OPERATING a dairy farm, caring for eight children, taking on a role at Maffra Council, suffering the heartbreaking loss of a child; even just one of these stressors would be enough to strain any relationship, but not Alan and Gerarda Marshall’s.

Through heartbreak and loss, through laughter and light, through the good times and the bad, Alan and Gerarda Marshall have been by each other’s side. The couple celebrated 60 years of marriage on Thursday, May 4.

Born in Sale, the eldest son of Frank and Merna Marshall, Alan grew up on his family dairy farm in Dennison, attending St Pat’s (Catholic College Sale) until he was 15.

After leaving school, Mr Marshall spent his days working on his family farm, milking twice a day, in the late morning and late evening, bailing hail and completing the myriad tasks required.

Gerarda Marshall was born in Holland, the fourth of eight children. Mrs Marshall moved to Australia with her family was eight, in July 1952, settling on a dairy farm in Nambrok.

Mrs Marshall attended St Mary’s in Maffra, then Boisdale Consolidated School until she was 13, leaving to help operate her family farm.

In February 1962, a 17-year-old Gerarda attended a dance at St Mary’s Hall in Sale, where she met a 21-year-old Alan.

“Well, I just met Gerarda there, and that was it,” Mr Marshall said.

“I remember when her father came to the door, her father came to pick her up at midnight or thereabouts, and when I saw him here, I just went.

“It looked funny at the time,” Mrs Marshall laughed.

In the days following the dance, Mr Mashall made the journey from Dennison to Nambrok to take his sweetheart on their first date, nervously anticipating his introduction with Gerarda’s mother and father.

“From that day til the day they died, we never had a crossword,” Mr Marshall said.

Young Alan could breathe a sigh of relief as he escorted Gerarda from the house, having obtained her father’s blessing to go steady with his beloved daughter.

“She (Gerarda) was his favourite,” Mr Marshall said.

“She milked cows until the Friday night before the wedding, and Saturday morning, she didn’t have to milk.”

“Dad was calling my sister to get up, and I said, ‘Yes Dad, I’m coming’, and I thought ‘Ooo, I don’t have to this morning’,” Mrs Marshall said.

Alan, 22, stood boldly in his black tuxedo with a white shirt and neatly folded black bow tie at the end of the aisle at St Mary’s Church in Sale at 1pm on Saturday, May 4, 1963.

As the music oscillated inside the cavernous room, the 150 guests filling the seats between either end of the church seemingly nonexistent with Mr Marshall’s eyes fixated on the large arching doorway.

Gerarda, 18, glowed angelically as she stepped inside the church, her white veil draped over her face concealing a sparking tiara.

Her arms were cloaked in intricate white lace that ran the length of her gown, cascading behind her in a lovely train.

The Dutch-born bride looked like a movie star as she walked down the aisle to marry her beau.

“There were more than 120 invited guests at the wedding, at the church service,” Mr Marshall said.

“There was more than that again at night because all the old ones got invited to the wedding those days, and all the guests our age were invited to the night time (reception).

“The wedding was at one o’clock; the breakfast started at six o’clock and was finished before eight o’clock because at eight o’clock that was when all our cousins, all the younger ones, came.

“That hall (St Mary’s hall) was absolutely packed, and poor old Pop, Gerarda’s dad, paid for the whole wedding.”

The duo shared a warm chuckle as they remembered that day six decades ago.

“Dad always promised, because I worked at home for nothing, he always said, ‘You can have the wedding dress you want, whatever you want, I will give you a good wedding’, and he did,” Mrs Marshall said.

“He did.”

Alan and Gerarda Marshall on their wedding day, May 4, 1963. Photos: Zoe Askew

In December 1965, Mr and Mrs Marshall welcomed their first child, Fiona.

Alison, their second child, was born in 1967, Francis, better known as Frank, in 1969, Leonie in 1970, Dianne in 1972, and Kenneth, better known as Kenny, in 1974.

Mr and Mrs Marshall welcomed their seventh child, a daughter named Kaylene, in 1984, and their son Tommy, the youngest of eight, was born in 1987.

Together Mr and Mrs Marshall navigated parenting eight children while operating their Boisdale dairy farm, milking up to 600 cows a day and as if that wasn’t enough to keep them busy. Alan was also an active councillor at Maffra Council.

Together. That was the only way it would work.

“If I wasn’t inside and he knew I’d be nearly finished, he’d start quickly putting the potatoes on, or whatever it is, and start cooking, then he would come over and help me clean up,” Mrs Marshall said.

“We worked well together.”

Raising eight children is no easy feat, but Alan and Gerarda Marshall were fortunate in that their strength came from working together.

Oh, and managing an abundance of youngsters was aided by some creative parenting techniques.

“I went to the Melbourne Show one time, and down there, they had an intercom,” Mr Marshall said.

“You’d plug it into the power point and plug another one in over at the dairy.

“The kids would be fighting you see, so anyway, Kenny, he was only four at the time, and he always used to say mouth ‘mouse’; ‘I’ve put a biscuit in me mouse, I take the biscuit out me mouse’.

“The poor little bugger was getting bossed around, normally they got along well together, but they had their moments, so when I seen these things (intercoms), I bought two, brought them home and showed Gerarda, put one over in the dairy shed, plugged it in the power point and the other one we put on the mantlepiece in the lounge behind the clock.

“One day, I’m over at the dairy, and I hear ‘I’m going over to tell dad, I’m going to tell mum’, and I said (through the intercom), ‘You don’t have to, I’ve heard it all’.

“Well, they didn’t know where this voice was coming from out of the clock,” Mr Marshall chuckled.

“It took them a while to figure it out.”

The Marshall family was devastated by tragedy in 1990.

“On the 26th of May, 1990, our youngest, Tommy, got killed on the farm, run over,” Mr Marshall said with pain in his eyes.

“He is buried here in Sale cemetery.”

Together Mr and Mrs Marshall navigated how to live with the unbearable pain of losing a child.

The death of a child is like no other death; this grief is not only painful but profoundly disorienting, and is a loss of hopes and dreams, a loss of part of oneself as a parent, the loss of a role and purpose in society, a loss of a future with your child – children are not supposed to die.

The death of a child will change someone and their key relationships forever.

Alan and Gerarda Marshall, two bereaved parents, leant on each other as they faced the unfathomable task of learning how to deal with their immense grief while parenting their seven children, attending council meetings and running a dairy farm.

Mr and Mrs Marshall would endure tragedy once more in 2013 when Alan was hospitalised after an incident, the Boisdale farmer sustaining permanently impairing injuries.

With Alan unable to carry out the duties he once could, the couple had no other choice than to sell their beloved Boisdale dairy farm. Mr and Mrs Marshall said goodbye to their home of nearly 40 years in June 2013.

While Mr and Mrs Marshall have had their fair share of tragedy in their 60 years of marriage, there has also been many happy times, with the couple sharing numerous adventures, including a six-week-long trip across Europe.

“Our 25th anniversary,” Mr Marshall said.

“That was at the Tinamba Hotel,” Mrs Marshall exclaimed.

“That was one of our favourite [anniversarys].”

“And our 40th anniversary,” Mr Marshall said.

“Here at Sporting Legends,” Mrs Marshall added.

“We had cousins and friends come, and some of those same cousins will hopefully be at this one [60th anniversary].

“And our wedding day, our wedding day was a highlight.”

The happy couple, six decades on.

Mr and Mrs Marshall chuckled warmly, steam from cups of hot tea resting on the table between them, dancing into oblivion as the couple reminisced on 60 years together.

Stories of their eight beloved children, stories of their 23 grandchildren, stories of their families and friends, stories of their life on the Boisdale dairy farm.

Alan and Gerarda Marshall, great-grandparents to five great-grandchildren, are just as strong, if not stronger, as they were on the day they were married 60 years ago.

Their secret to a successful and happy marriage – sticking together.

“Just stick together,” Mr Marshall said.

“Just stick together,” Mrs Marshall echoed.

“Talk together, discuss everything, good or bad or whatever,” Mr Marshall said.

“But stick together, stick as one, and we’re still one.”

Alan and Gerarada Marshall celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary with family and friends at Maffco Brewery and Distillery.