2 June 2024

Riverina Rewind: The forgotten Wagga origins of a wisteria-hued 'megastar'

| Michelle Maddison
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person being removed from film screening

Dame Edna Everage is removed from the international release of Barry Humphries’ film Sir Les Patterson Saves the World in London in 1988. Photo: Adam Butler.

Did you know that the larger-than-life character of Dame Edna Everage began life as Edna May Beazley in Wagga Wagga?

One of Australia’s most iconic fictitious characters, Edna was the brainchild of the late, great Barry Humphries, AC, CBE, who also publicly credited our long-time associate and friend Peter Batey, OAM, with contributing to her creation.

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Before her meteoric rise, she was Edna May Beazley, the daughter of Bruce and Gladys Beazley, who moved to Wagga from Melbourne as times were hard after World War I and “things weren’t so pricey in the bush”.

“My earliest memories are of the country in the old township of Wagga Wagga … looking up through the flyproof net over my bassinette,” Edna recalled in her 1989 autobiography My Gorgeous Life.

“I must have been plonked down in our back garden under the old peppercorn tree and the net was very important in case any of those big green quilted emperor gum caterpillars dropped off the tree onto my pillow.

“I was a beautiful baby, you will not be surprised to hear … But, the Beazley family’s days in Wagga were short-lived, as her parents hankered for Melbourne, ‘Australia’s most refined capital’ over the ‘sleepy old country town’.”

And so the family moved to Melbourne, where she married Norm Everage in 1955 and became universally known as ”the housewife from Moonee Ponds”.


Dame Edna’s Wagga origins are celebrated in this 2018 Lost Lanes mural by artist Ling. Photo: WWCC.

Edna’s stage career began in a sketch entitled ”Olympic Hostess” as Mrs Norm Everage. As it took off, she spent her time jet-setting between her homes in Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Switzerland and Martha’s Vineyard, her humble beginnings as a Wagga-ite long consigned to the mists of time.

Edna became a friend and confidante of Queen Elizabeth II and advised prime ministers and presidents. She once took an on-air phone call from President Ronald Reagan to assure him that he was, indeed, still the president; and at stage shows she claimed to be giving former Australian PM Julia Gillard elocution lessons.

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In 1988, Barry Humphries’ other alter ego, Sir Les Patterson, made his own bid for stardom, with the international release of his film Sir Les Patterson Saves the World.

At the premiere at London’s Leicester Square in October 1988, Dame Edna Everage was photographed being manhandled away from the glittering event, quoted by the press as saying she would never have made her screen debut in the film had she realised how women and her fellow countrymen were to be portrayed.

One last word on Dame Edna. Today, she lives on locally through the museum’s Bald Archy Prize, with Peter Batey giving Edna the title of Patroness not long after it was conceived. Upon the death of Barry Humphries in April 2023, Booranga Writers’ Centre president David Gilbey called him “remarkable”, declaring that Barry “became a mainstream figure whose every utterance challenged the binary norms of Australian culture … being unashamedly against any sort of censorship and decency”.

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