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School friends become neighbours at Tantula Rise

Tantual Rise RL Mary Jensen Carmel McLellan (17).JPG

When Carmel McLellan and her husband Ken moved into Bolton Clarke’s Tantula Rise retirement village at Alexandra Headlands in May, the last thing Carmel expected was to run into her old school chum.

But that’s exactly what happened when she ran into new neighbour Mary Jensen, fellow St Ursula’s College Toowoomba alumnus, boarder, and friend.

It was Mary who recognised Carmel first.

“I thought she looked vaguely familiar,” said Mary. “Then I was talking to Ken and I mentioned that I was from Toowoomba. When he told me Carmel’s maiden name, I put it together!”

“She was naughty!” said Carmel, “she told Ken not to tell me her maiden name at first, but I had some photos from a school reunion I wasn’t able to attend. I kept looking at her and thinking, ‘I know that’s Mary!’”

Carmel started boarding school at St Ursula’s in 1954, and Mary followed in 1956.

“I had been in the country and country schooling wasn’t wonderful,” said Carmel. “I was travelling 14 miles on a pony to go to school.”

Mary had been living at Inglewood.

“The local school only went to scholarship level, which is about year 8 these days,” she said.

Both Carmel and Mary had teachers in their families, so continued education was held in high regard. The teenagers got to know each other during dinners, social activities and after school sports.

“We were quite like a large family,” said Mary.

Carmel said coming from farming life to boarding school was tough, but she got through it because of her friends like Mary.

“The first year was very hard and I cried every night until I made friends, and by the end I didn’t want to leave!”

Mary said that her most vivid memory of Carmel was of her beautiful voice.

“She would be up the front of the choir, leading the group and doing a solo. Whereas I was made to hide up the back!”

Carmel’s mother wanted her to go and train at the Conservatorium, but life had other plans.

“I ended up staying on the farm, and then I met my husband and my life took a different trajectory.”

In 1974 Carmel and Mary both found their way back to the classroom.

Carmel returned to music, answering an ad to be a teacher aide at a school at Chinchilla.

“Because of the drought, I needed to go to work to make some extra money. It turned out they wanted someone who had enough music and singing experience to lead their choir.

“As the years went by, I stayed there, and I learnt the computer, worked in the art and English departments, and eventually in the office. I stayed there 30 years.”

Meanwhile, Mary too was living and working on a farm with her husband and four children. Having started her working life as a teacher, she returned to the classroom and stayed for 28 years.

“We haven’t kept in touch all these years,” said Mary. “But our lives have had lots of commonalities.”

On reuniting, they think it must have been written in the stars.

“It’s meant to be we think, after all these years,” Carmel said.

Both ladies and their husbands are enjoying life as part of the Tantula Rise community.

“We’re really well supported,” said Mary. “There’s plenty to do, we’re not isolated, and you can be as social or as private as you like.”

Carmel agrees.

“We’ve settled in really well and everyone is so kind. Really, it’s perfect.

“It’s your own little domain.”