NEARLY 80 years ago two slightly lonely farm girls named Nellie and Daphne started writing letters to each other after reading an article in a women’s magazine.
Next week they will sit down to tea and biscuits in a Lake Macquarie home – two 90-year-old women who just might hold the world record for the longest time as pen-friends.
Only a missing box of letters denies Nellie Roberts and Daphne Meech the formal title because they cannot confirm the starting date.
Guinness World Records lists two groups of female friends from England and America, who wrote to each other for 77 years until their deaths, as world record pen-pals.
Mrs Roberts, of Blackalls Park, said she was happy with the unofficial title.
‘‘I started writing letters to three or four girls when I was about 10, and only Daphne and I kept going,’’ she said.
‘‘We just sort of suited each other.’’
The first letter was in 1932 or 1933 when Mrs Roberts was Nellie Beaven, living on a farm at Dooralong, and Mrs Meech was Daphne Morgenson, aged 10 or 11, living on a farm in Queensland.
They wrote to each other through the 1930s, when the Depression meant ‘‘we sometimes just had bread and jam for dinner’’, Mrs Roberts said.
They wrote letters about their first jobs. In 16-year-old Nellie’s case it was as housemaid at the Royal Hotel in Wyong.
They wrote about their first loves and marriages. Nellie Beaven became Nellie Roberts in 1943, at age 21, and waved her husband, Stan, also 21, off to war.
Daphne Morgenson became Daphne Beikoff, and before long there were two children.
Daphne and Nellie wrote to each other about events during the postwar years: the birth of Nellie and Stan’s only child, Neil; the death of Daphne’s husband; her remarriage to Mike Meech, and the birth of another two children; Nellie and Stan’s moves to Mayfield, Hamilton and New Lambton; and the butcher shops in the Newcastle area that Stan owned.
Nellie and Daphne sent photos to each other. The first photo of a 16-year-old Daphne has a 1938 date on the back with the description, ‘‘My penfriend’’. There’s a small black and white photo from 1962 of a group in front of a Queensland farmhouse after Nellie and Stan Roberts jumped into their Chrysler Royal, headed north and decided to drop in on the woman Mrs Roberts had written to for 30 years, but never met.
Turning up unannounced after three decades of letter writing was ‘‘a thrill’’, Mrs Roberts said, but at 90 years of age the memories of what was said are lost.
By 1968 Mr and Mrs Roberts had bought a ‘‘22 foot Viscount caravan’’, and were on the road together – grey nomads in their late 40s before there were any signs of grey, and decades before the term ‘‘grey nomad’’ was coined.
It was during one of their moves, while preparing to travel around Australia, that Mrs Roberts believes the box containing her earliest letters from Mrs Meech was lost.
Next week Mrs Meech will stay with the Roberts at their house overlooking Lake Macquarie – one of the relatively few times the two women have met in eight decades of writing.
Mrs Roberts will keep on writing the old-fashioned way. No emails, Facebook or Twitter: ‘‘I like writing letters, and I like receiving letters. Just a pen and some paper will do.’’