‘I feel like my ancestors are always present. I know that there is a chief from my grandmother is always to the left of me. I don’t know who he is but I know that he is always there. I’m still trying to understand when they actually reveal themselves and when they don’t. I don’t want to be selfish and think that they’re my babysitters. I do feel that I carry them inside me and that whenever I do really need help or guidance, they will come through and either reveal themselves in something or reveal what I need.
‘I feel more comforted about death as a result. I think it’s because I don’t know whether my spirit will stay when I leave but I feel comforted that at least my ancestors are here because if I have children, they will still be looked after. If it’s not by me after I’ve moved on but someone will always be there. That’s such an important part of our understanding of our culture is that everything you do is to ensure the safety and protection and preservation of the next generation in this life and the next life.
‘I’m not scared of death. I’m scared of pain for sure and the process of dying and how that happens. If I was to be scared of death, I would be scared of what there is to understand about spirituality. There is a lot of power in that and there is a lot to be scared of in the unknown but it’s also cool. Most of the ancestors that I interact with are beautiful and really lovely and caring and are just trying to help but it’s just about being aware and knowing and being respectful.’
‘As long as I can remember I’ve seen people cry and grieve and celebrate life by singing and dancing in the name of a person’s life.
‘I’m Tokelauan Fijian – my mother’s Tokelauan and my father’s Fijian. Both sides have quit similar mourning processes but on my Fijian side the whole mourning process is 100 days. On my Tokelauan side it’s 10 days.
‘I found out my nanna passed away when I was 17 and I was on a plane from Australia and thrown in to 2 weeks of planning, organising, crying, cooking, singing, dancing, praying with my family from 7am to 4am, 10 days in a row.
‘Sitting with her body and my family for ten days – actually sitting and talking to her and holding her and seeing that it was real; there was no tangible life left in her – that really helped me.
‘In my mother’s culture, when you begin the mourning process you have these things called Leos – each community or family member that’s connected to the person who’s passed away will come together with their family and present to the immediate family of the person who’s passed away gifts, prayer and song.
‘So many people came to my nanna – it was leo after leo after leo. Each time we did a leo, I grieved again – even when I thought I had nothing left in me.
‘If you know the songs and dance, you get up and join in – even if it’s not your family. The power of the call of community and the call to celebrate was so revealing for me because it was really my community and my family saying you’re not alone.
‘Going through that entire experience really slapped me in the face because it taught me about the importance of sitting with death and sharing your grief. It also taught me the importance of celebration for a person’s life.
‘You share everything throughout the process – there is no hiding; there is quite literally nowhere to go away and just be private. It can be very overwhelming too but I personally found a lot of comfort in it.’
‘On the last day we put him in the sunroom and we listened to Triple J and talked and that. I went home about 6 o’clock at night and we got the phone call at 4 o’clock in the morning and were told to come to the hospital. The nurse stepped out to stop us from going straight in to the room and told us. I got to see him and I gave him a kiss and all that and it was very peaceful but I wasn’t expecting it. It’s weird because there were other times during his illness that I was expecting it. The hardest things at those times, like when he had pneumonia so bad he was in intensive care for three weeks and had tubes down his throat and that, I had to realise that you can’t keep them alive for yourself. You’re not the one lying there with tubes down your throat – you can’t expect them to live for you. So I actually said to him, and I don’t know whether he heard me or not, I said, “Don’t stay alive for me.”
‘We were together for 15 years and 9 months. He made me who I am today without a doubt. And he made a lot of people. I think love, it can get you through things but also it’s very, very special. I don’t know that a lot of people will have what Goose and I had. Luckily, at the time, I knew I had it.’
‘Two weeks ago I went back to the doctor and they said they’re not going to treat me anymore. They said I’d had enough radiology and enough chemotherapy and I still had it so I don’t know…
‘I feel quite active though. My lungs are good and my kidneys are OK. And I really don’t feel like it you know – to be saying goodbye just yet.
‘I was Preschool Cook at Australia Street Infants School in Newtown. I started off in 1973 only for a week or two while I filled in for someone. At the end of the next week, the Principal came down and said I can have the job. So I stayed there as Preschool Cook for 39 and a half years. In that time, I cooked over 7,000 meals for the children and I cuddled them every day.
‘I was made redundant in Xmas in 2012 – it was really stressful. Not long after that I was diagnosed with cancer.
‘They reckon I might last until Christmas but that’s about all. And that was a “might”. They said it depends on how much it grows and how much I deteriorate. Last week was pretty tough because I really don’t want to say goodbye just yet. I find it very hard.
‘I still get kids and adults coming up to me in the street. It feels very good. It’s hard to remember them because they change so much from when they’re little but they come up and say, “Miss Fay, I gotta give you a hug!” and that feels very good.
‘I don’t expect anything in return because you do what you have to do. I was working and everything and I did it all for the kids. I just loved them so much.’
‘I work in children’s television and see a huge inequality on screen between genders. I’ve worked on almost 20 kids’ animated TV series now and none of them have had a female lead character. That’s insane to me. Television thinks that it’s quite a progressive industry and we talk a lot about evening out genders and being inclusive but it just doesn’t really translate to the screen.
‘Whenever I’ve brought up these issues in TV studios, you can tell people are like, here we go again, or you just get a lot of push back. You get all these old-fashioned reasons like, young boys don’t like watching girls as much as girls like watching boys on screen.
‘When I was growing up I really liked comics. I loved them for the combination of their illustrations and stories but I couldn’t find anything that I connected to. There just weren’t any female characters and, if there were, they were highly sexualised.
‘It’s natural for kids to want to see themselves reflected back in stories. Young girls want to be able to see themselves as potential heroes – just like young boys do. All kids do. I think it’s important for boys to see girls as equals too.
‘I’d always wanted to write a book with a lead female character especially one that was an adventure story because there’s a lack of them. I’ve just published my first graphic novel called Opposite Land. It’s about a young girl called Steve who has the worst day ever in her entire life and she just really wants everything to be opposite and she accidentally gets that wish.
‘I hope both boys and girls who read this see a female character that they can relate to. I don’t think I make a point of the fact that she’s female – it doesn’t really make any difference to her character but I just think the fact that that exists in another book is great.’
‘The biggest gig we did was the very first Big Day Out at the Hordern (Pavillion) in 1992. Standing beside the stage while Nirvana was on was pretty full on – it was such a mad gig. I actually have a photo of Kurt Cobain’s blood in the sink from backstage. It was really sad because he was riddled with ulcers. They had the ambulance guys waiting for Kurt – the amount of blood he threw up in the sink… it was horrendous; he was so sick. It wasn’t too long after that that he passed away.
‘One of the funniest things at the Big Day Out was my dad backstage. I turn around and my dad’s having a big chat with Henry Rollins and Tex (Perkins). I was just beside myself – it was really funny. That was actually the day we felt the most like rockstars
‘I played violin, keyboard and percussion many years ago with my partner Goose in a band called Box the Jesuit for a long time and Madroom before that. I couldn’t play violin classically or anything but we were an art, angst-ridden band so I guess I taught myself and whatever…it was always my own thing and I loved it! In interviews I was written up as sounding like two cats copulating – I took it as a huge compliment!’
‘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.’