Former Canberra schoolgirl Stef Dawson returns home on a ride to fame with The Hunger Games and other movies in the works
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Former Canberra schoolgirl Stef Dawson returns home on a ride to fame with The Hunger Games and other movies in the works

She's starred in the Hollywood blockbuster franchise The Hunger Games and has other movies in the works, but Stef Dawson is happiest being back home in Canberra, especially in the peaceful surrounds of Farrer Ridge, her "backyard growing up".

The former Canberra Girls Grammar and Radford College student recently enjoyed a brief holiday to the national capital and Christmas on the South Coast on a return back to Australia as part of promotional duties for The Hunger Games - The Exhibition.

Hollywood actress Stef Dawson in the calming surrounds of Farrer Ridge during a recent trip home to Canberra. She is wearing a dress by Aussie label Zimmermann.

Hollywood actress Stef Dawson in the calming surrounds of Farrer Ridge during a recent trip home to Canberra. She is wearing a dress by Aussie label Zimmermann.Credit:Jamila Toderas

The exhibition, which features everything from costumes to props to interactive activities is on at the International Convention Centre Sydney at Darling Harbour until February 5.

Now living in LA with a series of movies under her belt and plans to make a film about an Australian female bushranger, Dawson enjoys the calmness of being back on her old stamping ground.

Stef Dawson and Sam Claflin in The Hunger Games franchise.

Stef Dawson and Sam Claflin in The Hunger Games franchise.

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"I always feel happiest when I'm in the bush or by the sea," she said.

"It was often Farrer Ridge where I would go to think and dream big, just being in the bush has this way of clearing your mind and thinking about what is important.

"I love walking around during the magic hour as the sun is going down and there are hundreds of kangaroos everywhere."

The Canberra Times spoke to Stef in August 2013 when she was just about to join The Hunger Games juggernaut.

A former student at Canberra Girls Grammar and Radford College, Stef Dawson (visiting her beloved Farrer Ridge recently), hopes to inspire other young people with big dreams.

A former student at Canberra Girls Grammar and Radford College, Stef Dawson (visiting her beloved Farrer Ridge recently), hopes to inspire other young people with big dreams.Credit:Jamila Toderas

She had successfully auditioned for the role of Annie Cresta in the The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2, after three years trying to get her big break in Hollywood.

And being part of the worldwide phenomenon had a profound effect on her.

"The whole Hunger Games experience has been so incredible these last few years," she said.

" Being a part of these stories and the legacy Suzanne Collins has left has been such an honour.

I hope to inspire other young people, who may be sitting in the bush in Canberra, dreaming of something. I hope my story helps them to take a leap of faith and not give up, because I think it is all possible.

Canberra schoolgirl turned Hollywood actress Stef Dawson

"I first fell in love with the world of The Hunger Games after reading the books and immediately resonated with the character of Annie and everything about her. She is such a beautiful and complex character, a girl who has suffered greatly but ends up being a symbol of hope in a dark world.

"Her love for Finnick (played by Sam Claflin ) is such a beautiful thing to play, two people who have been ripped apart by war but chose to survive for each other. I'm so proud to be part of a story about the power of one, a story that encourages young people to have a voice and that their voice matters."

Having another Australian in the cast in Liam Hemsworth was a bonus.

"It was awesome to hear Liam's Aussie accent when I met him on set, kind of comforting to hear it," she said.

"Film sets do become like family and this one was really special. It was amazing to be work with some of the greatest actors on the planet, seeing their work and process up close but also just getting to know everyone.

"They were a truly special group of people, totally down to earth, hard working, kind and so much fun."

Dawson also appeared in the horror thriller Nest, a Chinese-Australian venture filmed on the Gold Coast and also starting Kelsey Grammer (Frasier). She also had a part in the ABC-TV series Cleverman. Other roles include as a teenager in the dark comedy Creedmoria, a ghost writer in The Paper Store with Penn Badgley and a nurse in The Lennon Report about the night John Lennon was killed.

There have been more than a few "pinch-me" moments in her career.

"I sometimes do have these moments of 'What is my life?', whether it be with Kelsey Grammer and helping him perfect his amazing kangaroo impressions or lying face down in dirt with a fellow co- star, in freezing or boiling temperatures, take after take," she said.

"The so called 'glamour' is actually far from it, whether it be trying to stay upright in a pair of heels or get on a horse in a full skirt and working back-breaking hours. But, truly, there is nowhere I'd rather be."

Dawson studied theatre and opera at the University of Wollongong but as a child would attend classes at NIDA in Sydney. Her father Steve is a psychologist and her mother Jennifer Bromley is a doctor.

"My family has been so very supportive of me from day one," she said.

"The best gift you can give your kids I think is to allow them to dream big and encourage them not give up and that is what my family has done for me. It has not been easy but they've helped me through the tough times and through every new challenge that I face."

Dawson says she feels like "I am just beginning" in her work and looks forward to other new and challenging roles.
"I hope to inspire other young people, who may be sitting in the bush in Canberra, dreaming of something. I hope my story here helps them to take a leap of faith and not give up because I think it is all possible," she said.