Immersive: Robert Coleby as Reg in Heartland – a moving story as well as spectacular to watch.
Immersive: Robert Coleby as Reg in Heartland – a moving story as well as spectacular to watch.

Robert Coleby still looking for challenges at 71

AT 71 and after almost five decades in the acting business, Robert Coleby is still finding new ways to challenge himself.

He is now starring in the Gold Coast's new Australian Outback Spectacular, Heartland.

Coleby plays farmer Reg, who with wife Marg (Cate Feldmann) is struggling to survive a five-year drought on the land.

The arena show melds live action, thundering horses, a dog, quad bike, film, and a state-of-the-art light and sound system.

"It's pretty immersive," Coleby said.

"The horse-work is definitely spectacular, but it's weaved into a story line so that you really care about the people on those horses."

HEARTLAND: Robert Coleby plays battling farmer Reg, taking on Australia's heart-breaking drought conditions in Australian Outback Spectacular's state-of-the-art arena production, Heartland.
HEARTLAND: Robert Coleby plays battling farmer Reg, taking on Australia's heart-breaking drought conditions in Australian Outback Spectacular's state-of-the-art arena production, Heartland. Village Roadshow Theme Parks

So, despite their physical size against this imposing outback backdrop, Coleby says the characters loom large, but he admits it's not an easy gig.

"At my age you look for a challenge," he said.

"We all know our life is finite, and mine is likely to run out quicker than my Ikea kitchen guarantee - but life is for living, for taking risks."

These days, although he still enjoys performing and responding to a live audience, he said it had to be something extraordinary to get him back on stage.

And in the case of Heartland, as well as the physical and mental challenges of the arena, Coleby has a special link to the land and its harsh realities.

Coleby was just two when his family emigrated from England to Australia in 1949, living with his dad's brother on a cattle farm near Kingaroy before moving to Maryborough.

During those first years in the Australian bush he encountered drought, flood and bushfire and was bitten by a brown snake - pretty much all the outback can throw at someone.

And yet, when the family moved back to England, he missed the days of walking barefoot to school, and years later jumped at the chance for an acting role in Australia.

Robert Coleby with Andrew McFarlane in the early 1980s Patrol Boat.
Robert Coleby with Andrew McFarlane in the early 1980s Patrol Boat.

He described his 1970s return as like stepping into technicolour after living in black and white.

In the years to come, Coleby became a mainstay in Australian TV, perhaps best known for his role as XO in early 1980s series Patrol Boat, the forerunner of Sea Patrol.

He also appeared in the Young Doctors, Chopper Squad, the Levkas Man, Anzacs, Tanamera, Paradise Beach, All Saints and House of Hancock among a host of others.

Most recently he starred as Elizabeth Bligh's (Noni Hazlehurst) love interest, Sir Douglas Goddard, in TV favourite A Place to Call Home, which sold to 140 overseas markets.

"It was a really interesting piece because it crossed a number of issues, including for Douglas the euthanasia debate, which is in everyone's mind at the moment with an ageing population and asking what jurisdiction we have over our own fate," Coleby said.

Robert Coleby with Noni Hazlehurst in recent TV favourite A Place to Call Home.
Robert Coleby with Noni Hazlehurst in recent TV favourite A Place to Call Home.

But having such a lasting career, he said, was a matter of luck as well as talent.

"You can be really good in something no-one watches, or you can be good in something that's popular and get a period of work and that notoriety kicks on to other productions ...

"But it's extraordinary how many really talented actors don't get a second chance."

You also, of course, have to be prepared to play your age, he said, recalling meeting Jack Thompson recently while the two were working on separate productions at Fox Studios.

Both men's characters died of heart attacks, and they reminisced and laughed about the days when they used to be the romantic leads.

But he has no complaints.

He lives on 18 acres on the Gold Coast and loves it - "it's such a beautiful part of the world" - and is happy to be working so close to home.

His favourite role, he said, was always his most recent, with his aim being to grow and improve his performance all the time.

But being part of "things that count, that have had an impact" and have changed people's thinking, like A Place to Call Home, is also important.

And he hopes Heartland will give people a new appreciation of rural life, and the strength and resilience of those who work the land.

With Village Roadshow donating $20,000 from ticket sales to drought relief, it's got to make a difference to some people who deserve a break.

Visit outbackspectacular.com.au or call 13 33 86.


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