested that perhaps she could sell some shares and help Sarah to buy it, so she wouldn’t be made homeless.

When stingy Lou only gave Sarah $20 towards a hospital fundraiser, she decided that Bess might have more luck. Desperately needing someone to fill in for a shift at the pub, Lou asked Sarah, but she sent along Bess instead. Lou, quite terrified of Sarah’s formidable mum, still refused to hand over any more money, even when Sarah offered to swap with Bess for the rest of the evening. When her shift then came to an end, Bess proceeded to lock herself in the pub office with Lou, telling him that she was looking forward to some time alone, and managed to get $100 out of him, in exchange for the key. Bess then found another issue to help with, when Sarah’s housemate Joel Samuels, who had injured his knee in an accident some weeks earlier, was sacked from his job at Across The Line Sports. She and Sarah went along to the shop and spoke to manager Bruce Jones, asking what had happened to the old shop assistant, Joel, who was there last time they visited. After Bruce explained that he’d left by mutual consent, Bess met with Joel and told him to fight his corner, threatening to take him to court if he needed to.

With Joel successfully re-employed, more good news came from Bess’ accountant, who told her that after selling her shares, she had $210,000 – possibly enough to buy the house at auction and beat Lou – who Sarah, Toadie and Joel were worried would turf them out. As the auction got underway, Bess was quickly outbid, and the property ended up going to Lou, who agreed to keep the current tenants on. Satisfied that her work was done, Bess made plans to head home, grateful that she’d managed to spend some time with her daughter and undo some of the damage from the past. A few months later, Bess sent her friend Peter Hannay to visit Sarah while he was in town. Her plan had the desired effect and the pair ended up engaged, though Bess failed to make it to the wedding when she missed a connecting flight.

Biography by Steve