Topp Twins lives' laid bare on the walls of Te Manawa

Photos from Te Manawa's Topp Twins exhibition  lives shows their many sides.
SUPPLIED

Photos from Te Manawa's Topp Twins exhibition lives shows their many sides.

The Topp Twins' lives are laid bare on the exhibition walls of Te Manawa. Carly Thomas spoke to one of the famous duo about their upbringing, their sense of social justice and the special bond between twins.

Most people have to wait until they die to get an exhibition about their life but Lynda and Jools Topp are not most people, they are extraordinary ones. 

They got to walk through their years, together; as they have always done, when they came to the opening of Te Manawa's exhibition: The Topp Twins: An Exhibition for New Zealand. 

The Topp Twins, Lynda, left, and Jools, right, at the opening of their exhibition at Te Manawa in Palmerston North.
ANDY LOWE/SUPPLIED

The Topp Twins, Lynda, left, and Jools, right, at the opening of their exhibition at Te Manawa in Palmerston North.

It was a wonderfully odd experience, says Lynda Topp.

"Well, yeah, we're not dead and it felt like a real honour. It felt pretty good. Te Manawa poured their heart and soul into it and they did a fantastic job."

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The most striking thing about the exhibition is that there is so much more to these two than the obvious. We know them as iconic entertainers, singing and harmonising their way through life with their wicked, down-to-earth humour, but the walls also tell another story.

Jools and Lynda Topp  performing at a Lesbian and Gay Rights support the bill rally.
SUPPLIED/DAVID HINDLEY

Jools and Lynda Topp performing at a Lesbian and Gay Rights support the bill rally.

These two women have a strong sense of fairness.

Walk with them on their path and you will walk through protest chants, rebel cries for gay rights and Maori land issues. You will experience a nuclear-free swagger that marches into feminism and gender equality issues.

You will see strength and community, and you will see a humble pride.

The Little Cuba Carnival in Palmerston North was timed to coincide with the Topp Twins exhibition opening. Lynda Topp, ...
WARWICK SMITH/STUFF

The Little Cuba Carnival in Palmerston North was timed to coincide with the Topp Twins exhibition opening. Lynda Topp, left, and Jools Topp, with their King Charles spaniel, meet Aria Wood, 5.

"We were a part of all those things, which are historical to New Zealand now, and it wasn't just Jools and me, it was a whole generation. People identify with all of that."

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They were brought up "good", says Lynda. The twins and their brother Bruce had wonderful parents, she says.

"There were no rules in the family that boys did this and girls did that. Jools and I helped on the farm and Bruce did the dishes. Bruce is gay as well, so three out of three in the family. Our parents were so amazingly supportive."

Two of the many characters dreamt up by Jools and Lynda Topp over the years, Ken and Ken.
SUPPLIED

Two of the many characters dreamt up by Jools and Lynda Topp over the years, Ken and Ken.

This was rural New Zealand in the 1970s and their parents, Jean and Peter Topp, weren't necessarily the "norm".

Topp says their mum always taught them never to hate.  She also says they made it OK for the sisters to be completely open. 

They were there when the exhibition doors opened, which Topp says was wonderful. "They are a huge part of all of this. They have always been there for us". 

They watched from afar when the girls jumped ship from their brief career in the territorial army to busk on street corners in Christchurch. It was the late 70s and "a real political time", says Topp.

"And we became involved in the political movement like a lot of people and the students were a really political crowd.

"We had a great time. It was an amazing time because the things that we were all trying to change, we actually did manage to change them."

And they did it in their own way, not quietly, they were full of uproarious humour, but in a warm, grassroots fashion.

They sang their way to Hamilton to the International Women's Convention, and upwards to Auckland where they drew great crowds on street corners as they belted out their melody-lifted political messages. 

It's what made people connect, says Topp.

They represented the best bits of being Kiwi by using humour and honesty.

And as you walk through the exhibition what presents itself, like a slice of light on a cloudy day, is that they bridged social and political divides.

"We have always believed that people shouldn't be discriminated against because of their race or their sexuality. For Jools and me it became a big part of our entertainment world as well. We would write songs about those things. We felt passionate about it, anti-nuclear songs and lesbian love songs, and that became our role."

They would always get the call for a protest or a rally to sing and entertain, delivering a heavy message in their natural light-hearted way.

"If you're going to do a speech you have to really get people behind you and empower people and it's hard but with a song you can stop people and entertain while getting your message across. We are lucky we can do that."

Their characters, too, were familiar to all New Zealanders: Ken and Ken, the bowling ladies, Camp Mother and Camp Leader, the Gingham Sisters, Westie girls Raylene and Brenda and posh socialites Prue and Dilly. They are all there as you walk through the decades, too.

And it's two beautiful lives that are on display, wearing their hearts-on-their-sleeves lives.

The exhibition opening was full of laughter. There were costumes there to put on and the twins got stuck in. There were moments of poignancy, moments of pride and moments filled with laughter and exclamations of "did we really do that"?

And they have done it, together. 

"That twin thing. There is something there, right from the beginning that's what you are, you are never not a twin. You are never alone, there is always someone there for you, 24/7, your whole life."

"It's pretty magic really."

 The Topp Twins: An Exhibition for New Zealand runs at Palmerston North's Te Manawa until October 29. 

For more information go to: http://www.temanawa.co.nz/topptwins/ 

 

 

 

 

 

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