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Anne Phelan

Anne Mary Phelan

2 August 1948 (1948)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died 27 October 2019(2019-10-27) (aged 71)
Bendigo, Victoria, Australia
Years active 1968–2019
Notable credit(s)
  • Bellbird
  • Prisoner
  • Neighbours
  • Something in the Air

Anne Mary Phelan OAM (2 August 1948 – 27 October 2019) was an Australian actress of stage and screen who appeared in many theatre, television and film productions as well as radio and voice-over.

Her television soap opera roles included Bellbird as Kate Ashwood, in Prisoner (1980–1985) as Myra Desmond and Monica Taylor in Something in the Air (2000–2002) as Monica Taylor, for which she won the 2000 AFI (AACTA) Award for Best Actress in a Television Drama, having previously won the 1988 AFI Award for Best Actress in a Miniseries for Poor Man's Orange.

She received the Equity Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. She was also an activist for humanitarian causes.

Early life

Phelan was raised in Fitzroy, Victoria. She was reported as saying that she had no formal study or qualifications for acting or singing, but instead had trained through 15 years work in amateur theatre. Aged 16, she became pregnant and gave her daughter up for adoption, seeing her again for the first time 50 years later.


Phelan began her television career in 1968. She had an ongoing role in the soap opera Bellbird as Kate Ashwood in the early 1970s.

In the late 1970s, she played guest roles in Prisoner. She took the role of Officer Manson, appearing in one episode of the series in 1979. This character had the sole purpose of threatening to resign over the favourable treatment afforded to prisoner Barbara Davidson in episode 17. Later in 1979, Phelan reappeared in the series, this time playing the role of dopey prisoner Bernadette in a number of episodes.

She first appeared in Prisoner on a recurring basis as Myra Desmond between 1980 and 1983; Myra was then reintroduced to the series in early 1984 as a regular character and Phelan continued in the role for a further 18 months.

Phelan's other soap roles included Starting Out (1983), Family and Friends (1990) and Something in the Air (2000–2002). She made guest starring appearances in many drama series, including The Flying Doctors and Blue Heelers. She was also a regular on Marshall Law and appeared in the ABC comedy Mother and Son playing the role of a social worker who befriends Maggie Beare.

She also made two guest appearances in Neighbours. The first, in 1997, was as the character of Claudia Harvey and the second, in 2004, was as Doreen "Peace Dove" Cassidy.

In 2007, Phelan appeared in episode 6 of The Librarians as a prisoner with the Prisoner theme song.

In 2012, Phelan joined the cast of comedy drama Winners & Losers in the ongoing role of Dot Gross. Winners & Losers marked her first regular role in 10 years. Prior to this, she had appeared in several theatre productions and made various television guest appearances.

Community work

Phelan was a public speaker and a recipient of Regional Arts Victoria's Don Mackay Award (2006) for Outstanding Achievement in Regional Touring.

From 2000, she was the patron of Positive Women (Victoria), a support and advocacy group run by and for women living with HIV. She received the Oz Showbiz Cares / Equity Fights AIDS 2002 Activist of the Year Award for outstanding contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS.

She performed and sang with the Choir of Hard Knocks on Melbourne's streets in 2006, busking to raise money for a performance at the Melbourne Town Hall. She was a member of Actors For Refugees, a group of performers who volunteer their time and talent to tell the stories of Australia's refugees and asylum seekers. She was an ambassador for Alzheimer's Australia Vic, educators, advocates and spokespeople for those living with dementia, their families and friends and those who support them.


Phelan died of natural causes on 27 October 2019. She was 71 at her time of death, although, some sources have stated her age as 75. She was privately cremated.


Year Title Role Notes
1976 The Devil's Playground Girl in pub
1980 Hard Knocks
1985 I Live With Me Dad Mrs
1997 Adventures on the Balanced Particle Freeway Highest Tree Voice
1998 Edithvale Mrs Vale
1999 The Craic Truck Driver
2009 Inanimate Objects 'Mum' Patterson
2009 Charlie & Boots Female Truckie
2019 Ride Like a Girl
Year Title Role Notes
1968 The Battlers Ma Tyrell
1972 Matlock Police Nurse/Policewoman Williams 2 episodes
1973 Ryan Betty
1973, 1974 Homicide Waitress/Valmai Dunn 2 episodes
1973, 1974 Division 4 Mardi Campbell/Maria Ponti 2 episodes
1973, 1974 Matlock Police Nancy Wells/WPC Winifred Drew/Molly 3 episodes
1974–1977 Bellbird Kate Ashwood Main cast
1975 Matlock Police Ellen
1976 The Sentimental Bloke Mabel
1979 Skyways Joan Hailey Episode: "We Can Face It Together"
1979 Prisoner Officer Manson Episode: "Episode #1.17"
1980–1985 Prisoner Myra Desmond Main cast
1981 Holiday Island
1982 A Country Practice Rita Parsons 2 episodes
1982 Sons and Daughters Tenant
1983 Carson's Law
1983 A Descant for Gossips Mrs. Lalor
1983 Starting Out Mrs. De Soosa
1984 Special Squad
1986 The Fast Lane Beth Episode: "Following by Example"
1987 The Harp in the South Mumma Darcy
1987 Poor Man's Orange Mumma Darcy
1988 Mother and Son Wilma Episode: "The Friend"
1988 The Bartons Mrs. Frawley Episode: "Beautiful Beetroot"
1988 The Flying Doctors Rosie
1989 G.P. Dulcie
1989 Dearest Enemy Mother
1989 Inside Running Justine
1989 The Flying Doctors Lorraine
1990 Family and Friends Dawn Rossi
1990 Skits Mrs. Donovan
1991 The Flying Doctors Beryl Horden
1991 Kelly Rosie Episode: "The Bird Thieves"
1991 Col'n Carpenter Mrs Fuller
1992 Late for School Mrs. Dicks
1992 Boys from the Bush Betty Episode: "Dancing in the Dark"
1994 Blue Heelers Mrs. Brady Episode: "Life After Death"
1994 Law of the Land Mrs. Bickerton/Gracie Morrison
1996–1998 Blue Heelers Jeannie O'Dwyer Recurring role
1996 The Man from Snowy River Nell Frampton Episode: "The Grand Duke"
1997 Good Guys, Bad Guys Maisie Episode: "Gone to the Dogs"
1997 Simone de Beauvoir's Babies Postie 2 episodes
1997 Neighbours Claudia Harvey
1999 The Micallef Programme Madame Pogg in 'Spiffington Manse'
2000 Thunderstone Proprietress 2 episodes
2000 Dogwoman Joan Jarvis
2000–2002 Something in the Air Monica Taylor Main cast
2002 Marshall Law Esther Hirsh Q.C. Main cast
2003 Welcher & Welcher Mrs. Cohen Episode: "Adam's Rib"
2004–2005 Neighbours Doreen Cassidy Recurring role
2007 The Librarians Big Bertha Episode: "And Nothing But the Truth"
2010 Sleuth 101 Pat Episode: "A Tan to Die For"
2012–2015 Winners & Losers Dot Gross Semi-regular
2014 Worst Year of My Life Again Aunt Ethel Episode: "Christmas"
2015 Sammy J & Randy in Ricketts Lane Mrs Tuppens Episode: "Dances with Wolves"
Television variety specials
Year Title Role Notes
Something Special Solo singing
Frankie Howerd Specials Comedy sketches
The Glitter Sisters Singing group


Year Title Role Producer
2010 Do Not Go Gentle Wilson fortyfivedownstairs
2010 Dirty Dusting Olive Ellis Productions
Guys and Dolls General Cartwright Shows Management
Fiddler on the Roof Yente Fiddler on the Roof P/L
In the Family (return season) Marion Positive Women
An Accidental Actress (biographical) Herself Hothouse Theatre
Faith Grace The Torch Project
Tune in Tomorrow (return season) Music Revue Don Mckay Productions
If I Should Die Before I Wake Joan Auspicious Arts Projects
Embers (Play reading) Hothouse Theatre
I Do, In Caroline Springs Joy Chapel off Chapel
In the Family Marion Positive Women
Tune in Tomorrow Music Revue Don McKay Productions
Mavis goes to Timor Mavis Taylor Deckchair Theatre
Over There Workshop Playbox Theatre Co
1999 Wonderful Ward Vera Melbourne Comedy Festival
1998 Mechtron Lou Jade Community Theatre
A Hard God Aggie Cassidy State Theatre Co of SA
Romeo and Juliet Nurse Melbourne Theatre Co
Sweeney Todd Mrs Lovett Queensland Theatre Co
Aftershocks Lyn Melbourne Theatre Co
Gigi Inez Alvarez Queensland Theatre Co
A Hard Act to Follow One woman show La Mama
1994 The Grapes of Wrath Ma Joad Melbourne Theatre Co
Meekatharra Abbie Black Swan, WA
Diving for Pearls Barb State Theatre Co of SA
Dream Kitchen One woman show La Mama
This Old Man Comes Rolling Home Laurie Melbourne Theatre Co
A Family Affair Agrafena Northside Theatre Co
1988 Dinkum Assorted Grace STC / MTC
Away Gwen Playbox / Vic Arts Council
Season's Greetings Rachael Melbourne Theatre Co
On Our Selection (& return season) Mum Melbourne Theatre Co
Stevie Stevie Smith Vic Arts Council
A Cuckoo in the Nest Gladys Melbourne Theatre Co
The Good Person of Setzuan Mrs Young Melbourne Theatre Co
1980 Flexitime Beryl Vic Arts Council
Gentlemen Only Freddi Playbox Theatre Co
1978 Cabaret Sally Bowles Actors Company
Let Me In Playbox Theatre Co
Flash Jim Vaux Nell Melbourne Theatre Co
All My Sons Melbourne Theatre Co
Salad Days St Martins Theatre Co
Twelve Angry Women St Martins Theatre Co
The Patrick Pearce Motel Niamh St Martins Theatre Co
Cabaret Frau Kost Commercial Theatre (SA)
I Do, I Do Agnes Cottage Theatre (SA)

Other work

Radio and voice
  • ABC Book readings include: Down by the Dockside and The Harp in the South
  • Serials and plays including the production of the one-woman-play Dream Kitchen
  • Narrator for Visions of Yankalilla, a documentary for Flaming Star Pictures and the documentary series Grey Voyagers, for SBS
  • TV monologue – The Agony and the Ecstasy, for the ABC
Theatre restaurant, live variety, revue
  • Cinderella – An Adult Pantomime (Capers Dinner Theatre)
  • Sweet Fanny Adams
  • Tikki and John's Theatre Restaurant
  • The Glitter Sisters (original 14-month Melbourne season)
  • Anti-Cancer Council Breast Health Video

Awards and honours


  • Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 2007 Queen's Birthday Honours list for service to the arts as an actress, and to the community, particularly through support for women living with the HIV virus and for asylum seekers and refugees.
  • Inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2008.
  • Included in Who's Who in Australia since 2006.

Awards and nominations

Year Association Category Work / nominee Result Ref
1984 Penguin Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Serial Prisoner Won
1985 Penguin Award Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Serial Won
1987 Australian Film Institute Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini Series The Harp in the South Nominated
Penguin Award Performance by a Female Actor in a Principal Role in a One-off Drama Won
Variety Club Heart Awards Variety Club Television Actress of the Year N/A Won
1988 Australian Film Institute Awards Best Performance by an Actress in a Mini Series Poor Man's Orange Won
Penguin Award Best Actress in a One-off Drama Won
Green Room Award Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Drama) Season's Greetings Won
2000 Australian Film Institute Awards Best Actress in a Leading Role in a Television Drama Something in the Air
Episode: "We Will Remember Them"
2002 Oz Showbiz Cares / Equity Fights AIDS Activist of the Year N/A Won
2006 Regional Arts Victoria Don Mackay Award Outstanding Achievement in Regional Touring N/A Won
2016 Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance Equity Lifetime Achievement Award N/A Won
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