Mike and Jan Gumbley
Fri, October 4, 2013 at 12:00
Stephanie Hunt


Second Time Around

Mike and Jan Gumbley, from Marian Grove Retirement Village in Toormina, were both working at Orara High when they met almost 3 decades ago. Both were divorced, Mike was 55 and Jan 46 - their relationship offered a second chance at love.


I was standing in the doorway of the teachers aid room (at Orara High), sunning myself. Mike had been in with the principal having a bit of an altercation. As he walked out I said, “How many beers did you say you were having at lunch time today?” He turned round, came back and said, “What are you doing for lunch?” That was it!

We come from really different backgrounds. I was born on the land, at Warren, in central western NSW. My parents owned a sheep grazing property. After school I became a Jillaroo on my father’s property and later I married a grazier and we had two kids. We only moved about an hours drive away from where I’d been raised.

Then the bad times set in with the droughts and the falling cattle prices, so I learned to type and got myself a job. After a while we had to sell up the land and the whole family moved to Coffs. The marriage came to an end. Losing the property put a strain on things, and my going out to work was a blow to the male psyche.

(When I met Mike) we kept our courtship very quiet. It wasn’t work we were worried about - it was the kids. But in the end the kids took it well and when Mike was thinking about shifting to Gunnedah as principal we decided we’d better get married.

He was different to any other man I’d ever met. There’s no male chauvinism in Mike. With my background I had struck a lot of male chauvinists, although I didn’t realize what it was at the time.


Being a schoolteacher is probably what (gave me respect for women) – working with so many women teachers. Chauvinism to me is just rudeness.

I loved teaching. I started my career in a one-teacher school in a little place called Pindaroi Primary. I decided to do a BA by correspondence from New England - married my first wife Joy and had four children while I was finishing that degree.

Then I worked my way up through teaching - Pindaroi, Bonshaw and Uralla Primary – then Murwillumbah teaching Maths, Macksville and Orara High.

I had been separated for several years when I met Jan. I was the head of the Maths department and Jan was a teachers’ aide. She didn’t have money and I didn’t have much money, so I don’t know what the attraction was – must have been physical!

Whatever the initial attraction may have been, much of the glue that has kept this couple bound together has to do with art. Jan discovered pottery soon after the couple moved to Gunnedah. Four years later, Mike retired from his role as principal and returned to painting as a hobby. Their lives revolved around exhibitions, galleries and art prizes.

In 1993 they moved to a semi-rural property near Yamba. But the love affair with art continued as a new studio was built, and new galleries and exhibitions were found.


I loved teaching but I didn’t like administration. I’d wake up at 3am and think this is stupid. Ten years earlier I could walk into a classroom, teach a lesson and get to know the kids. Now I was just solving other people’s problems. I decided I’d had enough!

I’d been interested in art ever since I was a kid. When I was 19, there was a thing in Women’s Weekly – “Copy this woman’s head and you might win a prize of 12 months commercial art tuition.” I won and that started me off.

I used to have some good outlets for my art. There was a little place called the Coldstream Gallery in Ulmarra – they’d sell a lot of my paintings. But painting was always just a hobby for me.

Jan was different. She only started pottery after we got married, but she always made more money with her pottery than I did with my art. She developed a design and called it Gum Blossom Pottery and you would find it everywhere. She was the leading sales person at Ferry Park in Maclean.


From the beginning Mike was always open to whatever it was I wanted to do. He always backed me 100% - never said, “I don’t think you should do that.”

I stopped working when we shifted to Gunnedah. I tried a cooking class at TAFE for about 3 months and thought, “There’s got to be more to life than cooking.” So I switched to pottery classes.

I loved making mud pies (when I was a kid). I used to mix up dirt with water and put it into a tin to bake out in the sun until it was hard. Maybe that’s why when I found pottery I was hooked – absolutely hooked.

Mike built me a studio behind our house in Gunnedah. When we moved to Yamba studio number 2 went up - although we got a builder this time.

The Ferry Park gallery at the edge of Maclean was just opening when we moved and a watercolourist and myself were the first “Artists of the Month”. Soon people were seeking us out at our home. We had a big sign out the front of our property and we’d have visitors in looking for pottery and paintings. It got to the point where we were considering bringing in tourist buses.

The buses sounded like a good idea, but concerns with Mike’s health prompted the couple to reconsider living on a 2-acre property. They moved to Marian Grove in Toormina 12 years ago. Sadly there was no room for a kiln. But that hasn’t stopped the art!


We couldn’t fit the kiln in the bedroom so Jan decided pottery was finished and became a proficient watercolourist. I think watercolour is the hardest thing in the arts.

Then my daughter went over to Canada for a holiday and came back with this fibre necklace. It’s the craze apparently in the US and Canada. So Jan says, “I’m going to make these.” And that’s what she’s been doing.

I still paint. We join in on what’s going on. We didn’t come in here to retire.


Oh yes. We’ve been busy since we moved in here – we haven’t just been quiet. There’s a library down in the recreation room (at Marian Grove) and I ran that for a few years. Then we took over the art and craft day. And we started showing movies - for 4 years every second Saturday we’d show a movie.

I suppose we came here with the idea of retiring, but you get caught up in things. We do crosswords, we work on our computers and surf the net. I’m knitting and crocheting these necklaces now. I started out with patterns I got off the Internet but now I’m developing my own designs. I have a couple here that I’m sending down to Maclean for an exhibition.

I wouldn’t be watching TV, would I? I even built my own website: necklaces@gumblossom.com.

Now 84 and 75 respectively Mike and Jan serve me a cup of tea in the kitchen of their Marian Grove home. In the next room the studio is neatly crammed with paints, watercolours, easels and computers. The iPad pings as new messages arrive. Mike and Jan look content. I ask what has made this second time around such a success.


We work well together. We always do everything together. I think that’s the secret.


We share the same interests. We love going to exhibitions. We get to an exhibition and I’ll go one way and Mike will go the other. But when we’re finished we’ll get back together and one of us will say, “Come, I’ll show you what I’ve found.” That’s what keeps us together.

Article originally appeared on The Most Interesting Person I Know (http://themostinterestingpersoniknow.net/).
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