Vanessa de Largie | Interview

Born and bred Perth girl, writer of three books, actress and strong feminist Vanessa de Largie caught up with Ezra for a chat about life, her book and the importance of feminism in Australia. Her recent achievements include becoming a writer with The Huffington Post and the release of her book “Don’t Hit Me!”.

Vanessa enjoys op-shopping and prides herself on looking fab for under $40, and her head is always stuck in a book. She’s travelled, acted, written, and conquered the fashion world. With her being an “unconventional writer”, she writes when she can and must be without noise.

“I’ve tried various methods, writing a thousand words a day, writing in the morning and writing in the evening…I’ve always been a tad envious of people who write in cafes, I could never do that – I would be far too distracted,” she said.

There is nothing improper about wanting equal rights and respect for your own gender.

In regards to feminism and domestic violence, Vanessa de Largie identifies as a feminist and will speak openly about domestic violence, having experienced it; which led to her self-published book, “Don’t Hit Me!”.

“There seems to be more discussion in Australia about issues that effect women. We must continue to have an open dialogue about domestic violence, victim blaming, slut shaming, labelling and body dysphoria. I’m not a fan of social media but I think it has shined a light into the shadows. On a different note, it’s great that we have now had a female Prime Minister. It’s important for little girls to see a woman in that role. It enables them to dream bigger.”

Growing up in Perth for Vanessa was beautiful.

“..laid back, safe, pristine beaches and superb weather. We would go on holidays to Bunbury, Busselton, Margaret River and Kalbarri.  I loved our family holidays down south. I’m glad that I’m a West Aussie and Perth will always have a special place in my heart – after all it’s my hometown,” she said.

I got on a bus in Perth with no money and a suitcase full of dreams and travelled over 2000 miles to Melbourne.

Below, we sit down with Vanessa to talk about the need for feminism, and what it was like moving to the big city of Melbourne.

Your book, Don’t Hit Me, is about domestic violence, written in “real-time”. How important has the publishing of the book been to you?

On a soul-level it’s been very satisfying. Knowing that the book has touched people, but it’s not just about me trying to sell my book – I truly care about this issue. Everyday, as an artist – I think, what else can I do to help make a difference? Domestic violence is such a secretive business and that’s why it thrives – it’s the elephant in the room. It’s time to talk about that elephant! 

I was looking through a journal and realised I’d captured domestic violence in real-time. I decided to self-publish it as Don’t Hit Me!  It became a #1 Amazon Bestseller in four countries within two weeks, it went on to win two international book awards and in January of this year it was picked up by Seattle publisher – Booktrope and re-released as a paperback and eBook. 

Vanessa in 2011. Photo: Helen Mclean
Vanessa in 2011. Photo: Helen Mclean

Why is there a need for feminism around the world and in Australia?

So many people (both men and women) think that feminism is a dirty word. They associate the movement with sour old women who hate men. I have no doubt that there are feminists that hate men but I am not one of them. There is nothing improper about wanting equal rights and respect for your own gender. 

My personal interpretation of the word ‘feminist’ is being a woman (or man) who believes in gender equality in all areas. I have read essays where scholars have suggested we use the term humanist instead. But whilst women are treated unequally, ie: wages, employment opportunities, sexuality, advertising, – we need feminism. Feminism is women in focus.

I consider myself a true feminist to the bone. I respect a woman’s right to choose. If a woman wants to be a stay-at-home-mother, so she should! But on the other hand if a woman wants to earn money doing sex-work or porn or stripping – I do not judge that choice either. I support women controlling their choices, their bodies and their minds.

What has been the most important day in your life so far and how has it impacted on your decision making processes in the present?

The day my life changed, was February 23, 2000. I got on a bus in Perth with no money and a suitcase full of dreams and travelled over 2000 miles to Melbourne. It was a spur of the moment decision after many years of procrastination. I didn’t know a soul when I arrived in Melbourne. I’d never seen a tram before. I remember sitting on Swanston Street with my suitcase watching them rattle pass, I was mesmerised.

Those first three weeks were tough. I had lied to my parents and told them I had money saved up. I had nothing. I refused to lean on them or ask them for money. This was something I had to do myself. When I arrived, I lived on the streets and kept shelter at Flinders Street Station. (It was so different back then, it didn’t have any of the barricading) I would go into the pokies venues for free coffee and tea.

When I went for auditions, I would hide my suitcase under a bush at the Trades Hall in Lygon Street. Oh what an experience! I was fortunate enough to meet an eye & ear doctor who put me up at a hotel for several nights whilst I looked for share accommodation. I found a share house and a few days after moving in, I was cast in the lead role in a professional play at La Mama’s Theatre. I was 22 years old.   

But 2000 in general was the year that everything changed –it was a series of events. My brother Damian died from an overdose of prescription drugs and alcohol toxicity and my mother was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. Massive highs and lowest lows. 

Vanessa on her 30th birthday. Photo: Yenny Huber.
Vanessa on her 30th birthday. Photo: Yenny Huber.

How important is travel to you?

Extremely important.  I went overseas for the first time at age 31. (Which I guess is quite late) But I made up for it – in three years I visited 17 countries and I loved every minute of it. I like leaving and arriving. Staying in one place can cause you to become stagnant and content. I like to keep moving forward. I want to live indefinitely in Europe, that’s my bigger picture. I am hoping to make it a reality within the next two years. I love it over there. Most Australian actors head to LA but I’m not interested. It’s Europe that speaks to my heart.

Do you think Australia should adopt same-sex marriage? 

Yes. Yes. Yes. Love doesn’t discriminate and neither should our marriage laws. 

What makes Melbourne a place to live for you?

I am a Perth-girl born and bred. Perth has about as much culture as a tub of yoghurt! (Sorry West Aussies). Melbourne is a massive hive of creativity. I feel like I’ve found my tribe here – people just like me, trying to achieve similar visions. 

I lived in Brunswick St, Fitzroy for five years – I loved it there – cafes, bookshops, vinyl stores, vintage boutiques, and poky little bars that make great cocktails. My favourite place to sit in silence would be Port Melbourne Beach, I’ve always felt a soul connection with Port Melbourne, I often go there to write.

For you, what defines an “Australian summer” and an “Australian winter”?

Australian Summer: The Australian Open (I love tennis!) 37 degree days. Sun-baking. Flimsy dresses. The smells of hot cement and cut grass. Living on ham and salad sandwiches.  A really nice cold beer. Australian Winter: Time spent in warm cafes and wine bars in Fitzroy or Carlton. The AFL. A sea of black coats walking Melbourne’s rainy streets.

Where’s the best little-known restaurant in Melbourne?

Van Mai is a little Vietnamese Restaurant in Richmond/Abbotsford and it’s a real gem. I have been going there for years. The staff are wonderful and the chilli and lemongrass dishes are to die for. In summer, if you get the seat for two in front of the open-aired French windows – it’s very romantic/but low key. I love it there. It’s not an expensive or five star restaurant but it has an ambience about it.

To follow up on more info or to see what she’s up to next, visit her website www.vanessadelargie.net