This week in his quest to determine what marriage means to Canberrans, Kim Huynh speaks to Her Excellency Lady Lynne Cosgrove.
Q: How did you meet the Governor General?
A: It was a bit of setup. My boss, Terry, was an army friend of Peter’s. He thought that we would make a good match. For six months we sent kind regards to one another, but were very reluctant to actually meet. Then I received a phone call from Peter inviting me to a formal dining-in night at the Holsworthy officer’s mess. I agreed to go. But neither of us really trusted our friend Terry so we decided it would be a good idea to have dinner together first, just to make sure.
Q: Were you looking to marry a solider?
A: No. Definitely not. However, when I was little, I absolutely loved to see men in uniform. We lived on a busy street and every time I heard a siren I would race out the front and stand on the fence and wave at the fire brigade or the police or the ambulance officers. But by the time I reached my teens that didn’t seem terribly cool. It certainly didn’t surprise my parents though who had never forgotten those early days when I was drawn to men in uniform.
Q: Were your parents happy with the man in uniform that you chose?
A: Very happy. When Peter knocked on the door the first night to take me out to dinner, I said to my mother, “If he’s really awful tell him I’ve got a headache.” She opened the door and Peter’s first words were, “You must be Lynne’s big sister.” There was no going back from there for my mother. And my father was suitably impressed because he was a young man with short hair who was ambitious. It was a marriage made in heaven as far as my parents were concerned.
Q: You met Sir Cosgrove after he had been in combat. What did he tell you about his time in Vietnam?
A: Not a lot. Within 6 months of leaving Duntroon, he was in Vietnam. I think he felt being able to put his training into use virtually straight out of military college was very important. I knew that while he was there he had been in combat and was awarded the military cross for bravery.
Q: The nation was divided even after the Vietnam War and it was difficult for a lot of soldiers after they returned to Australia. Was it difficult for Sir Cosgrove and your relationship?
A: No, it wasn’t. I have a lot of knowledge and sympathy for people who have suffered and are still suffering after going to war. I think Peter has been one of the very lucky ones. And so I’ve been lucky too. It hasn’t affected our relationship at all.
Q: Have you had to live all over the place as the spouse of a solider?
A: We’ve had 26 homes in 41 years of marriage. We’ve been lucky enough to have a few overseas postings. I read somewhere that moving is one of the three most stressful things that you can do. They say it takes one year off your life. Well, by that measure I should have died some time ago!
Q: Tell us how you’ve managed all those moves, particularly when you had children.
A: You know it doesn’t get any easier, no matter how often you do it. It takes at least a good three months from the time you start packing up the old house to when you get settled in the new one. I sometimes looked back at all the places that I had moved and thought, “How can I do this again?” But then you start afresh. The kids find new schools. You find new doctors, dentists, hairdressers, etc. You make new friends. Fortunately, our family is fairly outgoing and we’re all blessed with a good sense of humour. So we managed to roll through well.
Q: I imagine it is especially difficult when you had to stay at home and Sir Cosgrove had to go off into danger and combat. What was that like?
A: Back in the early days he went on a lot of military exercises that were quite lengthy. I was one of the last women who belonged to an era when not many army wives had careers and most army families lived close together on bases. We made friends quickly and stuck together. We shared similar problems and everybody pitched in to support one another. It was very important to have good friends. These days it’s a lot harder because most spouses who are left behind have careers and a lot of the time they’re not supported by military people or anyone. I was very lucky that the first time Peter went away for a long time was when he went to Timor-Leste [in 1999 then Major General Peter Cosgrove led the International Force for East Timor (InterFET)]. By that stage I had three grown up children for support and company, which was invaluable.
I really feel for the young people who have little kids and their partners are away for a long time; often not just one or two deployments, but three or four. That’s why I’ve been patron of Partners of Veterans (PVA) for the last 16 years. PVA was started by a group of women in the Lake Macquarie area of NSW. It now has a national membership of thousands. They have done amazing things, lobbying government to improve conditions for army families and to fund family health studies.
Q: You’ve been able to meet and get to know many famous and powerful couples. I understand that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge stayed at your shack in Yarralumla. Are the marriages and loving relationships of high profile people somehow different to those of ordinary people?
A: To go back to our royal visitors, that was an amazing thing to happen in the first two weeks of Peter’s swearing in and us moving to Yarralumla. They couldn’t be nicer. It was a wonderful visit, and it was great to have young Prince George there. They are a very close family and were delightful guests. You know, people live all sorts of different lives. But when it all boils down, we are all made of the same stuff.
Q: What makes for a good marriage?
A: Loyalty has got to be there. And good lines of communication are extremely important. Having a sense of humour certainly helps you through the hard times. As I said, Peter and I have lived in all manner of places and had 26 homes. In all of them we have looked out for one another and enjoyed being together.
Kim Huynh is a RiotACT columnist, ANU lecturer, and radio presenter. This interview was originally aired on ABC Radio Canberra Drive.