Reproduced by kind permission of New Dimensions ABC-TV

Episode 17
Lifelong Partners

Tues May 27 2003, Series 4

New dimensions crew with John and Terry Underwood
Shelly Horton and crew with Terry and John Underwood at Riveren

The overwhelming majority of Australians get married. However, the latest stats show one in three marriages end in divorce. And this figure is increasing. So once we’ve tied the knot, how do we stay together? New research has uncovered some characteristics that can keep couples living happily together. Shelly Horton went to the Northern Territory to meet a couple who have been married for 35 years and hear how they’ve managed to keep the flame burning.

George Negus: Pick just about any aspect of life, and you can bet it's not the same as when you first met, particularly if that was a while back. So how do people keep it together for 20, 30 or some even 50 years? Shelly Horton went all the way to the Northern Territory to find out.

Shelly Horton: This is Riveren, a cattle station the size of Luxembourg, 600 kilometres south-west of Katherine. It's home to 15,000 head of cattle and one extraordinary couple - John and Terry Underwood. They met 40 years ago when a horse rolled on John, breaking his back. He was flown to Sydney and cared for by a young intensive-care nurse called Terry.

Terry Underwood: John knew he'd found the one. He told the neighbouring patient the first night I arrived on duty, "I'll marry that bird."

John Underwood: I was pretty impressed with Terry and I did say I'd marry her, yeah.

Shelly Horton: True to your word, you did.

John Underwood: Yeah. Probably the reason I thought so was to shorten the breed a bit.

Shelly Horton: In a story that reads like a romance novel, John convinced Terry to give up city life for one of the least-populated places on the planet. They've now been married for 35 years.

Terry Underwood: I knew that our love would make all things possible, including this enormous challenge to build a cattle station.

Shelly Horton: OK, so they knew their marriage was going to last. But out here in these cattle yards, their ideas may not seem relevant to you. But stick with me and I'll show you how the Underwoods' story can help your marriage. First things first. Having common values is really important in enduring partnerships. Relationships Australia says this doesn't mean you have to have the same religion, but you do need to have the same philosophy on life.

Terry Underwood: Well, hello, John's not a Catholic. My parents were horrified. But he had Christianity and values that were like mine. Marriage to him was always going to be something forever. He wanted little ones, I wanted little ones. And we both knew we loved a challenge and we're both hardworking so it was a very good recipe.

John Underwood: I always had a dream and Terry became part of that dream. So things fell into place.

Shelly Horton: OK, so shared beliefs are pretty much the bottom line. But it's not quite that easy. You see, things change. You'll change. Your partner will change. The world around you will change. In fact, the only thing you can rely on is that nothing will stay the same. And that's something that Terry learned very early on.

Terry Underwood: Everything about me had to change when I married John. I left the city to come to not just the bush and country, but the middle of nowhere. In becoming a wife, I soon after became a mum, and then soon after that became a teacher. I taught our children in a home-schoolroom, for 18 years.

Terry Underwood on archival footage, using radio: Er, this is Riveren signing over and out, if you can hear us, School of the Air.

Shelly Horton: And strong couples realise the balance of power within the relationship is always changing. At times, one person will need more nurturing than the other. Terry says her days as a nurse have come in handy. After all, he did break his back to meet her.

Terry Underwood: Then years later, he was gored savagely by a wild scrub bull.

John Underwood: Got on the wrong end of a scrub bull and got opened up from top to bottom.

Terry Underwood: 10 months later, John flew his plane to check the bores and didn't return and spent all night in the tangled wreckage of his Cessna 182.

Shelly Horton: But the pendulum swings both ways and John was there for Terry when their first child died and later, when their four children left home to go to boarding school.

Terry Underwood: All of a sudden, I was like a ship without an anchor. But then again, you see, John sensed straightaway and took my hand and said, "Come with me. Come and find out about Riveren. You've missed out on so much - 14, 18 years, actually, in a home-schoolroom." So he led me out and then together we went down a different pathway.

Shelly Horton: While John was focused on the property, Terry was far from idle. She coordinated a number of families from the Northern Territory to rehearse a play using the School of the Air.

John Underwood on archival footage, reading a radio play: This is not normal, Father!

Woman over radio: Why don't you two shut up?

Terry Underwood, reading: Aw, jeez. Ain't this awful?!

Shelly Horton: She's also written her autobiography.

Terry Underwood, addressing a crowd: Our history and heritage will be immortalised. We are all inextricably linked.

Shelly Horton: No marriage is going to be sweetness and light 100% of the time. Particularly on a remote cattle station like this, fights are a part of life. And the experts say that's OK, as long as you fight fair. That means no low blows, no ambushing the other person. Respect is everything. And the old cliches are true. Never go to sleep on an argument, and always kiss each other goodbye.

John Underwood: Have a blue, as long as you don't wake with it next day.

Terry Underwood: There have been difficult moments. We've had moments where we've said, "Well, we've got to try harder."

Shelly Horton: There are many advantages of a lifelong relationship - security, compassion, intimacy and trust. Terry and John believe all of these qualities grow with time and effort.

John Underwood: You've got to work at it. It doesn't come easy. Keep working, keep planning, you know? And keep thinking of each other. And look after each other.

Terry Underwood: They say marriage is like a garden bed. You pull out the weeds. We've had weeds and we've pulled them out.

Shelly Horton: The irony is to sustain a long-term romance, the experts say that you shouldn't look at it in a romantic way. Instead, think of it a bit like a business. Work out your goals and plan ways to achieve them. But a bit of recreational romance won't go astray. So perhaps when you discuss your business marriage, you could take in a beautiful sunset. Then, when the sun goes down... well, I'll leave the rest up to your imagination.


ABC-TV interviews Terry Underwood:

1982 - A Big Country - "Everyone's Invited"
1995 - Hot Chips
1996 - Australian Story - "John and Terry Underwood"
2003 - New Dimensions - "Lifelong Partners"
2003 - LANDLINE - "Territory Tribute"