We met (or first noticed each other) at Tenterfield High School in the 70s when I was about 13. I think he asked me to ‘go with him’ via a friend who relayed my answer ‘yes’ back to him. Our going out initially consisted of bike rides with friends, and usually involved crayfishing - carrying them home in a bucket over the handlebars.
Attitudes towards Aboriginal people were not good at the time. I remember when I first started going out with Chris, one of my close friends used to tease me that I would end up being called Helen Binge (the Binge surname was associated with social disadvantage to put it politely).
Not long after we got together my grandmother (who was from a privileged background as the wife of a surgeon) came to visit.
I was in the next room and overheard a conversation concerning me going out with Chris, and my brother saying in a loud whisper ‘but we don’t talk about him being black’.
Even Chris’s friends used to put him down in front of me with comments about his Aboriginality.
When I went to college in Brisbane, Chris soon followed and we lived together when I was 18 and he was 21. My new friends said their parents would be horrified if they were with someone who was Aboriginal. As Chris is light skinned (unlike his brother and sister) we would often socialise with people who would make racist comments, unaware of Chris’s background. Interestingly, I was usually the one who ended up arguing or telling them their remarks were offensive. Usually they were embarrassed when told about Chris, or else justified their attitudes with comments like ‘yeah, but he’s different to that – he’s a good bloke, he’s not like them’.
We’ve been married for 30 years this year. When you’ve been together for so long it becomes difficult to describe someone as you know that person so well you can anticipate their comments, actions, even thoughts.
I guess we’re very different in many ways – so we complement each other. Chris is the optimist, sees the glass half full, the person who values keeping in touch with family and friends, remembers birthdays. He has the total ‘she’ll be right’ attitude when faced with problems.
He is kind and affectionate (but not always considerate). He loves a joke and a laugh and especially loves a beer with friends. He’s a wonderful father to our two (now grown up) children. He’s also infuriating with time management (Koori time) and loves to procrastinate whereas I am impatient and want things done straight away. As he gets older, he seems to be getting more obsessive about watching sport (any sport) and I seem to be getting less tolerant about incessant sport on TV.
One of my friends said the other day, so what do you do for each other when you’re married for so long – does he buy you flowers? The answer is yes, he buys me flowers but he is there for me in ways that are difficult to describe. I know I can count on him always to be there for me when I need him. We totally trust each other and I can’t imagine what life would be like without that total sense of security and love.
Helen was a good friend of my sister Raelene and she would often spend time at our place. I’m sure she would come over because she secretly liked me!
We would go to the local swimming pool for something to do - still remember those sky blue bikinis! On the weekends we would often ride our bikes out of town to go crayfishing. It was on one of these occasions I asked her if she would go out with me.
Attitudes in Tenterfield could be quite racist in those days and I thought I was pretty fortunate that Helen would even consider going out with me – punching above my weight so to speak.
Also as she was quite popular amongst the guys in her class, it proved a bit of an ego boost for me.
After Helen finished high school she went to university in Brisbane and I got a carpet laying apprenticeship in Tenterfield. We thought it’d be a good idea to have some time apart so I planned to go to the Sunshine Coast and pick up some carpet laying. Helen, however, was finding it very lonely and daunting in her new surroundings and was very unhappy when we spoke on the phone. I ended up picking up work in a warehouse in Brisbane and we moved into a small flat.
We would often go out with Helen’s uni friends and it would always be a shock to them if, or when, it came up that my father was Aboriginal as I am fair skinned. This could often be awkward but most times turned into an interesting conversation (conversation is Helen’s expertise).
Helen is a very honest person. This is both good and bad as she wouldn’t hesitate to speak her mind if I was ever to do something she didn’t like. We’ve been together since Helen was 14, so I guess you could say we know each other pretty well! We’ve both participated in sports, which has been passed down to our kids, Ella and Alex. We also share a love for the pet dogs we have had in our lives.
Having a long term relationship can test you at times with both of us almost finishing each other’s sentences, but I couldn’t imagine living my life without Helen.
I consider myself extremely lucky that Helen has put up with me and my habits for all these years. I also think that the combination of our two personalities has helped Ella and Alex develop into honest and reliable adults. I consider this our greatest achievement.