THEY say love makes the world go round — and Betty and Percy Gartner and their family are proof of that.
On Tuesday, the couple really had something to celebrate — 70 years of love and marriage.
Their story started in 1943 at a Henty cafe.
Percy Gartner took one look at Betty Piltz, who was “about 15 or 16”, and he was smitten.
“Love,” he said. “I fell instantly in love.”
Betty’s thoughts on Percy at the time were slightly more tempered.
“I didn’t think anything,” she said. “I was thinking about what my mother would say.”
Percy pursued his beloved with serious courting, which yielded great results.
“Percy took me to Wagga on the train to buy an engagement ring,” Betty said.
In reference to Percy’s irrepressible character and cheeky streak, she said he was a “blond-haired blue-eyed devil”.
Two weeks before Betty’s 18th birthday, on April 15, 1944, she dressed in a beautiful cream satin gown and met Percy, 23, at the altar of St John’s Presbyterian Church, Henty.
Her gown and veil were purchased with wartime clothing coupons (Betty still has a collection of food and clothing coupons) and her grandmother embroidered the veil, which was later worn by their daughter Wendy at her wedding.
After a two-week honeymoon in Victoria, Betty went home to her mother and Percy to a Royal Australian Air Force base in Mount Gambier.
Both were born in Henty and had “very happy years” of childhood, despite the Depression.
When Percy’s dad died, the 12-year-old became the breadwinner for his mother and three sisters.
After working on a farm in Pleasant Hills for two years, his mother told him “you’ve got to learn a trade — go and see the baker”.
Betty’s father was among the many Australian casualties of the heavy fighting in Crete in about 1941.
Instead of going to work, Betty stayed at home to help her mother, who also had four sons.
Later, she worked as a nanny.
After Percy’s two attempts to enlist in the Air Force failed, on the grounds that a baker provided “an essential service”, he decided to tell a “fib”.
The “unemployed” baker was accepted, but as a cook.
But Percy wanted to learn a trade and eventually enlisted as a mechanic.
Based at Mount Gambier, he repaired training aircraft and there was an incentive to do a thorough job.
“Every time you fixed a plane, you had to go on the first flight up with the pilot,” he said.
In peacetime, Betty and Percy moved to Pleasant Hills, where he took over the bakery, which had a wood-fired oven.
“I never went to bed on a Friday night for 10 years,” he said.
Life was hard work for Betty, too.
Without electricity, washing day was a big task. She lit the copper boiler, carted water to fill it and boiled the washing.
She heated her iron on the fuel stove, though her first try with a petrol iron nearly ended in disaster.
The iron exploded and Betty’s clothing caught alight.
As a flaming Betty ran down the hallway, Percy caught her at the back door.
“Luckily, I was working in the bakery at the time (the house and bakery were under the same roof),” he said.
He wrapped her in a blanket and rolled her in the dirt backyard.
To fuel the bakery oven and the household, Percy chopped about five tonnes of wood a week.
“It was the best bread ever made,” he said.
But it wasn’t just the bread his customers clamoured for — it was also his cinnamon rolls.
“My own secret recipe; people travelled to Henty to buy them,” he said.
Asked for the recipe, Percy said it would be impossible to make them now because the quality of cinnamon is “not what it used to be”.
Betty served in the shop, cared for daughters Wendy and Jenny, who sadly died at a young age, tended to about 100 chooks, a large vegetable garden and orchard, and preserved the produce.
They “relaxed” by running balls and dances to raise money for the School of Arts, the church and the P&C.
After 10 years in Pleasant Hills they lived another 10 near Cootamundra, where son Philip was born.
In 1970, they settled in Moruya on the NSW south coast and retired, but not for long.
For the next 17 years, “Percy the Postie” delivered mail, first on a bicycle and then, after an inspector complained about his overtime, on a motorbike on the Moruya run.
Percy finally retired with an injured back in 1987.
“Percy had always played sport,” Betty said.
“He told me he wanted to play bowls and that he wouldn’t unless I did, too,” she said.
“How I ever became a bowler, I don’t know.”
Betty wasn’t just a good bowler, she was outstanding.
At Moruya Women’s Bowling Club, she won championships in singles and doubles, and, with Percy, in mixed pairs.
“I became the patron, which is an honour,” she said.
At Moruya Men’s, Percy was also a champion, but “Betty has more badges than me”, he said.
THE SECRET TO LOVE
They now live a quieter life and are blessed with four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Last Sunday, her daughter Wendy and son-in-law Norm Eyles hosted a small celebratory lunch for Percy and Betty and their closeknit family.
They said the secret to staying together for 70 years was simple.
“We still have each other,” Betty said. “He’s been a very good husband, which is everything.”
“It’s love,” Percy said.
“I wouldn’t want to be with any other person. I’m looking forward to another 20 years.”