From Neighbours to the Bay - that’s Byron Bay - life is looking a little sunnier these days for actor, author, podcaster, and activist Madeleine West.
By Donna Rishton-Potter
Based in the Northern Rivers, on Bundjalung Arakwal country, since 2016, West has cemented herself as a beloved and respected part of the community here. “If you want to be part of a community you have to be inthe community. You can’t buy, razzle dazzle or demand your way in. That’s not what the Northern Rivers is all about.”
It’s a full house and full schedule for this single mum of six, who is known less for her acting roles around these parts and more for her social and environmental advocacy. West moved here with her family already well versed in regional living; she was raised in Woodend, country Victoria, at the foot of the famed Hanging Rock - although her heart for civic engagement and deep sense of justice eventually called her to Melbourne to pursue a law degree. She may have side-stepped into an acting career along the way, but it’s clear her blood runs thick with altruism.
“I worked for a year in an asylum seeker resource centre. I’ve worked with kids on the street, with the homeless, in refuges, and I know that kindness is priceless. People have value no matter who they are and are deserving of respect, understanding and empathy. If we can give generously and strive to each play a small part in rethreading the fabric of society, it lifts the vibration and makes the world a better place”.
No stranger to trauma and challenge, West has come through her own personal hardships with the fierce determination to use her voice for the benefit of others. A gifted and articulate storyteller, podcasting has become a natural complement to her acting career and a wonderful vehicle for awareness and change making. From Nova’s Invisible Heroes to Restart – on Mamamia’s ever-popular women’s media platform – which talks on topics from divorce to health to making friends in your 40’s, West’s ability to home in on themes that resonate, whilst being open and vulnerable about her own experiences, has earnt her a loyal following.
But it’s her latest eight-part podcast, Predatory, with former detective Gary Jubelin, that sees West at her most raw and powerful yet. Bringing attention to child sexual abuse, she is using her own lived experience to campaign for other victims. “I want to raise awareness by stepping forward as a victim” she says. “I want to remove the stigma from victims and demonstrate that we aren’t broken people. The shame doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to the predator. We can use our stories to reclaim our power.”
A passionate advocate for the safety and protection of children, women and abuse survivors, West is heavily involved in several agencies pushing for national reform: Project Paradigm – working towards ending child exploitation; Safe on Social – which works directly with youth and parents to empower a safer online experience; and Got Your Back Sista – a charity which aims to empower women who have escaped the trauma of family violence. Whether taking part in a fun-run for awareness, speaking in schools and to parenting groups across the region, or lobbying Parliament, West wants to be part of the solution when it comes to the exploitation and abuse of our most vulnerable.
And, when she’s not busy doing all that, West is also agitating for change as an environmentalist. Proud spokesman and co-ordinator for ReForest Now – a non-profit organisation working to rewild Australia through conservation, the planting of native trees and bush regeneration - you’ll often find West, in her ‘spare time’, out planting trees in the Northern Rivers rainforest. “I realised at a very young age that our wilderness is a living, breathing being” she says. “We need to change our relationship with the Earth. The planet is not under our dictatorship, it is like a space we rent and if we don’t treat it right, we don’t get to stay.”
She may be the wearer of many hats, but as the mum of a large brood, multi-tasking comes with the territory – and I’d say there’s none more capable of the juggle. “I do know when to switch off and say no!” she laughs. Refilling her tank usually involves time in Mother Nature – spending the day at Bruns river with her kids or taking a hike to one of the glorious Northern Rivers’ waterfalls and rockpools.
So, what’s next for Madeleine West? She’s off to do a movie of course. “I still love acting” she smiles. “As parents we give up a lot of ourselves for our kids, it’s natural when they are young, but at this point, it’s also good for them to see mum doing what she loves. They may grumble about me not being on the canteen, but in the long run I hope they take away a bigger message. You can still forge time for yourself, chase your passions and pursue the things that light you up”.
It seems, in finding the right balance in it all, West has also found happiness. “I felt called to this region. I came here to invest in something more holistic. Not to ‘be someone’, and not with the perception of changing things. Home is where you visualise the best version of yourself. Here, I am surrounded by people I adore, I’m healthier than I’ve ever been, and I’m content to be perfectly imperfect - like all of us.”