BACK TOGETHER: Ipswich’s Rita Cullen and Stanwell’s Jean McMahon met again for the first time in 55 years last week.
BACK TOGETHER: Ipswich’s Rita Cullen and Stanwell’s Jean McMahon met again for the first time in 55 years last week. Contributed

Facebook helps friends catch-up after 55 years

TONGUES were literally wagging when childhood friends, Stanwell's Jean McMahon and Ipswich's Rita Cullen, met again for the first time in 55 years last week.

Now proud grandmothers, both women admitted to being on "an emotional high" in the build-up to their long-awaited reunion which they attributed to the phenomenon of Facebook.

"I couldn't sleep for nights leading up to the train trip to Rocky to see Jean. I was like a kid again", Rita confessed.

The girls, as they prefer to be called, first met during primary school holidays at Jean's relative's property in 1957 at Laidley South (near Mulgowie).

Jean (Shogren at the time) would travel from Petrie near Brisbane to spend the holidays on her aunt and uncle's farm there.

"Rita's family, which included 12 children, lived across the road from my auntie's and we struck a friendship virtually straight away. Actually, Rita would come up on some school holidays to stay with me at my parents' place at Petrie," Jean recalled.

"We had some great times, including swimming in the creek near the farm, riding our bikes three miles to go horse riding bareback at Mulgowie or riding into town as well as playing tennis on the Laidley South school court. We just hit it off so well," Jean said shortly after greeting Rita at the Rockhampton Railway station.

Immediately returning volley, Rita hit home the virtues of childhood during that long gone era.

"That's what kids did in the fifties - you made your own fun. I came from a big family with 11 siblings and my parents had no money to throw around," Rita said...

"I remember the highlight of my year would be spending the school holidays in August with Jean at Petrie and going to the Ekka in Brisbane with her.

We were such good mates and were very close. As you did back then, we got to know each others' family and relatives fairly well," Rita said.

Their childhood friendship began to linger after three memorable years when Jean no longer holidayed with her relatives at Laidley.

"I suppose we went our separate ways in life for no real reason. Communications were fairly basic back then with phones a luxury and really the only way to keep in touch was by letter," Jean said.

Some 55 years later it would be the technology through Facebook being the catalyst for their being reacquainted and the continuation of their friendship.

Almost in unison both said "it's unbelievable really', before the pair broke into child-like laughter.

"Listen to that, your laugh is still the same after all these years, Rita," Jean said.

Seriously though, how after a virtual lifetime did they rekindle their lost childhood attachment?

About three years ago Rita attended a funeral in Brisbane which happened to be that of Jean's cousin.

"I enquired about Jean and thought she may have been there but as it turned out she couldn't attend as she was away. Another of her cousins was there and I gave them my phone number to pass on to Jean," Rita said.

In today's helter skelter world where everyone is time-poor, Jean admitted, albeit with a tinge of guilt, filing the number with good intent of making contact again with Rita.

Time marched on until late last year when Jean bewitched with Facebook (as it turned out so was Rita) went looking for her "long-lost friend".

"I came across this photo of a Rita Cullen on Facebook and even though I hadn't seen her since 1960, I knew immediately by her face it was her," Jean explained.

Facebook had two new friends - old ones at that and the rest, as they say, is history.

"We chatted away for weeks on Facebook and arranged for phone contact, allowing ourselves plenty of free time as we both knew it would be a long conversation," Rita recalled with Jean's nod of the head being endorsement.

Both women admitted to losing the sense of time during that fateful phone call as they turned it back while at the same time they were sufficiently savvy not to divulge its duration.

"Let's just say we had a good old chin wag," Jean said and, you guessed it, Rita nodded while letting out a cheeky giggle.

So during the three days of the Australia Day long weekend, Rita and Jean virtually talked and talked day and night after Rita's arrival on the Tilt Train from Brisbane on the Friday.

"As it turns out we are like two peas in a pod. We have so much in common from both family ties to interests," Rita attested.

"My late husband Les was a horse trainer and so is Jean's. I love a flutter on the horses (punt) and so does she. We even share similar tastes in food as well as a drink," Rita divulged.

"Not only that, we have found out that friends of mutual friends have been well-known to each of us both yet our names had never cropped up. It is amazing really," Jean explained.

Over the last half-century or so they came very close by chance to crossing paths on quite a few occasions.

"It wasn't meant to be apparently," they said in agreement.

After a marathon talkathon last weekend, highlighted by a celebration on the eve of Australia Day, both ladies again went their separate ways from the Rockhampton Railway Station on Monday.

However, one thing is for certain, this time both vowed their rejuvenated friendship is not destined to become a victim of time.

"We have turned back time this time but now we have so much to look forward to together after this marvellous reunion. I'm already making plans to visit Rita down in Ipswich in a few months time," Jean said.

"It is like we had never been apart. We just picked up our friendship again straightaway. I was so excited to be coming up to see Jean and it has brought back so many happy memories," Rita said.

There were no goodbyes just a pair of "see you soon" from two big kids "at heart".

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