Story of the Sponge Dolls

By Margot Edwards | Copyright 1994

This is a local legend, created during a Storytelling Festival in Margaret River, Western Australia, from the snippets of stories of others.

It has its genesis in a doll-making workshop, a picnic and a bundle of sponges found on the beach in 1994… it is the first of many!

Back in the old-time, back in old lands, there was a village.

In the village, there had always been a dollmaker.

The dollmaker knew the secrets of the dolls.

As one dollmaker grew old, she would pass her secrets on to the next and so the dolls survived for generation upon generation.

The village community loved the dollmaker, particularly the children, who would ring her door-bell and be welcomed by name.

Together they would make the dolls, each child their own, and the dollmaker would choose the eyes from a huge tray of beads and jewels that she kept. She alone would choose, as she alone could see into the soul of the child.

And so each generation of children in the village had their own doll, and as they grew into adults their dolls would remind them of who they really were.

As the years passed, the village prospered and people came to visit from far and wide, wanting to buy the sacred dolls and take home with them some of the contentment of the people who lived there.

Bribes and temptations were offered, gifts and gold, and eventually one person sold a doll.

When a neighbour saw what could be bought, and another, they too sold their dolls, until only half the villagers’ dolls remained. These people knew that to save the dolls, they had to leave.

Together the men started to build a boat – wood upon wood, fibre upon fibre – and made a sail to catch the winds of a faraway land. The women set about collecting some small comforts and treasures, clothes and bedding, and cartons of food.

The children and the dolls hid in the dollmaker’s house waiting for the boat to be ready.

Now the mayor of the village had sold his doll and spent the money. But he began to get greedy.

He decided to collect and sell all the remaining dolls and keep the money for himself.

And so he set about searching the village. But as he went from house to house, he realised there were none to be found.

And so he came to the dollmaker’s house. He banged on her door until she opened it, barged in and ordered her to give up the dolls.

“I know you’ve got all those dolls,” he yelled.

“Give them to me.”

“I have only this doll,” she said, as she handed her own over to him.

The mayor grumphed and took the doll, but as he turned to leave, he thought he heard a child’s laugh.

“Aha, those blasted children have them. Where are they?” he shouted at the dollmaker.

“There’s no children here, sir. You must be mistaken,” she said.

But the mayor looked under, inside, and behind everything in the tiny house until he came to a little door, and listening closely at the lock he heard the sound of children playing.

He burst into the room and threw himself at the children, trying to grab their dolls. Terrified, they dropped the dolls and ran, out of the house with the dollmaker, and down to the boat by the seashore.

But in their haste, the tray of beads and jewels fell to the floor and scattered to the corners of the room. The greedy mayor grabbed at them in glee, only to realise they were no good to him without the secrets held by the dollmaker herself.

The children and the dollmaker came to the boat, crying out that they must leave, they must go now or the sacred dolls may never be made again.

But the boat was not stocked, the boat was not ready to take all the people – only the empty hull, mast and sail stood ready.

Knowing they must protect the secret of the dolls, the villagers put the children and the dollmaker in the empty hull and pushed them off out to sea, promising to follow behind as soon as they could.

With only the clothes they wore, the food that had been close at hand, and nothing to do besides stare out to the horizon, the children soon became frightened and sad and bored and lonely.

And so the dollmaker started to pick away at the fibre of the boat, rolling it between her hands, into the heads and bodies and legs and arms of the dolls. The children broke splinters of wood from the mast to make needles and pulled the thread from the sail for cotton, and together they all began to sew.

They pulled and rolled and picked and sewed, making their dolls anew.

But as they picked away at the fibres, holes appeared in the hull and the boat slowly began to leak.

“Drip, drip, drip” went the water, and the children sewed their dolls in desperation.

“Splash, splash, splash” went the water, and only the eyes of the dolls remained to be chosen.

“Gush, gush, gush” went the water, and the dollmaker leapt into the surging ocean, searching, searching for something to use as eyes.

As the children looked over the edge of the sinking boat, they saw beneath them the most beautiful collection of jewels and pearls sparkling on the sea floor.

As the water poured into the wooden hull, the children dived, down, down to the sea floor.

And as they dived, the Spirit of the Sea took pity on them and changed them all, one by one, into jellyfish.

The dollmaker swam desperately in the swirling ocean.

“Children!” she cried.

“Where are my children?”

And as she cried and sank beneath the sea, the jellyfish came around her and carried her down to a beautiful cave, covered in jewels and pearls and sparkling sea shells.

And as she went, the Spirit of the Sea transformed her into a beautiful mermaid.

The mermaid and the jellyfish live in her cave beneath the sea, and together they collect the flotsam and jetsom from the ocean depths.

In her hands the mermaid rolls the sponges, in the shapes of heads and bodies and legs and arms.

And the jellyfish carry the sponges out to the currents of the ocean, settling them free, to be washed up on the beaches of the world.

And if ever you find the sponges in the shapes of heads and bodies and legs and arms, and sew them together; be sure to choose carefully the eyes, that the dollmaker would choose for you.

Somewhere in holiday heaven

Somewhere in holiday heaven
By Margot Edwards
January 1995

Somewhere in holiday heaven, lies a tree branch that could have fallen on our heads.

Only the sound track of the borrowed video camera has any record of it. But the crack in our combined bliss registers as a moment to remember.

We follow a remembering road, winding through family engagement, people gathering and fern lined gullies – touching places of silence in our minds moved again by familiar landmarks, our siblings’ memories and a clearing haze of shadows…

Dark…light…dark…light. The flickering spots on the dashboard work like images in the camera’s eye, illuminating shadowy corners of existence, a tide of sensations familiar yet far flung.

The images move from this winding mountain road of the present to central Queensland past. To the flat expanses of recollection, of cousins hardened by station life yet ruddy and warm of spirit, pushing the boundaries of their existence, ever to the detriment of wild boards, snakes and kangaroos.

Somewhere in holiday heaven, I see the inside of a huge farm shed of corrugated iron, fanned by hot winds smelling of old leather, cattle dust and diesel.

Somewhere in holiday heaven, I hear the crack of a skull and the squealing of piglets.

It sits strangely, this venturing back to the past in the present. Decades of days fade in an instant as we meld the layers of life. Blending a strange mix of associations from memories etched – the kitchen tablecloth, the late night talk, the face at the door.

As we open the doors, we hit notes in keys unexpected and the long ago days of piano practice and secret kisses with lips shut tight, slide through in the silent moments of travel, of late morning dreams, of mistakes, of reflection.

Some where in holiday heaven, we strike chords.

Cicadas collected in night time escapades singing from the household curtains; adventures to abandoned houses with windows cracked from stone thrown hard; butterflies winging past handmade pools of reflections touched by dragonfly buzz; the quick crack of sticks underfoot on troll-lined walks, unknown assailants lurking to trap the trail of children running and passing and stopping to trick a croaking frog from its own safe haven.

Bridges to the past, once leading to now.

So, the little Billy Goat Gruff goes trip, trop, trip, trop onto the bridge.

And the big nasty troll says, “Who’s that trip, tropping over my bridge.”

“It’s me,” says the little Billy Goat Gruff.

“I’m going to eat you up,” growls the big nasty troll.

“Oh no, don’t eat me up. Wait till the middle Billy Goat Gruff comes along. He’s much fatter than me.

“Okay,” says the big nasty troll. “But you better hurry up before I change my mind”.

So, the little Billy Goat Gruff, trip, trops over the bridge and the troll lurks in waiting for its brothers.*

Somewhere in holiday heaven, we cross back over.

Size doesn’t make much difference now and we think of ourselves as independent. But the old troll is still lurking and our siblings are always our siblings.

Somewhere in holiday heaven we find ourselves in ourselves, in others. We touch base, we get burned, we touch base, we get heard, we touch base, we listen. The branch falls with a crash to the road – a slow motion distant sound-crack–to the road.

We breathe a sigh of relief and the sound remains forever on the videotape of our past.

*Thanks to Sam Shannon (5) for his version of The Billy Goat’s Gruff. Artwork by David McCubbin.

Cracking the crockery

Cracking the crockery
By Margot Edwards © 1994

I’ve been thinking about breaking a plate.

A particular plate I’ve had in mind. A plate with a picture of history, a picture of the great ship Endeavour, sails aloft in triumphant discovery. A celebratory plate.

My memories of this particular masterpiece of historical crockery were tied into chasing peas around the emblems of the States, so ordered, so neatly arranged around that rim in black and white.

Memories of the dinner table, siblings systematically serving up heated discussion about the politics of chess, the Beatles and split infinitives. Our plates piled high with history learned and Latin derivatives. Great believers in the power of the written word and the full stomach. Home cooked meals, familiarity and the emblems of the States of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Somewhere along the line I figured something was missing. That I only had part of the picture. And that I was somehow to blame. Like the truth was veiled beneath the smell of roast lamb and mint sauce. That the wafting aroma spilling over our plates to fill the yellow-bright kitchen may have blunted our sharpening senses into easy submission.

No questions asked, no need for explanations. Just serve it up in piled spoonfuls and our hungry minds would devour it.


I left that childhood and that smell in Sydney. I also left the plate.

Left the waratah, and followed the emblem of the swan, around the lower rim to discover an oasis, to arrive in triumph. To celebrate.

Mingling with the smell of a new sea, with no history of my own, I treated my senses to wafting truths newly found; a new digestible history to serve up in spoonfuls to the next hungry generations; a new perspective.

I still felt something was missing. It must have been the plate. So I went back and got it. Scrabbled through cupboards of long-forgotten memories to claim the piece of my past, a piece of my birthright to a version of mealtime.

Thinking not once, not twice, that the journey to another kitchen, another family, had seen timely tales served up on blue grass platters, and in them, a whisper of other truths.

How tantalising the taste of that yellow-bright time. With what anticipation I pulled that plate from its packaging.

How bland and one dimensional it looked upon my kitchen table. I did not see the emblems of the States. I did not see my tortured peas.

I saw a picture, a version of history, unveiled in black and white. I saw spirits of dead ancestors. I saw welcoming arms. I saw celebration. I saw disintegration. I heard stories unfold. I heard histories untold.

As I put it on the shelf, I felt my coloured bowls and vessels shrink away in the stark contrast. And I wanted to break the plate. I decided instead to eat my dinner off it.


Pushing the last of my nachos around the rim, I ponder my childhood memory. I’ve recreated the yellow-bright kitchen on the other side of the continent but red chilli now bites my tongue.

I won’t break the plate. Instead it sits and waits, like an enigma, for a child’s eye to chase and trace the pattern of peas past sailing ships to dreams of unknown states.

The plate sits, a part of a pattern, a survivor in a sea of truths.

We adults cook the dinner now and my plate of choice is different. Plain in the centre; the rim a mass of swirling coloured lines; drawing to mind a complex cast of characters, each spinning their own version of the moment. Each as valid as the next, our histories and our crockery intermingle.


Yesterday I was at a friend’s place and smelt their roast lamb cooking. Somehow the smell did not smell the same. But it was still roast lamb.

Tomorrow I’ll eat my dinner off a different plate.

Perhaps one day I’ll have a dinner set.