Morag Bellingham QC was a rare gem in soap television: a complex, fiercely flawed character who viewers loved nonetheless. Tara Ward pays tribute to the character – and the actress who played her, who died yesterday.
For 29 glorious years she graced our screens as Alf Stewart’s evil sister in Home and Away, the brutally honest lawyer who occasionally visited Summer Bay to sort everyone else’s shit out. Morag was vindictive, she was loyal, she was more powerful than the giant sinkhole Alf fell into. She’s one of Home and Away’s most enduring characters, played with strength and passion by Cornelia Frances, who died yesterday aged 77.
Let’s be honest: Morag Bellingham was terrifying. Her sneer could strike the weak down dead, an eye roll could wipe out civilisations. No one was safe from Morag’s withering judgements or spiteful insults. She was magnificent in full flight, her sharp tongue throwing barbs like a gaggle of flaming crows being stoned by a million Alf Stewarts. “She’s as sour as last week’s milk,” Alf reckoned.
Exhibit A: Morag’s first H&A appearance for her niece Roo’s shot-gun wedding to ‘80s spunkrat Frank. Come for the awkward introductions, stay for Alf’s thoughts on French food.
I don’t know what those jokers call it in France, but in Summer Bay Morag was the biggest bitch on the beach. She shocked us with her open hatred of her birth daughter Bobby and her evil plot to break up Alf and Ailsa’s marriage, and who could forget the time she tricked her blind butler Nigel by moving the furniture around? It didn’t matter that she adored her niece or was a successful careerwoman, because that was the 80s in a nutshell, kids. Confused butlers and bad mullets bobbing around in a sea of untrustworthy French snow peas.
Morag hated Summer Bay, and Summer Bay hated Morag. Her life was a bitter cycle of pissing off the entire town and escaping to the sophistication of The City, before being yanked back on an emotional bungy cord to save the latest hapless victim in need of legal defence. Summer Bay was in Morag’s blood, like giardia or the herpes simplex virus. No matter how hard she tried to rid it from her system, it would always be there.
Just as well, because Morag was the best (only) lawyer Summer Bay had ever known. She was an expert on everything: arson, attempted murder, crimes against Chris Hemsworth, vote rigging, embezzlement, corporate corruption, bad mullet perms, custody disputes, drug smuggling, illegal surrogacy, good mullet perms, armed robbery, assault, drunk driving, kidnapping, bad service in the Diner and armed robbery. She even shut down a school PTA meeting once, because who’s got time for a bullshit PTA meeting? Not me, and definitely not Aunty Morag.
But as the sands passed through the Summer Bay hour glass and into the eternal sunshine of our lives, the new millennium bought us a more sympathetic Morag. New Morag smiled and apologised for her sins. She married her ex-lover Ross, even after he admitted hooking up with her a week after his wife died. She probably figured she’d end up defending him in court eventually anyway, and if Morag can’t find true love in the shiny paradise that is Summer Bay then what is life? Nothing but a cold, limp burger served in the Bayside Diner of our sweaty nightmares. Closer each day, Home and Away.
Home and Away won’t be the same without Morag. She was an icon of the Bay, a fiercely flawed villain who redeemed herself through the love of family and a newfound fondness for fishing. If I’m ever falsely accused of robbing the Yabbie Creek jewellers, I’ll be gutted that Morag isn’t around to make a tiny but crucial error that sends me to prison. In the immortal words of Alf Stewart that time he played the piano in Westminster Abbey: Morag’s candle burned out long before her legend ever will.
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