Rowena Wallace was once the highest paid television star in Australia.
In the 1980s, she ruled the small screen playing the conniving Patricia ‘Pat the Rat’ Hamilton in Sons & Daughters.
However, her life became plagued with troubles after she exited the Australian soap in 1985, with the star battling everything from depression and addiction to financial woes and even fraud charges.
‘My career in TV went in reverse to most other actors. I started at the top and worked my way down,’ she told Daily Mail Australia.
‘I went from TV’s biggest earner to broke, living in government housing.’
Sitting in Joh Bailey’s hair salon in Double Bay on a sunny afternoon as the master hairdresser transforms the now 76-year-old back to her old character, Pat the Rat, Wallace is speaking frankly about her past – and the future.
‘You must never give up. This I have finally learned. This new show, which is like Vera meets Ironside, and proves it’s never too late.’
Rowena Wallace went from Australia’s highest-paid actress to living in public housing
In the 1980s, Wallace ruled the small screen playing the conniving Patricia ‘Pat the Rat’ Hamilton in Sons & Daughters
At the peak of Sons & Daughters fame, Rowena was taking home over $5,000 a week – a record at the time for an Australian star.
‘The moment I read for the character of Pat The Rat I wanted to play her,’ Wallace explained.
‘Her underlying vulnerable traits, stood out to me … I was in many ways like her in real life. Her foibles and vulnerability and addictions were me.’
In 1984, she became the first soap star to take home a Gold Logie award.
A young Rowena is pictured in the 1970s during an appearance on Prisoner
At the peak of Sons & Daughters fame, Rowena was taking home over $5,000 a week – a record at the time for an Australian star
She left the popular series a year later with dreams of a film career, but ended up returning to the soap in 1987 for its final season.
‘The end of the fourth year of the hit show, I became entrenched in a lot of trouble,’ she admits.
Behind all the fame and fortune, Rowena was struggling with mental health issues and a reliance on prescription medication.
‘The public and many of my co-stars never knew that just to get through each show I endured crippling back pain and anxiety and depression. I became a pill popping addict,’ she says.
As her acting career dwindled throughout the ’90s and 2000s, the star found herself on the disability pension and deep in debt.
‘The end of the fourth year of the hit show, I became entrenched in a lot of trouble,’ she admits
In 2005, the embattled actress was charged with social security fraud after continuing to collect a disability pension whilst appearing on shows like All Saints and Home and Away.
‘If you are used to having a lot of money, which she had during her heyday, you are not inclined to look after it that well,’ her friend, actress Diane Cilento, told the Sydney Morning Herald at the time.
She was forced to pay back $30,000 that she’d received from Centrelink, which only worsened her already dire financial situation.
Rowena admits that she was forced to take on demeaning work to make ends meet, including a humiliating appearance on the weight loss reality show Celebrity Overhaul in 2005.
Describing the show, Rowena says, ‘I left my dignity at the door when I appeared grossly overweight and almost naked in my late sixties on national TV.’
‘I spent what little money left on trying to cheer myself up buying pieces of expensive pieces of furniture despite having no home to put them in,’ she said.
In 2005, the embattled actress was charged with social security fraud after continuing to collect a disability pension whilst appearing on shows like All Saints and Home and Away
She was forced to pay back $30,000 that she’d received from Centrelink, which only worsened her already dire financial situation
Things picked up in 2007 when she landed a small but memorable recurring role on Neighbours as ‘Scary Mary’ Casey, but her personal issues derailed her comeback.
‘After my return to the small screen making many comebacks in shows like Neighbours, Home and Away, and Paradise Beach, my work was below par. My addictions and illness made me erratic and unreliable,’ Rowena confessed.
‘After going through numerous agents, who all promised the world, I just ran out of bitumen, so to speak,’ she added.
In 2012, Wallace attempted to sell her prized Gold Logie on eBay for $15,000 to make ends meet.
Things picked up in 2007 when she landed a small but memorable recurring role on Neighbours as ‘Scary Mary’ Casey (pictured), but her personal issues derailed her comeback
Although she was unable to find a buyer, the former Aussie A-lister was able to hock her Silver Logie for $4,000.
In a bid to save money, she relocated to government housing in rural Victoria and soon found herself plagued by suicidal ideation.
In 2017, a loyal fan set up a GoFundMe page to raise money to help Wallace move back to the city where she could pursue her acting career, but the star now says that the charitable act was ‘humiliating’.
During her darkest hour, Rowena says that she considered ‘swallowing a bottle of pills to end it all’ – only to then receive a life-changing phone call.
In a bid to save money, she relocated to government housing in rural Victoria and soon found herself plagued by suicidal ideation
The call was for an exciting new TV role, written especially for the veteran performer.
‘The lead is a gripping multi-layered character around which the show will sit, in much the same way as ‘Vera’ and ‘Silent Witness’ do with their respective stars,’ she explained.
‘The difference here being though, the star is wheelchair bound and is going to reveal a much more edgy character with real foibles and a ruthless b**chy streak not often seen in this type of role,’ she continued.
The 76-year-old is now set for a stellar comeback with an exciting new role
After decades of turmoil, things are finally starting to look up again for Rowena Wallace at the ripe old age of 76.
‘You can give in you can give out but you must never give up,’ she says defiantly.
‘This I have finally learned. This new show which is like Vera meets Ironside – and proves it’s never too late!’