Many of us see Melanie Symons' beaming, infectious smile on television each week, and assume that hers is a smile that comes unadulterated. Without grief, hardship or challenge...
But we are oh so mistaken. Despite her uplifting demeanour, her happy, fun segments and her unmistakable energy, there is much more to Melanie than meets the eye.
In fact, Melanie suffered a loss many of us could only begin to imagine. Having lost her mother tragically and unexpectedly, Melanie has spent years grappling with incredible grief while raising her young daughter. “It’s very sad not being able to share Alexandra with her, as she would have so enjoyed her and in preparing for and becoming a Mum myself, my mother and I were developing an even closer bond and better understanding of one another,” Melanie said. And she wouldn’t be the Melanie Symons we know so well without her signature optimism. “My love for Alexandra doesn’t let me fail her. She needs a happy, stable, reliable, healthy, fun, loving and understanding mother who wants the best for her and if I were to wallow or feel sorry for myself she wouldn’t get one! So the best option is to make the most of every day, focus on the positives in my life and the joy-filled opportunities I have the ability to create. No point wasting precious moments, there are too many great ones to be had.”
We spoke to Melanie about her life, how she parents while missing her mother, and the life-affirming nature of toddlers.
Talk us through your journey to motherhood – how was your pregnancy/birth -what were the ups and downs?
While I was thrilled to be having a little girl my pregnancy was challenging… diagnosed with scoliosis as a teen (I wore a chin to hip back brace twenty three hours a day during high school) I have always lived with back pain but it became severe during pregnancy. This pain was at its absolute peak when I sat or lay down so rest and sleep were a challenge to say the least. Unable to take pain relief for fear of affecting the baby I spent a great deal of the nine months in tears. My desire to create the perfect nest (which makes me laugh on reflection) created even more challenges. We sold my house in order to buy a presumably more fitting one and at the last minute were gazumped and ended up homeless with only weeks to be out of the home we had lived in for over five years, a baby due in three months and nowhere to go!
Eventually we settled into a nearby Byron Bay townhouse and were able to excitedly set up for Alexandra’s arrival. It had been a whirlwind of open homes, inspections, auctions, packing, cleaning and moving. Once in our new place we were very happy to be settled and couldn’t wait to meet our daughter who was punching my large pregnant tummy in anticipation of starting her new life. She had a wonderfully strong will even then!
Talk us through some vivid memories of your childhood? Where did you grow up? What was it like?
To escape the hot Queensland summer many childhood hours were spent swimming and playing Marco Polo until we wrinkled in our pool on acreage in Brisbane or during school holidays on the beach at the Gold Coast where my grandparents had an apartment. The beach radio would sing out “Time to turn so you wont burn” and after jumping over enough waves out the back, we’d return to what I was told was the first high rise in Surfers, a two story red brick apartment block called “Kurrajong” adorned with coloured square stained glass panels running vertically along the front. I’ll never forget my grandparents “Wal” and “Icy’s (Wallace and Iris’s) orange swirl wallpaper and pink bathroom where I’d spend an eternity with my head under water in the bath. My sister and I were allowed to share one box of Coco Pops during the holidays, which we’d fight over! I attended a country state school in Brisbane where kids rode horses to class, there were always frogs in the toilets and bats in the classroom (teacher’s pets). After school I’d wait under the stairwell of Kenmore Shopping Town for my sister and her friend to finish ballet upstairs. So did a little boy named Scott who is now my daughter’s father!
Talk us through your career path – what have been some highlights?
I would call my career path both one mapped out as a child and one of perseverance. My Dad is a natural entertainer whose entertaining career was brought to a tragic halt before it had begun with a freak car accident on the opening night of his theatre debut. A bulldozer fell from the back of a truck onto his car causing him to lose his right leg and suffer brain damage. He didn’t lose his enthusiasm for life and entertaining people and so my childhood was very colourful. I adopted his love of the entertainment industry and my die -hard passion for my career was born.
My career highlights I measure by the joy of the experience and whether I have done the best job possible. From my first national TV role presenting “Totally Wild” to hosting “Saturday Disney” (and a move to Sydney) I began travelling the world and working in an infinitely creative environment as part of a fun and in tune trio, so this was definitely one of the highlights. Particularly due to the appreciative feedback we still receive even twenty years on. This has me very grateful we touched so many children’s hearts.
Travel is in my blood and so finding my home on “Sydney Weekender” and with the shows expansion to also shoot around Australia and overseas and my new role hosting for both Sydney and Queensland Weekender I’m able to see more of our beautiful country while doing what I love, connecting with people and having new adventurous experiences. It’s funny how your priorities change as you grow older – working on prime time television with larger viewing audiences as I did on pioneer renovation show “Ground Force” is no longer my measure of success – my measure of success is how aligned my role is with my true passions and how conducive my work environment is to my overall well-being and happiness. TV is a tough game so I’m always grateful to be a part of it and more so if I’m a member of a supportive TV show family producing positive content for people. There is too much negativity on screen so I’m proud to be on shows that encourage our viewers to make the most of experiences on offer and hopefully these enrich their lives. Another highlight was being invited to MC shows for our Australian troops in Afghanistan. This was an honour and certainly an eye-opening experience of which I am proud to have been a part.
What are your time management tips – how you get it all done?
I tackle life one day at a time and the top few things I know take the most priority. Or one if that’s all I can manage while parenting!
When it comes to being available to shoot, I could not manage without the help of Alexandra’s Dad Scott and his mother Sally (“Grandma Happy”) both of whom Alexandra craves time with.
When scrambling to accomplish everything I remind myself that I’m doing the most important job – being a Mum and this takes precedence. However juggling work (which in my case is shoots for two shows, the voiceovers in between, developing show partnerships and shooting corporate jobs) with motherhood can be stressful and is rarely smooth sailing! But I get it done, it’s getting easier and my daughter is happy, healthy and flourishing so that is my measure of success! And if I were honest with myself I thrive on being busy so wouldn’t have it any other way.
What’s your approach to health and fitness? What do you eat in a typical day? What about exercise?
To get one again! Between work, maintaining the house and garden and as I’m a single parent recently I’ve found little opportunity for structured exercise. With being out in the warmer weather as my motivation I’m looking forward to making a change over summer.
Right up until Alexandra was born, swimming laps was my ‘meditation’ along with walking to the Byron Bay lighthouse; I’ve always preferred to exercise amongst nature when it suits my schedule as opposed to attending classes or boot camps.
I don’t put much pressure on myself to look a certain way (unless I have to shoot in swimwear and would prefer to feel my best while doing it) and I’ve become more concerned for Alexandra than myself however I know I need to find a balance there.
As far as diet is concerned, everything in moderation. I’ll exercise and eat a healthy vegetarian lunch and then have something like butter chicken for dinner. When Alexandra is with her Dad they make light fun of my routine on the phone with me by saying “I bet you can guess what Mummy is doing?” “Exercising and eating purry (curry)!” I definitely eat too much curry and enjoy a glass of wine most nights.
What drew you to Byron Bay and what do you love about living there?
As is the case with many Byron locals I came for a holiday and never left! After house sitting for a friend for three months I’d settled in and sent for my things (which were in storage in Sydney having sold my apartment ready for a change though unsure of what that might look like).
Though it needed work, the dream house I found to buy ticked every box I had listed from my pokey studio apartment in Sydney. Byron’s beaches, countryside, more affordable real estate (at the time) and healthy lifestyle whereby friends caught up for walks and coffee rather than to have drinks appealed to me. Maybe I’d grown up! At the time it was a welcome change of pace.
What are your top 3 favourite places to go in Byron with your daughter?
1. The Farm – the animals and play equipment never fail to excite Alexandra (with good coffee in hand I’m happy too) and foraging for macadamia nuts to crack in the orchard makes for a memorable time together.
2. Clarkes or Wategos – wherever the smaller waves happen to be. We look for toddler friendly “floaty” waves and always let out a sigh of relief when we take the time to enjoy the incredible playground on our doorstep.
3. Top Shop – An oldie but a goodie, great burgers and fries and parents are able to chat as kids scribble on the pavement with chalk, simple, brilliant “feels like a summer” fun.
Tell us about your mother Robyn Symons?
My Mum Robyn Symons was a stoic, classy, selfless woman who did not mince her words and stood up for her principles. Mum found great joy ice-skating and was on the Australian Precision Ice-skating team and then a volunteer judge. She was very active (both body and mind) playing tennis and doing Pilates weekly, catching up with friends, learning Italian and always holidaying on the Gold Coast at the beach.
Mum spent most of her life working tirelessly for multiple Queensland charities and in her position as Fundraising Manager for the Hear and Say Centre helped many of “her babies” (as she called them) receive cochlear implants giving them the gift of hearing and speech. Outside of work she was a devoted Mother and Grandmother also volunteering for Rotary and Sailability, taking disabled children sailing on Saturdays. Mum’s life impacted so many people… As did her death but maybe none more so than her children and our children.