The Dark House of Make Believe

A response to Scenes From A Marriage



My husband and I leave our two daughters playing in our living room, with a babysitter. We are greeted by their two daughters playing on a stage living room, soon to be whisked away by another babysitter. Soon, the actual young ones are all safely tucked in, but it’s a pair of children who remain on stage. Marianne and Johan are excessively unlikeable – him arrogant and entitled, her silly and candied, both utterly juvenile. He’s the tantruming toddler, she’s playing with two doll houses – one a toy, and one their life.

In our own house, our two year old sometimes takes my shoes from the bottom shelf and shuffles around in them – even though she’s not supposed to. A toddler clopping around in her mother’s heels, trying them on for size, dressing up for Book Week. Taunting what she’s not supposed to be doing, unaware of the hazard she’s created when she discards the shoes in the hallway and runs to play with her dolls. Like her, Marianne and Johan play grownups in their mothers’ images, then shed the props in unawareness.

Marianne’s shoes, her true self, are swapped and discarded and tended. She puts them on and takes them off. Sometimes carefully placing them aside, other times tossing them off carelessly or recklessly. Throwing them with venom, posing in them manipulatively, gathering them with shame and hurt.

When we return home, the children both wake with the excitement of their parents’ return. Childish giggles, and a request for wobbly tooth removal. It’s not quite ready yet. The six year old’s milk tooth is being pushed from behind by its adult successor with blood and pain, but also excitement and anticipation. Soon the tooth fairy will visit again. We will write a note at night, with a sprinkle of glitter and a coin, because we love our daughter with all our hearts, and that will make her happy. The pain of the transient tooth will be forgotten as swiftly as the blood will clot and vanish. It will leave a gap of anticipation, and the adult tooth will push into its place, still too big for her child sized mouth. She’s unaware of this though, excited about the fairy magic created for her innocent joy.

But the fairy stories of glitter and rainbows are also the fairy stories of something far more menacing. The tooth in a cup becomes a tooth in a cufflinks case. A rejected, or unnoticed, desire for love, becomes the anger which smashes it. Johan is as unaware and self absorbed as Graham, and there is no fairy dust that can be sprinkled upon that.

When the daughters of Arendelle gallop through the wood in the care of their parents, it saves them. However, there are no Disney endings in Schubert and Goethe; no relief to ward off the ominous threat. There’s no happy ending for Marianne and Johan, nor do they deserve one.

When childish games are played with adult arsenal, the fallout is catastrophic. Shoes abandoned in the hallway are tripped over because of carelessness or blindness, or both. Their danger remains present, if they are acknowledged or not. The father’s denial of the Erlkönig’s threat in no way reduces it. They are not protected. The child is dead.

The Dark House of Make Believe (Details)


I wrote The Dark House of Make Believe in response to viewing Queensland Theatre’s Scenes From A Marriage with my beloved husband on the evening of 18 November 2017.

Scenes From A Marriage
By Ingmar Bergman
Adapted for the stage by Joanna Murray-Smith

Marta Dusseldorp (Marianne)
Ben Winspear (Johan)
Loani Arman (Mrs Palm/ Eva)
Christen O’Leary (Katerina/ Mrs Jacobi)
Hugh Parker (Peter/ Arne)


Paige Rattray (Director)
David Fleischer (Designer)
Ben Hughes (Lighting Designer)
Kelly Ryall (Composer/ Sound Designer)
Tony Brumpton (Associate Sound Designer)
Julia Patey (Assistant Director)
Eloise Grace (Stage Manager)
Kathryn O’Halloran (Assistant Stage Manager)
Vilma Matilla (Assistant Designer)
Ashley Hay (Responding Artist)
Nigel Poulton (Fight Director)


Performed at Playhouse, Queensland Performing Arts Complex (QPAC), Southbank, Brisbane.


Podcast contribution: Communicating with Parents and Carers

TER 100

Recently I was involved with the Teachers’ Education Review podcast special event, TER TeachMeet 100. A collection of educators shared their expertise on a range of topics related to pedagogy and classroom practice.

In the podcast, I discussed ways to effectively communicate with parents and carers.

You can access the podcast throught the TER website or through your usual podcast app. Please like, share and leave a review to help others find the podcast.

To my brilliant research career that never was


A letter to my unfinished business, aka my research career,

We first met in 2002. I was a dual degree student, studying science and education.

You were the Advanced Study Program in Science, a course “for high-achieving students interested in pursuing a career in scientific research”.

I reminisce about our year together fondly. You were interesting and enjoyable, we learned so much, and met many great people.

I was in another relationship at the time, and was quite open about it. I wanted to teach.

We were a great threesome – I loved science – I loved doing it, learning about it, showing it; but deep down I saw myself exploring the scientific world with students, rather than spending my days with you in the lab or field.

Read more… 

Survivors of institutional sexual abuse are failed by the legal process

imageMy piece published today in Overland entitled Survivors of abuse are failed by the legal system. 


The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been inundated with thousands of Australians sharing their stories of abuse. Over 5500 people have attended a private session and a further 1500 are scheduled. Repeatedly, survivors have told not just the heinous stories about their abuse, but about the systems which allowed abuse to flourish. Despite all this, the processes for seeking redress frequently put survivors in an invidious position and the barriers to substantive compensation are overwhelming. Read more…

Geocached Dreams

imageIn the last few months or so I’ve noticed a curious and distinctive bunch of people when I go out for my afternoon bike ride or run.


I’m guessing at ages here – a ten year old kid was slowly riding his bike while half on, half off, in no distinct direction, but with definite purpose. Two young men sat in their cars, engines running, near the top of the bikepath. Half a dozen 12 year olds walked around the steps of the overpass with a teacher looking on – a boarding house outing I suspect. A young woman was slowly riding a fold up bike she must have purchased extremely recently, since the barcode label was still attached to the basket. Three 11 year olds had Macgyvered-up phone holders with duct tape and wood offcuts on their bikes for better screen visibility.  One very tall and obese man – tummy hanging out from under his shirt, cigarette balanced on his bottom lip, stood next to his svelte, dark haired companion, both staring at their phones. Two Grade Nine girls from the local rich private school in full uniform, including Panama hats and brown leather shoes, were on skateboards while holding golf umbrellas for the rain. A couple in their 20s, clad in active wear and cuddling, stood near the path. All were meandering, but constantly checking their phones, so I assume they were playing Pokemon Go. They were hunting the geocached pocket monsters – all around us, but visible only through the smartphone screen.


In the same park someone lovingly tends some fairy doors and fairy gardens. There is a little grove where the trees don’t let much light through. It’s dark and mossy like a rain forests. No bikes are allowed on that part of the path.

The fairy house are beautifully decorated. Miniature tea sets and flowers in tiny vases sit near the fairy doors, sprinkled with glitter. Minute framed pictures carefully hung on the tree add to the décor.

I’ve lived near this park for the better part of two decades. I’ve never seen anyone tending the fairy parties, and yet I can’t remember them ever not being there. I’ve often thought about who is cultivating them, and why? They are never unkempt.

My hunch is that is that someone who has lost a child is tending the fairy gardens in memory of her little lost one. How many fairies, how many lost children, dwell among the greenery?


As well as invisible fairies, lost children and unseen pokemon exist around us, what other spectres concealed? Are the ghosts of all the choices we didn’t make, floating amongst the trees? Are there diaphanous angels of abandoned dreams moving about unseen? If there was an app to find lost children and abandoned hopes, what would we see floating around us? Would we be able to Catch Them All?

Could we bear it, if we did?


Panicking Lines and Menacing Bears


By Elizabeth Saunders with apologies to Alan Alexander Milne


Whenever I walk down a Brisbane street,

I’m ever so careful to watch my feet

And I keep from the lines

Or it’s double-up time.

Tactile paving is oft the worst to step on

No steps is best, or else two must be upon.

But no gait change allowed

(That counts as a step)

It must be all even among the crowd.


There are bears in my brain which make up the rules

I don’t know what they are til I’m given the chills.

Driveways, usually, an even number of steps

Sticks, leaves and seedpods must be re-stepped.

Running’s the worst,

(And with no headphone a curse.)

I halt on my jog – a utility cover.

I’ll have to turn round and look for another

Route to get home but all paths are the same,

Too many parts to mimic and maim.


The bears growl to each other

Inside my brain

About the lines on the footpath

And the marks on the drain.

The masses of bears,

They see the germs too.

Telephones, lift buttons and eftpos devices

Handles and handshakes: unsanitary vices.

I do my hand washing and I use my hand gel,

The bears think I’m a silly

But I use hand wipes as well.


Some of the younger bears try to pretend

That it’s all about footpaths

Or germs on one’s skin.

But the bigger bears know that in the scariest lairs

They go beyond childhood games and cares

For deep down inside are the menacing bears.


The intrusive thoughts, those menacing bears,

They tear apart every one of your cares.

The worst thing you can think of,

Your boggart – that’s you.

You “know” it’s not true – but really, do you?

You might try to pretend to be someone’s friend

Then hurt them somehow

Or whatever it is that you think is most foul.


The bears in your brain, they know that it’s true

The worst of the worst – the bears tell you it’s you.

It’s ever so portant that you don’t balk

As you try to believe your therapist’s talk

And it’s ever so frightful to beg out “Bears,

Stop the intrusive thoughts from the darkest of lairs!”