Real Life

Friendship in a bottle

A mysterious note washed ashore became the start of a 40-year connection.

By Aroha Awarau

The story of how Kiwi Mary Spencer became lifelong friends with Australian Kerry Richardson is so fascinating, it wouldn’t look out of place in a film script.

Sydney-raised Kerry was celebrating her 16th birthday on a cruise ship docked in Brisbane.

After drinking champagne at her party, she took the empty bottle and put a note inside.

On it she wrote her address and threw it overboard.

Eight months later in New Zealand, Mary, who was also 16, found the bottle lying on the Northland beach of Ahipara and replied to the message.

Forty years on, the 56-year-old women have remained the best of friends and supported each other through the good times and bad.

“Throwing a message in a bottle was something I always wanted to do, because you see it in the movies. I never expected anyone to find it, especially all the way in New Zealand,” explains Kerry, who was travelling around the Pacific with her parents at the time.

“When I first received Mary’s letter, I thought someone was playing a joke on me. But then Mary sent a photocopy of the original message to prove it – that blew my mind.”

Mary was excited when she first saw the bottle lying in the sand and had to smash it to read the note.

“It was a cool thing to do and I just had to write to this girl,” says Mary. “We were the same age and both doing the same things in our life. And although she was a city girl from Australia and I was a country girl from New Zealand, we still had so much in common. There was never a ‘getting to know each other’ period.”

Kerry flew to New Zealand last month to join Mary, who now lives in Auckland, on a road trip to celebrate 40 years of their friendship.

They drove to Ahipara, to the site where Mary found the bottle, to commemorate their bond.

“What a great way of celebrating those 40 years,” says Mary.

“We thought it would be best to mark our anniversary on the day I found the bottle, because that’s when our friendship truly started.”

Their relationship was formed over hundreds of letters, before the internet and when overseas phone calls were too expensive. Mary and Kerry love that their bond blossomed the good old-fashioned way.

“When we wrote to each other, we discovered so many coincidences in our lives,” explains Mary. “For instance, Kerry wrote to tell me she got engaged, and I wrote back to her saying, ‘Me too.’”

After many letters between them, the pair finally met three years after Mary found the bottle – at her wedding in New Zealand. Kerry, who got married four months earlier, flew from Australia to be Mary’s bridesmaid.

The pair were excited, and nervous, to meet each other in person for the first time.

“My husband and I pulled up outside Mary’s home and I panicked. I said to my husband, ‘What if we don’t like each other?’”

But Kerry’s misgivings were quashed as soon as she came face to face with her pen friend, and they clicked straight away. In fact, they shared their honeymoons together, touring New Zealand after Mary was married.

“We hugged and I felt very welcomed. And our bond has remained tight ever since,” Kerry says.

Throughout the past 40 years, the pair have had six children between them, have met several times, and experienced numerous ups and downs.

“Despite the distance, we have retained a tight relationship and become closer,” says Mary.

Nowadays, the letter writing has ceased, and the pair regularly keep in contact via email.

Mary, who works at an energy retailer, says she is lucky to have Kerry – an office manager in Sydney – as her best friend, and they’re looking forward to many more anniversaries together.

“Kerry is there for me and I’m there for her. The distance doesn’t make a difference. We tell each other everything. It’s great to have a good, supportive friendship.”

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