Travels from: New South Wales
Categories: MCs & Hosts
Full Presenter Profile & Bio
Justine Clarke wasn’t quite born on stage, but over three extraordinary decades in song and screen, she’s easily made up for the few years she missed before she landed that first Humphrey Bear biscuits commercial at the age of seven.
Today she’s one of the most recognised and trusted faces on the Australian entertainment landscape: best-selling children’s singer, accomplished jazz chanteuse, internationally acclaimed film star, seasoned stage actor, and constant, reassuring presence on daytime TV institution, “Play School”.
Music and acting were facts of life for Justine long before she sang her first stage role, as an 11-year-old Brigitta in “The Sound of Music”. Her mother had been a teenaged Shakespearian actress turned Tivoli song-and-dance star; her father a booking agent at a Sydney variety venue.
At 12, Justine made her worldwide movie debut as Anna Goanna, riding shotgun with Mel Gibson in the blockbuster action feature “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome”.
She honed her craft as a teenage actor in a string of TV serials that helped define Australia in the 1980s, including “GP”, “A Country Practice”, “Come In Spinner” and a one-and-a-half-year stint as Roo Stewart in “Home and Away”.
As early as 1989 she received her first Best Actress nomination from the Penguin Awards judges, for her performance in the title role of David Williamson’s TV drama, “Princess Kate”.
And always, she sang. As a child, Justine had performed in the choir at Woollahra Public School, and danced across countless shopping mall stages. It was a chance encounter with Australian jazz icon Vince Jones in 1991 that made her focus her natural gifts as a singer.
“I was working in my boyfriend’s restaurant in Melbourne when I was 18,” she recalls. “Vince Jones was my idol. He came in for dinner one night and we ended up round the piano singing. He was very complimentary, very encouraging. I bought myself a microphone and amp and started practising every day in the back room.”
Over the next decade she wrote and sang in a range of musical guises, from 12-piece country and western band Honky Tonk Angels to ’50s rock’n‘rollers, the Comets.
But she realised her true calling as a jazz vocalist at the Starfish Club, the Wine Banc and other distinguished Sydney venues. She sang with Tom Burlinson in a Frank Sinatra big band tribute, and in 2001 wrote and performed a heartfelt tribute of her own, “Justine Clarke in a Doris Daze”.
Somehow, by day, she managed to take escalating acting demands in her stride. On TV there was “Wildside” and “All Saints”, “Love My Way” and the critically acclaimed “The Surgeon”. On the big screen, “Blackrock” (with Heath Ledger) and “Japanese Story” (with Toni Collette) led to a clutch of awards and nominations for her role as Meryl in “Look Both Ways” in 2004.
A long association with the Sydney Theatre Company began in 1996, and would reach a critical peak with her Helpmann-nominated performance in “Hedda Gabler” opposite Cate Blanchett. Justine met her husband, actor Jack Finsterer, while performing in “Cyrano de Bergerac” for the STC in 1999.
But it isn’t only their three children — Josef, Nina and baby Max — who feel a profound bond with Justine Clarke today.
“‘Playschool’ is a great way of connecting,” she says. “If you imagine there’s one child sitting on the floor watching, and you might actually get that child up on her feet, spark her imagination, that’s really everything you want to do as an actor. You want to tell a story and for that to ignite something.”
In her 11 years with Big Ted, Jemima and the rest of the iconic Playschool cast, Justine has released three extremely successful CD/ DVDs of childrens’ songs, with original compositions by pianist Peter Dasent and backed by some of Australia’s finest jazz musicians.
“I Like To Sing” (2005) is a certified gold album, a rarity in the world of kids’ music. Its irrepressible tunes about watermelons, birthdays and libraries instantly entered the everyday family songbook and seem set for a long stay.
“Songs to Make You Smile” (2008) continued to broaden the horizons of the singalong children’s song, from exhilarating car-radio pop to country, swing, rock and other deceptively sophisticated musical settings for a warm and impeccably pitched voice that sounds, to adults and children alike, like that of an old friend.
“Great Big World” (2010) is the latest in a childrens’ music catalogue which is now among ABC Records’ most successful ever, with accompanying DVDs for each title continuing to find new homes with successive waves of preschoolers every year.
Justine’s recording career has barely begun. A second series of adult TV drama “Tangle” is in the can. A new big screen thriller, “In Her Skin”, will shortly see her performing alongside Guy Pearce, Sam Neill and Miranda Otto. And having averaged a major stage role every year since 1996, you can keep your eye on theatre listings too.