By NARELLE COULTER
BILL Toogood knew wife Gwen was the one for him when she jumped at the chance to go rabbit shooting while they were courting.
“I taught her to shoot,” said Bill proudly.
“I also taught her how to set traps. We would get home from the pictures in Korumburra and check the traps. I used to sell the rabbits at the (butcher’s) shop.
“One night a rabbit got out and she ran and caught it.”
Bill glances proudly at his wife of nearly 60 years, the affection between them obvious.
Gwen, 79, and Bill 87, celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary on 18 February.
The couple has lived most of their married life in Dandenong in a little white house in Alexander Avenue that Bill built himself.
Bill worked for many years as a butcher in Dandenong before eye problems forced an early retirement.
He describes marriage as the “best thing in my life”.
As Journal photographer Rob Carew asked Gwen and Bill to cuddle up for a photo, Bill grumbled: “I’m too old for this.”
“You weren’t saying that 60 years ago old boy,” chortles Gwen’s older sister Val who was in the couple’s bridal party.
The sisters grew up with Bill in the little farming community of Poowong.
Their earliest memory of each other is from VE Day in 1945.
Bill was droving cattle along a road when he stopped to ask the sisters, who were on their way home from school, why the church bells were ringing. Gwen was about eight at the time.
Years later when Gwen’s father “put on a barrel” for Bill’s mate’s birthday, Bill took his chance and asked Gwen out.
“I thought he was nice and kind,” said Gwen.
“I knew him and grew up with him. I’ve known him all my life.”
She remembers Bill coming into the bakery where she worked in Poowong to sit by the heater wearing “a maroon scarf and gabardine overcoat”.
She still has the maroon scarf.
Bill’s first job in Dandenong was in Henry Hicks’ butchery in Cadels Arcade.
The business later moved to Thomas Street, around the corner from the old Journal office.
Bill eventually purchased the business, renaming it Toogood Meats.
The couple courted for two years before Bill decided they would get married.
He was so keen to secure Gwen’s hand that he barged into her parents’ bedroom to ask her father’s permission.
“They were in bed and I went in and said ‘OK if I marry your daughter?’ They said yes. They couldn’t say anything else,” chuckled Bill.
“She was a nice girl and I was lonely. I never had a mother or father. I wanted a family.”
“He just told me we were getting married,” added Gwen.
Gwen bought her wedding dress at Renee Rose in Swanston Street.
They were married in the All Saints Anglican Church in Poowong on a hot summer’s day.
Afterwards, they celebrated with family and friends at the Poowong Hall.
“I didn’t get into the hall that much that night. I kept getting called into the pub to have a drink,” said Bill mischievously.
They spent a few days honeymooning in Rosebud before Bill was called back to work so the boss could go duck shooting.
When the Toogood’s moved to Alexander Avenue it was dirt road with very few residents.
Bill and Gwen lived in a caravan.
Their letterbox was the highway because the postie wouldn’t deliver down the unsealed, often muddy road. Nor would the “dunny man” venture to their house.
Instead the waste was used to fertilise Bill’s famous rhubarb patch.
In the ensuing years the couple had three sons – Gary, Michael and Phillip. The clan has now expanded to include five grand-children.
When Bill retired, the Journal printed a photograph of him and singer John Farnham’s sister, Jeanne, standing on an old panel van festooned with flowers. Jeanne owned a florist shop and Bill would store her unsold flowers in his fridges.
They celebrated their diamond milestone with a lunch on Saturday at Dandenong’s Workers Social Club in Wedge Street.
And the secret to a long, happy marriage?
“You have your ups and downs but you get through it,” said Gwen, glancing at her husband.
“What you put in you get out of it. In fact you get double what you put in.”