Laura Presley — no relation to Elvis whatsoever — came to Australia from England via New Zealand in the ‘60s. There is a tenuous link to Elvis in that Laura spent a whole hour crying in the chapel — the little chapel back home — when her husband-to-be, Jack, failed to turn up at the appointed hour; there being no mobile phones in those days to send off a quick SMS: ‘Hi Jack, the pastor’s getting restless and so am I, hurry up’.
“It’s one of the most undignified things to return home in your wedding outfit and then having to change, fold and put it away. White is the colour you never want to see again. It becomes the colour of sadness, disappointment betrayal,” says Laura, pausing to rest one foot on the long-handled rake.
It’s especially disappointing if the whole thing’s been kept a secret — neither of the two families approved of the match and suddenly all their fears appeared to have been well-founded, she adds.
“We were both very young. I was 18, Jack a year older. I’d been working two years as a stenographer. I saved every penny and put it towards the wedding dress, oh it cost a bomb.” After that, two months of heartbreak and existence in a deep well of depression was about all one could take.
“It was get away or go mad, so I decided England wasn’t the place any more as much as I loved it. Once I got involved in the process of filling out forms and other details for the move to New Zealand, things started to feel better. I knew I was doing the right thing — at least for myself. Once again, the parents — parents were so protective back then — didn’t want me setting off alone to make a life for myself, but I’d always been able to make up my own mind even if it didn’t work for the best. I am especially fond of an Oscar Wilde quote that says: ‘Be yourself; everyone else is taken’.”
Didn’t you ever wish you’d had it out face-to-face with Jack before you left? I ask.
“There was no way to do that. He didn’t have a telephone at home, his parents were even poorer than mine and he lived all the way in Manchester — yes I know everyone knows Manchester for football, but I knew it for my Jack. Anyway, that was that. Within a few months, I was on a ship heading to a place I’d only heard of.”
“And you never for one moment thought you’d return to England again so quickly, right?” I ask.
“Absolutely,” says Laura, “three months was all I had to try and find my feet in New Zealand — what an incredibly beautiful country and what with the post being so slow and me not having a permanent address. My mother’s letter took that much longer to get delivered.”
“The letter must have contained important information?”
“Absolutely, it did. Among all the news of the family and how things were running or not running in the three months I’d been gone, were two important lines from mum. I can still see them on the page: ‘Guess who I bumped into at the supermarket the other day, Laura. Jack’s dad, Jimmy. Remember Jack? Oh you had such a crush on him! He’s been terribly ill dear for months it seems. Doctors aren’t sure if it’s a rare form of turberculosis.”
Needless to say everything fell into place, said Laura.
“Jack did mention he was going to the doctor to get checked the day before we were to be married. You guessed it! I was one of the passengers on the next boat to England.”
A voice from round the corner of the house calls out: “Laura, need a hand with the rake?”
“Nah, I’m doing fine, Jack,” she replies, “just a little behind time; wandering down memory lane telling our story.”
Kevin Martin is a journalist based in Sydney, Australia.