SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR: Coolum resident Anna Corboy grabs a copy of Magda Szubanski’s book, Reckoning: A Memoir.
SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR: Coolum resident Anna Corboy grabs a copy of Magda Szubanski’s book, Reckoning: A Memoir. Geoff Potter

Magda enthrals audience with some very serious stuff

IT WAS a completely different side to Magda Szubanski that Noosa saw last Thursday.

She was in town to promote her book, Reckoning: A Memoir, but there was not much sign of the hapless Sharon or any of the other quirky characters made so famous by Magda in her long career as a script writer, comedian and actress.

It was a more reflective and introspective Magda who spoke to her 100-plus audience at Ricky's River Bar and Restaurant. With good reason.

Reckoning: A Memoir is a tenderly written memoir expressing searing honesty about Magda's extraordinary story, her journey of self-discovery from a suburban childhood haunted by the demons of her father's espionage activities in wartime Poland and by her awareness of her sexuality.

"My father was an assassin," she told her audience.

"He was told to execute Nazis during the Second World War."

Her father was just 15 when Hitler invaded Poland, his homeland, and as soon as he could he joined the fighting.

"My father experienced a loss of innocence," Magda said. "Until then he had lived a good life, playing soccer, going to the theatre. But at just 15 he lost his childhood."

Her father's involvement in the war was revealed in snippets to Magda during her childhood, but it wasn't until she was 36, and after she bought a camcorder and filmed him, she discovered the depth of his involvement and the terrible torment he carried from his wartime duties.

"I asked him what it was like to kill people," Magda said. "If you are a good person it is not easy to take someone's life. I wanted to understand the impact and learn from that.

"My book is an attempt to give words to my father's trauma. It (the home movie) was very confronting. I could not look at that film for 16 years.

"He was a hero, a good man, and it takes a lot for a good man to kill someone. Today we are glib about heroes, but most of them have suffered terrible damage."

A Polish father and a mother with a Scottish, Irish, Welsh and Italian mix meant Magda was exposed to many cultures during her childhood after she left Poland and lived in the UK before immigrating to Australia.

"We left England during a white Christmas and arrived in Australia to 105 Fahrenheit-degree heat," she said.

"We thought we'd landed in hell."

But her family quickly adjusted to Australian life, her father especially. He loved living in outer suburban Melbourne and mowing the lawn.

Describing her teenage years as diabolical because of her secret awareness of her sexuality and a fear of being discovered, Magda said this led to anxiety and depression.

"Because of my father's war experience I was always aware of the Holocaust, and I knew what humans could do to minority groups," she said.

"In the '70s (when she became aware of her sexuality) being gay was considered a mental illness, tantamount to being a leper. It was terrifying. I felt alone.

"We've come such a long way, but we are still behind when you can say nearly every English-speaking country in the world has marriage equality."

That brought a cheer from her audience.

Finishing on the sombre note her visit began with, Magda said: "This book is a timely book. We (in Australia) are about to accept more refugees who will be traumatised (by war) and will need so much help to get over it. We have to have open hearts and minds, and compassion."

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