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Episode 22
Pink Twins

Broadcast 6.30pm on 02/07/2003

Moiya & Dorothy O'Brien
  Twins Moiya & Dorothy O'Brien

Moiya and Dorothy O’Brien are almost 80 years old but nothing, least of all age, can repress their incredible passion for helping the disabled. 27 years ago these twins launched a Brisbane care centre that is still thriving today. Their passion for caring is matched only by their passion for the colour pink – their clothes and house have led them to be affectionately nicknamed the "Pink Twins".

GEORGE NEGUS: The couple in our next story came from an episode we tagged 'Passion'. But this was passion of a very different kind - passion with a tinge of pink. In fact, a lot more than a tinge. Here's Dave Adams.

DAVID ADAMS: It's often the case that twins have a strong bond. But the two ladies we're about to meet have one of the strongest sibling connections you're ever likely to see. Throughout their lives, they've stood side by side as they've tirelessly worked to help others.

DOROTHY O'BRIEN: And when we were born, my mum said that... In those days, they didn't do natural births and she'd been under an anaesthetic, and she woke up and heard this funny little noise each side of the bed going, "Uh-oh," and the other side going, "Oh-oh." And she said, "What's that?" And they said, "That's your little twin daughters - they're talking to each other." And she didn't even know she had twins. She said for 24 hours we just did that and answered each other, so we said we must have been missing each other. (Laughs)

DAVID ADAMS: In case you haven't realised, Moyia and Dorothy O'Brien are identical twins who are in their 80th year. Their story is one of joy for life and dedication to love and care for others.

MOYIA O'BRIEN: We really feel better when we're together. I mean, we can cope quite adequately without each other but we're always happiest and feel more complete when we're together.

DOROTHY O'BRIEN: And we've never married, because we had a real great companionship. And they say that most marriages are people looking for a compatible mate and we've got it in each other so we didn't need to get married and it gave us more time to do our work. We love our work. Our work is our life, really. We came on earth wanting to help people, and even from children, we were always wanting to help the children, lost children and little animals, and we just grew up knowing that was going to be our life - to do service to other people.

MOYIA O'BRIEN: (In office) Better make that phone call, eh?

DAVID ADAMS: The twins spent their working lives as occupational therapists. But by the time they retired, they noticed a huge void in the health care system. There was nowhere for mentally handicapped people to spend their time other than in hospital, which is far from fulfilling.

DOROTHY O'BRIEN: We've got to set up a place where they can continue to get love and therapy and continue to grow, and so that's what we started SWARA for.

DAVID ADAMS: Well, this is SWARA - or to give it its full name, the Sunshine Welfare and Remedial Association. It's a place where you instantly feel welcome. And it plays an invaluable part in the lives of more than 100 people who come here daily and can call this place their own.

DOROTHY O'BRIEN: (To SWARA workers) You all have a lovely holiday. It's wonderful to see you all again.

MOYIA O'BRIEN: We work here on three levels. First of all, they come in and they're assessed. We put them into an area downstairs, what we call our assessment area, and we find out where they can fit in. See, some of them are physically disabled, some of them are just nonachievers, some of them are psychiatric... we get quite a lot of psychiatric people here. But they're all people that don't fit into other areas, either because they're too disabled, they're too disruptive or they're too intelligent or they're too frightened. Remember the actions?

DOROTHY O'BRIEN: We wanted SWARA to be a place where they could come and be themselves and grow in their own way, just at their own speed, and reach their full potential.

(All workers sing with Moyia)
I love myself
The way I am
There's nothing I need to do
I feel the love
Inside myself
It's easy to love you...

MOYIA O'BRIEN: We believe that if you're really strong about something and you've got an idea or a dream, that if you've got enough fortitude and endurance and hope, that...and perseverance, that it'll happen. And it's happened with us, because when SWARA started, we had no money, we had a little derelict, run-down building, and just because of this love and joy in life and living and the determination it would be a success, it's just grown. It was a miracle. Everybody said, "You'll never survive."

DAVID ADAMS: (Walking with Moyia) You were adding to these buildings all the time?

MOYIA O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. We started off with one, then we acquired...this was the second one, then this one, then that one. And we'll just quickly have a quick look in here, because... This is our therapy area. This is where they come first and we do assessments in here. Some of them never move beyond this area but some of them move on into more upgraded programs. And what we do in here, we do a lot of creative work, as you can see.

(To Dorothy in their garden) Come with me, Dorothy.

DAVID ADAMS: If a person is loving, they're said to have a pink aura. Well, the life of the twins is surrounded by the colour of love.

MOYIA O'BRIEN: I used to wear pink. I always loved pink and that was my colour. As a therapist, that was the colour I wore. Dorothy wore blue. And then suddenly, she said, "Look, I like pink too. Would you mind if I move into pink?" And I said no. So...and then, people started to call us the 'pink twins'.

DAVID ADAMS: To say that Moyia and Dorothy are close would be something of an understatement. Apart from one very brief period, they've lived together in the same house for the majority of their lives. So surely a relationship like this must lead to the odd argument. So have they ever fallen out?

MOYIA O'BRIEN: Very early in the piece, we worked out a solution where we could work it through. Instead of getting annoyed with each other, we'd try and work the problem through and sometimes she would get her way and when my turn... I'd get my way the next time. We've worked under a system like that most of our lives. Someone said, "Is there anything you don't like about each other?" and we said, "No, not really." We can't really think of anything we don't like about each other, except I wish Dorothy wasn't in a wheelchair.

GEORGE NEGUS: In the pink, so to speak. That was exactly what I said last time we ran that story. Consistent, anyway.

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