All Saints: profiles

Judth McGrath…

Judith says many of the friends she grew up with decided to become nurses. "It was something a lot of girls decided to do," she says. "And they became very up-front young women because of the experiences they had in the hospitals."

To describe Judith's All Saints character as 'up front' would be a massive understatement.

Judith explains that Von has been through so much over the years and she is not about to let anyone downgrade her decades of hands-on experience in comparison to a nursing degree. Von would also have her co-workers believe she is a hard-hearted person, but that is certainly not the truth.

"When I got the script for the audition, I thought she was very interesting — I liked her," Judith says.

"I liked the possibilities of who she was — she is an obvious character in many ways but with good dimensions. And I like the way the writers are developing her."

Judith has an extensive list of acting credits in theatre and television.

When she was seven she began taking drama classes at Brisbane's Twelfth Night Theatre. She took ballet and speech and elocution lessons. Judith says she knew from an early age she wanted to be an actor, although her family had no theatrical connections.

Judith began her professional acting career in theatre restaurants in Brisbane.

In her twenties she made 'the big trip' to London and worked in production for BBC radio's international news services.

When she returned to Australia, she settled in Melbourne and worked extensively in theatre, including many productions for Melbourne Theatre Company and Playbox Theatre Company.

Judith has done many television guest roles — including Bluey, The Sullivans, Skyways and Cop Shop — as well as several main cast roles.

Her longest-running television role was as the tough but fair 'screw' Colleen Powell on Prisoner, also known as Cell Block H. She appeared in just over 200 episodes in the early 1980s.

Judith joined A Country Practice in 1992 to play Bernice Hudson. Judith filmed her first scenes on the show the week Georgie Parker filmed her last scene.

Since then, Judith's credits have included the television series Police Rescue and Naked and mostly theatre work.

She admits to having absolutely no real medical experience but jokes she did have fun playing Matron Gribble (Frankie J. Holden's wife) on the children's television series Round the Twist.

Judith is enjoying working on All Saints and believes all the characters are very well drawn.

"It has been great for me to have started on the ground floor of a show and really be able to establish my character from scratch," she says.

Judith has been based in Sydney for several years. Outside of acting, her interests include designing and making clothes and 'playing tennis badly.'

…as Von Ryan

Von is the most experienced bedside nurse on the ward. She used to care for her mother and hence 'missed the boat' regarding studying to become a nurse. So she settled for becoming an SEN. She has worked in every department and ward in several hospitals in Sydney. She also did the European tour which was fashionable in the sixties, doing a stint in the special hospital for leukaemic children in London, where quite by accident she revolutionised the nursing approach to patients. One day Von forgot her uniform and regulation name badge so she threw a gown over her jeans and t-shirt and drew a big smiley face on it with her name Von underneath. The children responded very well to the informality, even relaxing during some of the horrendous procedures and treatments associated with their disease. The head of the unit instructed the rest of the staff to do the same. This was Von the bubbly, caring, warm nurse.

The staff on the present ward would shake their head with disbelief. Von is a changed woman. She went to Vietnam for action and adventure as a civilian working for an aid team. Later working in the military base hospital, Von was exposed to the horrors of war — men turned into animals or steaming, exposed flesh, women raped and children maimed. Humans at their worst and at their most vulnerable. There was also a man. Theirs was a deep and passionate relationship which turned into a nightmare when he was brought in on a stretcher, blown apart. As part of the triage team, Von had to make the decision for her lover to wait in line for treatment, knowing that he would die before they got to him. She still sees him in her dreams, not as the handsome, sexy lover but as the blackened, bloodied mass of flesh with pleading eyes.

Today, Von earns her nickname as the Commandant for, although she is at the bottom of the hierarchy, she bosses everyone about. She's tough and seemingly uncaring. She has no time for whingers. And she does not suffer fools gladly, being very blunt — calling a spade a bloody shovel! Everyone waits to see what her mood is because she can make your life hell or heaven; even Terri cops it.

But Von is a fantastic nurse, one of the best. Terri always puts her junior staff with her because they will learn — even if it is a painful process. Terri has also encouraged Von to return to studies and become a fully qualified nurse but Von shrugs — she is content to remain where she is. Von considers herself to be a real nurse anyway, not like these show ponies with their degrees in bedpans. The only patients Von shows overt softness for are the old diggers. Inwardly, of course, Von feels deeply and intensely for all the patients. She will cruelly tell an emotional staff member that the death of a patient was inevitable — she was riddled with cancer for Christ's sake! — going through her own grieving as heart-wrenching sobs under the shower in her sparse apartment.