Deborah Mailman’s trailblazing career

June 30, 2017


Not so many decades ago, being Indigenous and female were not keys to a glittering career in the public eye.

But in 2017, actor Deborah Mailman is a shining light showing that those qualities should be celebrated and admired.

It’s fitting that in NAIDOC week Deborah has just been awarded a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to the performing arts as an actor, as a role model for Indigenous performers, and to the community.

Whether you saw her on Playschool, loved her in the popular The Secret Life of Us or admired her in countless leading roles in film, Deborah Mailman is certainly a household name and face in the performing arts industry.

The daughter of rodeo rider Wally and Jane, Deborah has four siblings and is of both Indigenous Australian and Maori heritage.

Following her graduation with a Bachelor of Arts in Performing Arts from Queensland University of Technology, Deborah’s early professional years were spent in theatre, playing leading roles in Shakespearean productions for La Boite theatre and the famous Bell Shakespeare company. She also co-wrote and performed a solo show called The Seven Stages of Grieving.

In an industry notorious for its instability and lack of ongoing employment, over an 18-year career Deborah has notched up 22 significant roles—an achievement that many of her peers would be thrilled to emulate.

Deborah is no shrinking violet when it comes to standing up for Indigenous performers.

“Some people think there aren’t many Aboriginal actors around and if they are they’re not that good. It’s stupid. There’s such an incredible pool of talent out there and they’re still coming out of drama schools. People just need to take a leap of faith,” she says passionately on

Her impressive body of television and film work includes major roles in The Sapphires, Bran Nue Dae, Rabbit-Proof Fence, Paper Planes, Oddball, Redfern Now: Promise Me, Offspring and the recent ABC series Cleverman, to name just a few.

The Mailman trophy cabinet must require a lot of dusting, as she was nominated for eight AACTA awards, winning five of them. Then there were six Logie nominations, of which she won four.

For her stage work she was nominated three times for Best Female Actor awards, taking out the top award for Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a play The Lost Echo.

And then there were two awards especially close to Deborah’s heart—the 2003 NAIDOC Person of the Year and also the 2003 Female Actor of the Year.

With all these notches on her belt, it’s not surprising that in 2012 Deborah also received one of the Queensland Greats Awards.

But the crowning glory is certainly her new AM, with Deborah saying she feels deeply honoured to be made a Member of the Order.

“To be given an honour of this nature is extraordinary for me and my family,” she told The New Daily.

“It may take a little time for me to comprehend this recognition for the work that I love doing because there are so many people in our communities who are doing exceptional work every day, so I feel very humbled to have even been considered,” she said.

Although most of her ongoing work is in Australia, where she lives with partner Matthew and two sons, Henry and Oliver, she is a big enough star to have her own biography entry on

Now that’s real fame!


Tags: Salvation Army Australia

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