Distance makes the heart grow fonder
Bridget (centre) and Anne (second from right) as children on Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour where Sir Baden Powell famously formed the Cub Scouts. DUBBO local Bridget Mann and British national Anne Monkcom have been lifelong friends since meeting in primary school in Poole, Dorset in the UK; yet for most of that friendship they’ve lived on opposite sides of the world.
When Anne visited from England recently, Dubbo Photo News sat down with the pair to learn how they’ve kept their connection alive – and mostly during a time before the invention of social media.
“We met at primary school. Bridget was in the year ahead of me. My family had moved from the north of England down to Poole to the south coast. We were both about six years old,” Anne explained.
“My father was a Catholic head master in Manchester and he moved to open the secondary Catholic School in Poole.”
When it came time to go to high school they went their separate educational ways but stayed firm friends.
“We still met up at weekends right up until Bridget left,” Anne said, referring to a dramatic change in 1969 which saw Bridget immigrate to Australia. She was 12-and-a-half years old.
“Mum and Dad were really good friends with this other family and he was one of these ‘way out’ guys, and he’d said, ‘We’re going to Australia, do you want to come?’ Dad said ‘yes’,” Bridget explained.
“So, you go through all the process of doing all the work – I was too young to understand all that – but then the other family pulled out!
“(Despite that), Mum and Dad kept on going and we came in the May of 1969. I turned 13 in the October. I think my parents were like every family at that time, looking for opportunities, and better weather.”
Bridget and her five siblings at that time came to Australia. “We flew here, instead of coming on a ship.” Another sister, Kerrie, was born in Orange seven years later.
Arriving in a new country with no support network was daunting.
“We had no one and nothing really. We were in Villawood migrant camp. I remember my Dad crying the day we arrived in Australia into Villawood. We lived in one of those Nissan huts. It was really hard. That was our first impression of Australia. If he could, he would have taken us straight back.”
Eventually job opportunities arose for her father.
“We all drove up to Orange with Dad who had this job interview. One of the reasons we came to Australia was because of the weather, and we got to Orange and it snowed!
“That’s where we settled. I was so nervous going to school in Orange, but they were so welcoming and warm. It was different to Sydney which I hated. There were no other children from England. Funnily, less than 12 months later our ‘way out’ friend and his family followed.”
After a gap of 27 years exchanging letters and photographs, Anne and Bridget finally met again to rekindle their old friendship in person, sadly on the event of Bridget’s mother dying in 1996.
“Dad went back to England, he’s Irish, so he went back to have time with his family. I met him over there and that was the first time Anne and I had seen each other since primary school.”
Eleven years after that Anne managed to make her way to Australia.
“It was my daughter who really got us here. When she left school at 18 she wanted to do a gap year travelling, and I really didn’t want her going off around the world. We had lived a long time in Cyprus which is quite a small island. You don’t really have to worry about security on Cyprus. It was worrying enough that she would be going to England!” Anne said.
“I thought, ‘How can I solve this?’, so I decided to ask Bridget, because we were still communicating by letter, if it was possible for her to do a bit of voluntary work in St Pius where Bridget
Anne Monkcom from the UK and local Bridget Mann. worked.
“Anyway, it was all arranged and then we started to think we’d quite like to go to Australia too. As it turned out, our daughter came first, she did a term at the school and we came over in the March and all went back together.
“When we came here that time, Bridget’s husband Geoff had said it was like filling in the last piece of the jigsaw,” Anne said.
And so, 10 years later, with several catch-ups in between, Anne has returned again to Dubbo for another visit and a lifelong friendship is maintained.
Thanks for sharing your story ladies! ■
Anne and Bridget in Sydney earlier this year The ladies with husbands Steve and Geoff