OAMs for devoted couple

Allan and Shirley will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary this year (Zoe Moffatt/ Star Weekly).384915_12

Zoe Moffatt

With the light streaming in through the windows of their Woodend North home, newly awarded Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) recipients Mervyn (Allan) and Shirley Cann look over their five acre property.

They point out where the wallabies usually hide, and which hedges they trimmed on the weekend. Sitting down to chat, they are welcoming and thoughtful in their answers, and between responses they steal glances at each other.

This year will mark their 60th wedding anniversary and their compatibility is hard to miss.

Both Allan and Shirley are receiving an OAM for their service to the community through a range of organisations and roles, primarily in the business field.

When talking about their work, Allan said everything they’ve done, they’ve done together.

“We used to consider ourselves the Coles special, two for one,” Shirley said laughing.

Meeting at a dance in their late teens and early twenties, Allan said when he saw Shirly he knew he had to ask her for a dance.

“Fortunately she said yes, and that’s the end of the story,” Allan said.

With each other by their side, Allan and Shirley carried out assignments with the Australian Business Volunteers and the Australian Volunteers Program in places such as Vanuatu, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.

They have helped to provide training in the areas of business planning, finance, sales, marketing, and developed a Strategic Plan for the Manufacturing Industry in Vanuatu.

Within Australia, they have also been instrumental in Rotary and the Red Cross, with a combined total of 43 years of membership for both.

They originally started volunteering through Rotary when they were living in Ballarat. Nearing retirement, Shirley said an advertisement in The Age looking for business volunteers caught their attention.

“We thought… that was a good way to use our skills, so we both put our name down for that,” she said.

With their strong background in business, the couple found it only natural that their skills should be used to help others, especially those less fortunate than themselves.

“We found that using those business skills for the benefit of others is a way of giving back,” Allan said.

“We spent a lot of time learning and working, and here’s an opportunity when you have the time to give back.

“We would say to other people, use your skills that you’ve learnt over the years for the benefit of others.

“The saying goes, happiness comes from making other people happy, and we very much believe that.”

Shirley said that throughout all of the work they have done, their highlight has been knowing they’ve helped people.

“I find it very satisfying to know that [we’ve] helped people,” she said.

“To know that what you’ve done has helped bring people up to a level. That’s rewarding… to know that you’ve helped even one or two people.”

When they found about about their double OAM, Allan said they couldn’t believe it.

“We’re just so humbled that someone would go to the trouble to nominate us, and then for someone at the Governor General’s department to consider the application and think we are worthy.

“It’s a very humbling experience, but very appreciated.”

In a last ditch effort to understand what goes into a successful and loving relationship, like that of Allan and Shirley, I ask the question I ask all couples who are celebrating major anniversaries and milestones.

What is your top tip?

“We’re just good friends and we enjoy each other’s company,” Shirely said. “We do have disagreements of course, everyone does.”

“And I always lose,” Allan jokingly chimes in. His own answer, however, is the same as Shirely’s.

“We are good friends. We do things like you do with other friends, and I think if you develop that friendship, it just strengthens the marriage.”