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An accidental affair that changed two lives forever

By Sophie Baldwin

IT WAS a lovely day to be alive – and to be alive in Sydney. It was 1945 and the war, which had dragged much of the world through its bloody course for six years, was winding down.

And on that lovely day, which would change her life forever, 17-year-old Betty Young and a friend decided to stroll down to a nearby cinema to catch the popular musical Can’t Help Singing.

As well as safe and lovely, Sydney in 1945 was also an exciting place to be.

The streets were alive and there were servicemen everywhere, representing most of the Allied powers, from Americans and the British to Australians, Kiwis, French and more. A veritable league of nations.

But in the midst of all that excitement, the teenage Betty was about to get a lot more than a seat in the dark to see her movie when, out of the blue, she was approached by “a handsome young sailor” asking if he could join her.

He was 18, his name was Pat O’Shaughnessy, and this had become the first day in the rest of both their lives.

Their courtship followed the usual steps circa 1940s Australia; a lot of letters going to and fro between Betty in Sydney and Pat on a battleship in Japan. When the war was finally over, in August that year, Pat returned home just before Christmas, but it was not long before he was advised of a posting to China.

“So we thought, well, we had better get married,’’ he said.

Pat said Betty was “a bit of a looker” in the day and he has only ever had eyes for the woman he married at St Nicholas’ navy chapel at Warwick Farm.

“I can’t remember much about the wedding day but I know it was hot and Pat had on his blue serge uniform and he was really hot too. We honeymooned in the Blue Mountains for a couple of days and took a train up there – we didn’t have a car for years,” Betty said.

“We have had a good partnership over the years and have always been together, we picked pretty good for our first go,” Pat said.

The couple had three children – Michael, Lynne and Tracey – and spent time crisscrossing the country looking for work, eventually settling in Rochester where they have lived in the same house for the past 42 years.

“Back in our early days it was very hard to get a house so we always had to work somewhere that provided one– you couldn’t get a commission home unless you had three children,” Betty said.

Purchasing their own home would always be a real highlight for the couple.

“It was a different time back then. We thought we had so much but without ever realising we had nothing – as long as we had a few pence here and there and we could eat, we didn’t need anything much else,” Betty said.

The couple lived on stations as far flung as Burke, Jerilderie and Wagga before settling in Rochester, and it was while they were working on a station on the Macquarie River that Pat discovered a talent for painting ostrich eggs, something he would go on to market commercially for many years.

“Pat is talented and self-taught, while I can’t draw a straight line,” Betty laughed.

The couple also shared a love of bowls in their later years but now in their 90s health reasons have forced them to give it up.

Betty and Pat both agree their relationship has had its fair share of ups and downs but both agreed good communication has always seen them through.

“We argue but we always get over it and anyone who says they don’t fight is lying — we argue all the time,” Betty said.

Pat said marriage was all about give and take.

‘‘Take the good with the bad, and have fun,’’ he said.

“We are partners and we committed to each other which means through all the good times and bad,” Betty said.