‘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.’