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Florance, Sheila Mary (1916–1991)

Sheila Florance, as Rebecca Nurse in 'The Crucible', n.d.

Sheila Florance, as Rebecca Nurse in 'The Crucible', n.d.

Monash University Archives, 3749

Sheila Florance, the veteran actor who said recently that she had died in so many roles "it is hard to remember the survivors", lost a real-life battle with cancer on Saturday morning.

Ms Florance, who was 75, died in a Melbourne hospital one week after receiving the Australian Film Institute best actress award for her portrayal of an elderly woman dying of cancer in A Woman's Tale.

Her best-known character was that of Lizzie Birdsworth in the Channel 10 series Prisoner, even though she claimed it was "the worst thing I ever did, professionally or privately". She also had a long-running role in the ABC television series Bellbird.

Paul Cox and Barry Dickins wrote A Woman's Tale specifically for Ms Florance, who had six operations to remove cancer cells in the past two years. In the film she plays an 80-year-old cancer patient who refuses to be sent to a nursing home.

In a recent interview, she said: "I never dreamed I would reach 70 because I have had a very hard life." Her 10-month-old daughter was blown out of her arms during a German bombing raid in Britain in World War II. Shortly after, her first husband, Roger Oysten, went missing in D-day landings.

Yet Ms Florance maintained she was not afraid of dying. "I've seen a lot of my friends die. My second husband, Jan, had cancer. He died in my arms.

"Death is beautiful ... it is a release. I have tremendous faith in an Almighty, but I don't look for consolation in religion, no. I'm a complete fatalist who looks death straight in the eye."

A Woman's Tale, now screening in the United States, was her first major film role in an acting career spanning more than 50 years. The actress, who had won three Logies, a Penguin and two Critic awards, told the film's backers she no longer had cancer so that they would proceed.

A friend, Mr Roland Roccheccioli, said yesterday that Ms Florance touched many in the entertainment industry because she was a real Australian battler.

In her prime, she was regarded as a great beauty and had some leading parts in stage shows in London during the war years.

She toured the north of England last year to promote the Prisoner series but collapsed on stage during the tour. British surgeons removed a 4kg cancerous growth, Mr Roccheccioli said.

He said Ms Florance was a straight talker who gave the facts "full-barrelled" and at point-blank range. She had called him to her bedside at Melbourne's Cabrini Hospital last week and told him: "It's a fascinating thing this dying, but it takes so bloody long."

She is survived by two sons.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 October 1991, p 8

Additional Resources

Citation details

'Florance, Sheila Mary (1916–1991)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 11 August 2020.

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