Love survives “minefield” of marriages

Bride-to-be Philipa Charlesworth, of Goolwa, exudes all the joy of a first-time bride as she shows off the exquisite Pacific-island design of her wedding gown which she will wear in Tongo in June.

Yet, it is the fifth time she will marry.

And she gushes about her sweetheart like a teenager in the throes of puppy love.

Which is appropriate because she tells how her wedding to Goolwa real estate identity, Bruce Pattullo will right a wrong inflicted on them 40-odd years ago.

In Romeo and Juliet style, the teenaged lovers were torn apart by his family pressure.

“We had promised ourselves we would get married when we were teenagers and that is the only reason we need to marry at  our age,’’ says Philipa,  a blonde woman with a hearty laugh and vibrant style.

It will be the fourth marriage for Bruce, but the couple are unfazed by the cynics, who may well roll their eyes at the marriage tally.

But Philipa recalls their reunion, only 18 months ago, when she flew from New Zealand to see Bruce for the first time in 46 years. “I was standing there at the airport and I saw him coming towards me and as he reached me, we both said “Yes’.

Within months,Philipa had packed up her New Zealand life and moved in with Bruce at Goolwa in South Australia.

Behind her, Philipa had trodden through a minefield of former marriages, although she admits her last marriage of 16 years’ duration which she left for Bruce, was a “very, very good marriage’’, but devoid of sensual warmth, which she craved.

“My first marriage was a complete disaster: I was nearly 20 and pregnant on my wedding day,’’ she recalls. “It lasted six months.’’ Ironically, Bruce’s first marriage also was a brief affair.

But when the doting lovers swear their vows –her with fresh Tongan flowers in her hair and on her dress and he wearing matching shirt – their respective relationship history will simply fall away.

Philipa was 16 years old when she first met Bruce, a gangly 17-year-old, at a school dance in Christchurch. They became first-time lovers and were inseparable for the two years of their romance.

But Bruce was summoned home by his farming family and returned to the North Island leaving Philipa on the South Island with her own well-to-do farming family. They wrote to each other  daily and Philipa would race home from school at lunchtime to read Bruce’s letter. Until the day she received a “Dear John’’ letter from Bruce: “I was completely devastated… absolutely heartbroken and unconsolable,’’ she recalls.

As the 40-odd years passed and Philipa married and divorced three times, remarrying for a fourth time,  Bruce had a similar history of three disastrous marriages followed by a long-time de facto relationship.  Both left their respective partners for each other.

Philipa Charlesworth was a New Zealand rural woman of note, who had built a fine reputation as a Hampshire sheep breeder and international stud judge on Teviotdale, the historic family farm. She still has extensive family business interests in New Zealand as co-owner of extensive land holdings in Christchurch’s CBD, much of which have been damaged or destroyed by the recent earthquake.

One is tempted to ask “Why” at 60 would she want to leave it all and begin again?

Because, tucked away in her personal things, Philipa always kept a photograph of the school dance when she met Bruce.

He  hung around in her mind like unfinished business.  “I seemed to be driven by a desire to know how he was faring in life.’’

When they compared notes their experiences seemed to be parallel failures. Bruce’s second wife left him with one young son to raise. For Philipa, Marriage No. 2 was to a shepherd working on her father’s farm and she admits it was rooted in rebellion against her family.

“I had led a privileged life and I wanted to be independent and for the first time I left the family farm to find out who I was,’’ she says.

“You could say going to work in woollen mills was a bit ridiculous.’’ Trouble was, she went to board with the shepherd’s parents, a vastly different home life from her own.

“My father was beside himself when I left,’’ she recalls.

“His was a close family and had a Sunday lunch together while mine was a stiff Victorian upbringing, where we never talked.

“I got friendly with the shepherd himself when he came for Sunday lunches, and when my father found out I wanted to marry him, he didn’t speak to me for seven years.’’

Drink destroyed this marriage:  “He became an alcoholic, but because I was pregnant with my second child,  of course, you stay much longer than you should,” she says recalling their dairy-farming life milking 230 cows daily.

By the time she endured a third marriage at the hands of threatening, violent  man, she was so traumatised and broken that she vowed never to marry again.  The greatest tragedy of Philipa’s life happened in this marriage when their three-year-old daughter, Felicity, drowned in a friend’s swimming pool.

“We were separated when I lost my daughter. He was Felicity’s father, but he had an horrendously bad temper and I became terrified of him.

“He had a huge collection of antique fire arms and was always threatening me with them.’’

“One thing that people don’t understand about women in threatened violent relationships, you don’t know whether you are going to live or die from one moment to the next.”

She tells how he would use the threat of violence to wield power and control over Philipa.  “His behaviour was absolutely mad and dangerous and he was an enormously strong  adrenalin-seeking stunt man.’’

Throughout this horrifying period of  personal stress and turmoil, Philipa’s lifeline was her stud stockbreeding success – her determination to breed champion the “Teviotdale” (the stud previx)  Hampshire Down sheep. She has been involved not only in breeding her prize flock, but in showing and judging throughout New Zealand and overseas.

It was in this environment that she met and was eventually wooed into marrying a kindly, but non-communicative fellow Hampshire Downs sheep breeder. Edward Charlesworth,  at 50, had never married.  However, it was her fourth marriage. They added growing olive trees to Philipa’s sheep work and they also bred rare poultry and Peking ducks.

“I will always see myself as a rural woman, even though I now live in Goolwa,’’ says Philipa.

When she contacted Bruce in May, two years ago, she had been married for 17 years.

“I just wanted to know how Bruce was, to be friends with him,’’ she explains.

“Edward and I had built up a very good life together, but something very deep within me was an emotional void.

“I cried bitterly when I had to tell him I was leaving to live with Bruce.’’

“The sad thing for me was he saw me through all my operations and illness (Philipa suffered from ulcerative colitis from the age of 19 and eventually had all her large  colon removed).

“ I was a broken woman in every way when we met. He restored my faith in men and he put no pressure on me for sex, but in the end I became his mother, his aunt, his sister, anything but his wife.

“I was unfulfilled emotionally and sexually. I missed intimacy. I missed that verbal exchange so much.’’

Her community life was a huge part of who she had become and her love for Bruce meant leaving it all behind. She was president of the New Zealand Hampshire Breed committee, a judge and inspector, council member of the New Zealand Sheep Breeders’ Association and on the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Show Committee.  As president of Christchurch Polo Club, she was an event organiser for many years. Her two adult children and two grand-children live in New Zealand.

“Year after year I was the queen of my breed of sheep.’’

She had contacted Bruce16 years beforehand. However, he had brushed off any re-connection as he was in a new relationship.

“I really only wanted friendship with  him because I had just married Edward.’’

But in May 2009, the timing was right.

“I rang him up on the telephone and said “Hi, I woke up this morning at 4 o’clock and I thought I  must talk to you…just shake your hands, or have a cup of coffee’,’’ she recalls.

This time, he responded  “Please keep in touch; you will ring me again, won’t you?’’

She told her husband that she wanted to reconnect as friends, so they communicated by email and skype and they talked for many hours and bonded through those long conversations – the one big thing missing in her marriage.

By October, they arranged to meet on the Gold Coast – for the first  time as older people.

“I hadn’t seen him since I was 17 and a half. He was totally different from that young boy; he was a mature man and yummy to look upon .

“But it was so so right. After those eight days together, there was no going back for either of us.’’

So, it was that in  January 2010, Philipa left it all behind to move in with Bruce in Goolwa, the river port near the mouth of the River Murray in South Australia.

Did she ever acknowledge it was an awesome price to pay.

“I always loved Bruce; there was never a time that I didn’t love him.

“We want to put right that  promise which was prevented by family intervention,’’ recalls Philipa.

The couple are building a new home on the Goolwa foreshore and have a scamp of a West  Highland Terrier, called Misty. They are both members of the Goolwa Regatta Yacht Club and race regularly.

Her wedding day will be her 63nd birthday.

“I have never known anything as amazing and so special, so fitting and vibrant.

Everything works between us and if I don’t have anotheryear in my life to live I would be grateful for the 18 months we have lived together.

“I have never been happier.’’

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1 Comment to “Love survives “minefield” of marriages”

  1. By V Spencer-Bower, 22/02/2012 @ 9:36 pm

    I Would like to make contact Phil, Virginia

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