From Andy Warhol to Al Pacino, Cher and Calvin Klein to Prince Charles and Dudley Moore, writer / film director Lyndall Hobbs has a story for each and every one ... and then some. In her memoir, A Girl From Oz, Lyndall bares all and lets us into her BIG life.
Bitten by the journalism bug as a teenager, Lyndall launched into a reporting job on GTV Nine News and, later, with A Current Affair (Australia’s first national current affairs show) in Sydney. Her journey from Australia, to London, becoming one of the UK’s youngest TV journalists and ultimately to Hollywood is extraordinary.
Lyndall recounts the thrills and spills of her star-studded life. In the days before iphones and Instagram, Lyndall captured amazing moments with celebrities at play. A Girl From Oz features exclusive photography from her personal collection. As she brushed shoulders with an impressive list of A-listers, her images allow us an insider’s peek at the lavish parties that she threw including guests such as Jack Nicholson, Karl Lagerfeld, Dustin Hoffman and Madonna - though not all together!
Lyndall has seen and done just about everything: tangled with Cambodian pirates for a scoop, grappled with Hollywood sexism as a feature director, wooed acting royalty, raised two children on her own and survived cancer in the unforgiving American medical system.
A Girl From Oz is a wildly entertaining read. This is a rollercoaster ride of a memoir, full of life, honesty, charm and humour, from a feisty girl in a miniskirt who saw the opportunities available in “times that were a changing” and seized them.
This book is published by Hardie Grant Books. To purchase click through on Buy that appears when you run your curser mid-bottom screen.
Warrior Woman Gets the News
So there I am in the doctor’s office about five years ago, the gung-ho TV reporter who once swam with sharks in order to get a story on air. An invincible, vitamin-popping health nut who prided herself on having never spent a single night in hospital. An ex-sprinter who did the gym, not drugs. A pregnant Aussie warrior woman who so dreaded the idea of interfering, by-the-book doctors that I decided to shun them completely and give birth to my daughter, Lola, squatting on the bedroom floor.
Foolish, most certainly, but not a complete fool. Having grown up with an ailing, overweight, depressed, cigarette-smoking, asthmatic mother, I’ve always understood that you have to work at staying healthy.
My dad understood it, up to a point, and way back in the 1950s in Melbourne, he would forgo a pub lunch of beer and a meat pie after a morning tramping the city streets and stop at a health food shop for a lunch of yoghurt, honey, wheatgerm and prunes. Alas, my pa suffered constant pain from knee injuries sustained while a Japanese prisoner of war on the Burma railroad and thus resorted to painkillers, which made him tired and irritable. Then, yoghurt and prunes notwithstanding, he would often drink too much at weekends, especially at Sunday barbecues at Uncle Ab and Aunty Pat’s, as an unsuccessful rag trade salesman is wont to do.
But somehow, despite knowing that life isn’t fair, I was convinced that looking after myself would pay off. I’ve always felt ‘fit as a mallee bull’ as the Australian expression goes.
So, a year after returning to Los Angeles from a four-year stint caring for my dad in Melbourne, it hardly seems reasonable that after many decades of taking excellent care of myself, to the point of pampering some might say—including many dollars spent on vitamins, juices, nutritionists, acupuncturists, massage, anti-ageing doctors, meditation, Korean spas, organic food, yoga, aerobics and B12 shots—should lead to me sitting here like an idiot, blubbering into a tissue, moments after being told by the young, exceptionally attractive breast surgeon Dr Peg that after a biopsy she did with something akin to a nail gun last week, I have breast cancer. A 1.2-centimetre tumour with nothing in the lymph nodes. Knowing what I now know, I would have done myself a gigantic, life-altering favour by simply having the lumpectomy to remove the tumour, avoiding the subsequent horrors—but read on.
This doctor, a serious glamour puss, leans in to pat my hand. She’s a foot away. I know she’s only forty but her skin is utterly dewy, poreless and flawless. Botox? Some genius retinol cream I should know about? It has the look of that spray on airbrushed makeup. I’m dying to ask her for more details and have a nice soothing skincare natter but it’s hardly the time. I’ve suddenly joined the ranks of those poor souls with crappy defective genes who got cancer. I have actually become a stupid bloody sick person. Well, this is going to screw up my chances of getting a date, good and proper. Damn, why did I bother to renew that stupid internet-dating site membership last week?
Utterly gobsmacked and also ashamed, I’ve become an ‘untouchable’, someone who’s failed one of life’s big survival tests. Dr Peg is sweetly telling me to find an oncologist and to come back soon to discuss the lumpectomy.
As I drive away, desperately grabbing the old cigarette that’s been in my car’s dusty side pocket for months, I dread telling my children— 22-year-old Lola and thirteen-year-old Nick. I call Lola right away and despite my resolve not to weep, as I say, ‘Darling, I have cancer,’ my voice breaks and there’s a big silence. I can tell she doesn’t know what to say after the initial, ‘Mummy, you’ll be okay …’ I don’t really know what to say either. Darling daughters trying to make their way in the world don’t deserve this. Nor does my angel of a son.
I tell Nick later that night over dinner, playing it right on down with, ‘It’s just a teeny tiny lump that has to come out.’ He’s terribly sweet and actually stops eating his meatloaf and mashed potatoes to jump up and give me one of his divine long bear hugs, before seizing the loving moment to announce that he’s just remembered he has a science quiz tomorrow on top of the Spanish quiz and massive amounts of maths homework. It’s 8.05 pm. We’ll be burning the midnight oil, just for a change.
At about 10.45 pm, my eyes burn from studying Nick’s Algebra 1 textbook as I try with all my might to work out linear functions. Nick, on the other hand, is happily checking his Facebook. Since my body is apparently failing me, I take the maths on as a personal challenge to gauge whether I still have any semblance of brain power. The challenge is not going well. Out of the blue, the teen suddenly asks, ‘How do you think you got the lump, Mum?’ A fierce pang of guilt. I tell him I have no idea but, in fact, it occurs to me that it may well be the result of my putting my mobile phone in my bra—always on the left-hand side—during virtually the whole four years Down Under, looking after my dad.
The next day I feel compelled to call my former beau Al Pacino and tell him. I guess I’m looking for comfort but the quest is not successful. He’s certainly pleasant but his overriding instruction is not to tell anyone. He elaborates by giving voice to my darkest fears and effectively says, though not in these exact words, that people in this town will be repelled, horrified, nauseated and afraid if they discover I have cancer. (And no, he doesn’t suggest getting together for a comforting natter over lunch or dinner. Months later, when I take off my hat at lunch, revealing my bald head, he practically chokes on his pasta, demanding I put it straight on again.)
Alrighty then. I certainly know what he means and he’s probably right, but it’s confronting to hear it told so bluntly. I take his advice to heart and vow to soldier on, keeping my big trap shut. It lasts a day—just twenty-four hours where I avoid all calls and don’t return any messages.
Alas, I’m a flawed, needy human who could use a tiny bit of support—and by the second day I’ve fessed up to just two pals, begging them to keep it secret. But it’s impossible to even begin to articulate the shame and embarrassment that might convince them to respect my wishes and so they don’t, and within days I’m getting the sympathy calls I’ll come to dread. They start with the hushed voice as if I’m already on my way out, then swiftly segue to the obvious but annoying question, ‘How did you find the lump?’
‘Well, it’s a pretty grim saga,’ I tell the first couple of people before I learn that my natural tendency to be utterly candid is tiring and not necessarily the way to go.
The ‘saga’ begins two months earlier in December 2008 when I realise that as I’ve finally met my insurance excess, I should get my annual pap smear and breast exam done before the financial year ends. So I drag myself in to see the short, balding Beverly Hills gynecologist. Although I give it no credence, I’ve noticed a small but obvious lump on my left breast—very close to the surface. It’s hard to miss but a similar lump last year turned out to be benign so I’m not worried.
So in comes the tiny doc—we’ll call him Dr Tiny. He no longer bothers with a white coat, opting instead for a V-necked cashmere (today it’s bright orange) to reveal his wildly hirsute chest. Despite fifteen years of loyal patronage, he doesn’t remember my name, though he remembers that I dated a famous movie star and does manage to always ask, ‘How’s that movie star pal of yours? Al? How is Al?’
‘Oh, we broke up a long time ago,’ I tell him irritably. But I’m conscientiously upbeat and tell him how well he looks. He invites me to punch his stomach to feel how strong and taut it’s become from upping his daily dose of Human Growth Hormone injections. Then, remembering how lucky I am to get even five minutes of his time, I say, ‘You know, I really wish I didn’t feel so unwell and tired all the time.’
‘You know, I really wish I wasn’t so short!’ he shoots right back, laughing hysterically at his own joke. Unamused, I scoot down on the bastard examination table to have that most hideously humiliating exam called a pap smear. Guys, imagine having an ice-cold whacking great stainless steel speculum inserted, twisted and turned, and then another contraption sent down and tissue removed. It’s why I decided to give birth at home—I’m not fond of authority or interference by strangers.
After that, feeling violated and sad, I stand up and submit to the breast exam. I mention the fatigue again. He tells me to get more sleep. He cops a good feel but doesn’t notice the lump in my left breast. I’m exhausted and just don’t have the energy to point it out. What the hell, I figure. I’m due to have that equally torturous procedure known as a mammogram next week. They’ll see it. I’m sure it’s nothing.
Cut to … a week later, I am heading into a very posh Beverly Hills mammogram joint. Now bear in mind that I am talking about seven years ago—and it was nine months before the startling New York Times headlines stating that a task force had recommended against routinely providing mammograms to women under fifty. (The task force was an independent panel of experts in prevention and primary care appointed by the US Department of Health and Human Services. While many women don’t think a screening test can be harmful, these medical experts say the risks are real. A test can trigger unnecessary further tests, like biopsies, which can create extreme anxiety. And mammograms can find cancers that grow so slowly that they never would be noticed in a woman’s lifetime, resulting in unnecessary treatment. Food for thought indeed—and mammograms, like so much in medicine, are big business and make many rich.) But still an obedient ‘innocent’ at this time, I slip my breasts between two big metal tit squashers and try to be extra nice to the female technician who must deal with cranky chicks and their bosoms all day. She slips out of the room and returns, inviting me to follow her to a consulting room. I’m now told to lie on an examination bed to wait for the radiologist. Well here we go, I think. They’ve seen the lump in the left tit and it doesn’t look good.
The radiologist appears and I remember the same overweight redfaced gentleman from my last appointment a year ago. He studies the X-rays on a light box, gives my right breast a quick grope and tells me, ‘It’s fine. There’s still a small mass there. Same size. Hasn’t grown. See you in a year.’ And he’s off.
I breathe a huge sigh of relief. Then I remember the new lump is in my left breast. ‘Uh, excuse me,’ I call out and he pokes his head back in the room.
‘What about the lump in my left breast?’
Clearly not amused, his smile vanishes and he comes back in, seemingly angry to have missed what he now so clearly notices. I’m expecting him to suggest a biopsy right away. Instead, he suggests that with Christmas coming, perhaps I’d rather ‘enjoy the holidays without any bad news …’
Let’s think—would I rather put it off, fret and worry right through Christmas and then get bad news? I think not, but he insists he’s busy, must dash and he’s gone! I call the next day and make an appointment for four days hence, irritated that it’s now two tedious trips and not just the one.
The same radiologist does the biopsy. He appears with a scary, colossally huge needle and seems to be in a foul mood, barely greeting me as the nurse rubs a little numbing cream onto my left breast. About seven seconds later he jabs the needle in and I nearly hit the roof as a searing pain, unlike anything I’ve ever felt, makes me sit bolt upright. I’m afraid I scream, ‘Fuck!’ way louder than I intended. He looks appalled and shouts, ‘I will not tolerate that kind of language! Do you want to continue or not?’ Flabbergasted that he would shout at me so angrily, I splutter that I’m truly sorry and that I have a very high tolerance to pain but that was seriously painful.
‘Well, you obviously don’t have a high tolerance,’ he retorts and I feel obliged to say that I put up with nineteen hours of drug-free childbirth.
‘Perhaps we could please just wait a minute for the numbingcream to take effect,’ I add plaintively.
Unsympathetic, he demands to know again if I want to continue or not. ‘I’m busy,’ he shouts.
Tears are springing to my eyes but I put on a brave front and say, ‘Fine, let’s continue.’
He performs the biopsy in dead silence as I hold my breath, and it hurts almost as much as the first needle and seems to last an eon. As he strides off, I sit up and say, ‘Why are you being so unpleasant?’
He gives me one of the dirtiest looks I’ve had in a while and shouts, ‘I don’t put up with rude patients like you. Get out of here!’
‘Get out?’ I’m on my feet, whipping the robe around me to cover my bare tits. ‘You’re the rude one. Are you angry because you didn’t even notice the lump last week?’
He turns on his heel and starts screaming, ‘I am ordering you to get out of this building now. Get out!’ and he thunders off down the corridor.
I’m not proud to say that I take off after him shouting, ‘You are insane. You’re rude and incompetent. Fuck you!’ as robed, cowering women sitting in chairs in the corridor look on in horror.
I dash to the cubicle to dress and storm off through the foyer, pointedly staring at the women who take your credit card and hoping in vain that someone will try to make me pay so I can categorically refuse.
Ten days later I email my gyno—Dr Tiny—asking if there are any results. No response until four days later when I get a message from a nurse. ‘The results were normal.’
Yes! I’m delighted and tell myself I knew it all along. But a few days after that, Dr Tiny himself calls and leaves a message saying the results were not normal and I need to call. Which I do, leaving word for Dr Tiny to call back and thinking no more of it. It’s almost Christmas and I’m buying presents to take to relatives in Australia as well as trying to rent out my house. A few days before I’m due to leave he finally calls back. I say I was told by his office that everything was normal and then that information was contradicted by his message. Suddenly angry, he hotly denies that I was ever told things were normal, says he will no longer deal with me and that I should get myself an oncologist. He hangs up. The arrogance, stupidity and simple lack of any human decency or manners is absolutely vile and to this day it makes my blood boil.
The warning bells are now sounding loudly—but I’m still convinced it must be a mistake and that I need to repeat the biopsy with someone who knows what they’re doing. I’m just not the cancer type. A friend puts me in touch with a woman breast surgeon, Dr Peg, who did Sheryl Crow’s breast cancer surgery (and who later did Angelina Jolie’s) and I make an appointment for January, right after my Aussie trip.
In January I’m lucky enough to spend a little time with Hercules Bellville, my dear friend from London, who managed to fly to LA for a holiday—a farewell trip to see his pals, though he was far too stoic to say such a thing. With lung cancer that had spread to his brain and bones, it was shockingly clear his days were numbered. I remember sitting with him the last time I saw him, at dinner at the Chateau Marmont, and instead of having a joyous gossipy catch-up, it was hard not to break down crying during this precious time together as I could see the obvious agony he was in—even sitting—and I wondered how on earth such a witty, wonderfully vibrant lover of life could have succumbed to cancer. Like me, he wasn’t the type.
A few days later I’m told I too have cancer. Having only returned from my four-year stint in Australia a year ago, I’m just now feeling like I’m back in the swing of things. Indeed, I’ve been longing for something great to happen. Some serendipitous bit of genius good fortune. This is not it.
Lyndall Hobbs is an Australian writer and filmmaker. Born in Melbourne, she wrote regular columns in Go-Set and Newsday at the age of seventeen. She began her television career at GTV Nine News and A Current Affair in Australia, and after moving to London worked as a reporter and presenter for ITN’s First Report and Thames TV’s Today show. Her short films Dead on Time (written by Richard Curtis and starring Rowan Atkinson) and Hobbs’s Choice led to a directing career in the US, where she shot music videos for artists such as Chaka Khan, as well as Saturday Night Live shorts and a feature film, Back to the Beach, which received two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert. Lyndall has two children, Lola and Nick, and lives in Los Angeles.