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The Show Must Go On, With Photographer Sarah Collins And Family

Family

Photographer and performer Sarah Collins is no stranger to the Family pages of The Design Files, although this is her first time on the other side of the camera! Sarah photographed all our ‘Family’ stories until January 2020, when she became pregnant with her second daughter.

Since then, Sarah, her husband, actor and TV writer Justin Kennedy, their eldest Polly (6) and baby Daisy (1) have been riding out the pandemic from their home in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges.

As creatives working predominantly in the entertainment industry, Sarah and Justin have come up against some pretty scary times over the past two years. Not only have they seen their own work dry up significantly, but they’ve also witnessed their creative community of actors, writers, directors and production crew struggle to get by, in some cases choosing to re-skill and leave the industry altogether.

We spoke with Sarah about the state of the arts, and her hopes for the future.

30th September, 2021

Photographer and performer Sarah Collins and actor and TV writer Justin Kennedy, with their daughters Polly (6) and Daisy (1). Photo – Zoe Eley.

Sarah and Polly in their gorgeous garden. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Hanging out on a beautiful day in the garden. Photo – Zoe Eley.

The family live in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Baby Daisy was born in the height of lockdown in 2020. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Polly is a born entertainer! Photo – Zoe Eley.

‘Polly adores her little sister so much and Daisy thinks Polly is a total rockstar’, says Sarah. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Polly and Justin having a kick in the back yard. Photo – Zoe Eley.

The family love their life in the hills. Photo – Zoe Eley.

‘If we take Daisy out of the house she looks as though her mind is being constantly blown’, says Sarah. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Patting the chickens. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Justin and Polly. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Daisy exploring the garden. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Photo – Zoe Eley.

Polly getting her cowgirl on! Photo – Zoe Eley.

Polly exploring the garden. Photo – Zoe Eley.

Justin and Sarah, who first met while judging an improv comedy show! Photo – Zoe Eley.

Sally Tabart
Thursday 30th September 2021

Honestly the next generation gives us so much hope. Have you met them? They’re awesome.’ Sarah Collins. 

Photographer and performer Sarah Collins and her husband, actor and TV writer Justin Kennedy, have one of the best ‘meet cute’ stories of all time.

There was a Hairhouse Warehouse commercial on air around 2006, and Sarah became inexplicably captivated with its starring character dubbed the ‘freaky bald guy’ (Justin!). ‘I was living by myself at the time, and if the ad came on and I was in another room, I would literally race through my apartment to get to the TV’ Sarah recalls. ‘I thought the freaky bald guy was the funniest person I’d ever seen in my life. I would think about him constantly.’

In a completely random coincidence, a year later the pair ended up judging an improv comedy TV show together (although she didn’t clock him then) and randomly bumping into each other at a party shortly after. It wasn’t until they eventually went on a date that Sarah figured out that her new beau Justin was, in fact, the ‘freaky bald guy’ from the Hairhouse Warehouse commercial she had been so obsessed with! And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sarah and Justin are now married and have two daughters – Polly (6) and Daisy (1). Daisy was born during the height of lockdown in 2020, and Polly has experienced her first year of schooling almost completely through a screen. They’ve been through the full spectrum of pandemic parenting highs and lows.

But despite all the scary stuff,  Sarah, Justin and their two girls are making it work, mostly by making each other laugh. This is a family of born performers – and after all, the show must go on!

hey Sarah! Your second baby, Daisy, was born during the pandemic. What has her first year been like?

Sarah: Well, it’s basically been a massive sociological experiment. I think all babies born in the lockdowns need to be studied. Will they have better attachment because the parent-child dyad has been unbroken for the better part of two years? Will they have more anxiety? Less? It’s so fascinating.

For the most part it’s been hugely positive. No one ever came up to me in the grocery store asking to rub my pregnant belly. I got very little unsolicited advice from strangers.

At the hospital, all the midwives were saying there were better breastfeeding rates because parents weren’t trying to navigate loads of family members coming in to see the baby. They were saying it had been so positive to the experience new parents were having.

If we take Daisy out of the house she looks as though her mind is being constantly blown. People comment on it. She looks at other humans like they’re the biggest novelty because she’s very rarely seen ones other than us.

In lockdown I’ve had no in-person family support or babysitting, but because Justin has been home this entire time I’ve felt so supported. When we had Polly he was head writer of The Project so he would spend the morning with Polly but not be home until 8.30pm. He worked Sundays too. He was such an attentive dad when he was home, but he was absent for a lot of milestones. With Daisy, because he’s working from home, I’ve been able to call out to him to come see when she crawled for the first time or started waving.

Polly and Daisy are around 6 years apart. What does she think of Daisy?

They are nearly 6 years apart and it has been an amazing age gap for us. There is no jealousy because they have literally nothing in common. Polly adores her little sister so much and Daisy thinks Polly is a total rockstar.

It took us 2.5 years to have Daisy and we nearly gave up trying because we felt the age gap was getting so large. Now I cannot believe how much of a blessing it’s been. Daisy has kept Polly engaged all lockdown with her development, and Polly adores reading and singing to Daisy and making her laugh. They’re such sweet little buddies.

What kind of kid is Polly? How has everything that has gone down over the last couple of years affected her?

Wow. That is a huge question.

Polly is like a supernova. By the time she was two she was already the most interesting person I’d ever met. She was that kid freaking out the the educators at daycare with her oracle insights. She has an immense inner world and seems to know things long before she logically should.

In a five minute period she’ll ask questions about anything from Harriet Tubman and slavery, to Marie Antoinette and the Boston Tea Party. She’s morbidly into celebrity deaths and constantly gets me to check how various people she’s interested in have died.

At times it’s hard to believe she’s 6. She calls BS on so much stuff adults say and do and doesn’t suffer fools. She’s both totally cynical and yet spent most of 2020 pretending to be a horse. You can’t argue with her. If you tell her to go to bed she’ll just point blank tell you she’s a cowgirl and needs to stay up late to stargaze. We’ve learned you can’t easily negotiate with cowgirls.

This also means she can be highly anxious and her brain is so busy she can get really overwhelmed. She started having nightmares after Daisy was born that were so debilitating she couldn’t go anywhere in the house without us. She was so worried something would happen to Daisy. It was both the most heartwarming and horrendous thing to witness as a parent.

How has homeschooling gone for you guys?

Teaching Polly through the pandemic has been tricky to navigate, because she absolutely loathes learning through the screen. During term three it was getting progressively harder to hold her attention and I was pleading with her to at least give her teachers some respect and honour the work and time they were putting in, but she would sit in front of the screen for five minutes then walk away.

Then I had this big realisation: She is learning all by herself constantly. She’s such a good learner! She might be walking away from the screen, but then she’s asking about the Great Fire of London and researching how Harry Houdini died – who cares if she hates subitising?!

We’re just letting her do her thing and watching on in awe and fascination for the most part, with support where she needs it.

You’ve talked a little on social media about how the Pandemic has really affected your household financially. Things got a little scary for you guys last year, with your incomes so greatly impacted. Can you tell us a little about that?

It was an absolute perfect storm.

I discovered I was pregnant in early January 2020, right as this thing called Coronavirus was in its infancy. Because of morning sickness I had to stop the majority of my photography work earlier than expected. I had started up a pretty successful Airbnb that we ran out of our home, but once things started ramping up with the virus, we cancelled all our upcoming reservations. At the time everyone was quite shocked because they didn’t think it was that serious.

Of course we know what happened then… we never reopened and I never went back to work.

Once the Government assistance packages kicked in, I wasn’t eligible for Job Keeper and wasn’t able to do Job Seeker because I was so ill, but also worried about getting the virus while pregnant. Then, despite the fact that you pay tax, Airbnb’s don’t count as real work, so I wasn’t able to claim for that. My days turned into being a full time sick, tired, pregnant lady/mum/kinder educator to Polly.

In 2020, the filming schedules for Justin’s work changed and he had a 6 month gap between shows which had never happened before. We lived off our savings and he began to re-skill, teaching himself how to do SEO work. He received Job Seeker for a short while too, but it was barely enough to make a dent in our outgoings. We began realising things were only going to get worse, and would most likely have to sell the house. We were looking to possibly move back to Toowoomba (my hometown) until things calmed down, or renting in Melbourne for a while.

Once Daisy was born we thought we could get the parental leave payment, but her birth certificate didn’t arrive for 8 months (the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages closed its offices completely throughout the pandemic) and so that was another stress. Our parenting payment finally came through last week after 12 long months of waiting!

Despite everything though, we feel genuinely lucky because despite huge pockets where neither of us was working, we were able to just scrape by (some days by the skin of our teeth).

Another thing you speak about a lot is the ongoing challenges for the entertainment industry as a result of the pandemic. Can you explain a little more about this impact, and how it makes you feel as both a part of this community, and also as a parent?

Well, you know that old adage about parents not wanting their kids to go into performing arts? For the first time in my life, that is finally making sense.

Seeing other friends rehearse show after show and have them literally all close before they’d even opened was, and still is, completely shocking and heartbreaking.

There is no assistance on offer to the smaller productions and artists in general, but shockingly who knows how many of our seasoned artists Australia will lose because of this? And who is to say that when we finally do get to go back that it will even be sustainable? The insurance will be an absolute nightmare. At the other end of the scale, how many school leavers will choose not to pursue performing arts, because… why would you? HOW could you?

I would love to say the future looks bright, but there is a cost to all of this. As a parent I feel so deeply sad at the cultural cost to our children as they grow up without seeing their experiences reflected back at them.

And I’m just so sad for any kid who had hoped to go to performing arts school and will be robbed of the opportunity to be a cherry blossom in a rehearsal room for three hours a day like I did. Those were really good days. And really good things come out of pretending to be a cherry blossom.

What brings you joy, and what are you hopeful for?

Our beautiful hills life brings me so much joy. The trees, the fresh air, the parrots and cockatoos. Justin and I are also loving seeing what fun things Daisy finds to put on her head. Today it was undies, followed by pants then a Christmas ornament. 

Honestly the next generation gives us so much hope. Have you met them? They’re awesome.

Kallista in the early springtime. Photo – Zoe Eley.

FAMILY FAVOURITES

Family outing?

We love love love visiting shops in our incredible hills community. Nat at The Patch Store, Josephine who runs Kallista Cellars, Mirakye at Epoche and Jo at Clementine By Design. All of them have known our children from birth, and they are the aunties to so many children and families in our community.

Restaurant or cafe?

Bam Bam Italian – it’s the favourite restaurant of every child in the hills. 

Go-to album or playlist?

Because Polly chooses the music so often (thanks Alexa) we’ve been stuck on a heavy rotation of Hamilton, Trolls 2, Vivo and Hamilton. 

Sunday ritual?

Now that picnics are allowed, we go and see Justin’s mum in a park on the cusp of both our 10km radiuses. After months of not seeing each other it’s something we will never take for granted again.

And we always get Pizza from Mad Raven in Kallista. Like, it’s a non-negotiable. We’ve eaten it every weekend for a decade haha. Best pizza in the world.

Follow along with Sarah’s family here and check out her beautiful photography work here

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