Jacki James and her sister, Kylie, are identical twins with a 99.99% DNA match! They have an incredible twin connection, and they are currently writing a book together about it. They have now spent many years living apart, as their jobs as Police Officers stationed Jacki here on the Coffs Coast and her sister in Outback Australia, so they decided after turning 50 it was time to re-connect and spend some time together walking the Camino Trail in Spain.
Hey Jacki. Can you tell us how you came to live on the Coffs Coast?
Hi! My husband and I moved to the Coffs Coast 25 years ago. We were both transferred here from Sydney through the Police Force. We had a 10 week old baby, and I was the first female Police Officer doing part-time Policing at Coffs Harbour in General Duties, working out on the truck. It was interesting how a country station managed this situation compared to the city. I was a designated Detective, but there had never been a female detective here in general Detectives. It’s great to see how women in Policing has changed over the years.
You have a twin sister, Kylie, and you’re writing a book together about your connection. Can you tell us a bit about that connection and what it was like growing up as an identical twin?
Yes, we are writing a book titled Reef and Beef. The book is about twins, touching on whether our behaviour has been influenced by “nature” or “nurture”. It is also about the differences between living in the Australian Outback and coastal Australia.
Kylie lives on 100,000 acres two hours northwest of Bourke. She taught her children via Distance Education, and the Royal Flying Doctor Service is her ambulance. Kylie and I are very close. Her husband says, “If you marry one twin, you marry both twins”. We only manage to see each other once a year in person, but we speak daily (sometimes twice daily). We have two other sisters, but as any identical twin knows, there is a different bond. We have a 99.99% DNA match, so Kylie is my walking, talking organ donor (should I ever need one).
You have had some interesting and unexplainable “twin moments”. Can you tell us about some of the most memorable ones?
(Laughs). Kylie and I have had some interesting ‘twin moments”. We have had identical medical and health related incidences. I was able to breastfeed my nephew and hadn’t been pregnant or breastfeeding for over two years. We both received identical HSC results. In our day that mark was out of 500, so to get the exact mark was freaky. I always considered myself to be the “brighter” twin, but apparently I’m not!
You and Kylie were both Police Officers. Did you train together and join the Police Force at the same time?
Yes, we joined the Police together. We were the first female twins to join together. The first set of male twins joined two classes ahead of us. When we sat our IQ exam to join the Police, we received the exact same IQ mark. We were taken into a room at Police Headquarters, because they were so fascinated with the results.
There were lots of interesting cases with “baddies”, where we confused them. We were never stationed together, but we were in neighbouring districts. We were often asked to do undercover jobs together in Sydney, as most offenders would not suspect female twins as being Police Officers. Kylie was an undercover operative, which did make matters difficult when she was doing jobs with me being based out of Parramatta Detectives.
You were both stationed in different towns. After spending so much time apart, you came together to walk the Camino Trail. What was that experience like?
We were both stationed in Sydney for quite a while, and I was lucky enough to end up here on the Coffs Coast. Kylie transferred to Bourke and was the first female Detective our there. She ended up marrying a grazier and now lives on a big station out the back of Bourke (literally). When we turned 50, we decided we needed to do something special together. We had been trying to find a way to conclude our book and wanted to see what spending an extended period of time together without distractions would do to our relationship. We had not had time together alone for over 30 years.
We had both recently seen the movie The Way directed by Emilio Estevez, starring Martin Sheen. We knew it had to be eventful, and we thought spending 36 days walking 799 km across Spain would be perfect.
The “Camino” is a pilgrimage that has been walked for over 1,000 years across Spain to the shrine of the Apostle Saint James. Historically, people walked the Camino for religious reasons. These days, people walk this route for many different reasons. A recent survey said 28% of pilgrims walked for religious reasons, with the majority walking the Camino to get away from their daily life, to connect with nature, health and exercise, or they were looking for a new challenge.
How did you train for the walk?
The walk is enormously varied. You start the walk trekking over the Pyrenees from France, and continue walking westward across Spain about 95 km south of the Spanish coast. Sometimes you’re walking in mountains; other times you will be walking in woodlands, forests and open plains. You walk in the country and through large cities; you walk in modern and ancient Spain. The walking paths vary from dirt tracks, old Roman roads, tar roads and bogged rain forests. I was much more fortunate than Kylie. We have some great bush walks on the Coffs Coast, so I loaded up my backpack and walked the Crystal Showers falls and Wonga Walks. Mount Warning on the Tweed ranges was also a fantastic training ground, along with the Gumgali track at Korora.
We are blessed with having the Ulidarra National Park and the Bongil Bongil National parks at our doorstep as well. Some days I walked along the Link Road and down to the Jetty. A varied training environment was ideal, and the Coffs Coast offered that.
My poor sister only had her airstrip to walk on, and sometimes she attempted to walk to her mailbox, which is a 40 minute car drive from the main homestead. The terrain out there is flat with thick red dirt, and she had to fend off brown snakes and wild steers, along with the 40 degree heat. Her training did end up assisting us, because on the first day of the Camino we were chased by two wild pigs on the Pyrenees. (Laughs).
What was it like having that extended period of time together again, just the two of you?
It was very strange at first! It was interesting how much we’ve changed. Kylie’s country environment and my coastal environment have made our daily life habits much different. I am clearly more high maintenance, going regularly to hairdressers and beauticians. Because I can! Well, let’s face it. Unwanted body hair is not so much a problem on an outback cattle station.
I am used to running on a schedule, and Kylie is used to living like a Spaniard, resting in the middle of the heat of the day and working late into the night. We quickly found walking about 1 km apart was perfect. (Laughs). But there were many times where I needed my sister right next to me to share in an amazing experience that I knew she would enjoy as much as me – in these moments, we didn’t need to speak.