Designer and post-graduate student Tricia Hanlon, 67, is the oldest of seven children, including twin Zohl de Ishtar, 53, a peace activist and post-doctoral research fellow.
Of course Zohl is not her original name. I am never allowed to tell anyone her initial name. She would eat me alive. She was originally named for our grandfather, for goodness sake. We presented mother with a written petition when she got home from hospital with the twins. We said you cannot possibly call this twin by that name. That set the scene for Zohl to change her name later.
I was 14 when the twins came. The rest are dumber than you for a long time so you get away with a lot being the first-born. I’d have to bathe the twins, Zohl and Fran, when I got home from work, but I found creative ways of doing my share. I would take off my stilettos and stockings and make the twins wash my feet.
We were stuck in this semi-rural area of Adelaide, so going out with a boy was my escape from the house. This poor boy was trying to be nice to all these children lined up against the wall watching him. Zohl came up and went ‘dah’ and handed him a little marble of poo, which he took willingly. I was mortified.
Dad died six weeks before I got married, and I became loco parentis to the rest of the children. Mother was a young widow with five children still at home. I spent half my life at various schools sorting out those children.
There was the great denim jeans incident. Zohl made a pact with 10 students to refuse to wear school uniform. By the end of the week, she was the only one still holding to the vow. The headmaster wasn’t happy. I insisted she had the right to wear what she wanted. I was a fashion designer, wasn’t I?
I remember Zohl trying to work out what she wanted to do when she left school. I think it was hard for her to be the youngest twin. She had this weight of sisterhood on top of her. Four older sisters and two brothers. She was definitely at the bottom of the totem pole.
But she went on to have marvellous adventures. She built a gypsy wagon -style caravan called Ishtar and travelled Australia. Then she just disappeared. She told me she would see me on Thursday – and she didn’t come back to see me until eight years later. On a Thursday.
We stayed in touch with letters. She went to Greenham Common in England, which is where she came out and realised she preferred women. It never shocked me or worried me. It was not like she had not had more men than me in all my life. In the 1970s, you got to sleep with them; in the 1950s, you could not. She did say to me, years later, that I should have presented lesbianism as an option to her during our ‘Girls Talks’, but it just wasn’t something I ever thought about.
She didn’t have a structured career. Shewas off traipsing the world, doing a bike ride for peace or sitting in the middle of somewhere they were going to drop a bomb. I thought if Zohl didn’t get a qualification, she could just be a burnt out hippy.
When she became Dr Z in 2003, I thought it was just wonderful. She was part of the 1000 Women nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Now she’s encouraging me to be Dr T, with my fashion thesis. She helps me navigate the world of academia and research.
I find it fascinating that we grew up in different decades, almost different generations, yet we are surprisingly similar. You should always live your life as a social experiment, and I think Zohl agrees. I inhaled the 1950s and got a smoking habit from Gauloise cigarettes. She inhaled the 1970s, marijuana smoke and all. We are like bookends, really.
I can’t remember when Tricia didn’t have green hair. I’m Irish-Australian and I always tell people I am proud of that – but my sister is more proud. I mean, she has green hair. She’s not normal by any stretch of the imagination, but she’s always been creative. She says her hair-colour is ‘the thinking woman’s blue rinse’.
We have arguments, of course, but she is my mentor. She has never stopped playing the older sister. Even when she’s wrong, she’s right.
She always gives me books as presents. One Christmas I opened up my present to find three books I had lent to her. She had wrapped them especially. She really did think she had bought them for me.
So much of what I have done in my life has been reflected through deep conversations with Tricia. She knows more about me and what I’m up to than anyone else on the planet.
She even came to visit the remote Aboriginal community where I did my research She gave me a place to live when I wrote my thesis, Holding Yawulyu. White Culture and Black Women’s Law. She even came to visit the remote Aboriginal community where I did my research. There was Tricia dragging a branch behind her, juggling a coffee and a cigarette in her hand. The elders said, ‘Oh your sister, she works so hard’, but my other sister was actually doing all the work building this shed. Tricia gets a lot of credit that might not be hers, but she takes it anyway.
She ran the Ginger Workshop, which was this amazing collective of artists in Adelaide. One of the friends I met there asked if I wanted to go to Nimbin. I was trying to work out what to do with my future, so I turned to Tricia for advice. She sent me a telegram, which I still remember: ‘Don’t pull the lever STOP Let the river flow STOP’. Who knows what that meant? I took it to mean make up your own bloody mind and get on with it. I followed my feet and went to the Aquarius Festival. It was the event of the 1970s and put me on the path to the rest of my adventures.
When I was young, I remember her standing around with a long cigarette holder. She was so beautiful. I mean, she used to be a model. Her room was a treasure trove. I used to sneak into her bedroom when she wasn’t around and play with her stuff. I remember her jewellery, I used to rearrange it all the time.
On Friday nights we’d have Girl Talks. Tricia did talk about sex occasionally and I remember thinking, ‘Nu-uh, I’m not going there’. It was there and then I decided I wasn’t going to have babies.
One of the things that annoys me about being the youngest is that there is a whole life that happened before you were born. All the sisters like to talk B.Z., or Before Zohl, and they do it on purpose to annoy me. See, I don’t know anything about that poo story, and I only found out that a rhinoceros pissed on me a few years ago. I mean, you think you had a bad childhood? I was pissed on by a rhino. Tricia left my pram in front of the rhino cage at the zoo when I was a baby.
I guess the good thing about it is that Tricia becomes the keeper of the memories.