William McInnes on life, and losing his greatest love
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William McInnes on life, and losing his greatest love

Occupation Actor. Age 54. Relationship status In a relationship "with my two dogs". Best known for Leading roles in the TV series Blue Heelers, SeaChange and The Time of Our Lives. Currently Promoting his book, Fatherhood.

William McInnes.

William McInnes.Credit:Tessa Ross-Phelan

My maternal nanna bought me an Apollo space set for my 10th birthday in 1973. It was a very groovy toy. She liked to have a whisky and water, and play rummy and bridge. She seemed ancient to me when I was young – I'm the youngest of five kids. She used to call me "that awful boy" because I would hang off her fridge door.

My mum Iris was born in Wales. She was a larger-than-life character who married my dad Col in Liverpool in the early 1950s. In the '60s they migrated to Australia, along with Mum's mum and her sister, Rita, who was a dairy farmer. Kids used to call Mum "the loud mum" at the tuck shop – she'd yell at them and tease them.

Mum always told me that cut oranges were a happy smell. At the time of her death in hospital in 2010, a female doctor had taken a liking to her, and would place a cut orange in a bowl in her room. It was a sweet gesture.

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I walked into the hospital one day to visit Mum and found a Sister of Mercy beside her. She leaned in to tell Mum her son was here. Mum asked, without opening her eyes, "Which one? The fat one or the stupid one?" The sister half-smiled and said, "I don't know." Then Mum opened one eye and looked at me and said, "The stupid one has gotten fat." She always put on a bit of a show, even at the end.

Aunty Rita was unmarried and owned a little parcel of land in the bush in the '70s. She'd feed kookaburras on her verandah and kept dogs and cows. She'd bring in fresh milk in a reused port flagon.

I have three older sisters, Laurie, Rahin and Corby. I remember one of them asking Mum, "Why do we yell so much in our house?" Mum replied, "Well, I'm Welsh, your dad is Irish, and if you don't like singing, shouting and fighting, you can go and find somewhere else to live."

I always remember my sisters getting dye jobs, swapping music at netball or playing the piano at home. They were joyous, happy people. There was a lot of teasing, too. They didn't take much nonsense and that was a good thing to grow up with.

Miss O'Halloran, my teacher at Humpybong Primary School [in Brisbane's northern suburbs], was a four-foot-two dynamo with purple hair and sharp boots, which would go rat-a-tat-tat on the floor. She scared the bejesus out of me trying to teach me square roots.

I had am amazing teacher in year 5, Mrs Stone. She was the one who made going to school good. She made you think learning was worthwhile, which is something I've carried through life.

My first kiss was with a girl a year older than me at Clontarf Beach High in Brisbane. On the school bus, she asked if I wanted to go for a walk on the beach. I remember a council truck with two guys having a smoke break nearby, with a song by Bill & Boyd called Put Another Log on the Fire blaring from the radio.

I asked a gorgeous girl on a date while at university, and was stunned when she accepted. I took her to Hungry Jack's and she thought it was a joke. I ate alone that night.

I dated a girl whose dad didn't like me very much, while I was at drama school. I remember going over on a Sunday night for dinner and her old man, a barber, came into the kitchen as I was helping with the washing up and wiping a colander. He grabbed it from me to put it away and it got stuck on my hand. He looked at me and said, "I know what you're doing with my daughter." I told him, "I hope not." He nearly bent the colander.

It was just my good luck to meet someone like Sarah Watt [a film director and writer, who died in 2011] in 1989. She was a cracking piece of humanity. I remember the day I met her. I was in a share house in Sydney and there was a knock on the door. I opened it and she stood there in a green dress, black boots and Wayfarer sunglasses … and had stepped out of an S series Valiant. She ticked all the boxes. The next day, I asked if she wanted to come to a fete and eat yum cha, and we were together after that. Sarah had a fair dollop of Scottish temper in her, was a terrific mum and a wonderful friend and partner. She was a high point in our lives.

Losing Sarah was tough on all of us. Our son [Clem, now 25] was in his final year of high school and sat his last VCE test on the day his mum died. He was very courageous. My daughter [Stella, now 20] was at the beginning of her adolescence when she lost her mum. It was a very tough journey for her. I look at her now and get this overwhelming feeling, seeing her as a young woman. She is a smart young lady and we are very close.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale September 2.