How has life, and the way we date, changed since Rhonda and Arthur met and married? This couple, my inspiring parents-in-law, Stevens loving Mum and Dad, and wonderful grandparents to my children married on 1 October 1955, 60 years ago.
They met on a blind date. For those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s where friends set up a date for you with someone you don’t know. Kind of similar to Tinder except you didn’t get to stalk their Facebook page to see what they looked like.
Rhonda and Arthur courted. The definition of courting for their time would have been “be involved with (someone) romantically, with the intention of marrying”. The urban dictionary today gives the definition as “traditionally courting would include no sexual activity but today that is not usually followed”. I didn’t ask them which definition they followed, and I don’t ask my kids which kind of courting they do either.
Sixty years ago they couldn’t ring each other on their mobile phones and Rhonda didn’t even have a home phone. Arthur had to call her neighbours if he wanted to talk to her. They would yell out across the fence to Rhonda who would rush over to take his call. The only other way he had of contacting her was to drop in on the way home from work to arrange a date.
Rhonda was only 17 years old when they met and Arthur just 19. Life was not as liberal for teenagers as it is now, and in those days the young couple had to contrive any excuses they could to meet up. They both joined the church fellowship as an excuse to go out. Arthur was in Boy Scouts and Rhonda was in the Girl Guides, and sometimes, their joint activities were an opportunity to meet. Once their dating involved raising money in a minstrel show (Rhonda sang in the choir) and the £100 raised was used to buy a lawnmower for the church. Music and community has remained an important part of their lives.
Rhonda remembers one of her first dates with Arthur was accompanying him on a work job to a farm. Arthur was an apprentice electrician and fixed milking machines. “I’ve been going with him to fix something for 60 years. Our car got stuck in the mud, I didn’t drive then but he taught me later. He told me to get in the car and accelerate, well I did. Mud splattered all over his hand knitted Fairisle jumper. Eventually the farmer had to pull us out with his horse.” That farm machinery business provided Rhonda and Arthur with a livelihood for their family for most of their lives. Even when I first met them, 30 years later, sometimes she would still go out with him to the farm while he fixed a water pump or a milking machine.
Early on in their relationship they went to Kangaroo Valley and listened to Head of the River rowing races on the radio. Rhonda had a chocolate ice-cream and Arthur’s choice of flavour was strawberry. When they stop for an ice-cream these days their choices are still the same.
Arthur partnered Rhonda at her Country Women’s Association (CWA) debutant ball. The balls were a tradition of the time where a young lady, who had reached the age of maturity, was introduced to society at a formal “debut” presentation. This was an important social event in Nowra. All the debutants wore white dresses and Rhonda’s Aunty Margaret made her dress. Prior to the ball the debutants practised their walk and curtsey which was part of their presentation to the dignitaries. Arthur wore a bow tie, a flower in his button hole and one of his father’s old dinner suits. He and the other boys lined up to meet and present their debutants at the ball. The couples partnered each other in sober ballroom dances as no alcohol was served on the night. How wonderful to romance each other without the false courage of alcohol. Arthur was more of an uptown boy and Rhonda more of a downtown girl. At the ball Arthurs parents were among the dignitaries, as his mother was a stalwart of the CWA, and Rhonda’s parents were upstairs in the spectator gallery. Arthur’s parents were tradionalists, they laid the table formally for dinner every night and said grace at every meal. Rhonda remembers feeling quite intimidated by them, particularly his mother who was a Commissioner in the Girls Guides. In contrast Rhonda’s parents were more relaxed and welcomed Arthur with open arms, seeing him as the golden boy.
Arthur asked Rhonda’s father for permission to marry her and with his blessing the young couple were married at All Saints Anglican Church Nowra with 100 family members and friends there to celebrate. Neil and Janice, who would remain lifelong friends, along with young cousin Glenda made up the bridal party. The honeymoon was spent in New Zealand and the couple were driven by Neil to Sydney for their flight. He drove the Vanguard Ute through the pouring rain, stopping for a hamburger on the way. Rhonda was dressed in lovely going away suit and her grandmother said she looked like a “yard of pump water”. I’m guessing that was a compliment.
Arthur had been given a block of land by his grandmother, and while they were not rich they had more than most. Surrounded by support from both families they built a strong and enduring relationship which nurtured three children, six grandchildren and will flow on to one soon to be great granddaughter.
Wherever you are around the world, raise your glasses and propose a toast, to Rhonda and Arthur, and to their young love which has lasted for more than 60 years.