I was the assistant to the director of news at Channel 9. I wanted to be an actress and my mother said I had to do a secretarial course to have a back-up career. So, at 18 years old, I went to secretarial school and learned shorthand and typing.
I was such a bog secretary! Literally every time he gave me a letter and I did it in shorthand, I’d have to come back and say, “What was that?” and he’d say, “Don’t worry Deb, I’ll call the guy”. I mean, I was terrible – but he liked me, so there you go.
John Sorell, who was the director, took me under his wing and taught me the rules of the game of journalism. I thought it was really interesting, like when I was working on the current affairs show, I got to meet interesting people and tell their stories. As an actor you’re telling a story and journalism is another way of telling stories.
It was a newsroom, so it was really exciting. It was high energy – people would be running to the newsroom. You were at the cutting edge of all the news that was coming through. I liked the urgency, the fast action. I’m a little ADD, I like it fast! I thrive on stress. I think some people haven’t got a facility for it, but to me it just turns me on. I enjoyed it.
I was there for about a year and then I got asked to work on a women’s current affairs show, called No-Man’s land with Mickie de Stoop. I started as a researcher, then I started to do some on-air reporting.
After that I travelled for a year in Europe. It was an amazing adventure – it made me be responsible. It was the first time looking after myself, travelling the world.
A lot of my friends had gone to study drama in London, but the city just wasn’t my cup of tea and so I went to New York. When I got there, I felt like Christopher Columbus! I thought, “Oh My God, I’ve discovered the Holy Grail!”. Here was this city where everyone was like me – really racy, really speedy. It was the most exciting city I’d ever seen.
I auditioned at schools there and they said they’d get back to me in a few months. So I took myself back home to Australia and got three part-time jobs, saved up the money and got accepted at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I studied there for three years and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.
I’m very much a creative person and my new year’s resolution was the year of living creatively. We get so caught up in life. I mean, I’ve got two kids and I travel the world. I’m running National Adoption Awareness Week, which is a big thing, and I’m running a big campaign in America.
There’s so much that we’re doing that I find if I’m not true to myself and being authentic, and this is true for everyone, it backs up on you. When I’m being artistic and creative, my kids benefit because I’ve got more to give them. Creativity is everything to me.
National Adoption Awareness Week came about because I have two adopted children and in Australia people would come up to me and say, ‘We’d love to adopt, but it’s so hard’. One day I asked the question, ‘Why is it so hard?’ Well, that opened a whole new world to me and the more I looked into why it was so hard, I saw a system in Australia that wasn’t working.
It’s a natural human instinct to nurture and there’s people who want to nurture these kids, but because of the bureaucracy these two parties aren’t getting together.
So began my education, which was about eight years ago, and it has taken over a big part of my life. This year, we wanted a champion in government. We aimed for the top, for the prime minister – and guess what? We got him. Tony Abbott is leading the way and we’re writing policy to change the adoption laws to half the time to get more kids out of foster care. It’s thrilling.
Deborra-lee Furness is creating policy for adoption reform in Australia, which she hopes will be implemented in November to coincide with Adoption Awareness Week. She is also working on the Hopeland campaign to be launched in September in New York.