Within the space of one week in September 2023, local couple Ray and Evelyn Cunningham celebrated two exceptional milestones – Ray’s 100th Birthday and the couple’s 70th Wedding Anniversary.
Evelyn and Ray met in Evelyn’s father’s house in 1944 when Ray was home for further training based at Wagga after serving on the Kokoda track. Ray was with the 14th Field Co. Engineers of the Australian Army’s 9th Division, while Evelyn was on holiday from university. The pair didn’t marry until 9 years later, in September 1953.
‘I was just so slow in asking her to marry me!’ Ray says.
After they married, Ray and Evelyn served with the Borneo Evangelical Mission in the East Malaysian State of Sarawak amongst 4 different tribal groups, each in their own language and culture. In those early years, all travel was by river.
During their time in Borneo, Ray worked as an ordained Baptist minister, visiting the longhouses, teaching a new way of life and translating the Scriptures. Evelyn, who had some training in Linguistics, was able to work out a scientifically accurate orthography for two of the unwritten languages. With reading primers, the local children could then learn to read in 6 weeks.
Their two children, Gwen and Kathy, were born in Borneo. The birth of their first child was a particularly terrifying and ultimately memorable experience.
Evelyn recalls ‘While I was waiting at our Mission base for the birth of our first child, Ray was visiting longhouses in the interior. He caught typhoid fever and nearly died.’
‘He had to be airlifted to the Shell Co. Hospital in Brunei, the only hospital in our area. I was then also taken to this hospital for the birth of our child and, thankfully, all the family ultimately emerged from the ordeal healthy and well.’
Ray and Evelyn have lived in the local area since their return in 1991 and in Rowland Village in Galston for the last two decades.
When asked about the secret to their long marriage and lives (Evelyn is only a few years younger than Ray), both Evelyn and Ray credited their deep faith in God.
‘For us, marriage isn’t according to whim. We believe in the covenant “’til death do us part.”’ Ray says.
Evelyn adds ‘Above all, we stick together, and we support each other.’
70 years on from their wedding, Ray and Evelyn remain very much in love.
Julian Leeser MP, the Federal Member for Berowra, recently visited Ray and Evelyn to congratulate them on these outstanding milestones.
‘Their commitment to their marriage, faith, and family is an inspiration to us all.’