A life not so ordinary

June 20, 2017

Marie and Don Juers outside their original bungalow home in Seymour.

Marie Juers didn’t think too much of Princess Diana when they first met.

‘‘She was in a mood that day,’’ she said.

‘‘It wasn’t long before her and Charles split up.’’

A photo of the couple hangs in a frame on the wall of Marie and Don Juers’ living area. It was one of many encounters with royalty as the Juers rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous in their time living in Bangkok.

Celebrating their 65th wedding anniversary last Wednesday, the couple claim to be really very ordinary people, but they’ve led an extraordinary life.

‘‘I was a book-keeper and Don was in the army,’’ Mrs Juers said, telling the story of how they first met.

‘‘He was a private, the lowest rank you could be, and he did the paper run.

‘‘We used to see each other every morning, but we didn’t speak because that was a no-no.

‘‘We met each other properly at a 21st birthday and from then on we started going together.’’

Mrs Juers’ father was also in the army and he was very strict.

‘‘After 12 months Don asked dad if we could get engaged,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘Dad said, ‘My girls aren’t allowed to get married until they’re 21’.’’ They became engaged and two years later, about three weeks after Mrs Juers turned 21, they were to get married.

It was all going to plan until Mr Juers got a posting to Sydney. It was a long weekend in June. The pair got married on Saturday, flew to Sydney on Sunday and Mr Juers was at work on Monday morning.

‘‘I’d never been outside of Victoria, I’d never even been on an aeroplane; the aeroplane broke down and we had to come back to Essendon airport,’’ Mrs Juers said.

There was no time for a honeymoon and six weeks later Mr Juers was moved again to Wodonga. The routine of suddenly packing up and shifting their lives would become the norm for the Juers over the next few years.

When they returned to Victoria, Mrs Juers came back to Seymour to live with her parents and Mr Juers went back to where he’d lived in Broadford.

‘‘After the war you couldn’t get accommodation in Melbourne, you couldn’t get or buy any building materials either,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘Don had bought this block of land when we got engaged, it was what was called a private street in those days.’’ That meant it had no water, electricity, plumbing, road or footpath.

MrJuers, who was a mechanic, eventually came back to Seymour and built their first home at the back of that block where they still live in their current home today.

The Juers and their three children crammed into the bungalow and they made it a home. But then Mr Juers had a disagreement with his boss in the military, it cost him two years of seniority.

A previous boss who had heard about his troubles called Mr Juers up and invited him to New Zealand to work as his aid.

‘‘Don came home and said that we’re moving to New Zealand,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘I was prepared, but about the next day the colonel rang up and said, ‘look, I’m going to Bangkok’.

‘‘And so Don came home and said, ‘I think we’re going to go to Bangkok instead of New Zealand’. We had six weeks to pack.

‘‘We had a house full of furniture, three kids, no passports and no injections but we made it.’’

‘‘There was nothing there,’’ Mrs Juers said, describing Bangkok back then.

‘‘It was real Asia, the real deal, there were no skyscrapers back then.’’ Mrs Juers, terrified, hopped into the back of a chauffeured car with the children and a driver who didn’t speak English.

They followed Mr Juers, the colonel and his wife in the darkness until they arrived at their living quarters. It was a life of riches. They had six weeks of being spoiltrottenlivingataccommodation organised by the embassy and then they got a house.

‘‘It was a mansion,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘We started off with seven servants, I think, we were told whattogetandwhatweneeded and so we did.

‘‘Here we were, people who work with our hands — we’re both gardeners—and we’ve got a cook, a washer, I was flat out all the time just trying to find work for them to do."

‘‘We were under the Australian Embassy plan and we were invited to all the major things at the embassy, and the British Embassy, but that was very stiff and very proper.’’  

This was where they met Prince Phillip. He came over to where the couple was standing,along with their friends, and singled out the men.

‘‘He said,‘what are you doing up here?’,’’ Mrs Juers said.

The men answered and then he said, ‘‘oh, did you bring your wives with you?’’

‘‘They said, ‘yes,’ and then he said, ‘what a pity’.

‘‘He was a bit of a character.’’ He had some strange mannerisms, too.

‘‘He kept putting two fingers up,and we all wondered what it was for,but then we worked out it was for two fingers of whiskey,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘You would see him do this and then someone would run along and bring him a drink.’’

There were very few Caucasian people in Bangkok at the time, and most of them were British or American.

‘‘It was mostly Americans we saw and we mixed with there,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘There was a new American lady down the road who invited me over for morning coffee.

‘‘There wasa crowd of American ladies there, and I was sitting around waiting for morning coffee but there was no tea or coffee there.

‘‘It was all hard drink, like top shelf, and this was at 10 am in the morning.

‘‘I thought this is no good, I can’t do this, not in the middle of the day.So I decided to teach.

‘‘I put an advertisement in the paper, and I taught English.’’

Mrs Juers had students from all over the world who wanted to learn English, while her own children who were attending the international school had to learn Thai.

‘‘We had a son with red hair, so that was very unusual,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘He was quick to learn the language."

‘‘He didn’t want to go out into the streets because even though the Thais say the head is sacred they would come up to him in thestreetandtouchhishairand pull it out of his head.’’

Their youngest, Jennifer, who’d left Australia when she was only two had trouble settling back in when the family came home to Australia.

‘‘Our house was tiny, and at the time Seymour was not sewered,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘She wanted to go to the toilet, so we took her down to the outhouse.

‘‘She said, ‘I’m not using that, I’m not going to’.

‘‘It was awful for her, it really was, and I had a lot of trouble getting her to school but she turned out to be a very smart cookie.’’

Jennifer is now a senior nurse at a hospital in Queensland, while their son Peter is a farmer and their eldest daughter Christine works as a human resources consultant.

Mr Juers took over the workshop at Puckapunyal before he eventually decided to retire.

Mrs Juers encouraged him to stand for a position on the council, which he won, and the couple went back to a life of meeting and greeting dignitaries.

‘‘We weren’t green any more at this stage, we’d had some experience with this,’’ Mrs Juers said.

After 10 years as a councillor and with Rotary, Mr Juers decided it was time to leave that life behind as well and the couple took 11 trips in their caravan around Australia.

‘‘We’ve been to all sorts of places and we’ve really seen Australia, but this was always my home,’’ Mrs Juers said.

‘‘The rest of the time I’ve stayedinthishouse;we’vebeen in this house for 63 years and the little bungalow is now Don’s workshop.

‘‘We are so ordinary, really.’

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