Love in the time of corona: marks 69 years from behind the glass

As couples all over the world struggle to maintain a connection during lockdowns and self-isolation, one Western Australian marriage has demonstrated the enduring power of love.

But for the first time in their 69-year marriage, Tom and Irene Noakes have spent their anniversary apart.

Ninety-three-year-old Mr Noakes has moved into Margaret River's Baptistcare Mirrambeena residential aged care facility not long ago.

Combine that move with the COVID-19 restrictions and circumstance contrived to keep the couple apart.

"This was the first time they had seen each other in nearly three weeks," daughter Fiona explained.

The family made the difficult decision to move Mr Noakes from the family farm in Witchcliffe, Western Australia, after a series of falls.

"He feels well and sometimes doesn't understand why he can't come home and that is heartbreaking but mum explains that home is not set up to be safe for him anymore and he accepts that," Fiona said.

"I think he misses sitting on the back verandah with the beautiful Blue Wrens flitting about his feet along with the little Scrub Wrens."

A rare chance to blow a kiss - 93-year-old Tom and 90-year-old Irene have been married since 1951.

A rare chance to blow a kiss - 93-year-old Tom and 90-year-old Irene have been married since 1951.

Tom Noakes was born in Bunbury, growing up as one of seven boys on a farm in Brunswick Junction.

Just a few years later, Irene, also one of seven siblings, was born and spent her formative years in Harvey before marrying Mr Noakes in 1951.

The couple moved to Witchcliffe where their growing family experienced all the trials and successes of rural life.

They welcomed six children - Lyn, Elaine, Philip and Fiona as well as two children tragically lost at a young age.

"Keith died very, very young in a tragic accident," explained Fiona. "This accident is the reason why a telephone exchange replaced the old style switchboard in Witchcliffe. It is still there - mum calls it Keith's monument."

Sister Julie lived only a short time after a very difficult birth.

Despite their heartbreak, the Noakes forged on with life in the state's south-west, Tom following his dairy farmer father's footsteps.

"He regularly had to attend meetings in Perth and the only time I ever saw him truly angry was after a parliamentary sitting.

"A bill they were trying to get passed failed. He was so disgusted because so many of the politicians were actually asleep.

"He was one of a group of men who were instrumental in educating farmers into artificial breeding of cattle."

Irene and Tom Noakes enjoy a catch up at Baptistcare Mirrambeena for their 69th wedding anniversary last week.

Irene and Tom Noakes enjoy a catch up at Baptistcare Mirrambeena for their 69th wedding anniversary last week.

Fiona described her father as a "quiet, gentle man" with a brilliant mind, and said while he hates the term 'greenie', he is indeed a conservationist in the true sense of the word.

Irene Noakes is passionate about her family, her football, and her community.

A blue and gold flag flies high over the home of the one-eyed West Coast Eagles supporter.

"She has all the clothes and even her car is WCE blue with WCE number plates," said Fiona.

Mrs Noakes also shows her support for her home town.

"She refuses to go out of Margaret River to shop and will only buy outside the town on the rarest occasion. I think she would be one of the most loyal locals the town has."

That loyalty and longevity has been recognised in a number of areas around the region, including the Margaret River bowling green.

"The green was named after Dad originally but was later renamed to the Noakes Green.

"They spent many years playing both golf and bowls, and when dad started playing you always knew where he was on the course because of his whistling."

Fiona said hard work, community spirit and "strong genes" were the key to the Noakes family's longevity.

"My family has amazing genes. Of the seven boys, all lived into their 90s except for two who died unnatural deaths in the 1940s and 1950s.

"Dad's brother is still in Augusta Hospital and turned 99 last week.

"Mum still has five sibling alive, one of whom lives in Margaret River and is also in her 90s."

With so many years and stories between them, the simplest moments are often the most treasured for the loving husband and wife.

"He misses her and rings her nearly daily telling her he is worried about her and that he loves her very much.

"Even through 69 years of hard work, sometimes pain, and much joy, they are so happy to see each other."

Neighbours and friends were on hand to help the couple celebrate - at a distance.

Neighbours and friends were on hand to help the couple celebrate - at a distance.

Fiona said the couple were delighted by the efforts of Mirrambeena staff, neighbours and family members who helped them celebrate at a distance.

Although difficult to be separated from the ones they love - including their six grandchildren and seven great grandchildren - the duo relished the chance to see each other.

"Mum said they had a beautiful day. A friend had put up a sign outside dad's room and another couple cut out 69 hearts and put them all around the window where they had to sit.

"I felt sad for them on one hand, but on the other they looked very happy and I would much rather them be safe."

This story Love in the time of corona: Couple marks 69 years from behind the glass first appeared on Augusta-Margaret River Mail.