Peter and I met in Melbourne, where I went after getting kicked out of theological college. The bishop of Newcastle, who was my sponsor at the college, was told in 1962 that he had a convicted criminal among his students. I had been arrested at a beat at St James station when I was in my early 20s.
The bishop came to the theological college and asked me what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I said I wanted to be with the man I loved. He put me into retreat for a week. He came back the next week and my answer was exactly the same. I wasn’t in a relationship at the time -“ I was expressing a hope.
I accepted the suggestion I should leave quietly. I went to Melbourne because my father was out of his depth with me leaving college and didn’t want me living at home.
I was 28 when I met Peter in 1966. He is 20 days older than me. We were introduced by a mutual friend. I think I thought he was Mr. Right. I remember being annoyed when he didn’t want to live together yet.
But we started seeing each other. He had just come back from overseas and he had this bottle of Pernod, so we used to drink Pernod every night. It was about seven months before we moved in together.
In 1968 we came back to Sydney. We rented in Turramurra and then decided to buy a house. We found a house in Balmain that we could afford, although we couldn’t get a bank loan as a same-sex couple, only an overdraft. We have been in the same house ever since.
Around the same time we found out the ABC television program Chequerboard was looking to profile a gay couple living in the suburbs. I was the secretary of lobby group CAMP NSW at the time, and the ABC asked the organisation if it knew a gay couple who would appear.
We thought hard about it and the reaction we would get. But we went ahead with it because we thought it was very important. The program screened in 1972 and we were on for about 35 minutes. We kissed very briefly during the documentary.
After it screened the tabloids and some TV shows went to town. I was the secretary at a church in Mosman and I was asked to leave. I said I had no reason to go and pressed on. I was there for two weeks after the Chequerboard episode went to air. It was a very interesting time. One staff member would not come near my office.
Then they sacked me. About 50 people demonstrated in support of me at the church, but the church never gave me an apology. We invited archbishop Peter Jensen to our 40th last weekend but we didn’t get a reply. We forgot about cardinal George Pell unfortunately!
When I got the sack, our telephone number was also CAMP NSW’s telephone number. The telephone rang day and night. We gathered together a group of people that was the genesis of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Counselling Service and started taking calls from our house. Eventually a friend took over the phone number and the organisation went on to become the Counselling Service.
Since then we have named our house in Balmain after the ABC program. The importance of Chequerboard was also borne out more than 20 years after it screened, when we marched with other 78ers in the 20thanniversary Mardi Gras parade in 1998.
Two middle-aged people came up to us separately. One said, I was living in Tamworth when you went on the television, and the other said. I was living in Darwin. They said for the first time they discovered there were other people like them. What can you do? You burst into tears.
Peter and I celebrated our 40 years together with a party in Balmain last Sunday. I think our relationship has lasted so long because of our determination that we stay open to change. The relationship has changed extraordinarily since we first met -“ we no longer strip each other with our eyes as soon as we see each other.
We have had an open relationship since the early 1970s. I don’t know if that was a decision as such. It started fairly furtively on my part -“ I would get off with somebody else and not say anything for some time. Gradually I started being more open about it.
I was born in the Netherlands and I came to Australia in 1957 when I was nearly 19. I came here to avoid compulsory military service. Also, my brother was already living here.
I went to Melbourne where my brother was working. I wasn’t really open about being gay when I came here and I went through a very difficult period in the year or so after I arrived. Until I met Bon I always had a strong feeling you could never have a long-lasting relationship, and here I am, 40 years later.
For me, it wasn’t head-over-heels love when I first met Bon. I suppose I was following the Dutch tradition of taking time to get to know someone. But there was one occasion when Bon went back to Sydney briefly. I remember writing a letter saying how much I missed him and how lonely I was.
I was very apprehensive about coming to Sydney because I had a job and friends in Melbourne. I found work as a salesperson at a furniture shop and then I got a job with cruise ship company P&O.
When I went back to work after appearing on Chequerboard there was an icy atmosphere, even from the many gay men I worked with. They didn’t want to be identified with me.
Around the time we appeared on Chequerboard, Bon and I had a relationship with a third person, but it wasn’t mentioned in the program. Michael lived with us in Balmain, and our relationship lasted about 10 years. He eventually decided he wanted to go and live in Tasmania.
I was very torn between staying in Sydney and going to live with Michael. I decided to go to Tasmania in 1982. Bon remained in Sydney. I was there for about six months before Michael ended the relationship. I was devastated.
I stayed in Hobart until the end of the year, perhaps with the hope that Michael might come back. It was a very dark and painful time. I drifted back to Sydney. When I got back I told Bon I wanted to start the relationship again, with some changes. He was extremely happy. That was the only time we have put our relationship on hold.
There is a third person in our lives again now. In 1991 I visited the Philippines and met Fernando. I found out about the Gay and Lesbian Immigration Taskforce. I got involved in that to get Fernando here but also to help change the law.
Fernando is my partner. His application to come to Australia was successful. He came here in 1993 for a six-month visit and the following year came here permanently. Fernando still lives in Balmain with us. I suppose the best way to describe the whole relationship is that we are like brothers, it’s like a little community.
The relationship between Bon, Fernando and me is platonic, although initially Fernando and I had a sexual relationship. I would say the relationship between Bon and me is the primary relationship -“ we have an enormous history together.
In the 40 years we’ve been together, Bon and I have been able to grow together and talk about difficulties as they arise. We also have been able to grow from the full-on physical relationship that we had in the beginning into one that is very caring, compassionate and sensual.
Interviews by Ian Gould