‘Back when I was a student in Tasmania, I went out for a while with a Croatian boy. He took me to a dance one night and there were some Yugoslavian boys there too. I think all the girls were Aussies. I started flirting with the Yugoslav boy because he was making eyes at me and then the Croatian boy pulled out a knife and said to both of us, “You do that again, and I’ll stab him.”
‘That really scared me. I was a very naïve, 18 year old but that stayed in my memory all those years. I decided I wanted to find out why were there Croatians coming to Australia and why did they hate Yugoslavs so I had to do the research on that and find out.
‘I moved to Newtown 20 years ago when I left Tasmania. I was married to an ex-Newtown boy. He’d told me so much about the place; I knew I wanted to live here. When I got here, I fell in love with it and felt really welcomed.
‘I spent my life as a journalist and for the past eight years have been working on a book of verses called Newtown Voices about four characters that live in Newtown in 1978. Two of the characters are locals – a deputy editor of the weekly paper and a lesbian living in a squat – and two of them are newcomers including a Croatian migrant with a tragic past who I based my experience as a teen on.
‘From the book, I’d like people to take just a little bit of history about how Newtown was in the 70s but also get a sense of how much it’s the same – apart from the horrible crimes and violence back then. Essentially, the people are the same. A lot of the buildings and streets are the same. It’s almost like it’s a timeless place. There’s something about Newtown that doesn’t change when the buildings refurbish and the place gets gentrified – the people who stay in Newtown make it. There’s this ongoing spirit that doesn’t vanish.’
‘I always worked with fabric even as a kid. I started working in the rag trade as an apprentice cutter in Flinders Lane in 1962 and then was heading in to bridal and thought; if I’m going to do bridal then I need to know something about hats. The very first piece of felt I picked up and blocked, I went, “Ahhh, that’s what you’re meant to do.” You’re working in three dimensions rather than working in flat pattern work.
‘I still do a huge amount of sewing but now I teach hard and soft sculptured costume. It’s kind of a combination of millinery and costume. I’ve been lucky. I’ve had lots of big jobs and lots of fabulous work to create. The last job I did was Aladdin – it was lovely… but Star Wars, Phantom and Moulin Rouge were also great.
‘I’ve been a milliner for 55 years and I just turned 71. That was why I had the blue beard done because it was my birthday – my birthday beard.’
‘Sometimes us Sistergirls don’t like to identify as transgender. We come underneath the umbrella of transgender however we like to be called Sistergirls because it is a cultural identity. A lot of Sistergirls face discrimination and rejection from their own family and often feel isolated and are left homeless. We face stigma and discrimination in the community as well as cultural barriers to transition openly.
‘A lot of us travel to larger cities to seek refuge and solace and sometimes that isn’t even there in the larger cities. There was a lot of trauma growing up and now I’m still living with depression and anxiety. It’s funny, but I feel safer here than being back at home.’
‘It was a bad time for me but things have come together since I moved here and it’s been going very well. It means a lot to me to have this place because I’ve stayed in a lot of places and it hasn’t gone too well. It’s really good now. I’ve had a lot of help from Newtown Neighbourhood Centre and I feel like I’ve got a good chance of doing something. It’s stable here and I just want to keep on doing what I’m doing. I hope to just keep on trying to make things better.’
‘I’m a Sista Girl from the Tiwi Islands. A Sista Girl is like a woman that is trapped in a man’s body. I feel more like a woman and am more attracted to a man than a woman.
‘There are a lot of Sista Girls in the Tiwis. We all support each other and help each other a lot. We look after each other when we have issues and problems. When a Sista Girl is depressed or feeling down, we go there and have a talk to her and make her feel like she is loved.
‘Sometimes we find that some people don’t accept us. Somehow we’ve managed to live with it but we know that we have other for support as well and that people that love us.
‘I chose to come to the Mardi Gras in Sydney because I want to find freedom and acceptance. I also want to get the message out to other Sista Girls not to feel afraid or alone. I want them to know that there are other Sista Girls out there that are like them as well.’