The compelling new SBS series Safe Home raises the bar for Australian drama.

As Aisha Dee runs down the busy street, several people stop and stare.

Some because the 29-year-old Australian actress is simply a striking figure; others because they recognise her from the hit television series The Bold Type. Still others are just curious about all the cameras and lights and want to know what's going on.

This is the set of SBS's new drama series Safe Home, which was filmed last year in Melbourne's city centre. The show follows Phoebe (Dee), a young professional who leaves her job at a prominent law firm and begins working at a struggling family violence legal centre. 

As the pressure mounts to save the centre from closure, people and relationships are sorely tested.

Watch the trailer for SBS's Safe Home. Story continues below.

Safe Home is loosely based on acclaimed playwright Anna Barnes' time working at a family legal centre in Melbourne, but, as Barnes is quick to point out, this isn't a documentary.

"The story is fictional. This is a drama, suspense. It isn't a sermon or a lecture," Barnes, who wrote the series alongside Michelle Law and Jean Tong, tells Mamamia on set. 

Having worked in two different community legal service centres, Barnes says the stories of family violence are the ones that have stayed with her and she feels they are important stories we should be talking about.

Each episode introduces a new character and explores the intimate portrayal of somebody who is in an abusive relationship, including physical violence, coercive control, sexual control, and technologically facilitated abuse like love bombing and blackmailing. Barnes is also interested in the people working in the sector and what their lives are like.


"Humans have lots of different things going on in their lives. And as much as there is all this stress and all this trauma [involved in family violence work], it's also a Tuesday. It's also someone's birthday, or someone's just been broken up with, or someone's fallen in love," she explains. "I guess the main thing that I wanted to look at is the nuance of the way that we tell stories, and our reliance on things being black and white."

When award-winning producer Imogen Banks, who is behind shows such as Offspring and The Beautiful Lie, was presented with the script for Safe Home, she knew this story needed to be told.

"I think what happens is you are drawn to the things that you know, and you understand the things that just inherently interest you. My experience of being in the world has been the experience of being female. And therefore, the things that tend to interest me are the issues that have affected me directly," Banks tells Mamamia on set.

"The reason I think that I do what I do is because I'm always trying to figure something out about life. And so the material that interests me is material that helps me to think about something or helps me to make sense of something, or helps me to think... Then outside of that, politically, I have always had an interest in advocating for women in the industry, and for female storytelling and storytellers."


There are a number of challenges that Banks has faced working in a male-dominated industry.

"I've had incredible support. I've been really lucky with the opportunities I've had," she says diplomatically. "And then there is the other answer, which is more complicated. And that's more about the industry itself. There is so much I could say about that - I don't know where to start.

"But there is hope. I think what's changing a lot in this country, in the industry globally, is that the conditions are changing. So a lot of the old guards are going, and you've got new and different people coming in with new and different interests... But I do think that the more women, the more diverse the commissioners are, the more you're going to start to get people looking for projects that speak to those specifics."

Women are at the centre of this series from start to finish, which is something the team are incredibly proud of. 

Aside from Banks and Barnes, the series is directed by award-winning director Stevie Cruz-Martin, co-produced by Emelyne Palmer, and features an all-female crew. Most of the heads of departments are female too, including production design, costume design, hair and makeup, sound, editor, line producer, and all the production offices.

The characters in Safe Home are complex and fully drawn, and often from diverse backgrounds. Besides Dee, the cast includes Mabel Li (New Gold Mountain), Virginia Gay (Winners and Losers), Thomas Cocquerel (The 100) and Antonia Prebble (Sisters). Supporting cast members include Hal Cumpston (The Walking Dead), Chenoa Deemal (Troppo), David Roberts (Total Control), Janet Andrewartha (Neighbours), Mark Mitchinson (The Hobbit), Tegan Stimson (Irreverent), Katlyn Wong (Mystic), Nicholas Burton (Barons), and Yuchen Wang (Hungry Ghosts).


Aisha Dee in Safe Home. Image: SBS

While Dee is conscious of the serious nature of the show, she says the cast and crew are so supportive of one another and it feels like a safe environment to delve into the dark content and the emotional space it requires.


"I feel really blessed," the actress tells Mamamia on set. "I never feel like I'm alone in [the emotions involved]. We also have a wonderful intimacy co-ordinator and she has been a really wonderful resource for anyone that's feeling triggered. And that goes for so much more than just the cast as well. We talk about the fact that actors are doing their work, and they're crying and experiencing whatever the character is experiencing, but we don't often talk about the fact that we're also putting our crew in these situations where they're also experiencing these things that could potentially be triggering for them as well."

Dee feels passionately about how there needs to be much more awareness of the impact of family and domestic violence. "It's the entire world, but especially in Australia because we have this culture of 'no worries', it's all good and kind of make jokes about everything It has been much easier to pretend that this epidemic of family violence and domestic violence was kind of happening over there, not necessarily in our own homes," she says.

"It's so prevalent. And I think the only way we move into the next space of healing is if we're able to talk about it and identify it, not just when it's become a thing of like, somebody has died. It doesn't have to get to that point. If we can spot it when it's coercive control, or when it's kind of in these other stages, then maybe we actually have a fighting chance of being able to save some lives."

Dee is loving being back in Australia to film, as she has been living in the States – and wherever else her work takes her – for the past several years. As she tells Mamamia, there originally weren't many opportunities for people of colour like her in Australia, but things are changing.


"The first black people I saw were on TV. I grew up on the Gold Coast in the 90s, the first people I saw that looked like me were on f**king Sesame Street. You know? That was my first experience of learning something about the world... The content we put into the world, it really matters," she says.

"The thing that I love the most about TV and movies is that it's this two-way mirror. So we're seeing into our own world, and we're learning about it and experiencing it through these other characters. But also, the filmmakers and what's going to inspire them, is what's happening in the real world. So it's kind of this thing that works both ways. I would definitely not be the person I am today if it weren't for the movies and the TV that I've watched, as silly as it sounds.

"And I would have loved to have stayed here and worked, but the opportunities just didn't exist for me here. I think there are many more opportunities for people of colour here now. But even having said that, I think Australia still has a really long way to go. But I'm excited because I can feel it changing and nothing brings me more joy than seeing that change. And maybe hopefully being a part of it."

All four episodes of Safe Home will be available to stream on SBS On Demand from Thursday 11 May. The first two episodes will premiere on SBS at 8.30pm on Thursday 11 May. Episodes three and four will premiere on SBS on Thursday 18 May at 8.30pm.

Feature image: SBS.

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