Deborah Mailman

Deborah Jane Mailman, AM (born 14 July 1972) is an Aboriginal Australian television and film actress, and singer. She was the first Aboriginal actress to win the Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, and has gone on to win four more both in television and film. The awards are now known as the AACTA Awards. Mailman first gained recognition for the 1998 film Radiance, for which she won her first AFI award.

Deborah Mailman

Mailman at The Sapphires Australian premiere in August 2012
Born (1972-07-14) 14 July 1972
Mount Isa, Queensland, Australia
NationalityIndigenous Australian
Alma materQueensland University of Technology
  • Actress
  • singer
Years active1994–present
Partner(s)Matthew Coonan

Mailman played the character Kelly Lewis on the Australian television series, The Secret Life of Us. and current role as Cherie Butterfield in the Australian drama series Offspring. She portrayed the role of Lorraine in the Australian TV series Redfern Now, and Aunt Linda in the television program Cleverman.

Mailman is currently the main character in the Australian TV series Total Control.

She had roles in Rabbit-Proof Fence, Oddball, The Sapphires, and Paper Planes.

Personal life

Mailman grew up in Mount Isa in north-west Queensland.[1] She is one of five children. She has both Indigenous Australian (Bidjara) and Māori (Ngati Porou and Te Arawa) heritage. In 1992, she graduated from Queensland University of Technology Academy of the Arts with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Performing Arts. She is married with two children. [2]


Mailman played the role of Kate in a La Boite Theatre production of Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew in 1994.[3][4] Other early stage roles include solo show The Seven Stages of Grieving (which she co-wrote with Wesley Enoch) for Kooemba Jdarra, Queensland Theatre Company's 1997 revival of Louis Nowra's play Radiance, and Cordelia in King Lear for Bell Shakespeare in 1998.[5][6]

In 1998, Mailman made her film debut as Nona in the Australian independent film Radiance (based on the play), for which she won the AFI Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role.[1] She had role on The Secret Life of Us, for which she was twice awarded Most Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series at the Logies (2002 and 2004).

Mailman was part of the Leah Purcell documentary Black Chicks Talking (2001), where she discussed her Aboriginal heritage.[7] In 2006, she took part in a four-part television documentary series with Cathy Freeman called Going Bush, where the pair set off on a journey from Broome to Arnhem Land spending time with Indigenous communities along the way.[8]

She appeared in the Play School TV series and was part of The Actors Company for the Sydney Theatre Company (2006–2007).[9]

She appeared in the film Rabbit-Proof Fence.[5] She played a lead role in the 2010 musical film Bran Nue Dae.[10] In the play The Sapphires and the subsequent film of the same name she played the role of singer Gail McCrae.

She was awarded an Inside Film Award for her short film Ralph, which starred Madeleine Madden.[11] From 2010 to 2014, she played the role of Cherie Butterfield in Channel Ten's Offspring drama series.[12]

In 2012, she starred in Redfern Now, an indigenous mini-series for the ABC.[13]

On 29 January 2015, Mailman co-hosted the AACTA Awards with Cate Blanchett.[14]

Mailman started as Maureen Prescott in Paper Planes, released 15 January 2015. She then appeared as Mayor Lake in Oddball and the voice of Blinky Bill's mother in Blinky Bill the Movie.

On 18 February 2015, Mailman joined the Sydney Opera House Trust.[15]

In 2019, Mailman was appointed to a three year term as a member of the Screen Australia Board.[16]

In 2019, she starred as politician Alex Irving in the series Total Control, produced by Blackfella Films and screened on the ABC.[17]



Year Film Role Notes
1998 Radiance Nona
2000 The Third Note Tina Short film
2000 The Monkey's Mask Lou
2002 Rabbit-Proof Fence Mavis
2006 The Book of Revelation Julie
2009 Bran Nue Dae Roxanne
2012 Mental Sandra
2012 The Sapphires Gail McCrae
2012 Mabo Bonita
2013 The Darkside Pamela
2015 Paper Planes Maureen
2015 Oddball Mayor Lake Also narrator
2015 Redfern Now: Promise Me Lorraine TV movie
2015 Blinky Bill the Movie Blinky's mum Voice
2016 A Few Less Men Police Officer
2017 Three Summers Pam
2017 Djali Gracie Phillips Short film


Year Television Role Notes
2001–05 The Secret Life of Us Kelly Lewis / Narrator Main cast (86 episodes)
2010–17 Offspring Cherie Butterfield Main cast (69 episodes)
2012 Redfern Now Lorraine Episode 3: "Raymond"
Episode 7: "Where the Heart Is"
2014–16 Black Comedy Guest Cast 9 episodes
2014–18 Jack Irish Cynthia 7 episodes
2016 Tomorrow When the War Began Kath Mackenzie 6 episodes
2016–17 Cleverman Aunty Linda 12 episodes
2016 Wolf Creek Bernadette O'Dell Episode 1.3: "Salt Lake"
Episode 1.4: "Opalville"
2016 Please Like Me Siobhan Episode 4.6: "Souvlaki"
2017 Little J & Big Cuz Big Cuz Animated series
2017 Get Krack!n Prime Minister Burney Episode 1.7
2018 Mystery Road Kerry Thompson Mini-series
2018 Bite Club Anna Morton 8 episodes
2019 Total Control Alex Irving Main cast

Awards and nominations

AACTA Awards

Year Category Film Result
1998 Best Leading Movie Actress Radiance Won
2003 Best Leading TV Actress The Secret Life Of Us Won
2010 Best Supporting Movie Actress Bran Nue Dae Won
Best Supporting TV Actress Offspring Won
2012 Best Supporting Movie Actress Mental Nominated
2013 Best Leading Movie Actress The Sapphires Won
Best Supporting Movie Actress Mental Nominated
2015 Paper Planes Nominated
Best Leading TV Actress Redfern Now: Promise Me Nominated
2019 Best Lead Actress in a TV Drama Total Control Won

Equity Ensemble Awards

Year Category Film Result
2010 Most Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series Offspring Nominated
2011 Nominated
2012 Redfern Now Won
Offspring Nominated
Most Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Television Movie or Miniseries Mabo Nominated

FCCA Awards

Year Category Film Result
2010 Best Supporting Actress Bran Nue Dae Nominated
2013 Best Actress The Sapphires Nominated

Helpmann Awards

Year Category Production Result
2003 Best Female Actor in a Play The Seven Stages of Grieving Nominated
2005 The Sapphires Nominated
2007 Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Play The Lost Echo Won

Logie Awards

Year Category Film Result
2002 Most Outstanding Actress The Secret Life Of Us Won
2003 Nominated
2004 Won
2013 Mabo Won
Most Popular Actress Nominated
2016 Most Outstanding Actress Redfern Now: Promise Me Won
2017 Most Outstanding Supporting Actress Wolf Creek Nominated
Most Popular Actress Cleverman / Jack Irish / Offspring / Wolf Creek Nominated
2018 Cleverman Nominated
2019 Bite Club / Mystery Road Won

Other awards

Year Category Result
2003 NAIDOC Person of the Year Won
2003 Female Actor of the Year Won

In 2012, Mailman was a recipient of the Queensland Greats Awards.[18]


  1. Lehmann, Megan (9 November 2013). "Darkside star Deborah Mailman moves amid kindred spirits". The Australian. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  2. Sunday Herald Sun
  3. AusStage
  4. Bryant, Nick (October 2012). "The Mailman express: An actress on a roll". The Monthly. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  5. Prior, Sian (11 March 2002). "Smashing through". The Age. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  7. Jopson, Debra (15 June 2002). "Look at us now". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  8. Dwyer, Michael (26 January 2006). "Home and away". The Age. Retrieved 16 January 2015.
  9. "The Actors Company's short, fraught life". The Sydney Morning Herald. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  10. Hawker, Philippa (8 August 2009). "Indigenous film's world premiere introduces some Bran Nue stars". The Age. Retrieved 7 March 2016.
  11. "Ralph". Retrieved 30 September 2015.
  12. "Deborah Mailman". Offspring. Network Ten. 6 July 2010. Retrieved 6 August 2010.
  13. Knox, David (28 May 2012). "Cameras roll on Redfern Now". TV Tonight. Retrieved 7 April 2015.
  14. Domjen, Briana (11 January 2015). "Deborah Mailman and Cate Blanchett to co-host the AACTA Awards". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 19 January 2015.
  15. "Our People: The Sydney Opera House Trust". Sydney Opera House. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  16. "Appointments to Screen Australia Board". 27 March 2019. Retrieved 11 April 2019.
  17. "'Black Bitch' TV series renamed 'Total Control' by ABC". NITV. Retrieved 22 October 2019.
  18. "2012 Queensland Greats recipients". Queensland Government. Archived from the original on 31 May 2017. Retrieved 31 May 2017.
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