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Deborah Mailman

A dark-haired, smiling woman with long, dangling earrings looks right toward the camera
Mailman at The Sapphires Australian premiere in August 2012
Deborah Jane Mailman

(1972-07-14) 14 July 1972 (age 51)
Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia
Nationality Australian
Alma mater Queensland University of Technology
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active 1994–present
Partner(s) Matthew Coonan
Children 2

Deborah Jane Mailman AM (born 14 July 1972) is an Australian television and film actress, and singer. Mailman is known for her characters: Kelly Lewis on the Australian drama series The Secret Life of Us, Cherie Butterfield in the Australian comedy-drama series Offspring, Lorraine in the Australian drama series Redfern Now and Aunt Linda in the Australian dystopian science fiction series Cleverman. Mailman is currently portraying the lead role of Alexandra "Alex" Irving on the Australian political drama series Total Control.

Mailman was the first Aboriginal actress to win the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and has gone on to win four more both in television and film. She first gained recognition in the 1998 film Radiance for which she won her first AFI award. Her other well known films are Rabbit-Proof Fence, Bran Nue Dae, Oddball, The Sapphires, Paper Planes, Blinky Bill the Movie, Combat Wombat, H Is for Happiness, and The Book of Revelation.

Personal life

Deborah Jane Mailman was born and grew up in Mount Isa in north-west Queensland. She is one of five children. She has both Aboriginal (Bidjara) and Māori (Ngāti Porou and Te Arawa) heritage. In 1992, she graduated from Queensland University of Technology Academy of the Arts with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in performing arts. She is married with two children.


Deborah Mailman
Mailman at Australian Film Walk of Fame at Randwick Ritz, The Spot Festival

Mailman played the role of Kate in a La Boite Theatre production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in 1994. Other early stage roles include solo show The Seven Stages of Grieving (which she co-wrote with Wesley Enoch) for Kooemba Jdarra, Queensland Theatre Company's 1997 revival of Louis Nowra's play Radiance, and Cordelia in King Lear for Bell Shakespeare in 1998.

In 1998, Mailman made her film debut as Nona in the Australian independent film Radiance (based on the play), for which she won the AFI Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. She had a role in The Secret Life of Us, for which she was twice awarded Most Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series at the Logies (2002 and 2004).

Mailman was part of the Leah Purcell documentary Black Chicks Talking (2001), where she discussed her Aboriginal heritage. In 2006, she took part in a four-part television documentary series with Cathy Freeman called Going Bush, where the pair set off on a journey from Broome to Arnhem Land spending time with Indigenous communities along the way.

She appeared in the Play School TV series and was part of The Actors Company for the Sydney Theatre Company (2006–2007). She was a presenter on the ABC Television show Message Stick.

She appeared in the film Rabbit-Proof Fence. She played a lead role in the 2010 musical film Bran Nue Dae. In the play The Sapphires and the subsequent film of the same name she played the role of singer Gail McCrae.

She was awarded an Inside Film Award for her short film Ralph, which starred Madeleine Madden. From 2010 to 2014, she played the role of Cherie Butterfield in Channel Ten's Offspring drama series.

In 2012, she starred in Redfern Now, an indigenous mini-series for the ABC.

On 29 January 2015, Mailman co-hosted the AACTA Awards with Cate Blanchett.

Mailman started as Maureen Prescott in Paper Planes, released 15 January 2015. She then appeared as Mayor Lake in Oddball and the voice of Blinky Bill's mother in Blinky Bill the Movie.

On 18 February 2015, Mailman joined the Sydney Opera House Trust.

In 2019, Mailman was appointed to a three-year term as a member of the Screen Australia Board.

In 2019, she starred as politician Alex Irving in the series Total Control, produced by Blackfella Films and screened on the ABC.


Deborah Mailman, Barry Otto (6825541756)
Mailman and actor Barry Otto in 2012


Year Film Role Notes
1998 Radiance Nona
2000 The Third Note Tina Short film
The Monkey's Mask Lou
2002 Rabbit-Proof Fence Mavis
2006 The Book of Revelation Julie
2009 Bran Nue Dae Roxanne
2012 Mental Sandra
The Sapphires Gail McCrae
Mabo Bonita
2013 The Darkside Pamela
2014 Paper Planes Maureen
2015 Oddball Mayor Lake Also narrator
Redfern Now: Promise Me Lorraine TV movie
Blinky Bill the Movie Blinky's mum Voice
2016 A Few Less Men Police Officer
2017 Three Summers Pam
Djali Gracie Phillips Short film
2019 H Is for Happiness Penelope Benson
2020 2067 Regina
Combat Wombat Maggie Diggins Voice
2023 The New Boy Post-production


Year Television Role Notes
2001–05 The Secret Life of Us Kelly Lewis / Narrator Main cast (86 episodes)
2005 The Alice Sonia Episodes 1 & 2
2006 Two Twisted Jones TV series
2006 The Chaser's War on Everything Herself Episode 9
2010–17 Offspring Cherie Butterfield Main cast (69 episodes)
2012 Redfern Now Lorraine Episode 3: "Raymond"
Episode 7: "Where the Heart Is"
2014–16 Black Comedy Guest Cast 9 episodes
2014–21 Jack Irish Cynthia Dead Point movie and 7 episodes
2016 Tomorrow When the War Began Kath Mackenzie 6 episodes
2016–17 Cleverman Aunty Linda 12 episodes
2016 Wolf Creek Bernadette O'Dell Episode 1.3: "Salt Lake"
Episode 1.4: "Opalville"
Please Like Me Siobhan Episode 4.6: "Souvlaki"
2017 Little J & Big Cuz Big Cuz Animated series
Get Krack!n Prime Minister Burney Episode 1.7
2018 Mystery Road Kerry Thompson Mini-series
Bite Club Anna Morton 8 episodes
2019-2024 Total Control Alex Irving Main cast
2023 Ark: The Animated Series Deborah Walker Voice role

Awards and nominations

Film Walk of Fame Ritz Cinema Sydney 019
Mailman's plaque at the Australian Film Walk of Fame, Ritz Cinema, Randwick, Sydney

AACTA Awards

Year Category Film Result
1998 Best Leading Movie Actress Radiance Won
2003 Best Leading TV Actress The Secret Life Of Us Won
2010 Best Supporting Movie Actress Bran Nue Dae Won
Best Supporting TV Actress Offspring Won
2013 Best Leading Movie Actress The Sapphires Won
Best Supporting Movie Actress Mental Nominated
2015 Paper Planes Nominated
Best Leading TV Actress Redfern Now: Promise Me Nominated
2019 Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama Total Control Won
2020 Best Actress in a Supporting Role H Is for Happiness Nominated

Equity Ensemble Awards

Year Category Film Result
2010 Most Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Offspring Nominated
2011 Nominated
2012 Redfern Now Won
Offspring Nominated
Most Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Television Movie or Miniseries Mabo Nominated

FCCA Awards

Year Category Film Result
2010 Best Supporting Actress Bran Nue Dae Nominated
2013 Best Actress The Sapphires Nominated

Helpmann Awards

Year Category Production Result
2003 Best Female Actor in a Play The Seven Stages of Grieving Nominated
2005 The Sapphires Nominated
2007 Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play The Lost Echo Won

Logie Awards

Year Category Film Result
2002 Most Outstanding Actress The Secret Life Of Us Won
2003 Nominated
2004 Won
2013 Mabo Won
Most Popular Actress Nominated
2016 Most Outstanding Actress Redfern Now: Promise Me Won
2017 Most Outstanding Supporting Actress Wolf Creek Nominated
Most Popular Actress Cleverman / Jack Irish / Offspring / Wolf Creek Nominated
2018 Cleverman Nominated
2019 Bite Club / Mystery Road Won

Other awards

In 2003, Mailman was NAIDOC Person of the Year, and also won Female Actor of the Year.

In 2012, Mailman was a recipient of the Queensland Greats Awards.

In 2017, Mailman won the Chauvel Award, which acknowledges significant contribution to the Australian screen industry.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Deborah Mailman para niños

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