They were born, ten minutes apart, in East Maitland in September 1927 and raised in the Protestant faith. Their parents struggled through the Great Depression and World War II. Six more children were reared including a second set of twins.
The girls were inseparable and enjoyed the same pastimes; they could knit and sew by seven, took up tap dancing and won an eisteddfod at 11. By 15 they were working in Hector’s butcher shops.
At 16, they learned old time dancing, and this was how they met the men they married. Shirley says, “Our mother would take us, we weren’t allowed to go on our own!” Eunie says of their dancing days, “There was a (Catholic) younger set in Morpeth and Ron and Noel were in that younger set.”
Ron Morris and Noel Mills were great mates. One night the boys decided, “You take one and I’ll take the other.” Two became four; Shirley and Noel; Eunie and Ron. Shirley says, “That’s how we started and we’ve been together ever since.” Eunie adds, “They won us over and partnered us for our debut on 25 August 1945, the night peace was declared; there were great celebrations.”
There were no cars for the young in those days! When the boys came to visit the sisters at their home in East Maitland, they would either ride a bicycle or arrive with a horse and sulky. Courting became “serious” and they asked permission to become engaged to Shirley and Eunie.
Both Noel and Ron were Catholics and Eunie says, “We were impressed with the Catholic faith.” The girls liked accompanying their future husbands to Catholic ceremonies. They particularly enjoyed Christ the King processions and Mass at Maitland Showground and “loved the parish missions”.
Morpeth parish priest at the time, Fr James Walsh, instructed the girls in the faith and they became Catholics. Fr James also presided at the wedding of both couples, Noel and Shirley in April 1949 and Ron and Eunie in September 1950.
They dedicated themselves to the parish and to their children’s Catholic schools. Shirley is a gifted seamstress and handmade the priest’s vestments and other church items over many decades. Both are excellent cooks and donated generously to church and school fundraisers. Eunie says, “Generations enjoyed the housie I called over many years in the school rooms.”
The two families grew and lived not far apart, but things changed when the 1955 floods struck. Eunie says, “We were moved to a Commission home in Morpeth, having lost everything. Shirley and Noel were the same at their farm. They got a Commission home around the corner, and their back yard ran into our side yard!” A gate was quickly installed and the families couldn’t have been happier.
Their children have shared life together, more like brothers and sisters than cousins and are still close. Eunie says of their combined seven children, “Each home felt like home for them. There were never any arguments and never have been, right through.”
Shirley and Noel have three children, Eunie and Ron have four. Between the sisters, they share 23 grandchildren and 38 great-grandchildren; Shirley has two great-great grandchildren.
They both admit that their early years were difficult but happy times, making clothes from flour bags, no telephones and rudimentary farm homes. But Eunie says, “We weren’t the only ones, we were all in the same predicament, everybody helped one another.”
The twins share more than a birthday. When Shirley and Noel married, Eunie says, “We had never been apart and I fretted so much.” Their families are used to them arriving at events and unintentionally wearing matching outfits. When they feel unwell and speak on the phone, they can pick up on each other’s ailment.
Since their birth they have seldom been apart. They speak each day on the phone, and Eunie says, “We share lunch and afternoon tea on Wednesdays.”
Noel died in 2006 and Ron in 2008. The loss of their life partners has drawn the sisters closer than ever. They have shared 90 years together; long may they continue to enjoy each other’s company.