In families, politics, sisters are now really doing it for themselves

The day my big sister really took coolness to a new level was when she finger-knitted a whole curtain for the door of her room and bought the single of Rick Springfield’s Speak to the Sky on vinyl from the Glen Waverley record shop.

Until then, Greg Brady was the only person I knew who pimped up his room to such effect. Now my own sister was rivalling a teen TV god, creating an intriguing entranceway via craft then letting the rest of us in to dance to Rick – and Ross Ryan doing I Am Pegasus – on her record player.

Funny thing was, she just kept out-doing herself. She was the first girl in grade seven to get a short feather cut, the first in the street to get a velour top (worn with Staggers jeans and either Saba wedge sandals or two-tone blue treads) and knew the words to Ego Is Not A Dirty Word about 10 minutes after it was on Countdown.

Krysanne Halfpenny was the popular girl but never the mean one. She was almost bizarrely friendly to everyone but had a steely side. When we moved to Tassie, she was once locked in the dining room of the school boarding house for six hours for refusing to eat limp vegetables. She sat serenely in place until my dad got word and called the headmistress: Let her out.

She taught me how to do the sharpie dance, make Shaker Maker figurines, smoke, decorate my school books with pictures cut out of surf magazines. I’d barge into her room and she’d demonstrate how to put on her favourite Boo Blue eyeshadow. She lent me her Dolly mags because she knew I was into the section where the fashion editor advised what to pack for a Fairstar cruise.

Krys loved everyone and everything. But mostly blokes. Bon Scott, the Bay City Rollers, Dennis Lillee, Simon Madden, Meat Loaf. They loved her back. Any who came within her orbit were mad for her sparky charm, her jangly silver and puka shell necklaces, her weird innocence. True? she’d ask constantly when you dished gossip or stories from Willesee at Seven. Wow.

The one who fell for her when she started as a teller at the Launceston Westpac branch proposed over Friday night work drinks at the pub. Soon we were lying on her bed marvelling at magazines with sweetheart neckline dresses and Niagara Falls honeymoon suites with heart shaped beds.

Then, when I was 15 and she was 19, she was gone. Married, moved to Queensland, now called Louise Lowe. She’d ring mum to check a recipe from the Women’s Weekly chicken cookbook and we’d talk quickly – STD phone rates – but it was never the same. I remember listening to Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 one Sunday afternoon and feeling Air Supply were talking directly to me: I’m lying alone with my head on the phone, thinking of you ’til it hurts.

And now my funny, resilient, capable sister is turning 60. She’s a mother of two, a grandmother of four, still married to Jamie from the bank, still beloved by all including the hundreds of kindergarten kids she taught, still relentlessly selling herself short. Still an optimist. Still in love with dogs and babies.

That her milestone birthday dovetails perfectly with a new era for Australian women feels like no coincidence. All week I’ve been celebrating sisterhood – with Lou and our other magnificent sister Jane, she of the peerless skin and taste – and the sisterhood.

The joy of both. The pride in the bond between sisters who share families and memories, and those who share gender and experience. Who suddenly after years of disrespectful inertia are on the cusp of a parliament chockers with chicks, the possibility of menstrual leave, the feeling that finally, finally, our fabulous power is being acknowledged.

Happy birthday to my invincible sister and happy brave new world to all the others out there.

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