Marrying at Seventeen

By Josephine, 80. Beachport, SA

Marrying at seventeen didn’t seem to me as though it should cause much eyebrow raising and speculation! This was back in 1957. Many young brides were accidentally pregnant, and many young men had a more responsible attitude to fatherhood than it seems they do today. Bryan and I were not among the “have to get married” group, which was likely because of good luck rather than good management.

We met at Mary McKillop’s old school hall on my fifteenth birthday. Quadrilles was a monthly learn-to-dance function there and Dad played the accordion. Just him, solo (as he often did at many local dance halls). I had started my hairdressing apprenticeship at fourteen in Penola, and Bryan worked on his Uncle’s farm at Coonawarra. He was 20. Bryan started visiting our farm from out of town, and there were frequent cuddles during my lunch hour in his Ford Single Spinner ute down Petticoat Lane! Most Saturday nights we went to the “pictures” in the Penola town hall. Dad came too! We were allowed fifteen minutes to say goodnight on arrival home — probably why we never “had to get married!”

Mum and Dad’s relationship wasn’t a good one, and our family situation wasn’t the best. Mum was an amazing woman and a wonderful mother under pretty difficult circumstances. On my sixteenth birthday, Bryan very nervously asked permission to marry me. I think Mum thought it was maybe a way out for me, as Bryan’s family was very well-respected and long-term property owners at Coonawarra. Dad granted him permission on the condition we could get engaged — but not marry — ’til I was eighteen! The excitement of choosing a ring that cost twenty-seven pounds five shillings at a jeweller in Mount Gambier was amazing! I set about “turning Catholic”, as was common those days, and have never regretted it. We still didn’t ever get to spend much romantic one-on-one time, and there were no sleepovers or weekends away. Dad still came to the “pictures” with us, and we went to the dances he played at. Lunchtime parking down Petticoat Lane got quite heavy at times, and going back to work trying to look composed and tidy took a few minutes to organise!

My birthday is in June. By Christmas after my seventeenth, Mum and my sisters had moved into town, and Dad had taken up with another lady. I don’t really remember how it came about, but we were given permission to marry in March, two months before my eighteenth! Bryan bought me a little 32-volt Singer (that was our power supply at the farm). I set to work making my wedding dress, a bridesmaid’s dress for my sister, and a gorgeous little one for a flower girl. The wedding was at 9.00am on 16th March 1957 at St Alphonsus Church. In those days, fasting for communion was mandatory, and Bryan wanted to get to the races at Edenhope as he had a horse running!! Mum, with help from a good friend and various others, organised a breakfast reception at her little rented home in Penola. It was a beautiful occasion, with cups of tea, home-baked scones, and cakes (no alcohol, of course!)

We set off on our honeymoon in a triple spinner Ford Customline via Edenhope races (Galena didn’t win) and spent the first night at Horsham Hotel. On the second night, we stayed at Ballarat with an elderly friend and his lovely wife who owned Shady Acres Horse Stud at Ballarat. He gave us a lecture about having children (“have two and do them well,” he said.) (We ended up with three and still “did them well.”) The highlight of the wonderful time we finally got to spend together was getting to stay at the very first motel ever built in Victoria — The Oakley Motel, near Dandenong, which opened for business of January that year. It is still operating today. We went home via the Great Ocean Road, staying at Lorne. Great start to a marriage that lasted until Bryan’s death in 1984.

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1 year ago

Hi Josephine, yours was such a delightful story. Yes, many girls got married very young back then and even in the 70s many of my friends and relatives were marrying young. I got married in 1980 in St Peters Cathedral and mine too was a morning wedding. They are the best. We had our reception in the CWA hall in North Adelaide, now part of the Memorial Hospital. We had a lovely early lunch spread at only $6.00 per head, which in 1980 was very reasonable. One day I’ll write about mine in more detail. It was a truly joyous day, as was yours. The Coonawarra area is beautiful and so is Beachport . Although I’m a city girl, I love the SE. By the way, is that you in the photo? I’d never have guessed you’re 80. You look amazing. Regards, Lindsey-Jane.