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Reference > Erinsborough News > Ulster's Favourite Girl Next Door...

I MET Ulster woman Jackie Woodburne in an office at Global Studios, home of Neighbours. We sat surrounded by toothsome pics of the posy stars looking squeaky clean. It's where Kylie Minogue was born, where Jason Donovan proved he couldn't act, where Holly Valance kept her singing to herself.

Jackie has starred in the Melbourne-based show for the past nine years.

"Oh yes, it's outrageous," she grins, "for an actor to be in work all that time, continuously, in one role."

Seen in 55 countries world wide, and by 12 million viewers every day on BBC1, Neighbours is Melbourne's answer to Mogadon, a paragon of virtues: decency, neighbourliness, clean living. It cures my sleeplessness. I love it.

Jackie's character, Susan Kennedy, feisty wife of Dr Karl, is a caring, dependable, (recently sex-crazed), ex-high school principal, and a pillar of society.

Despite a day of demanding rehearsals, Jackie is upbeat. Normally reticent, (wouldn't YOU be?), she picks and chooses who she talks to. With The News Letter "It's that Irish thing.... you know?" Not everyone does.

What we know is that Jackie was born in Carrickfergus, and lived in Whitehead until her parents took the pounds 10 one-way passage Down Under in 1959.

"I was only three. I do remember being upset at leaving my 'Nanny'. Not much more. On the ship there were parties every other night. And when we arrived we got shunted off to a big Nissan hut. It was quite an adjustment."

Her father had hoped to get work in the police force. It didn't happen. So there they were, Ulster immigrants, "caught in the lurch, with no money, unable to speak the language".

She laughs at this joke about 'Australia-speak' being almost a foreign language. From time to time, if I goad or prompt her, she gives me a burst of her Norn Iron accent.

"You can't have that influence in your life and not be affected," she says.

She remembers coming back on a family visit. Belfast was blazing. It was 1972. "I couldn't believe it. Cars on fire, armoured vehicles on the streets. Then going down town with my Auntie Lilly and Auntie Sadie to do the shopping - they lived in a wee two-up, two-down off the Shankill Road - and getting searched in every shop, and they'd have a wee chat with the guards at the door.

"The pair of them took it all in their stride. I was only 16 and I found it exciting...but also terrifying. And tragic."

That's when the acting career began.

"It was on that trip, on the boat coming over, they put on shows."

Jackie took part in hoofing on stage with the ship's entertainers. "I was shy. But the seed was sown, and I knew I was hooked."

There isn't a trace of the luvvie tendency in her family. Her father had been a fitter, working for Mackies on Springfield Road; her mother, like most mothers then, stayed at home and took care of Jackie's two older brothers and herself.

"My parents never went to the theatre."

So, when, at the age of 21, she announced she was trading-in her receptionist's job for drama school, her parents thought she was daft.

"I felt I had empathy. Actors have to be moved by how someone else might feel, or think, or live. I felt I could do it."

She's much too modest to talk about talent. Instead, she talks about her good fortune - landing the female lead in an Aussie TV drama while still a student - a mini-series called Outbreak of Love.

"A 'sweet-young-thing' role," she says, self-amused.

"I was very ordinary in it." Maybe so, but it got her noticed.

"After that I was off and running."

She turned up in Prisoner: Cell Block H, then signed up for Neighbours. By then, mum and dad had changed their tune:

"Yes, during the years when I have been gainfully employed they've gone, 'Look! Our wee girl's on the telly.' But the spectre of washing dishes is always there."

This sudden flash of the broad Belfast accent and downbeat humour prompts me to ask if she's ever used it on stage or in film?

"Yes, in Translations, a wonderful play by Brian Friel. We were performing in Sydney Opera House and my accent was so strong, the director asked me to tone it down."

Maybe it's time she was booked to tread the boards in the Opera House in Belfast, not Sydney, playing in panto here, brushing up the native lingo. Has she been asked? High time she was.

This article originally appeared in Newsletter dated 14th May 2003 and was written by Tom Adair

Article submitted by Jenna