This is the life
4 minute read

Bill and Elvie Harris' secrets to a long and happy marriage

Bill and elvie 677 262
Living at Lifestyle Lyndarum marks the latest chapter in their long and happy partnership. With a backyard full of roses and the breeze tickling the wind chimes, the Harris’ home is a lovely peaceful place to contemplate the makings of a successful marriage. “I keep saying to Elvie, I made sure we got married before she had too much time to think about it,” laughs Bill. With almost 60 years to think about it since, Elvie simply raises her eyebrows and laughs back at him.

Bill and Elvie’s story offers an intriguing snapshot of late 1950s Melbourne dating culture, back in the day when there was no such thing as swiping right on your smartphone Tinder app. With office worker Elvie living in Abbotsford, and Bill, a young apprentice plumber living in Preston, the Collingwood Town Hall 50-50 dance was their local place to meet, mingle and jitterbug with the opposite sex.

“Most town halls hosted dances and that’s where young people went to meet,” explains Bill. “On a Saturday, you’d race home, put on your suit and go down to the dance.” To make the most of the ‘expensive’ fifty-cent entrance fee, getting a pass to each dance across inner Melbourne was the best deal. “We’d leave Collingwood Town Hall, walk to the Church Street tram, head to St Kilda and do a few dances there,” recalls Elvie. “We’d then catch the tram back to the Masonic Hall on Collins Street, then, if we had enough money left, we’d go to the Caprice Coffee Club. Then, we’d have to walk home!”

The first time Bill walked Elvie home from a dance, Elvie’s strict Scottish father caught them at the door. “Come inside son,” he said to Bill. Looking sheepish almost 60 years later, Bill recalls his future father-in-law’s questions - “What do you do for a living son, where is your family from, how many brothers and sisters do you have?” Then he asked me, ‘“Have you got a photo of your family?” Since Bill often travelled to the country for work, he quite fortunately had a family photo stuck in his wallet. “He said, ‘Well, you can’t be all bad if you’ve got a photo of your family with you,” recalls Bill.

Elvie was worried she’d never see her new flame again. “I carried on like my grandkids now do with their mothers!” Elvie recalls. “I shouted, ‘I’ll never see him again!’ to my mum, and ‘I hate you!’ to my dad. I really thought that was it.”

But, brave young Bill came back the next Sunday. “I’d already made up my mind about what was going to happen,” he says. A mate had met Elvie beforehand and told Bill he was going to take her home. “I bet you don’t,” Bill told him. “You and I will have to sort this out.”

Bill sorted it out, proposed and the pair later celebrated their marriage at Cairns Memorial Church on Powlett Street, East Melbourne. Destroyed by fire in 1988, it’s now been converted into apartments nestled in the church’s shell. Some things haven’t changed though, just like today, getting married wasn’t so easy for everyone. “I can tell you now because it’s a long time ago, but the minister who married us accidentally married two women the week before!” says Elvie. “He was a terrific old fellow, a typical friendly old minister and he would do anything for anyone,” explains Bill. “They conned him, one had dressed up as a man and went through all the pre-marriage lessons pretending to be a bloke. There was a court case afterwards about it.”

Bill and Elvie also proudly swear that they were the first people to have their wedding photos taken in the Fitzroy Gardens. “The photographer said no one had ever done it before,” recalls Elvie. “He knew exactly where to take us, and when we asked if he needed permission, he told us, ‘By the time someone says something we’ll be gone.’” Fortunately, they made a clean getaway, only to return to the very same spot to pose for photos on their 50th wedding anniversary.

After almost 60 years, Bill and Elvie can share the following insights and wisdom on the essence of a successful marriage. “I can’t walk away from an argument,” says Bill. “I wouldn’t leave it until I’ve sorted everything out. We’d never go to bed angry.” Elvie says, “Even if you fight with your in-laws, you have to stick together as a couple.”

Finally, “You’re both equal, no one is the boss, and that’s all there is to it,” states Bill. “We discuss and disagree, but we don’t argue.”