Life beyond Puberty Blues

It’s hard to not be a little shocked by some of the issues covered in Channel 10’s Puberty Blues. So imagine how the original movie was received 30 years ago. Someone who remembers very clearly is Nell Schofield, who played Debbie in the original film.

“It was always scandalous, mainly because it dealt with underage sex and drug use,” Nell said.

However, it really struck a chord with teenagers and Nell, now 49, remembers there were queues around the block when the movie was first screened. “I think a lot of teenage girls really related to Debbie Vickers, especially surfer chicks like me,” Nell said.

Share your memories of the original Puberty Blues on ConnectPink, connecting regional women.

She admitted that smoking on screen wasn’t a stretch because she was already a “naughty smoker, trying to be cool”. She also recalled having close bonds with friends like Debbie does with the other lead character, Sue Knight, who was played by Jad Capelja in the movie.

Nell said she and Jad “hit it off immediately” and became great friends. She said it was a whirlwind for the pair, who became overnight stars. “It was very exciting to be movie stars and we got caught up in the excitement,” Nell said.

She said it was an innocent age for teenagers, who were unaware of the dangers of smoking, unaware of the dangers of underage sex and unaware of the dangers of “baking yourself with baby oil under the sun”.

While studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA), Nell worked with other students including Baz Luhrmann and Sonia Todd to come up with the play, Strictly Ballroom, which was later turned into a film and is another Australian cult classic. “It’s nice to be associated with some really classic Australian films,” Nell said.

Nell said she struggled to land any more acting after Puberty Blues, while Jad appeared in Freedom, directed by Scott Hicks, who later went on to direct Shine. A little disappointed that her acting career began and ended so quickly, Nell pursued a different career path. She became a travel writer, which took her to many amazing places, including Antarctica.

Over the years, Nell and Jad drifted apart. Nell was shocked when she learnt that her friend was suffering from schizophrenia. Jad sadly took her own life in January 2010. 

Nell recently appeared on Australian Story and met Jad’s son, Miles Muecke. She showed him some of the locations where they filmed Puberty Blues.

Nell, who lives with her girlfriend Kate in Sydney, is hosting an event to raise awareness about mental illness and raise money for beyondblue. 

The Beyond Puberty Blues fund-raiser will be held on Saturday, October 13 at Sydney’s Bondi Pavilion Theatre. There will be a screening of Bruce Beresford’s Puberty Blues and an appearance by reggae band King Tide, which is headed by Tony Hughes, who played Danny in the original film. It will start at 6pm and finish at 11pm. For tickets visit rocksurfers.org/2012/09/beyond-puberty-blues-fundraiser/.

If you or someone you know is experiencing an emotional crisis, call Lifeline on 131 144. For information on beyondblue visit http://www.beyondblue.org.au.

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