Pen Pals reunited

Pen Pals and longtime friends Carol Gemmell and Judy Stuchbree were reunited in Castlemaine this week.
Pen Pals and longtime friends Carol Gemmell and Judy Stuchbree were reunited in Castlemaine this week.

Pen Pals of more than six decades Castlemaine’s Judy Stuchbree and Canadian Carol Gemmell were thrilled to be reunited in Castlemaine this week.
The pair first put pen to paper back in 1962 when Judy Ellery, as she was known then, was 12 and Carol was 14.
“My mother Wilma Ellery had a long-time pen pal in Canada Dorothy Astridge who was keen to find one for me to establish a connection with in Canada,” Judy said.
“Dorothy worked with Carol’s mum Colleen Clark and she asked whether I may be interested in being Carol’s pen pal and passed on her details in Galt, Ontario and the rest is history!”
The pair have shared countless letters over the last 61 years, first writing about school, hobbies and siblings, then sharing tales of work and study, first loves, marriage and the arrival of their children.
In the early days Carol studied nursing and Judy worked at Sterritt’s Top Shop in Barker Street (where Top End Technology is now) serving the busy lunchtime clientele from the foundry. Judy later secured a job with Meals on Wheels at Mount Alexander Shire and has been working in the field for more than 42 years.
“We both got married in the same year – 1970. I married my husband Leslie Stuchbree in April and Carol married in October,” Judy said.
Carol welcomed three children Krista, Erika and Kevin and Judy welcomed two children Lynda and Steven.
The devoted pen pals eventually had their first face-to-face meeting in 1990 when Judy and her family travelled to Canada.
“It was amazing to finally meet. We felt more like cousins than friends. We knew everything about each other,” Carol said.
Judy and her husband have made several trips back to Canada in the years since and the friends have also caught up at other destinations during their overseas travels.
Carol made her first visit to Australia in 2004 and was delighted to finally see the place Judy calls home.
“Carol and some friends also surprised us during a cruise in Alaska in 2012. It was the best surprise of my life,” Judy said.
“We have shared a lot of ups and downs over the years. I lost my mum and Judy lost her dad, we have had the joy of welcoming our grandchildren and we’ve been there for each other every step of the way,” Carol said.
More recently the pair moved from handwritten letters to emails.
“I still write my letters and then I pass them on to my daughter Lynda who scans them and sends them on to Carol,” Judy said.
Carol was planning to make the trek out to Australia three years ago to help celebrate Judy and Les’ 50th wedding anniversary but unfortunately covid put paid to those plans.
“We took up sending parcels instead. It turned out to be an expensive exercise, but they were so special with us each including special keepsakes from Canada and Australia,” Judy said.
“I’m so thrilled to finally be here,” Carol said. “My daughter Erika has joined me this time. It’s her first trip to Australia and we are looking forward to showing her around,” she said.
The Stuchbrees are planning a trip to some of the region’s silo art and a jaunt down the picturesque Great Ocean Road.
“It doesn’t matter what we do or where we go. It’s just wonderful to finally be together after all these years,” Judy said.

Lisa Dennis
Editor of the Castlemaine Mail newspaper and senior journalist on our sister paper the Midland Express. Over the last 24 years Lisa been proudly reporting news in the Mount Alexander and Macedon Ranges communities.