Banding together for 70 years

Written by Kerrie Alexander

Sitting hand in hand, 91-year-old Ella Hawkins sings ‘Pearly Shells’ to Ron, her husband of 70 years.
In that moment, with the look of pure love on their faces, you could see that even after all that time
their adoration for each other was just as powerful as the day they were married on December 23, 1950.

But that’s not to say that Ron, 93, didn’t have to work hard for Ella’s love in the beginning.
Therein lies the start of their fairy tale.

An English-born Ron had just finished four years of service with the RAF and was courting a young lady across the street from his home in Nottingham.

While Ella was from Wales, it was only by chance that the two met each other one day while visiting a mutual friend.

As soon as Ron laid eyes on Ella, the other young lady no longer stood a chance.

It was seldom that young couples would go out to a restaurant for a date back in those days, but Ron wanted to impress and invited a stunning Ella out for dinner.

When it came time to pay the bill, Ron realised he had forgotten his wallet and Ella, a secretary at the
time, had to use half of that week’s wage to pay the bill.

“He invited me to dinner … that was posh in those days,” Ella said.

“He was showing off but forgot his wallet and I had just been paid so I had to pay.

“He wanted to see me again, but I wasn’t impressed.

“I wanted to see him to get my money back and that’s the reason we carried on,” she said with a laugh.

“I would never do anything like that ordinarily,” Ron said.

“It was the first time I’d ever asked a girl out to a restaurant and I’d just forgotten the money, and we
didn’t have credit cards and things like nowadays.”

Ella did eventually forgive Ron and two years later, they were engaged.

“He grew on me like a wart”, Ella said with a laugh.

The two say they have absolutely no regrets in life and are incredibly thankful to have grown up in an era where life was vastly different to today.

The hardest part of their lives, they said, was growing up in England and Wales during World War II, with sad memories of losing friends and family and many nights spent in the home’s Anderson shelter.

But after finding each other in their 20s, the fun times began.

Ordinary families had little spare money to splash out on frivolous items during that time and there was no television for entertainment, so Ron and Ella made their own fun with music, which quickly became a major part of their lives.

A very musically-minded Ella had already learnt to play the piano and when she and Ron decided to start a band, she also learnt to play the guitar which was almost unheard of at that time.

Ron was quick to add that it wasn’t just any old instrument his talented bride started on; it was an 1890 antique German-made guitar.

“She trained for four to five hours a day … she was the best woman guitar player in England,” Ron said proudly.

“She could play anything that was put in front of her.”

The band was eventually so popular that they were booked solidly every Saturday and Sunday night for weddings, special events and at pubs and clubs.

They were in so much demand that later in life they gave up their day jobs and started fulltime as professional performers.

In between times, they welcomed their first daughter Nina, who would travel with the band and could often be found sleeping in Ella’s guitar case at gigs.

In 1963, the two were looking for a change of lifestyle and it was a frozen radiator that gave them the push to move to Australia.

“We were playing a gig this night and I forgot to put antifreeze in the car and the radiator and the engine froze up,” Ron said.

“I said to Ella, there must be better places in the world to live than this.

“The next day there was a piece in the paper that said come to Australia for 10 pounds each and children free.

“So, for 20 pounds we came here.”

After five weeks on an Italian ship, the family of three arrived in Brisbane.

Not knowing anyone, the two thought their musical career was over but it wasn’t long before they found their feet and started The Hawaiian Sunset Band.

Ron was a legend on double bass and performed in some of the best jazz bands in Brisbane.

He also played the tuba, with many walk around performances done at Gold Coast theme parks.

The two travelled all around Australia and were offered a permanent residency on Hayman Island, which they had to decline because one of the band members didn’t want to give up his job.

They played at Expo 88 in Brisbane and performed for Prince Charles during one of his tours to Brisbane.

As well as being able to play a myriad of instruments, Ella also had an incredible voice that would see her land some exciting roles in musicals, stage shows and choirs.

One of her most famed auditions was for Jesus Christ Superstar, starring Jon English, where she went for the part of Mary Magdalen.

She won the role, but with an expectation to travel around the world – and with their second daughter Ronda now in tow – Ella decided to turn it down.

“When I heard Ella sing for the first time, I thought it was just lovely. It made me love her even more,” Ron said.

After they retired, the two settled down in Hervey Bay and are now living in Fraser Shores 2 retirement village.

When they first made the move to the region 15 years ago they slowed right down, but still immersed themselves in the local music scene.

Ron was a regular performer at Ramada Resort and entertained for four years at Café Balaena in Urangan.

Ella took on the role of conductor with the Fraser Shores Choir for 10 years. She was also the star winner of one of the Seniors Got Talent shows at the Hervey Bay RSL.

The couple both wholeheartedly agree that they have lived a full and wonderful life, with their children and their music career being the biggest highlights of their 70-year marriage.

“We have no regrets. Coming to Australia was the best move we ever made,” Ron said.

“We have lived a full and interesting life and we’ve never been bored. We’ve done so many things that’s it’s hard to remember everything,” Ella said.

Ella added that people often ask what their secret to a such a long and successful marriage is and this is what she tells them.

“It just goes so quickly. What you do is just take every day as it comes and suddenly here we are 70 years later,” she said.

“You also have to like each other, and if he doesn’t pay the bill … forgive him,” she said with a laugh.
The two were also thrilled to receive a letter of congratulations on their 70th anniversary from the Queen, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Queensland Premier Annastacia Palascczuk.