For Laurel and Ben Hall, their home has always been their pride and joy, and it’s the same in retirement.
Born and educated in Armidale alongside her three siblings, Laurel spread her wings and found her independence when she made the move to Gunnedah in 1963 in her first job with the Commonwealth Bank.
Soon after the move, a Gunnedah local by the name of Ben Hall caught Laurel’s eye. Ben had lived with his family in and around Gunnedah all his life – including on a family farm that was resumed in 1939 to make way for the construction of Lake Keepit.
Three years after meeting, Laurel and Ben married in Gunnedah on 9 April 1966. They remember returning home from their honeymoon to Tasmania “flat broke”, but this didn’t stop the newlyweds from taking the leap and buying their first home. They paid just $11,000 for the house and land, and while it was a modest home, they couldn’t have been prouder of it.
“Eleven-thousand dollars doesn’t sound like much money now, but in those days it was a large sum,” remembers Laurel. “With interest rates at 17%, it meant stewed tomatoes on toast for dinner some nights for us.”
Laurel and Ben welcomed their son Mark in 1971. As the years passed and Mark grew, he needed more space. Additionally, Ben was working for an international machinery company that not only had him travelling the world, it meant he required a home office.
It was time for Laurel and Ben to sell their first home and move on.
“We actually bought and sold two more homes,” says Laurel. “They both cost a fair bit more than our first home, but by today’s standards it still wasn’t much money,” says Laurel.
Like most families at the time, they didn’t really have very much, but they took great pride in what they did have, and they really looked after it.
“For me it was very much about looking after the gardens – I just loved gardening – and friends and family would often comment how beautiful our garden was,” says Laurel.
One of the homes was on three acres, which suited both Laurel and Ben perfectly. It meant Laurel had plenty of garden to potter in, and Ben had room to store their caravan – the couple had developed a great love of travel and would often lock up the house and go away for months at a time.
The travel meant less time to keep the gardens and for household maintenance. With a long list of places still to visit, Laurel and Ben sold their home and moved to Oak Tree Retirement Village Gunnedah where Laurel can still potter in the garden when she’s home. The caravan is not far away ¬– it’s stored at their son Mark’s home.
While Laurel and Ben knew their decision to move was right the moment they made it, they were reminded again this year when Ben received a cancer diagnosis.
“What started off with a blurry eye that I thought could be fixed with a new pair of glasses has ended with a diagnosis of cancer on the nerves at the back of my eye,” says Ben. “It’s been a rough road since then – that’s for sure – but I really do feel our health wouldn’t be what it is now if we were still living in that big house with that big garden, and on our own – we’d have so much more to worry about.”
“I was lucky enough to have my treatment in Tamworth, but it’s meant we’ve driven 4600km in six-and-a-half weeks. Our friends here have looked out for us every step of the way – their support has been incredible – from friendly conversations to warm meals – we’ve had everything we could hope for and more, both of us have.”
With the cancer treatment finished for now, Ben and Laurel can turn their attention to planning their next outback Queensland holiday. While they don’t like leaving their new home, they know it will be waiting for their return and in very good hands while they are away.