Betty Christensen with a picture of herself and her late husband Roy.
Betty Christensen with a picture of herself and her late husband Roy. Robyne Cuerel

Betty Christensen talks about life, love and giving

THEY went to a dance on their first date the night war broke out with Germany.

Betty Christensen, now 91, remembers because everything went strangely quiet at midnight when the announcement blared across the loud speakers, and how that part of the night was usually reserved for laughing and carrying on - but not on that particular night.

The Christensen family pose for a wedding photo - (back row) Ray, Joan, Kay, Nola, Betty, Roy and Bevan and (front) Carol, Ann and Jill.
The Christensen family pose for a wedding photo - (back row) Ray, Joan, Kay, Nola, Betty, Roy and Bevan and (front) Carol, Ann and Jill. Robyne Cuerel

Her future husband Roy a young man at 18.

That the two chose to set out together on life's path at such a dramatic point in time; how it must have seemed so puzzling that such contrasting memories would share the same important compartment of her mind in the years that would come. Love and an attempt at world domination.

Roy would find himself on the war's battlefields eventually.

And it would cut his soul in the same way it did a generation of men and women who experienced the German attack on freedoms and liberties.

But Roy would not find himself in its grip for another three years (back then, soldiers needed to be aged at least 21 to join).

And even if he had been on a ship bound for the fighting front that very next day, Betty would have known he was the man for her already. The only man.

"I was 16 and he was 18 and he was the only one; it doesn't happen these days," Betty recalls from the dining table of her Point Vernon home, where she's drinking tea and offering up lamingtons.

"There was a ball on - there was Haddows Cafe and there was Haddows Hall.

"That was my very first date with Roy and, as I say, he lived nearly three miles out and only had a bike to ride, of course, and he was taking me to the ball, my mother made me a dress, a new dress, and he took me on the bar of his bike.

"We were country dancers, let's say we were country dancers, he didn't do the foxtrots but we did the barn dances and that, you know, the old dances.

"So he took me down on the bar of his bike, he was very staid that time, but he wasn't always very staid after that.

Betty Christensen is contributing toward Christensen House in the new St Stephens Hospital complex in Hervey Bay.
Betty Christensen is contributing toward Christensen House in the new St Stephens Hospital complex in Hervey Bay. Robyne Cuerel

"And that was the night war was declared, we heard it at midnight.

"That was September 2, 1939, at the Haddows Dance Hall we heard Germany had declared war on England."

Roy a third generation farmer. Betty a "townie" with a heart for the rural life and with dreams of settling one day on the land; of making a life with a guy who'd take perfect care of her and their children.

"He wanted to join when he was 19," she continues.

"Because you had to be 21 in those days so he had to wait a couple more years and he signed up on his 21st birthday."

The two would send each other letters of devotion for all the years that Roy was away.

Well, Betty would send the letters mostly; Roy would write when he could.

She would write so often she must have had the postal service under pressure just to continue making its other less important rounds.

A letter each and every day. Love in an envelope. Feelings from a pen.

"I'd write letters every night of the week, every night that he was away I wrote him a letter," she recalls.

"Didn't always catch up with him, but I wrote one. Four-and-a-half years he was away."

Her mind ponders those words a few moments after they leave her mouth.

Those are the memories she keeps, treasures.

He was the shy one with the big heart.

The one who built as close a thing to a Fraser Coast farming empire as there was to be in the region in the 1900s.

There was cane, cattle, dairy, anything and everything to make a quid and support a growing family.

They owned property from Eli Waters to Nikenbah. They were farmers back when farming was good. When the money was there to be made and opportunities to be had.

Betty Christensen, 91, says her kids are pleased about the donation to build Christensen House but she didn't consult them before she did it,
Betty Christensen, 91, says her kids are pleased about the donation to build Christensen House but she didn't consult them before she did it, "oh no, I still know what I'm doing". Robyne Cuerel

She remembers the first appliance she bought was an iron for the clothes.

An electric iron.

She couldn't believe how lucky she was.

A woman with an electric iron.

An iron.

Years later Roy would collect walking sticks and she'd keep them in a sunroom at the front of her home even after he departed for the other side.

Walking sticks that look like golf clubs; like big long corks glued together; like some extravagant tools from outer space; like relics from some unknown and far off realms.

Roy was the shy one with the big heart; Betty the glue that held their family unit together.

He was the one who could never say no to his children.

"Why can't they have it?" he'd ask Betty as their children grew and learnt who to ask for things.

Six kids under the age of seven, eight in total. Eight who learnt that dad was the man to ask and mum the disciplinary.

"Roy would just say to me on the side, 'Why can't they have it today? Why can't she have it?' You had to have a valid reason, of course. 'Remember, she asked for it today, means she has to have it today'."

An artist's impression of Christensen House.
An artist's impression of Christensen House. Contributed

It was there for them at all of the big family milestones: all the kids were born there; Roy's bacon was saved there; Betty's daughters and sisters got their first jobs there; lifelong friends were made there.

"The kids are all happy," she says, explaining a donation the family recently made to build a home for patients and families from out of town to use when in the Bay for treatment.

"The kids are pleased about it. I never consulted the kids before I did it, oh no, I still know what I'm doing.

(She's forced to try to control her laughter at this.)

"You see, Roy was always talking to me because this St Stephen's Hospital has been on the go for a darn long time.

"And Roy used to say to me, 'Do you think it will happen in our time?' Because it was always as soon as anything happened it was to St Stephen's Hospital we went."

Kylie and Mark (grandson) Christensen, Judy and Ray (son) Christensen, Nola Stocks (daughter), Betty Christensen, Michael Charles (son-in-law), Bevan Christensen (son), Jill Payne (daughter), Beverley Christensen (daughter-in-law) and Ann Lucy (daughter) at the Christensen House sod turning.
Kylie and Mark (grandson) Christensen, Judy and Ray (son) Christensen, Nola Stocks (daughter), Betty Christensen, Michael Charles (son-in-law), Bevan Christensen (son), Jill Payne (daughter), Beverley Christensen (daughter-in-law) and Ann Lucy (daughter) at the Christensen House sod turning. Alistair Brightman

He was travelling a bumpy goat track at Urraween carting cane.

He hit a hole and the truck went bouncing off the road and into a tree.

The windscreen smashed, his artery was severed, and the hospital staff some hours later managed to save his bacon.

Betty says Roy would have been darn proud to have seen the hospital built and the family playing a role in providing a home away from home for people who need a place to stay.

He was the shy man with the big heart who just couldn't say no.

I bet if she thinks hard Betty can imagine him saying on the other side: "Why can't they have it today? Why can't they have it?"



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