There she is. Red lips, wide smile and tattoos that splash over her milky skin, their forms moving in vibrant colours. Perched on a stool on a balcony overlooking the water, hair pulled back with a scarf wrapped around her head, Esther Yann is picture pin-up perfect. She’s 24. She’s curvaceous. She’s on her way to becoming a criminologist. And she’s tired. Working as a burlesque performer in Melbourne two nights a week, studying criminology at Deakin University and working a daytime job keeps her busy. Then there’s the love of her life, musician Jackson — her husband to be — and her cats and bearded dragon Haku to hang out with. We’ve never met before, but this beautifully fragile yet tough, determined and compassionate young woman is easy to talk with over a glass of vino.
“I was always going to do something in the arts and performance sector. Or work with animals. The problem is I have dyscalculia. I can’t work out mathematical equations and I can’t read big numbers. I can’t even read the time. It’s the equivalent of dyslexia but instead of having problems with words, I have problems with numbers. People at school always thought I was dumb. I wanted to be a vet nurse and worked in three different vet clinics in Sydney before moving back to Melbourne, but it was too hard and I became depressed. I acted for a while — even had a big audition for a movie with Toni Collette. I got down to the last two for the role and didn’t get it. I thought, this doesn’t feel great. Maybe acting is not for me,” she explains.
Esther has a turbulent past. Growing up on the Peninsula with her sister and parents, family heartache and terror snuck into her world one day when she wasn’t looking and left its indelible mark burning through to her core. She is the daughter of Jeff Yann, whose mother was murdered in their lounge room (see July’s Mornington Peninsula Magazine). This has shaped her life and is the reason she’s set on becoming a criminologist, although she has always been interested in the psyche of serial killers and what motivates people to perpetuate and repeat crimes.
“I’m sure what happened to Nona has been a huge motivator in choosing this path. I’m in my second year of criminology and find the criminal mind fascinating. After completing this degree I’ll do three more years of criminal psychology so I can work specifically with serial killers. I suppose it was a choice to study them rather than become one!” We both laugh a little nervously. “You know, there was a mark on the lounge room floor where she was killed and we used to play around it. You never resolve this kind of thing, but I need to find out more about what motivates these perpetrators and how the criminal justice system works or sometimes doesn’t.”
Esther left the Peninsula and headed to Sydney soon after finishing school at Bayside Christian College, and although the acting didn’t work out, she has taken her love of performance and channelled it into her burlesque stage persona Pistolina. She’s a pole dancer too. It is here she celebrates womanhood, strength, feminism and creative freedom. There’s no worries about being so exposed in front of a crowd. She continues. “Taking your clothes off on stage is a massive ego boost. Standing up there with the crowd at arm’s length waiting. Long silk gloves, pencil skirt, a 1920s fake fur coat and roses in my hair. It’s magical and empowering. I do five shows per night which are three to six minutes long. I finish at 11pm and then drive back to Dromana to Jackson — who is very supportive — and my little animal family. The people I work with come from all parts of the community and are so open and forgiving. They can adapt and are survivors.”
Watch out for this survivor’s future gig working with a correspondent from The Australian newspaper who will be presenting a podcast about her grandmother’s case. Esther will bring the family’s perspective. “I’m excited to be working on this,” she concludes.
Dance, Pistolina, dance. The strength is within.