Date of Birth: March 1953
Siblings: Wendy McFarlane
Marital Status: Murdoch Roberts (197?-1985, separated, deceased); Ken Smith (2000, engaged)
Children: Nathan, Finlay & Damian Roberts
Foster Children: Selina Roberts, Chloe Richards, Joey Rainbow, Will Smith, Hayley Smith & Nick Smith
Occupation: Waitress; School Secretary; Diner Part-Owner
Irene arrived in Summer Bay as the alcoholic mother of two children being fostered by Pippa Ross. Having hit rock bottom after an unhappy marriage and having hit the grog in despair she turned her life around and carved out a niche for herself as the carer of many a troubled teenager. She moved on from being the town drunk to being one of the town’s most loved and respected residents.
When Irene first appeared, played by Jacqui Phillips, she was very much the heavy drinker and smoker, morose and resentful. Her oldest son Nathan had gone off the rails and was in prison. The two youngest, Finlay and Damian had been removed from her care, as she had tried to strangle them when in a drunken stupor. She was angry and hurt. She wanted her kids back, and although they could remember the good times, when they were small children, they could not go back to living with an alcoholic who could not face up to her difficulties. Irene fell down some stairs and in her anger and bitterness she claimed Finlay and Damien had pushed her.
In 1993, Irene returned, this time played by Lynne McGranger, she was still the bottle dyed blonde, the battler, the rough character, but she had stopped drinking. The rough diamond, the Irene we now know and love, was beginning to re emerge from an alcoholic fog. She returned with a bottle in hand, but it turned out to be a bottle of non alcoholic wine to celebrate Finlay passing her exams.
She made peace With Fin and Damien but they chose to remain in Summer Bay. Not wanting to lose this fragile new relationship she returned again a few months later and has been there ever since.
Irene worked hard to win the trust of those around her. She became firm friends with Pippa, and also with Ailsa. For a long time she worked in Ailsa and Alf’s shop and then in the diner. She decided to apply for the job of Don’s secretary, even though she could not do shorthand, type or use a computer. She got the job and managed to pull the wool over Don’s eyes by using a tape recorder and doing all the work at home in the evenings. He eventually cottoned on, and impressed by her resourcefulness, he then arranged for her to attend secretarial classes and the rest as they say is history. She remained the school secretary for a long time becoming very much an integral part of the school. Whilst working there part time while she attended Uni to do an English Literature degree part time.
Irene lived at The Beach House with Bobby and with Marilyn before buying it after Bobby’s death. It was her first proper home, and eventually Damien moved in with her. Although Fin was a regular visitor, she remained with the Ross’s until she eventually left The Bay and married.
Having tuned her life around, supported by the people around her, Irene has since faced many a challenge but has resisted the temptation to drink again. She began to care for other people’s kids, when Selina came to live with her. She applied to become a foster carer and was turned down due to her history; Selina’s impassioned championing of her case to DoC’s made them think again.
Nathan returned to Summer Bay after his prison sentence and Irene again was able to re-establish a relationship with her wayward son. She was pleased for him when he went of travelling with his Irish girlfriend, a nurse he had met at Northern Districts hospital.
Over the years Irene has cared for a number of young people, including, Selina, Chloe, Nelson, Joey, Will, Hayley, Nick, Tasha and Belle. She has also provided a temporary haven to their various friends, to her own friends, and to the children of her friends in times of crises, including, Noah, Steven, Dani, Kirsty, Kane, Jesse, Kim, Kit, Robbie, and others.
In 1997 she became a surrogate mother for her daughter Finlay, who thought she was unable to conceive. The child was kidnapped at birth by the evil cult leader Saul, and did not turn up for almost a year; Irene returned the baby, Paul, to his genetic parents, Finlay and her husband Barry.
Irene has a special gift, which is rarely referred to these days, the gift of second sight. She dreamed that her fiancé Ken was calling her and she ran following him to the edge of a cliff. She realised she had foreseen his death. It is a gift that Irene has chosen not to use, so unlike Floss McPhee she does not seek to see the future.
Over the years Irene has made numerous friends, and a couple of enemies. Diana Frazer hated her with intensity. She became Irene’s arch enemy throughout her years in the Bay, hating Irene with an almost pathological passion due to the fact that Diana’s daughter in law Chloe and later her granddaughter Olivia, and indeed others, loved Irene more than they loved her. Diana once tried to get the local police to arrest Irene for attempted murder when she waved a knife she had been cutting a cake with at her whilst talking. She also spiked Irene’s drink in an attempt to undermine her with the locals. Needless to say it did not work!
More recently Diana and Irene went to war again when Chloe, her foster daughter returned to The Bay only to die in a car accident. Distraught but determined to honour Chloe’s wishes that Diana not have custody of Olivia, Irene fought Diana for custody. She lost but her grief soon turned to happiness when James, Olivia’s Uncle, Diana’s son and executor of Chloe’s will announced that in her will Chloe had made him her legal guardian. Olivia went to live with her Uncle and Irene was happy that Chloe’s wishes were being adhered to.
Irene has been unlucky in love. There have been a number of boyfriends, and Irene has remained optimistic that things will work out fine in the end. Her husband Murdoch ‘Mud’ Roberts, had been a serial adulterer and abusive. He left her and this was what had led to her downward spiral into alcohol addiction. Having conquered it, she was not going to make the same mistake again, or so she thought. Mud reappeared, promised he had changed and she reconsidered. However, upon finding him hitting on Selina she sent him packing and he was later murdered by Dodge. Then there was the millionaire Anthony who was very keen on Irene, but who thought that throwing money at her would buy her affections. Irene, being both independent and proud concluded that the relationship was not going to work, and ended it. When her then foster children Will, Hayley and Nick’s real father Ken turned up Irene began another relationship. Ken and Irene were both ex-alcoholics, and wanted to make a proper family together for the Smith children. Their relationship was tested by Ken’s ex wife, Eve, who tried to poison Irene and who believed she was trying to steal her family. Eve is still in the Psych unit as far as we know. Ken worked hard to get money for a wedding but died when his car fell on him shortly before they were due to be married. A few years later in 2002, Irene had a relationship with the much younger school principle, Paris Burnett. They had a lot of ups and downs, and Paris gave up a promotion in order to be near Irene. When he returned to Summer Bay in 2003, to live near to Irene they eventually moved into together for a while, but Nick’s misdemeanours came between them and led to Paris moving out for a while. Although he asked her to accompany him when he left to care for his orphaned niece and nephew, she decided they were not strong enough and would not last the distance. They said a fond farewell and he left without her.
In late 2003 Barry Hyde arrived. The sparks flew almost immediately between these two, and although she lost her job at the school at his hands, they were drawn to each other. Tasha bought Irene a share in the diner and she became a successful business woman. Barry and Irene became firm friends and then lovers. They moved in together for a few months but decided they could not live together and wanted different things down the track. Their feelings did not diminish though and eventually they recommenced their love affair only for it to be ended dramatically when Barry was found to be a double murderer. Irene was distraught. She refused to see Barry, or to allow him to explain, but she relented and read a letter he had left her, declaring he had never loved anyone the way he had loved her. She made sure Barry know that she cared about him too before he left Summer Bay to await trial in the city.
Irene went off on jury service at the beginning or 2005. Not long after she returned, a new constable arrived and he moved into Irene’s house when there were several break ins. Irene began to behave very oddly, she had severe headaches and developed an acute paranoia. It transpired that the new constable, Corey, was poisoning her with mercury. His father had been convicted by the jury on which Irene had served, and had committed suicide in prison. Corey blamed the jury and had been killing them off one by one. Irene began to suspect she was being poisoned but no one believed her and she was dragged off, kicking and screaming to a psychiatric unit. She realised it was Corey, but again she was not believed. Corey left Summer Bay, making sure some poisoned chocolates were left for Irene to ingest. The local police worked out what was happening just in time and Irene was saved.
Irene is the quintessential Aussie battler, who, according to one of our members has ‘a killer smile, a wicked laugh and a heart as big as Australia.’ Irene is always among the first to stand up for what is right and just, and is no soft touch. She can put her foot in it and get it horribly wrong but her intentions are usually good and she is forgiven. She is always on hand to support her friends. She can be judgemental and very gobby at times but her fallibility, when compared with some of the more “”perfect”” characters, makes her more real and human. Whatever life throws at her, and life has thrown one hell of a lot at Irene, she picks herself up and gets on with it. There remains in Irene an unswerving hope and an unshakable belief that somehow things will turn out good in the end.
Irene’s appeal is huge and she is loved by both Summer Bay residents and by viewers alike. Irene, more than anyone, instinctively knows the meaning of unconditional love. Irene collects waifs and strays like others collect money off coupons, stamps or knick knacks; she just cannot help herself. Whatever strife or trouble the kids give her she will support them, defend them, worry over them, and love them, no matter what the personal cost to her. Like a lioness with her cubs, for Irene the kids will always come first. As Tasha once said, “”No one ever loved me like you do.””
2008 for Irene saw a number of key events. She got a new partner at the Diner in the shape of Roman and though she initially couldn’t warm to him, they ended up getting on. When the Diner began collapsing as a result of an old earthquake fault Irene and roman moved into a new building with Leah and helped come up with a proposal to suit them all when Leah’s business The Den, failed.
Her major storyline came when she received a mysterious phone call and took custody of an adorable but sick little boy called Oliver. She applied for guardianship of him and it was revealed that his parents were none other than the fugitives Kirsty and Kane. Kane came to the house to ask Irene to keep Ollie but Irene refused until she spoke to Kirsty. On speaking to Kirsty it became clear that she didn’t want to give Ollie up and was sick of running. Things were taken out of her hands though when Kane was arrested for armed robbery and Irene was arrested as a co-conspirator.
Kane cut a deal which saw the charges against her dropped and Irene’s major storyline of the year ended with Kirsty moving in with Miles. For the remainder of the year she was primarily occupied as Belle’s main confidant through her trials and tribulations and looking after Geoff and Annie and running The new Diner with Roman.
She got herself a new love interest in local supplier Lou DeBono after he helped her in the kitchen during Colleen’s speed dating event and later bombarded her with flowers. Flattered by his attentions she agreed to a date but was intimidated by the thought of going the opera and cancelled the date after her dress split. Lou later talked to her and they shared fish and chips on the Pier but she was upset again when he offered her wine. She managed to avoid drinking any but at their next date she wasn’t so lucky and when Lou inquired as to what was wrong, she told him the truth about her alcoholic past. Lou though told her he thought she was remarkable and wanted to keep seeing her.
Their next date was to Lou’s yacht club but Irene was left humiliated when Lou abandoned her and she was set up by his wife Donna, despite him having told her he was divorced. He explained that they were as good as divorced but that Donna was being stubborn over the settlement but Irene had had enough and called time on the relationship. Lou though wasn’t willing to give up and showed her his boat, asking to take her away for a few weeks. With the support of her family and friends Irene agreed to take the trip.
When Angelo was called out to investigate a drifting boat, he was on the receiving end of a gun firing shots which injured an officer. Making his way onto the boat, he was shocked to see Irene on board and wielding a gun. He arrested her and during interview she explained that Lou had gone missing in the middle of the night and that she was terrified and had started drinking again. Angelo locked her up for shooting a police officer but when evidence was found suggesting Lou had died, Irene was charged with his murder.
In prison Irene was taunted into drinking and fell further into depression when Lou’s body was found.**She was released when Angelo found evidence someone else was on the boat but continued drinking on her return to the Bay. When Annie poured away a bottle of booze, Irene slapped her, horrifying them both. Belle took her to an alcoholics anonymous meeting and she gradually rebuilt her relationship with her foster children. She was shocked when Donna was arrested after the murder weapon was found in her house. Having inherited Lou’s prawn trawler on his death, she ended up employing Aden and Geoff to run it after the previous captain, Gibbsey, was revealed to be an abalone poacher.
Irene spent the next few months fading into the background again, dealing with Belle’s death and its aftermath. She had a brief trip to Japan when she chaperoned Annie and Jai on their exchange trip. On her return, she learned Donna had been released on a technicality. Donna turned up at the house insisting she was innocent and Irene believed her and ended up signing the trawler back over to her, since she had lost her berth. Together they discovered that Donna’s gardener, Orson, had seen someone planting the gun in the house but he was hospitalised before he could reveal more. Donna decided to leave town, fearing the same fate, and she and Irene parted as friends.
She spent the first few months of 2010 having to deal with the rebuilding of the Diner after the race riot, during which she was trapped inside the building herself while it was firebombed, and the departure of Geoff and Annie. She played a big part in persuading Alf to reinvolve himself in town life and briefly took a job with him at the surf club while the Diner was out of order but she was too used to being her own boss to do things the way he wanted and they were both relieved when she could return to the Diner. She also tried to help Romeo out with his problems with Jill, giving both of them advice on how to deal with alcoholism.
When Charlie found out Ruby was drinking and that Irene had suggested she buy a bottle of wine as a present, she took Ruby away from the house and Irene felt guilty that she hadn’t noticed about Ruby’s drink problem. Irene gained some new householders in April and Bianca Scott and then Will and Lily. Irene was pleased to have them back although she was worried by Will’s behaviour, as he seemed angry all the time and hooked up with Shandi Ayres, and the lack of word from Gypsy, with whom Will had split up. Despite this, she seemed determined to make sure Will kept custody of Lily after Gypsy filed for divorce. However, she seemed concerned when Will’s evidence led to Alf’s arrest for Penn Graham’s murder.
Irene continued to support Will in the face of opposition from the likes of Colleen, Morag and Alf. However, when Will went on the run, she accepted he’d been lying. When Will called her for help after Lily felt ill, she let the police know where to find him. Afterwards, Alf forgave her, acknowledging she’d just been supporting her family, and invited her to the barbeque celebrating his exoneration. She was one of those most willing to give the River Boys a fair go and also tried to deal with April’s mood swings, beginning to get an insight into her OCD when she saw everything arranged neatly, and alerted Bianca. She also advised Bianca to give Liam a wide berth when he had his drug relapse, saying he needed to hit rock bottom, and seemed ready to give up on him after he left town but encouraged Bianca to go and see him when they learned he was in rehab. She realised Bianca was growing closer to Heath Braxton and advised her against it, saying she could see good in the other Braxtons but Heath was just trouble. She was concerned when it turned out they’d slept together and Heath broke into her house. She tried to help Bianca through her rape and her relationship woes with Liam.
She discovered a lump on her breast and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She kept it quiet, although April found out when she saw a surgeon’s car in her bag. When Leah became concerned about her, she was forced to admit the truth and give up work. She underwent a mastectomy and chemotherapy and also had to cope with a visit from Gypsy, who proved a less than effective nurse. She also worried about April when she used drugs to get through her exams. She tried to go back to work but felt faint, so Marilyn had to take her home, but was cheered up when she found her friends had organised a breast cancer fundraiser. Her mood dampened slightly when Colleen, Roo and Marilyn visited for a girls’ day and a tarot card reading Marilyn gave her indicated someone was going to die.
Irene attempted to recover her life by going sailing, only to collapse with a heart attack, and it was discovered that the chemotherapy had left her with a weak heart. She shut herself away in the house as a result and when Alf and Roo convinced her to go out she ended up having a panic attack. She even refused to go to Liam and Bianca’s wedding. When she began complaining of pain in her leg, Sid realised she had deep vein thrombosis from the inactivity. Her friends tried to get her to adopt a relaxing hobby and Liam arranged a karaeoke night. Irene enjoyed herself and hired a singing coach, Eddie Trumper. She invited him along to her birthday party and gave most of the recording session Liam had bought her to him. She had a romance with him which ended when she realised he had stolen some of Liam’s lyrics. She supported Bianca during the drama surrounding her pregnancy, her break-up with Liam and her post-natal psychosis.
With April and Bianca only infrequent residents after they mostly moved in with Dexter and Heath respectively, Irene found herself overworked at the Diner and lonely at home. She tried employing John to deal with the shortfall but he broke the coffee machine on his first shift and didn’t last long. She encouraged Marilyn to declare her feelings to John. When she found out Chris Harrington was looking for a flatmate, she offered him a room. They initially clashed when he broke all her rules on his first day, taking Indi into his room without asking, leaving the table in a mess and bringing alcohol into the house. Chris made a point of getting to know Irene and following her rules to the point that rather than having more quality time with him she invited Indi over and let them have the house to themselves.
When she learned Spencer had bipolar, Irene suggested he move in with her and Chris. She also convinced Sid to let Sasha move in rather than move back to Broken Hill with him, and gave Chris a job at the Diner so he could pay rent. When Heath told her that Ricky was having pregnancy complications and Bianca was with her, Irene headed down the hospital with some coffees to relieve her only to end up being caught in the explosion of the bomb Jade Montgomery had planted in Bianca’s bag.
Although Irene only suffered minor injuries in the explosion, soon after she found herself taken hostage by Sean Green alongside Spencer, Chris and Sasha, after he misunderstood one of Chris and Sasha’s comments, thought a doctor lived at the house and went there seeking medical attention. They were freed when Sean collapsed from a combination of his pre-existing wounds and Chris overpowering him.
Alf invited her for a barbeque at his house but when she got there she discovered that John and Chris were trying to set her up on a blind date. Her date failed to show up but Alf, John, Marilyn, Roo and Chris joined her for a friendly meal. Irene suspected Chris was projecting his own feelings of loneliness onto her and became determined to find him a girlfriend. She made a disastrous attempt to set him up with Tamara, then switched her attention to Denny Miller, and told Chris she’d put a burger he’d come up with on the menu if he took Denny out. She had to weather the health scare at the Diner when Chris accidentally served poisoned risotto, but found it hard to be angry with Chris for long. She closed it down when customers stayed away but it soon reopened after Chris and Phoebe organised an advertising campaign. She advised both Bianca and Heath in their issues over Harley. She tackled Chris again when he took a scratch card as payment for a customer but gave it back to him when he paid the bill himself. Chris won a holiday but didn’t want to leave Denny so gave the prize to Irene.
She returned to walk in on Sasha about to have sex with Matt in the Diner. When Sasha tried to apologise the next day, Irene wasn’t in a forgiving mood, especially with Matt making light of the incident, and their argument resulted in Sasha quitting. This sparked a brief feud, during which Irene bought a pizza Sasha had ordered but couldn’t afford and threw it in the sea, but Roo being in hospital with meningitis put things in perspective and Irene gave Sasha her job back.
She tried to plead Heath’s case to Connie when he was accused of abusing Darcy and attended his farewell barbeque. She was delighted when Marilyn chose her as matron of honour when she married John. When Chris returned from holiday, he brought Irene some new shelves for the kitchen but ended up demolishing the place trying to install a new oven. However, when Irene saw how depressed he was about causing the mess, she told him to take as long as he needed to fix it.
When she found out Matt had been sleeping at the Diner, she got him to work there for free as board. She supported Spencer after his experienced with internet predator Keith Potts and visited Maddy after she had been diagnosed with cancer to show she had survived it. She let Chris, who had taken a job on a cruise ship, know Spencer was unhappy, inadvertently resulting in him coming back to town against Spencer’s wishes.