Home is never far from Gretel Scarlett's heart
WATCHING Gretel Scarlett perform as Singin' in the Rain's leading lady, it's hard to imagine she grew up under the baking Rockhampton sun, building cubby houses with her five brothers and following them over bike jumps on their Gracemere property.
But Gretel's childhood in the Beef Capital has been ever present in her career and is something she continues to take pride in, even as she performs some of the most iconic roles in musical theatre to packed audiences nation-wide.
During a rare week back in her hometown, Gretel sat down with The Morning Bulletin to explain how her experiences have kept her grounded in a competitive and sometimes difficult industry.
Her first decade was spent growing up in an idyllic Australian setting on the outskirts of Gracemere.
There Gretel and her brothers spent weekends outdoors; taking bikes down to the creek, building corrugated iron castles and riding horses.
Weekdays were a different story though.
Gretel wasn't the only performer and endless family preparation was needed to see each child home safely from school, showered and changed for dance class.
With the baby and dance clothes all ready waiting in the car, Gretel said it was a quick procession through the bathroom for each child after the school bus dropped them off.
"We'd be getting dressed and making a sandwich in the car and eating it and then we'd get to dancing half an hour later," she said.
"It was just like clockwork.
"We had a tribe and that's why we were so well known I think, because we made it work."
Gretel described the flood of nostalgia she felt during a recent drive out to her childhood home.
"It was very happy times," she said.
"I have no bad memories of my childhood."
Following in her older brothers' footsteps was natural for Gretel and something she immediately found comfort in, starting classes with Narelle Aspinall at Capricorn School of Dancing.
"It was something we all sort of possessed as kids," she said.
"We liked being interactive, so we ended up all doing it. We all enjoyed it.
"We loved the social time of dancing, it was great."
For their dance school, there was an added bonus; with five boys in the family they were never short of male performers.
The family later moved into Rockhampton itself, closer to schools, dance classes and performances.
Gretel started high school at Rockhampton Girls Grammar School, somewhere she had longed to be for several years.
It had always seemed a dream out of reach though, with the family unable to afford tuition until she was offered a full cultural scholarship.
"It's an incredible school and I would not be where I am today without the help and support they had," she said.
"They nurtured every bit of my performing arts.
"I was very lucky I went to a school that would truly support what I wanted to do with my life."
At the end of Year 10, having securing a place at a full-time ballet school, Gretel and her family moved to Sydney.
By this time, the family were well-known among the region's performing arts community and Gretel said her parents were starting to feel the strain.
The move gave them a chance to reconnect and enjoy some anonymity.
Gretel said her parents were never the type you'd see on Dance Moms or Toddlers and Tiaras.
In fact, for the most part she said they were usually so busy juggling every child's performance requirements they wouldn't get to see them on stage.
Yet, Gretel said they were always a force in her life, "supporting and nurturing and helping".
"They liked the fact that when we moved to Sydney, they regained themselves and I'm glad they did find themselves again because it got a little bit heavy here," she said.
Although she's still proud to call herself a Rocky gal, Gretel said there was a heartbreaking paradox given the talent which had been nurtured in Central Queensland needed a big city to be explored to its full potential.
"I always appreciated coming from Rocky because I always knew the opportunities here were endless," Gretel said.
"It's much more affordable living so therefore I could do all the things I really set out to do as a youngster.
"If I didn't have Rockhampton I wouldn't have been able to get to where I am based on a financial situation.
"As you go away, you sort of see the big city and you start to appreciate all the opportunities you were given in Rockhampton.
"In saying that, there's also a time when you've got to leave because if you want to pursue it and make a career out of it you have to leave Rocky, unfortunately.
"I think that's where my heart breaks because I don't want to get up and leave and just abandon (Rocky).
"I now carry it through with me as a constant reminder.
"It took all that for 15 years to get to where I am today."