Travel Talk With Deborra-lee Furness

Deborra-lee Furness

Don’t ask this passionate humanitarian to choose between husband Hugh Jackman and a can of whipped cream.

What is your greatest strength?

Courage. We all work with fear, insecurity and self-doubt but courage means stepping up anyway.

And your greatest weakness?

I think our greatest weaknesses are our strengths. Fragility. Vulnerability. All that stuff’s there to give us a pathway to overcome and propel us into action.

Does anything scare you?

Being in small spaces; I’m claustrophobic. Having an MRI was my worst nightmare.

Which virtue do you most admire in people?

Kindness. If you can give a fellow human empathy and understanding, you feel better and they feel better – it’s win-win.

If you could do any other job, what would it be?

I love to paint and sculpt so I’d be an architect or interior designer. We’ve just designed and built a beach house in the Hamptons. It was such a joy to create, from a blank canvas, a space that inspires people.

Is there something about you that would surprise people?

Public speaking terrifies me. I’d rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy, as they say. Standing in front of a large group of people who are staring at me is horribly intimidating yet I have to do it all the time for my work.

What’s your most treasured possession?

My wedding ring, for obvious reasons. It never comes off. I also adore the gold necklace I wear every day. It has three engraved pendants: two for my kids [Oscar, 18, and Ava, 13] and one for my husband.

What is your idea of absolute happiness?

Being present. If you’re caught up in the past or the future, it causes undue stress. Living every moment makes me happy.

Which two famous people would you choose to have dinner with?

Nelson Mandela and Oprah Winfrey. I’ve met Oprah a few times with Hugh but we’ve never had dinner. She’s one of the wisest women in the world and I’d love to listen to her speak for an entire evening.

What travel experience is on your bucket list?

Scandinavia. I want to see the Northern Lights and I’d have to do the whole “ice hotel” thing. I just don’t get how it works; how is it that you don’t melt your bed? I’m also a huge design freak and obsessed with Swedish Minimalism.

How do you switch off?

I lie in a hammock with a good book. I read a lot of biographies.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Whipped cream straight out of the can – just spray it in there.

If you could turn back time, would you change anything in your life?

I’d be a bit slimmer… maybe not have eaten so much whipped cream!

What is your greatest achievement?

Being a parent. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to navigate but, needless to say, it’s also the most rewarding. I cannot fathom how my children are grown already. My son can legally have a beer at a pub in Australia! How did that happen?

Who is your personal hero?

My mum [Fay Duncan, one of the founders of the Fight Cancer Foundation]. She’s no longer with us but she was the kindest person, had courage and strength and was so inclusive. Everyone called her “Mumma”, even my friends.

If you were an animal, what would it be?

A lioness. I have a loud “roar” and I’m protective of my family and friends.

What would you say are the most Australian things about you?

My pioneer spirit and down-to-earthness. Australians are very open-hearted and welcoming – it’s in our DNA.

If you were down to your last $20, what would you spend it on?

It would have to be on flowers – I love orchids, peonies and frangipanis – and ice-cream.

How would you like to be remembered?

As someone who worked to bring people together.

The founder of Adopt Change – an organisation that provides support, research and advocacy for adoption law reform in Australia – will campaign during National Adoption Awareness Week, 12 to 18 November. Visit

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