Kat Stewart has become an Australian household name for her acclaimed performances in Underbelly and Offspring.
However, few people know the Logie-winning actor and mother-of-two recently landed a leading role alongside a truly magical cast.
Kat is an ambassador for The Magical Getaway Foundation, a unique Australian charity that’s bringing a lot of joy to vulnerable children and their families.
Melissa Grant speaks to Kat about that special role, motherhood, her own childhood and her career.
How are you enjoying your ambassador role with The Magical Getaway Foundation, a charity which enables vulnerable and disadvantaged kids to go on their first holiday?
I’m so pleased to be involved and I love the people – every contact I’ve had with the team has just been so inspiring. It’s early days, but I’m really excited about it. The good work the Magical Getaway Foundation is doing and is capable of doing in the future – it’s really exciting.
How did your involvement with the foundation come about?
Teague Rook is a board member and he’s someone I’ve known for many years. We’ve done theatre together and he is also a teacher. He just spoke to me about it and about five minutes in I heard his passion. He’s someone with great integrity who I really respect and admire as an actor, as a person and as a teacher. I just thought the idea of getting families who are under extreme pressure and stress, who have never had the opportunity to just be a family and not be in hospital wards, or not be in a refuge and not deal with really tough things, to be given an opportunity to have all the practical stuff taken care of – the medical support, the groceries, whatever they need – and just be together somewhere else. The holiday memories I have as a kid are really formative and they just made a really big difference to me as a mum and as a person. I just think it’s such a wonderful opportunity to give to little kids and parents under extreme stress.
When you were a child you regularly holidayed with your cousins at a house on Phillip Island. You must have some great memories.
I do. We had great times. I think it was a little fibro place and it was jam-packed with about 20 of us in three bedrooms. There were lots of bodies on the floor, lots of sunscreen, black and white TV, endless days at the beach. It probably wasn’t quite like that, but that’s my memories as a little kid. Great times.
You spent your early childhood in Bairnsdale, a small country town in East Gippsland. Your parents packed up the family and travelled around Europe for 12 months when you were eight. That must have been an amazing experience.
That was a game-changer for us as a family. I’m very close to my father, but growing up he was a workaholic. Mum was the stay-at-home parent who we spent lots of time with and my memories of dad only start that year. That was because we were travelling together and we were doing correspondence – he taught me my times tables, he taught me how to catch a netball, all that stuff. And that set us up for life – I’ve had an incredibly close relationship with him ever since.
During that trip you attended school in London and I understand you would come home and imitate your classmates’ accents. Was this when your interest in acting began?
I did. I got lonely. I went to school for a few months in England – that might be where some of the early signs were. I was so fascinated because the area we were in had a real cross-section of accents from quite posh to quite knockabout, and I loved all that. I was fascinated by that, so I’d come home and try out all the different accents in front of my family.
You initially didn’t consider acting a viable career and studied marketing at university before working in publicity. When did you realise you could make a career out of acting?
It just wasn’t something that was really on my radar. It wasn’t that I sort of dismissed it – it just wasn’t what people did. I didn’t know anyone who was in that world. I studied marketing and arts first and while I was there I got involved in the theatre society at Monash (University) and completely fell in love with it. I had done school plays here and there, and it was something that I loved but I never thought of it as a career. I knew enough to know it wasn’t a very secure profession, so I did hope that it was a phase that I’d fall out of. But I thought I’d never know unless I actually take it through to the end, so I enrolled in a three-year night-time course hoping that I could hedge my bets and keep working during the day. But ultimately I had to make a choice. It was in the second year of my course that I was working in publishing as a publicist and I couldn’t be in two places at once. I had to be at the Adelaide Writers’ Festival or I had to be on stage doing an amazing play called Angels in America, which is still one of the greatest scripts I’ve ever worked on, and I had to decide. That was a real moment of reckoning and I have no regrets.
Your breakout role was in Underbelly, however most people would know you as Billie Proudman from Offspring. I understand it was actually one of Billie’s storylines that got you really thinking about motherhood.
I just put it (motherhood) at the back of my mind really because I was so busy. I was enjoying being busy because my 20s were quite quiet in some ways career-wise, so things were just starting to get interesting in my 30s for work and I didn’t really want to break the rhythm. It was one of those things – I was so busy that I was like ‘we’ll think about it next year, we’ll think about it next year’. Then my character Billie was doing IVF in series two and as part of that storyline I was doing some research on IVF and statistics and I thought ‘oh, hang on, oh hang on this includes me here – I’m in this age bracket. I better not take it for granted that we can do it whenever we want to’. So it forced us to think of it as something we should address and by the end of the series I was pregnant very happily with Archie.
Filming days can be quite long. How do you juggle the demands of being on set with motherhood?
I had a lot of help and a lot of support. I had Archie on set when he was five weeks and I had Gigi (Georgia) on set when she was three weeks. When I think about it now the mind boggles. But you just get up and have to do what you have to do with a kid, and with a little baby it’s just one foot in front of the other and I was so supported. I worked until right to the end of the pregnancy with Archie and I knew I had the producers’ support and the casting crew’s support and they made it as achievable as possible to have the babies and work. I had (husband) David with me with Archie, and when I had Gigi I had a family friend to help when I was on set. I don’t know – it’s a bit of a blur to be honest. I was very lucky to do what I love and have my babies with me. Not many jobs afford you that.
Would you like to see Offspring return for another season?
I love doing it and I don’t think realistically it’s something I could ever say no to because I loved it so much and we are just a family because we spent so much time together. But who knows? Honestly, I think we had a really good run. I think seven seasons is very rare and we were very lucky. So whatever happens I think we have done very well.
You’ve just returned to Melbourne after a family holiday. How was that?
It was fantastic. We went to Japan which is pretty amazing. There were 14 of us. It was wild. It was my husband, two kids and my brother and his family – he’s got four kids – and my dad and some family friends. It was the trip of a lifetime really, it was great. My dad had a huge health scare last year and I lost my mum two years ago. After that we all got together and said ‘let’s make something happen, let’s do something really great’. You just don’t know in life. Dad’s actually fighting fit now, but it just gave us that push to make it happen and I’m so glad we did – it was just fantastic. We’ve made a lot of great memories.
Where are some of the other places you’ve been on holiday together?
We’ve been to Phillip Island a lot, so that’s still a big touchstone for us and the family and my brothers and their families. That’s the main thing we do – we go there for Easter and Christmas and if we can get long weekends that’s where we go. My dad’s got a place there. We went to Port Douglas when they (my children) were really little. But with little kids travelling is no small thing, so it’s nice to have a place within a couple of hours of Melbourne that they know and that’s familiar and that’s fun, so that’s where we go really.
Where’s your next adventure?
We’ve had a pretty good run – I don’t think we will be planning anything for a while now! But we will be getting away as often as we can to Phillip Island. We are lucky we can spend time with Dad there. And getting back to the Magical Getaway Foundation – that (holidays) is just not something a lot of people can do, but certainly people who are benefiting from the foundation can access (them). It’s really moving, the families that The Magical Getaway Foundation has been helping. And what really affected me about the families is they are so proactive, so productive and so honest and candid. The only condition of their involvement is that they tell their stories and I think it’s so incredibly powerful and a great reminder that holidays are lovely, whatever form they take. But it’s really about the memories that you make as a family unit that’s the important thing. It’s not where you go but it’s that you get the time together. My holiday sounds fancy but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s time with the family and that’s what got me really excited about this foundation.
What’s the best way somebody can help the foundation?
Anyone with a connection to somebody or a business that could help with a holiday – that would be amazing. If someone is from a place that runs apartments, a supermarket, or a business that could help or theme parks, whatever it is – we really rely on that sort of contribution and they’re always acknowledged appropriately and gratefully. They don’t have to be expensive holidays. It’s an opportunity to get away and have some fun and have some experiences, so any kind of contribution could be more valuable than anyone realises. I also think just listening to the testimonials from the families – it can be just one decision from someone saying ‘hey I think you need a hand, I’m going to do something for you’ that can change the course of somebody’s life. So it’s no small thing. Any kind of contribution makes a difference. The Magical Getaway Foundation is quite a new foundation, but it’s the only foundation of its kind. Social tourism is something that’s been going on in Europe for decades. It’s not really been done in Australia so it’s a really great thing.
More about The Magical Getaway Foundation…
The Magical Getaway Foundation is the only Australian charity dedicated to social tourism, which means providing access to breaks away from home for people who would otherwise be excluded.
Kat Stewart and Steven Bradbury OAM are ambassadors of the foundation that aims to provide hope and lifetime changes for families through a first ever holiday.
Statistics show that one in three Australian children have never been on a holiday.
The Magical Getaway Foundation gifts fully-funded first ever holidays to eligible children and their families. In return, the recipients share their story with the foundation.
It’s not about the holiday – it’s what the holiday brings.
Research indicates that holidays benefit individuals and society because they improve well-being and reduce stress, increase self-esteem and confidence, strengthen family communication and bonding, provide new skills, widen perspectives and enhance employability. Going on holiday also gives long-lasting, treasured memories and results in happier, stronger families and decreases social isolation.