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Tags: Community & relationships Flourish Community connectedness Real Wellbeing storytelling

“Penfriendships usually fizzle out, but this one with Judith just never did and she now calls me her oldest friend.”—Robin Hardy.

Key points

  • Robin believes the longevity of their penfriendship is rare; in fact, it’s nipping at the heels of the current world record, which stands at 78 years and 160 days.
  • Though they’ve written to each other for the past 78 years, Robin and Judith have only ever met face-to-face on two occasions.
  • Robin is supported by her Australian Unity home care services team, who ensure she has everything she needs to remain independent at home.

By the age of 11, Robin Hardy was already a devout letter writer, so when she stumbled upon a British girl’s appeal for Australian penfriends in the Sunday Telegraph’s ‘Charlie Chuckles’ club, she was eager to sign up.

As it happens, the girl was so inundated with responses that Robin never received a reply; however, her dispatch found its way to Judith—a 10-year-old girl living in Ealing, London—and the two began to correspond. 

The year was 1944, and in those days, an update from Judith was an exciting, albeit rare, occurrence, given that it took six weeks for a letter to travel by boat from Australia to the UK and another six weeks to receive a reply.

“We were lucky to have three or four letters a year!” Robin says. “But oh, how I looked forward to them.”

Robin Hardy

Over time, the frequency of the girls’ letters increased, particularly once airmail became more accessible. “My dear mum would always spare sixpence so I could write to Judith,” Robin recalls. “Those only took four to five days.”

As they grew older, the girls maintained their friendship. Judith shared her experiences living in London in the aftermath of World War II; Robin, who grew up in Mudgee, New South Wales, recounted her adventures with the Girl Guides movement and her love of poetry.

Later when both were married, Judith remained in London while Robin moved to Portland, New South Wales, in 1961 with her husband, Wal. Married life and the arrival of children kept them both busy and to this day, their families—which include a combined total of seven children, nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren—give them plenty to write about.

Music has likewise been a common bond. Robin’s British-born father, who died when she was two, had been a church organist, choirmaster and professor of singing; before immigrating to Australia, he’d even performed for the royal family at Buckingham Palace.

Along with her four siblings, Robin says she inherited her father’s passion for music and has often sung in choirs and played the organ, explaining, “Music goes right through the family.” Meanwhile, Judith’s husband Dennis was a concert pianist who worked for the opera in Covent Garden.

The first meeting took place when Robin travelled to the UK with Wal and one of their daughters in 1993. As soon as they arrived, she phoned Judith and Dennis, and arranged to meet them the following day at Liverpool Street Station. “When we stepped off the train, they came racing down the platform as if we'd known them all our lives,” she says. “They were absolutely delightful people.”

Robin Hardy

Several years later, Judith came to Australia and stayed with Robin for a week in Portland. Both are now widowed and Robin, 88, (the older friend by one year) remains in the same home she’s lived in for the past 61 years. 

She first joined Australian Unity nine years ago while recovering from breast cancer, in order to access cleaning services, transportation to medical appointments and visits from a home nurse. Today, through her Home Care Package, she receives domestic support from Australian Unity each fortnight. 

“Since I had cancer, I haven't got strength in my arm, so I couldn't put washing on the line if you paid me,” she says. “I can’t push a vacuum cleaner either; it's hard enough to wash up sometimes.”

While Robin has family living nearby who assist with tasks such as shopping and gardening, she takes comfort knowing that additional support services are available to her through her Home Care Package, should the need arise.

In future, she plans to sign up for Lite n’ Easy meals and knows her Service Coordinator, Lisa, would “bend over backwards” to ensure she has everything she needs to remain independent at home.

As for Robin’s correspondence with Judith, it shows no signs of abating – and though they’ve long since retired their pens, they now email each other every week.

Having known her fair share of penfriends, Robin says their enduring friendship stems from the easy rapport they established in their very first letters. “It's been a wonderful experience,” says Robin. 

Disclaimer: Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee titles and employer are cited as at the time of interview and may have changed since publication.