Vale Marlene Jager - Veteran Marriage Celebrant and trailblazer.Marlene Jager, who died at Woodend Community Care on 1stFebruary, was appointed a civil marriage celebrant in 1984. She loved being a marriage celebrant, a chance to dress up and to say beautiful words about the human condition, as well as read aloud romantic poetry – it was a role that suited her to a tee. She’s married many couples over the years, named their children and has done a few funerals. She remembered many of her couples and they certainly never forgot her.
It was at the time of her appointment that I met Marlene, when she joined the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of Victoria. I liked her immediately. I was secretary of the Association at that time and it was not too long before she was Vice President. She served on the committee for several years.
Marlene started her life on 22nd February 1933 in Brighton, the daughter of Beryl and David Mitchell and adding another sibling for brother, Garth and sister, Sue. A few years later another sister, Maxine arrived to complete the family.
Marlene wrote extensively of those early years – about her collection of pre World War 2 dolls, her scooter, a three wheel bike and a real pedal car, the polio epidemic, her father owning one of the few cars in the street. From the age of ten she was allowed to go the matinee at the local theatre, playing cricket in the street, building a tree house and lots of swimming at the beach, which was within walking distance of their home. She loved secondary school at Methodist Ladies College, Elsternwick, which she attended from kindergarten to Year 11. She said she was not encouraged to pursue further education nor to drive a car – her father refused to teach her.
But there was no holding this girl down. Her first job was in a bank. Marlene was not satisfied with her job as a clerk so she went off to night school to further her education. She formed a drama group at the bank and produced several plays; she upgraded her dull job, as she puts it, to somebody’s personal typist. She harboured a desire to become an actress or a singer and she took singing lessons to further her ambitions.
At the age of twenty-five, much to the disapproval of her parents, she left home to live in a small flat in South Yarra, on her own, something she had planned to do from the age of sixteen. Eventually they accepted her choices but, she wrote, the wider family was scandalised by her decision.
After seven years she left the bank and after a few false starts, she joined the fashion industry where she had access to wonderful clothes and imported fabrics at wholesale prices. She continued to do some office work, some modelling and selling and, with a bit of further study, she went on to become an instructor at the Bambi Smith Modelling Agency. At one time she was working three jobs to save enough money to travel overseas, and so she did, both overseas and interstate many times during this period of her life.
She wrote that during these years she attended lots of formal balls. Evening wear was beautiful, lovely floating full skirts, strapless bodices, stoles, capes, long elegant gloves, very high heeled dancing shoes and the beginning of a wonderful range of synthetic fabrics. She also attended many live theatre performances, musical comedy, ballet, opera and plays and she visited the art galleries. She went to the movies and the dinner and dancing restaurants around Melbourne and she visited a few nightclubs – very different from the ones we have today. Alcohol was definitely under the table at these places. Weekends were spent driving in the country with friends for lunch. And she bought her first black and white television set and her first car.
In May of 1966 she met Ken Jager at a ball in Kyneton. They became engaged in September and married on New Year’s Eve that year. Ken took his bride home to the Newham Post Office Store which also housed the telephone exchange. It was quite a culture shock for this independent, spirited, city girl. But she didn’t look back – she enthusiastically embraced the Newham community.
Marlene wrote that they found their entertainment by going to many local balls, progressive dinners, dinner dances, local horse racing, agricultural and dog shows and farming field days. They entertained at home, held parties for anything and everything and visited their friends in the same way. They went to Melbourne for their special nights out and attended live theatre, movies or just enjoyed dinner at their favourite place – the Southern Cross Hotel.
The store and telephone exchange were at the centre of the Newham community where everyone met from time to time. The community was strong and from this vantage point Marlene became very involved. Although she had no children of her own, Marlene was quickly recruited to the Newham School Mothers Club and within a year was President and right into the fundraising – her first such encounter. She also joined the Woodend Unit of Red Cross.
With a group of the local women, Gladys Adams, Pam Scott, Win Haughton and Marlene, a committee was formed and a ball in aid of the Kyneton Hospital was arranged in the Newham Hall. It was a great social success so they organised another the following year.
By this time Marlene had joined the Ladies Fire Brigade Auxiliary, the Windarring Auxiliary at Woodend of which she became Secretary, and the Lions Ladies. She also was a Member of the Newham Hall Committee and the Newham Church Congregation Committee. She was involved in the Gisborne Arts Society, a theatrical group producing plays and variety shows which they took on tour for fund raising events.
The telephone exchange became automatic in 1970 and, with the introduction of supermarkets, the store was no longer viable and it closed in 1971. They eventually sold their home in Newham and moved to Morris Street in Woodend. Marlene went to work for the State Electricity Commission where she stayed for eight years. At home after a few months rest, she knew she needed something else to do apart from housework and committee work.
In 1983 she had been appointed a JP, a position she held until a couple of years ago, and after considerable thought, Marlene decided to nominate as a councillor for the Shire of Newham and Woodend. She was elected unopposed three times and was Shire President twice. She retired after twelve years but after another two years and with some things going on which she did not like, she felt the only way to anything about them was to go back. This was the first election she had fought – and she won and served on the council until amalgamation in 1995, a total of thirteen and a half years.
During these years Marlene served on numerous committees – she became involved in children’s issues – was appointed to the Early Childhood Development committee, assisted in the organisation of Children’s Week, joined the Lioness Club of Woodend, the inaugural committee of the Black Forest Highlanders, a pip band which received Shire sponsorship, delivered meals on wheels, organised Senior Citizens Week functions, worked on Emergency Accommodation and Housing Committees, was heavily involved with the Community Outreach Committee following the 1983 bush fires, was appointed to the first Committee of Management of the Cobaw Community Health Centre, joined the inaugural committee of the Woodend Ambulance Auxiliary, of which she was President for ten years, she coordinated an extensive Christmas Hamper Scheme for many years, visiting and contacting a wide range of lonely, older and disadvantaged people, she was a member of the Kyneton and District Welfare Committee, the Woodend Heritage Society, the Woodend Kindergarten Committee for seven years and the Woodend Community Group for ten years as chair. I’ve probably missed a few!
Marlene wrote, “In every activity I have undertaken, I have been assisted by other people, wonderful volunteers and council staff - no one does these things alone.”
And, of course, she was very well supported in all her endeavours by her husband, Ken. Marlene and Ken shared a very happy marriage and Marlene cared for Ken with such dedication over the course of his illness. His subsequent death was a blow from which she never fully recovered.
The last few years have been difficult ones for Marlene, as her health gradually undermined the active life she was used to living. I prefer to think about her in her prime – she walked among us with elegance and flair. She loved life – she was so active and involved in her local community and in life itself. She was not afraid to embrace whatever was new. She always said that she was born thirty years too soon.
Ciivl Marriage Celebrant
First celebrant appointed for Victoria
25th March 2013