Names: Sean and Lorraine Harrison
Years together: 33
Occupations: business consultant, and environment, health and safety consultant
If Sean Harrison had succeeded in hiding his heavy metal tapes he may never have married Lorraine.
On one of their first dates he offered to take her for a drive. When he looked at the box of cassettes on the front seat, he remembers, “I thought, ‘Oh, I better not let her see those, because they’ll give the wrong image.’ ”
He wanted everything to be perfect: “I tried to shove them under the seat with a cover, but they slipped out. She opened the box and saw Iron Maiden, AC/DC and [albums] like that. Bang, that was it – she was into the same bands as me.”
He and Lorraine laugh now. “We had all the same tastes, and we just clicked on so many different levels,” he says.
They met in a Melbourne nightclub in 1987. Lorraine was visiting from Brisbane and they had mutual friends. He caught her eye from the start of the night: “I thought, ‘Oh my God, he’s such a good-looking guy.’ ” They talked and danced all night. The next day a determined Sean tracked her down. “I get the White Pages out, I know the surname and that’s all I know – so I’ve got to ring every surname in the White Pages to find out where this girl is.”
The couple spent the next week together. They went to the movies, on long drives, even a day trip to Mount Buller, cramming as much in as possible. On that Sunday Lorraine flew home in floods of tears. By the time she landed she’d decided to tell her parents she was moving to Melbourne: “My dad said to me, ‘You should stay in Brisbane for three months and if you really are meant to be together, he’ll wait for you.’ ”
For the next three months, the couple phoned and wrote to each other. “It’s so cliched but [I knew], ‘He’s it, this is the one,’” says Lorraine. “Writing and talking, it made me want to really get to Melbourne to be with him. Then when I did move to Melbourne, we were inseparable.”
Seven months after they’d met, they got engaged. It seemed like a natural progression. “We talked about it in our letters to each other,” says Lorraine. “We said we loved each other via mail and then it was just, ‘When we get married …’ It was just like, well this is going to happen.”
The couple moved to Brisbane after they were married and they have two daughters, born six years apart. “I jokingly say, ‘I work in finance, we spaced our kids six years apart so there was no overlap in private school fees,’ ” laughs Sean.
From the beginning, they agreed to share all the duties. “We had to share the workload so that I’m not exhausted or he’s not exhausted. We had each other’s back, so if I wanted to sleep in, I knew that he would be able to feed the baby,” Lorraine says. “You have to share it otherwise you end up resenting each other.”
They have similar attitudes to parenting, although Sean was strict and Lorraine was the softie. Both wanted their daughters to be strong and independent, something they think they’ve accomplished. Of his second daughter, Sean says: “She’s had to teach two of her boyfriends how to change tyres.”
While the girls were growing up, the couple put an important rule in place: there would be an hour of TV in the evenings, then at 8.30pm the kids would leave the couple to spend time together. “It might not be lights out for another hour, but it’s our time,” says Sean. “We always had our time together.” Lorraine agrees: “I think that’s really important, so you don’t lose yourself in your children – you have each other.”
They have similar values, like a belief in marriage and family, but differing opinions about many things: for instance Sean is an atheist while Lorraine is Catholic. However, they’ve learned to respect their differences. “We don’t have to agree on everything so long as we can find a common ground in the middle and agree to disagree on some things – but move forward,” says Sean.
They have both been blindsided by some people’s reactions to them as a mixed-race couple. People who were very close to Sean had difficulty accepting the relationship, especially in the lead-up to their wedding. “They blamed everything else but race for a while. Everything else was a problem, but it wasn’t that Lorraine was Indian,” says Sean.
“It was really hurtful,” says Lorraine. “But I knew that [Sean] didn’t feel that way and I wasn’t marrying them, I was marrying him.
“It did cause a little bit of arguing, because he didn’t know which way to go. I completely understand it – although I probably wouldn’t have dealt with it the same way – but we eventually did manage to get through it and then he could see what they were doing was wrong.”
It cost Sean some close ties, and it has made Lorraine question other events in her life.
“At the time I didn’t think it was [racism],” Lorraine says. “I just accepted the fact that people weren’t nice and there was a reason why they didn’t talk to me or it was just me being naïve I guess. I think, ‘Maybe it was a race thing.’ I’d hate to think it was, but you don’t know. Maybe some people cover it up quite well and blame other things.”
They were confronted again about eight years ago when they were at a party and one of the other guests made an extremely racist comment. Sean was aghast: “It’s probably the first time I’ve ever been speechless. I’m normally one that will not hold back. If I feel something needs to be said I’ll say it, [but] I could not believe what I’d just heard. It was the first time that I had ever been confronted with extremely overt racism.”
They left the party quickly. “We then started analysing all of our encounters with … those groups and suddenly realised how racist some of those people were,” says Sean. “Of course currently with BLM and everything else, it’s just about to rear its head. We had never experienced that before and even to this day, I still don’t see it. I’ll see a multiracial couple and I’ll think, ‘Oh wow, isn’t that cool,’ not even thinking for a moment that that’s what I am. I don’t think of it that way. So we don’t mix with those people any more.”
Facing that brought them closer together. “It has made us stronger and more committed,” says Sean. “At the time you’ve got blinkers on; you can’t see what’s happening. It’s only now when you can take a drone view of it and look down, and you just think, ‘Oh my god. I cannot understand why they did what they did.’ I think it’s made us better people.”
These days, with the girls both living their own lives, the couple have more time to themselves. “We’ve rediscovered us and are really enjoying it. Having that freedom, not having to worry about anybody, just doing what we want to do when we want to do it.” One of their favourite hobbies is riding motorbikes together, Sean in front and Lorraine on the back. “Lorraine is a brilliant pillion, the bike handles so much better, she’s brilliant on the back of the bike, so it’s very enjoyable having her there,” says Sean.
However, in 2013 Sean had a major motorcycle accident in which he broke both legs, several ribs and lost his spleen. He was in hospital for more than seven weeks and underwent 17 operations, including a major knee reconstruction.
Although the injuries were severe, he was determined to bounce back. After two years of recovery, he was riding mountain bikes and motorcycles again. But they agree the accident changed him: he became more understanding, tolerant and patient. “My perspective on life is completely different,” he says. “It is a cliche, but why does it take a life-changing, near-death experience to start appreciating life?”
Their commitment to each other and their marriage is still central to everything. “We’ve had ups and downs, but it’s not giving up and it’s actually trying to work through whatever issues you have and come out the other side,” says Lorraine. “We believe the commitment is life long, so you have to work at it and then at what comes up.” Sean adds: “We’ve both agreed that if something happened to either of us we’d probably never remarry.”
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