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At age four, she was in hospital for pneumonia, an indelible memory given the temporary separation from her mother, as much as for her mum’s get-well gift: an illustrated copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales, the English translation of the early 19th-century German brothers’ stories. The imagery was macabre and terrifying, primal input for the filmmaker the child would become. One panel appeared to show the Big Bad Wolf raping Little Red Riding Hood.

Cate Shortland, born in the New South Wales Riverina, grew up in the Canberra suburb of Duffy, and could see the Brindabella mountain ranges from the window of the family kitchen.

Under and around the monkey bars of her little school in rural Queensland, Adrienne Pickering played Shakespeare's Juliet with Claire Danes' performance fresh in mind. Like many late-20th century kids, 15-year-old Adrienne had been turned on to the Bard by Baz Luhrmann's frenetic 1996 movie Romeo + Juliet.

Then she became Portia, the heroine in The Merchant of Venice, as the audience followed the little troupe around the schoolyard in Warwick, a small town in the Darling Downs, 130 kilometres south-west of Brisbane.

Fifty essays and dispatches on
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