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Meet the locals: Betty Thompson

14-Feb-2015

Betty Thompson at home on Lord Howe Island in 2015 

Contributed by Lena Thompson Betty May Tyrrell didn’t know that the holiday destination she had spent 6 months saving for would become her home 15 years later. But that’s how all good love stories start.

Betty and her sister June left their family farm in Cobargo on the South Coast of New South Wales in 1957 to work and save money in Sydney. Their friend, Tony, was the catalyst for Betty’s first trip to Lord Howe Island, as he wanted to take his girlfriend Jill, and her parents wouldn’t let them travel alone. “Tony had been to the island before and had stayed at Pinetrees, so he asked us to travel with them on holiday.”

At 17, this was Betty’s first time on a plane and she was terrified. “The four of us arrived at 2:30am to the flying boat base in Rose Bay. On the plane, we were seated downstairs and the windows were going underneath the water, and then coming up in Sydney Harbour you could see all the lights.”

I ask Betty if she knew what to expect and clearly she didn’t. Dressed in an extravagant dress and high heels, she said it was difficult getting out of the flying boat into a small boat, and then up onto the back of a red Bedford truck that was used to take guests to the lodges.

The country kids chose Pinetrees because it had full board and Tony had previously stayed there. Betty says she was glad she did. “Gerald Kirby put us in the main building, where the office is today.” Betty and June were used to picking up after themselves, so even after paying for all the inclusions at Pinetrees they would make their beds and sweep their rooms each morning. This didn’t go unnoticed by Gerald, and he asked them to stay and work at Pinetrees. The girls declined and said they were only on holiday, but little did Betty know she would be working for a family lodge on Lord Howe for the rest of her life.

Tony knew some island men and had asked them to a BBQ at Cobby’s Corner with the Cobargo girls. This is where Betty met islander Desmond Thompson, who was a police cadet in Sydney, and a descendent of Nathan Chase Thompson. Betty had a cold head at Cobby’s that night and stole Desmond’s beanie, and that’s when he noticed her.

They were engaged the following year on the island and married in Cobargo in 1959. Desmond was then a police officer, and was posted to Moree. However, soon after, Desmond needed to move back to Lord Howe to help his brothers run the family business, Blue Lagoon Lodge.

When asked if she realised what she had gotten herself into, Betty tells me “not in the slightest, I thought we were going to be based on the mainland.” For Betty, like other women marrying into an island family, it was difficult to leave her family on the mainland as they would often drive down to Cobargo to see them. However she attributes her country upbringing to her smooth transition into island life. It wasn’t too hard for Betty to transition socially as she would play tennis at Oceanview, go to church, and would sit next to islanders at the pictures.

It’s clear that after interviewing Betty, she cherishes being a part of the island community and believes that the close friendships she has made over the years in this small community have kept her sane in such an isolated place.

Betty Thompson at Cobbys Corner in 1958
Betty in the centre foreground (with the beanie) and Des on the right - Cobbys Corner 1958


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