Not every couple receives letters of congratulations from the King, Governor General and the Prime Minister on the occasion of their diamond wedding anniversary.
But then, Colleen and Frank Rankin are no ordinary pair.
The power couple from Byford will today celebrate 60 happy years of a union that is made stronger by their shared love for their local community.
Their meet cute would easily suffice for a classic rom com precis: He was the heart-throb drummer and singer in a rock and roll band by night, and an apprentice mechanical fitter at an air force base by day. She was a sweet sixteen secretary working on the same base, and absolutely smitten.
One night, Frank noticed Colleen Granville lurking at the back of the theatre where he was rehearsing and asked her on a double date to the drive-in.
The tandem date was a necessary measure as Frank was without a vehicle of this own.
Needless to say, the pair hit it off, and soon after, Frank approached Colleen with a proposal: “I’ve sold the drums and bought a ute – would you come out with me?”
Colleen chuckles as she remembers the 1951 Holden rust bucket that refused to stay in third.
“I’d have to hold it in place. I remember having to hold it all the way from Wagga to Melbourne one time – my arm was trembling by the end of it,” she recalls with wry fondness now.
The pair married three years later on November 30, 1963, before Frank was posted to Western Australia, as neither could justify the prohibitive expense of interstate air fares or long-distance calls.
Frank and Colleen fell in love with a block of land in Byford where they both vowed to settle down when retirement came. But for 16 years the pair travelled around the country as the air force dictated.
They had two daughters while they were in Perth, and then a son when they were called back to Melbourne.
Colleen was plunged headfirst into community service at the tender age of 25.
She helped start a chapter of the Air Force Women’s Association in Broadmeadows, Melbourne – a group which grew to become one of the biggest in the country with a 70 person-strong membership.
Not long after, she was thrust into the limelight when she became the association’s president.
“I was hesitant because I was the youngest member – most women were over 50, and officers’ wives. Plus, I’ve always hated public speaking,” she said.
She recalls with horror the number of ‘ummms’ that littered her maiden speech. But she persevered, with Frank’s unwavering support.
Frank, too, was thrown into the deep end, becoming the treasurer of the Laverton Golf Club at 31, despite protesting that he “just wanted to play golf”.
These foundational experiences set the pair up for a future of volunteerism.
They did obviously make good on that vow to retire in Byford, returning to Perth in 1979. And they were determined to fit in.
“People in the air force said ‘you’re moving to a small country town in the middle of nowhere – you won’t break in’.”
But within the first month of moving in, Colleen had already joined the local school P&C, and quickly come away with the title of secretary. A brief roadside encounter soon after saw her leap into a role as a local roller-skating dance instructor.
In 1988, Colleen buried her hatred of public speaking once more to run for local council.
Not only did she win, she then went on to smash some glass ceilings by becoming the Shire of Serpentine Jarrahdale’s first female deputy president, and then its first president – a role she served for two terms.
She was the only one willing to take the state government to task for its refusal to accept responsibility of maintaining Thomas Rd – a major arterial road with very little local traffic.
One of her proudest moments was saving the shire $240,000 of its $400K annual roads budget by pledging to “take the road back to gravel” – a threat that made the state government jump to action.
Colleen was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2007 for her service in local government in conjunction with her considerable community service.
Frank had already made a foray into the Byford community as a committee member for the local cricket club when, in 1991, he was invited along to a meeting at the Byford Volunteer Bushfire Brigade and left as the secretary.
Despite protests that his role would remain a purely behind-the scenes affair, he quickly fell in love with the big fire truck.
“It was like famous last words,” he said. “There was a big fire in Byford a bit later and they didn’t have anyone to drive the big truck so I drove it and that was it, I was in.”
In 2019 Frank was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal in the Queen’s Birthday honours for his outstanding service.
Two years later he was acknowledged for his 30 years’ dedication to the brigade, which attended an average of 100 callouts per year.
Frank has also served as a Justice of the Peace for his community for 25 years.
While Colleen has been keeping the streets of Byford clean since 1991 with the Byford Bag Ladies and Lads.
The group picks up enough rubbish to fill up to 60 bags a week.
The proceeds from the $3-a-bag remuneration total up to $8000 per year, which Colleen has been using to commission and instal Byford’s iconic statues since 2011.
There are now 14 of these three-dimensional caricatures in total, with the latest one of Mrs Abernethy and her three girls installed outside Coles only a fortnight ago.
And while Colleen and Frank have supported each other’s individual pursuits, they’ve also enjoyed teaming up to help their community.
Both Colleen and Frank were instrumental as founding committee members of the Graceford Aged Persons Village; together they’ve served in Landcare for 21 years; and they’re both part of the Byford Progress Association.
While there was every intention to talk about the couple’s enduring relationship and their love for one another, the conversation was quickly and persistently derailed by their passion for their community and their service to it.
But it’s quite clear that this is where their love for one another burns brightest. And this dedication to others above all else, is what makes their pairing a match made in heaven.
“Colleen is honest to the nth degree, and determined – she’s always on a mission,” Frank says with a twinkle in his eye.
“But we have the same values, and we support each other’s groups and interests.”
“Frank is kind, clever and supportive, and I’m proud of him and everything we’ve achieved,” Colleen said.
Frank and Colleen are looking forward to celebrating their diamond anniversary with family and friends at their piece of Byford paradise.