Like many of us who have experienced unemployment, Always Greener actor and former Play School presenter Merridy Eastman turned to her local Centrelink office for assistance. They found her a job as a receptionist. The catch? Working nights in one of Sydney’s busiest brothels.There’s A Bear In There (And He Wants Swedish) is Merridy’s account of her time in front-of-house for a bunch of colourful women of the night. And while Merridy’s real-life experience with deviant sexuality was confined to the forbidden love between Big Ted and Jemima as seen through the ‘arched window’, her time as a receptionist in a brothel exposed her to much, much more. From nervous first-timers to celebrity couples Merridy ushered one and all into the mysterious world inhabited by women who make a living from having sex with strangers. Here she learned words for things she?d never conceived of in her wildest (and we mean wildest) dreams.

There’s A Bear In There (And He Wants Swedish) is an intriguing peek behind the red velvet curtain and into the seamy and steamy taboo world of sex-for-hire. A funny and insightful sojourn through the secret life of the world’s oldest profession garnished with delightfully honest snapshots of those gainfully employed in it?

SheSaid was swept up in the media feeding frenzy surrounding this wonderful book and had a nice chat with Merridy…

Writing There’s A Bear In There (And He Wants Swedish) is a big departure from acting. How’s it all going?

The interest is pretty huge which is great, I guess if you say Play School meets brothel’ to people they become interested immediately. The Play School reference is also there to illustrate how out of place I felt in that environment.

What would you say in the most important lesson you learned through your time in the brothel?

Definitely just to leave behind preconceived ideas of sex workers being ‘damaged victims’ who have no choice in that career path. They’re not all drug abused, or sexually abused women ? the bunch that I worked with ? generally speaking, were quite a bright, funny bunch of girls.

Do you think there is any truth to the stereotype of the ‘hooker with the heart of gold?’

Not really. There was some great girls with big hearts and very tough exteriors, but they came in all shades, colours, sizes? They were complex people just like the rest of us, and very real people, just like the rest of us. I feel ashamed of my unconscious prejudice that I did walk in there with. I didn’t realise that until I was there for a couple of weeks and I was shocked at my misconception as much as anything else.

Do you think that working in that industry will affect your ability to get work in children?s television again?

Yes, I think it will. I don?t think Play School will ever have me back. Not that they would have anyway, I mean, they got rid of me in ’89 or so. They were terrific, they were wonderful people to work for but I think I’ve probably stuffed that now, I’ll have to give that up. Say goodbye to that forever, which is a pity, because I wasn’t a sex worker, I was only a receptionist. But I’m sure the label will stick.

Did you manage to maintain friendships with the women outside of the working environment?

Towards the end there we tried, Sapphire and I, but what generally happened, was that they had an obstacle to overcome. When I bumped into them in the street, they would ignore me, most of the time, I think out of consideration for me. They wanted to protect me from having to make up some lie to my friend when I introduced them. The Marilyn character, she lived in Coogee (Sydney) for a while and I used to see her all the time. At night at the brothel we?d be great mates, but in the street, she?d pretend that we hadn’t seen each other. So as far as keeping in touch goes, they didn’t really return calls in the end, so I let it go.

When I was working with them, I didn’t know I was writing a book, I thought I was collecting material. I had to write it down, what was happening to me. Everyone I talked to said ‘You’ve got to write this down!’ It’s great stuff, it was very interesting, very funny. And it’s illuminating.

Buy a copy of There’s A Bear In There (And He Wants Swedish) from the SheSaid bookshop.