Keith and Gloria McNeil’s first introduction to the Great Lakes area was less than a Hollywood meet-cute.
But it would appear you can have a second chance at a first impression, as, 62 years later, they are happy as a couple of clams, nestled into their beautiful Forster Keys home.
For Keith and Gloria, the Forster journey began on a cold August afternoon, in a 1935 Ford, on the first day of their honeymoon.
“We got as far as Bulahdelah, and I asked the bloke at the store how far there was to go,” Keith explained.
“He said, “You’ve gotta go up to Tuncurry, but you won’t have time to get to the ferry tonight to get across to Forster.” back then there was no bridge, the only way across the water was the ferry, which closed at 7pm.
“We didn’t know what to do, we were booked in and had paid for the unit in advance, so we had to keep going. We rattled in along the Lakes Way, which was just a fire trail back then, not a sealed road.
“We hit that track in the dark coming from Bulahdelah in this old car, with our headlights that could barely see anything. I was driving over these big boulders, at one point I nearly ran over a horse too, it was chaos, Gloria was upset and hating it, we definitely got a bit of a shock,” Keith chuckled.
“Then we finally got to the accommodation,” Gloria added, “it was supposed to be a flat but turned out to be a converted garage, it was awful.”
Despite the hardships they faced arriving at their honeymoon destination, the newlyweds spent an enjoyable two weeks in Forster, and began visiting regularly in the following years from their home in Sydney.
“It was much easier when the bridge was built.” Keith explained.
With their children in tow, Keith and Gloria would travel to the region from Sydney for two weeks each Christmas, spending one week in Harrington and the second in Forster.
“At first we used to camp in a tent, then we progressed to a caravan,” Keith said,
“We stayed down near the bridge in the caravan park. The kids loved it, so we used to do that on a regular basis.
“We liked Forster more than Harrington, so we started to come here more frequently.”
As time passed, the lure of the Great Lakes became too much for the McNeil family to resist, and they eventually bought a house in Forster Keys, making the final move in 1997.
“We’ve thought about moving down the coast a bit closer to our kids,” Keith said, but Gloria was quick to set the record straight.
“He won’t leave, there’s no way he’s leaving Forster,” she said firmly.
“We have too many friends up here now, I’m too involved,” Keith agreed.
“I’ve got the model airplane clubs at Forster and at Nabiac, boating, the car club, and of course the National Servicemen’s Association, I’ve been the president of the local branch since we moved here.
“All those things keep me busy, there’s never a dull moment.”
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