Christian Bow (born in 1978) recalls a long distance relationship in Queensland in the mid-1990s.
We each have a ring-binder that’s quite full of the letters. We haven’t really gone back through it because there’s a lot of dark teenage stuff there. A lot of the time it’s just ramblings of what was in our heads at the time. But they were really important to us, to getting through that long distance relationship. We kind of just did the old suck it and see approach with it because you know, we got together just after school finished and then that—the Seventeenth Summer we refer to it—was pretty special for us. It was movie-like. Summer nights in Mackay can be pretty magical. You get on the beach and you get away from this, the lights, and the stars really come out and the sound of the ocean and nice breezes. You really do get carried away to another place. We knew that Ellen was going off to uni and we just put it in the back of our minds.
Then she went away in late January and we said, ‘Oh look, let’s just see how it goes.’ It was a little bit of an open relationship. We knew that we were young and restless and there was a lot happening. It made it a bit easier. We weren’t having to lie to each other or we weren’t having to be celibate eighteen-year-olds for long periods of time. But at the same time we weren’t going out there and chasing other people and that. Well, a couple of things happened but nothing serious.
At the time long distance telephone calls between Mackay and Brisbane were quite expensive—this is ’96, start of ’96 she moved away—and a long distance phone call for the period of time that we wanted to talk to each other each night was literally prohibitive. So letters was our main communication. We would have averaged two to three letters a week. Sometimes more than that. And it wasn’t just letters. It was drawings and poetry and scribbles and tea stains and it was, it was just —
Hamish Sewell: Testaments to the time.
Yes. I certainly got the feeling that whatever I could put down on the paper, or whatever ended up on the paper, was reflective of what was happening to me at the time. It was something that Ellen could read into and take something from. A letter on a typewriter is pretty sterile whereas your own handwriting—with scribbles in the margins and changing sentences and a picture here and there and going away and coming back to it—it gives a lot of context around where you are and what you’re doing. Even just what’s on the back of the page. It was just bit of paper that was not used anymore, so on the back of it you write your letter but on the other side it was, you know, a phone bill or something.
We do cherish those two folders. They’re symbols. They’re symbols of our commitment to each other over a difficult period. And then we finally get together to live together and make a go of it, it was so worth it, so worth it.
Credit: Christian Bow interviewed by Hamish Sewell in the Australian generations oral history project, ORAL TRC 6300/72, National Library of Australia. Recorded on 5 and 6 June 2012 in Brisbane, Queensland.