by Gay Liddington
Some people are natural storytellers, and Kevin and Claire English are two such people. With tales of their lives in Conondale, Maleny and Kenilworth, this couple have been through floods, beehives and tornadoes together – and they share it with a wink and a smile.
Kevin and Claire English (nee Furner) celebrate their 53rd wedding anniversary this year. Married in the Church of England, Kenilworth, they met when Kevin was 16 and Claire 15 years old.
Retired to Maleny in 2011, the couple’s beginnings are woven into the fabric of Conondale’s history.
Born in the old Maleny Hospital in 1944, Kevin Thomas English recounts stories from a bygone era: “The English family moved to Conondale from Eumundi in 1928. My father Thomas (Tiger) English was 14 years old.
“His father and elder brother came ahead, put up a tent and worked at fencing. Tiger and his mate later walked the cows over to the new farm. It took them three days.”
It was vision, grit and sheer tenacity that enabled early settlers to carve out a life for their families.
“Dad would plough all day, barefooted, wearing a singlet, and a hat on his bald head. He’d go from daylight ‘til dark then come home and milk.
“Mum cooked, washed and helped with the milking. Women worked damned hard in those days.”
Beryl English had three boys under five years when Kevin began school. Wheeling two in the pram and holding Kevin’s hand she went down the paddock, across the creek to the school where she proudly presented her son to the teacher.
He broke away with his mother in hot pursuit. Beryl apprehended the youngster and marched him back only to have him escape once more. On the third attempt the teacher locked the door.
School lessons were not Kevin’s forte. “What I liked about school was sport and girls! I played football, cricket and a bit of tennis. I was also a good middle-distance runner.”
There was never a dull moment for the young larrikin. He seemed to attract trouble and strife with his creative thinking and entrepreneurial skills.
“The Conondale shopkeeper was Mr McAndrew. He kept all the empty soft drink bottles under the shop. Every time us kids wanted lollies, I would sneak around, grab three or four bottles and cash them in to him for tuppence a bottle.”
Persistence and determination was a way of life for these settlers.
Kevin recalls: “Floods were common. There wasn’t a bridge between us, the main road and shop. To get supplies dad would swim his horse across the flooded creek, go to the store then swim back with the food.”
During Kevin’s youth, the local country policemen kept an eye on youngsters teaching them a lesson if needed. Apart from the fact that an Irish relative was the first to be incarcerated in Maleny jail, Kevin also had his turn.
“I was 15 when a mate and I blew up the policeman’s mailbox with tuppenny bungers. He recognised us as we were running away. It was Guy Fawkes night in Maleny and so the copper locked me up until the fun was over.”
Maleny Show was an annual event where where Kevin first saw Claire Furner.
“Claire wore short skirts and I was a young fella who liked short skirts. I was hooked at first sight! I got to know her a week or two later.”
Claire was a Kidaman Creek lass whose father grew bananas and later worked in Kenilworth’s forestry industry.
She attended Kidaman Creek and Kenilworth State Schools then completed Grade 10 at Maleny High. Claire excelled in all subjects. Her first position was with the Titles Office in Brisbane.
“Every Friday lunch hour I’d go to the hairdressers and get a comb-up. I had the biggest beehive hairdo! It cost me 15 shillings. I used to wobble along in my high stilettos.”
A big part of the entertainment for teenagers in the 60s was local dances and pictures.
Claire remembers: “We would usually go to the pictures on Saturday night and a dance or ball on a Friday night. How we loved it! Swinging around the dance floor in our high heels and full skirts.
“After finishing the afternoon milking, Kevin would get to Kenilworth any way he could. If he couldn’t let a lift, he would ride his bike or walk the 15 miles through the forest just to see me.”
After Kevin and Claire married and the honeymoon over, it was back to the resourceful and resilient life of share farming.
Three children over the next seven years completed the family. In 1974, when the youngest was two, Claire began work at Conondale State School two days a week as Library Aide. Her wage was two dollars an hour. She later added another three days in the same position at Kenilworth school.
A year after Claire commenced work, Kevin left the life of a dairy farmer. He gained a position with Caloundra City Council. He began as a labourer and retired foreman-in-charge.
Sport also played an important role in the English family activities. “When the kids got to an age where they could play sport we, with another family started up junior tennis in Conondale,” shared Kevin.
In January ’94, a windstorm tore the 70-year old English family home and their lives apart.
“We were on holidays when the news came. We arrived home to find the farmhouse completely wrecked. A mini tornado came through Villeneuve and the place exploded like a bomb,” said Kevin recalling the devastation.
Members of the community provided shelter and essential supplies. Fundraising supported those affected by the disaster.
“Tiger surveyed off a block of land for us on his property. We built there ending up with a new house and a good life down on the creek at Cookes Road,” said Claire.
Kevin and Claire English have supported each other through sickness and health, through meagre times and abundant.
From that time when a reserved 15-year old girl became besotted with a cheeky 16-year old boy whose head was turned by a short skirt, their course was set. It is aptly depicted in a quote by Maya Angelou:
Love recognises no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, and penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.