The Two of Us

Claire & Michael Wilson (1982-1984)

It was 1982 and on Sunday 21st February the 40 residents of Kew Baptist Youth Hostel (as it was known then) moved in from all over country Victoria, ACT and NSW.

Richmond were still then a VFL/AFL powerhouse and were premiers in 1980 and runners up in 1982, but they went quiet until this year. Malcolm Fraser was Prime Minister. Australia still had not won the America’s Cup (nor had anyone else except the New York Yacht Club). It was the previous millennium and a very long time ago. Astonishingly, there was no internet or mobile phones. It was truly the Dark ages!

Among their number were Claire Bolitho from Ballarat, about to start an Early Childhood Education course and Michael Wilson from Deniliquin NSW about to start a Land Surveying course. Both finished Year 12 the previous year.

There was no event on that weekend to commence the year at Kew Baptist Youth Hostel (KBYH), but people just began to interact and got to know each other at their own pace. Within days it was soon followed by a “getting to know you night” full of embarrassing games of one kind, or another designed to get everyone mixing more freely.

Later in the year, other social events involving the residents of the hostel took place. These included the Hostel Revue, a night of entertainment of renown, including many and varied items run by the legendary David Whitbread who was a hostel resident for four years. There was also a church-hostel football game and other events. As would be the case now there were also countless spontaneous social events happening as country students spread their wings in Melbourne.

At the time, there were equal numbers of female and male residents and given the young adult age group, relationships sprung up regularly. However, they were never easy to negotiate with the hostel being like a fishbowl, with everyone knowing or speculating about these relationships.

Michael and Claire were both pretty introverted and for people who knew them, a relationship between them looked a complete non-starter and not at all on the radar.  Michael was so unsociable he would hardly emerge from his room. Claire’s early memories of him were that he brought eggs back to the hostel from his farm in NSW to be used in the kitchen, not a common occurrence then or now. He would also be off travelling on weekends around Victoria S.A and NSW by train which was his hobby at the time, or studying late at RMIT and missing dinner.

It wasn’t until the revue in August that they began to discover each other and a friendship began and Michael became more engaged in hostel life.  Later that year, Claire was the lead actor (a mime role) in a Kew Baptist Church gospel production called “Lightshine” which was performed around Victoria. Claire was very much in the limelight and Michael very much out of it. This also reflected the reality of their Christian faith at the time (or lack of it in Michael’s case).

Later in 1982, Michael went to Adelaide for the weekend by train. On his return some others thought that it would be a great adventure to partake in, so a group of them including Michael and Claire, went back to Adelaide late in November for another weekend. It became the genesis of Michael and Claire’s relationship. After corresponding over the summer holidays (by pen, paper, envelopes and stamps – relics of a bygone era) they returned to 1983 at Kew much more aware of each other.

Unfortunately, Michael foolishly took the opportunity of the summer holidays to grow a beard which was a significant setback in the relationship.  By July 1983 things were back on track and by the end of their time at the hostel (both finished in November 1984) they had become well established and were almost taking on the role of a venerable senior couple. A critical phase of this was Michael  embracing the Christian faith for himself as the central part of his life.  This was transforming for him and for them both, and without it the relationship would never have got going.

An interesting sideline is that their brothers Richard and Clayton were both accepted into the hostel in 1984 and were going to share a room. Clayton received a scholarship and went elsewhere. Michael’s sister Robyn also lived at the hostel in 1986, and Claire and Michael’s son Joshua (2012-2013) and daughter Elizabeth (2016-2017) lived at Res in more recent times as well as their nephews Billy Munter (2016) and Tom Black (2017-2018).

You can see them both together in the lower centre of the 1984 student photo hanging at Res.  It was taken immediately after Claire had just finished acting the role of the Magic Pudding in the hostel revue performance of that story by Norman Lindsay.

Claire and Michael both treasured their time at Kew Baptist Church and Kew Hostel (under managers Murray and Marg Sorensen and then Howard and Anne Bown), and regard it as foundational in the life they went on to share at many levels. They have recently had their 30th anniversary being married in 1987.