Actor Frankie J Holden has a soft spot for the far corners of South Australia. We explore the Outback through his eyes.
You don’t get more Aussie than Frankie J Holden. The actor was born in 1952, the same year the FJ Holden was manufactured, and his stage name is based on the car. Chances are you recognise his face from television dramas Prisoner, A Country Practice, The Strip, All Saints, Blue Heelers, and Round the Twist. More recently, he plays Roy Briggs in A Place To Call Home. Not bad for a bloke who originally wanted to be a Qantas pilot, fell into accounting, and dabbled in music before acting consumed his life.
When he’s not playing the quintessential Australian bloke, Frankie explores the faraway corners they inhabit. He grew up in Darwin during the sixties and has a special affiliation with the Outback. “In 1964, it was a frontier town. We had no refrigeration, not many places were air conditioned and a lot of roads were still dirt. I lived up there until I was 16 and it was a really vagabond sort of childhood. We ran around with bare feet and just shorts on. These days there are rules and regulations of what you can and cannot do. Back then there was none of that.”
He gets back to the top end whenever he can. “I love going back there because it’s obviously a touchstone for me. In terms of travel I am very disappointed with how few Australians have actually been up there. I’m not just talking about Darwin or the top end but also Cape York and all of the Kimberley. All these fascinating, really exotic places – it’s what I call the real Australia.”
Frankie spent part of his youth in Brighton, Adelaide. “I went to Glenelg High for a couple of years before moving to Sydney. My dad was a Sydneysider. He worked for the Shell company and loved travel so if there was a good transfer he would take it. That’s how we ended up in Darwin, then Adelaide and how we ended up back in Sydney.”
He has fond memories of South Australia. “I’ve always liked Adelaide. Adelaide is a good size. It’s not too big. There’s a lot going on there in terms of the beach culture, the wineries, you’ve got the hills, and the outback is at your doorstep.”
He is drawn to our dusty plains and vast, remote landscapes.
“You’ve got Coober Pedy and the Oodnadatta Track… all of those wonderful spots. When you travel to those parts of the country you get an inclining of the spiritual connection that the original inhabitants feel and continue to feel when they talk about ‘country’. You would have to be a total luddite to go out there, stare up at the stars and walk out amongst the bush in the silence and not feel the spiritual nature of the country.”
He pauses. “The rest of the world is becoming more and more homogenised now. [Because of] globalisation and a
total domination of American culture. Everywhere you go in the world the people are all the same. We’ve all got baseball caps on backwards and we’re all wearing the same clothes. You have to go to faraway places to search out any real independent or Indigenous culture.”
Frankie believes children should explore their own backyard. “I think it should be a compulsory primary school or maybe high school excursion. Every school should go into the red dirt country. It doesn’t have to be Darwin. It could be Broken Hill, the Flinders Ranges or over to Ceduna.”
Of all locations in South Australia, Wilpena Pound is his favourite. “Travelling through the Flinders Ranges and into that country. It’s really gorgeous. It’s different to what is up in the north.”
When he’s not exploring the nation, Frankie can be found playing golf or on the beach. “I like going for a good strong walk on the beach. I’ll swim, I’ll lift some weights. I just like to keep as fit as I can.”
He lives on the Sapphire Coast of New South Wales with his wife, actress Michelle Pettigrove (who you may remember as Kate Bryant from television series A Country Practice). Together, they own holiday park Tathra Beachside. The camping bug bit
when they hosted Saturday afternoon travel show Discover Downunder (2008-2012) with daughter Georgia Rose. “It piqued my interest in the caravan park industry. Then all of a sudden one popped up north of where we lived. Right on the beach. It was an old council park and it needed a bit of TLC but it was a renovator’s delight.”
Every now and then Frankie performs for visitors (he’s got quite the set of pipes – he used to perform in 1970s rock group Ol’55, alongside Wilbur Wilde). He’s also enjoys hanging out with guests on pizza nights and Saturday morning tea sessions. “It was a pretty natural fit for us actually, because it’s basically entertaining people. Instead of entertaining them for one or two hours at a show, you’re entertaining them for one or two weeks of their holiday.”
It’s made him aware of how important holidays are to people.
“That couple of weeks where the family can get away and spend quality time together is really, really important. It helps a family come back to love each other.”
Family is important to Frankie. “The other part of Australia I feel a connection to is the New England area around Tamworth because that’s where my mum came from. Mum’s dad was a sheep farmer in a tiny little town called Bendemeer between Tamworth and Armidale. I used to love going there as a boy, riding horses mucking with dogs and sheep.” He drew inspiration from his uncles when portraying Roy Briggs in A Place To Call Home. “Roy is a farmer,” Frankie says. “They were Australian men of the land
so I’ve tried to bring all the values that I remember from those men into the portrayal of Roy. People coming up to me and say, ‘You remind me of my father or my grandfather.’ I love when that happens.”
He’s achieved a lot, but winning an Oscar is top of his bucket list. In the meantime, he’s happy welcoming visitors to his hood.
“Everyone should come see the top end of Australia. They’re all welcome. If anybody comes to Tathra I’ll be happy to cook you a pizza.”
Have you got an Outback experience you’d love to share? We’d love to hear it…