Cotton pioneers Frank and Norma Hadley celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary recently at a special morning tea with family and friends.

The platinum anniversary party was held at the town’s Presbyterian Church hall.

“It was very nice, it was a real good day,” said Mr Hadley.

“There were flowers galore.”

When asked by the The Courier to share the secret to being happily married for 70 years, Mr Hadley was quick to respond, “Well, you just covered it – it’s a secret,” he said with a grin.

Thankfully, the Hadleys didn’t play hard to get for too long and revealed that good communication, never going to bed on an argument and being each other’s friend were all key to achieving a long and loving relationship.

“We get along and we think similarly,” said Mrs Hadley.

“You better be friends if you’re going to get married,” added Mr Hadley.

“I’ve always done the business and she’s taken care of the home, and we don’t get in each other’s way.”

The couple’s cotton pioneering story is legendary and well known to locals, but the marking of such a significant personal milestone is a reminder of Mr and Mrs Hadley’s extraordinary life together.

Their love story started in California in the 1940s when Mr Hadley’s sister played ‘matchmaker’.

“His sister Harriet was a friend of mine and we were in the same class at high school,” said Mrs Hadley.

“Harriet asked if I wanted to go to the high school dance on a blind date, I said ‘sure’.

“I was an older working man and Norma was in her last year of high school.

“Norma and I did get along immediately, and then some time later we went on another date and I met her parents and they were real nice people.

“Norma’s mother was a super cook – and that’s always a winner,” added Mr Hadley.

On December 24, 1949 a news article on the engagement of Franklin Hadley and Norma Hoff ran in the pair’s local paper the Merced Sun-Star.

Mrs Hadley kindly shared her treasured newspaper clippings from California with The Courier. She keeps the clippings in immaculate condition in the back of the Hadley’s wedding photo album.

The 1949 Merced Sun-Star headline read, “Engagements Told By Two Merced Misses” and featured a lovely story about “two charming young women” – Norma Hoff and her friend Mary Belle Browne who had just announced their respective engagements at a joint gathering.

“Heart shaped cakes placed at either end of the table were inscribed with the names of the two couples,” read the article.

“Norma, daughter of Mr and Mrs. Milton Hoff of Merced is a sophomore at Pomona College. Her fiancé, Franklin, son of Mr. and Mrs. F. Ernest Hadley of Merced is in the farming business here with his father and brothers.”

“Dessert was served at quartet tables centred with miniature Yule trees. Red carnations and mistletoe were used as a decorative part of the colour scheme.

“No definite dates have been set for the weddings,” read the article.

The Hadley-Hoff wedding was held on July 22, 1950 and once again featured in the newspaper’s pages.

“Franklin Carrick Hadley exchanged the name of Norma Lorraine Hoff to his at a pretty, ‘cool as mint’ marriage ceremony,” read the opening line of the article.

“Before the bride walked down the flower-marked aisle on the arm of her father, Milton L. Hoff, her four
bridesmaids and maid of honour had entered.

“They were Mary Belle Browne, honour attendant, Patricia Flanagan, Harriet Hadley and Dorothy Shaw, bridesmaids and Sue King, junior bridesmaid.

“The sweet, brown-haired bride chose a wedding gown of white marquisette over taffeta.

“It had a tiny collar, cap sleeves and the full circular skirt with a short train and over-skirt edged in embroidery.

“The bride’s flowers were lilies of the valley, stephanotis and a white orchid arranged in a shower bouquet.”

“The pale green of the gowns worn by the bridal party set the colour theme that was so effective for the summer wedding,” read an article in the Californian newspaper Merced Sun-Star about Frank and Norma Hadley’s wedding held on July 22, 1950.

“Edward Hadley stood with his brother as the best man,” the article continued.

“A reception followed at the Merced Women’s Clubhouse. The bride changed to a pink gabardine suit with navy accessories before they motored off on their wedding trip.

“The couple have just finished remodelling a home on Bear Creek where they will soon be at home,” concluded the article.

However, the place the Hadleys and their two children Alice and Tom would come to call home ended up being 12,000 kilometres away, on the other side of the world, on the black soil plains of North West NSW.

In 1961, Mr Hadley and fellow farmer the late Paul Kahl made the bold but genius decision to pack up their families and move from America’s San Joaquin Valley to Australia’s Namoi Valley to grow cotton.

Mr Hadley said the Australian Government was keen for them to move down south to the Riverina area, but he and Mr Kahl liked the Wee Waa climate, the river, the good soil and Keepit Dam had also just been built.

In 1961, the farming partners sowed the seeds at “Glencoe”, Wee Waa and in 1962 harvested a successful cotton crop sparking the start of the modern Australian Cotton industry.

However, the innovative duo didn’t just kick-start a new agricultural sector, with the support of their wives Norma Hadley and the late Jean Kahl, they also greatly and positively enhanced the social fabric of the Wee Waa community.

Even today Mr Hadley can still be found manning the Rotary sausage sizzle and Mrs Hadley is known for her contribution to many endeavours including school, church and hospital committees.

A number of Americans followed the path of the Hadleys and Kahls to Australia in the 1960s, keen to be part of the cotton game in what was described by some as a ‘white gold rush’.

Mr Hadley’s sister Harriet, who introduced him to his bride, moved to Australia and married Jack Buster and lived at Bourke before retiring to Dubbo. Mr Hadley’s brother Ed also moved ‘Down Under’ and lived in Toowoomba.

The late Hadley Alf and his wife Nita also moved to Wee Waa from California, and Mrs Alf was one of the guests who attended the Hadley’s recent wedding anniversary celebration as well as members of the Kahl family.

Seventy years after their wedding day, and a world away from the farming fields of California – the Hadleys might be considered ‘Cotton Capital royalty’ but the devoted couple are very humble and modest about their many achievements.

They’re the proud great-grandparents of Madeline, Walter and Arthur, grandparents of Chris, Georgia and Hilary and parents of Alice and Tom.

The Hadleys are visibly happy in each other’s company and still love life together, living on the black soil plains on the outskirts of Wee Waa.

“Wee Waa is the closest you can get to heaven,” said Mr Hadley.

“It really is.”

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