Australia’s tight immigration rules will test the bonds between Anna Bay resident Harry Royle and his Filipino girlfriend, Imelda, but he hopes they will one day be able to begin life together in Port Stephens.
Mr Royle works in property maintenance, as a twice divorced navy musician, surfer and father of two adult children. Three times divorced if you count his first experience with the dating website Filipino Cupid, when that marriage to Jenny ended abruptly.
Subsequently he’s not allowed to sponsor Imelda’s immigration for at least five years.
“In a way it’s good because it protects the women,” Mr Royle told the SBS television program Insight.
"[But] in a way I feel like a victim, I feel like I'm in the sin bin.”
Mr Royle said it was amazing to “bare and share” his experience on national television. But he said there was a long back story, too long for TV, when he spoke the Examiner.
He began explaining that he was a musician in the Royal Australian Navy when his interest in the Philippines began. It was toward the end of the Ferdinand Marcos regime – military dictator from 1972 to 1981 – and he was hooked.
“I was commissioned to write a musical arrangement for the Metro Manilla Philharmonic Orchestra, for a live telecast,” he said.
“It was a massive performance at Manilla. There was no practice, the orchestra just picked it up straight away, they’re such a musical people.”
Afterwards, he enjoyed some shore leave where he and a few mates visited bars and enjoyed some jazz performances.
“They had such enormous musical talent from singing, to dancing and performing, Filipino people ooze rhythm,” he said.
In the subsequent years he would return time and again. Finally, a friend put him onto Filipino Cupid about three years ago.
“He’s a good mate of mine, a real spiritual guy, said I should try it,” Mr Royle said.
“He and his wife established a relationship while she lived there and they applied for a visa. They’re now living in Newcastle, happily married.”
Mr Royle met Jenny and married her in a Filipino ceremony. He sponsored her to move to Australia a few months later but from the time she got off the plane, he said it was a doomed marriage.
“I don’t want to speak badly of her,” he said.
“But I could see it was never going to work.”
After waiting a year and a bit he applied for an Australian divorce. In the meantime he had reactivated his website membership and found Imelda, a professional singer.
“Like many talented Filipinos singers she went on the South East Asian tour,” he said.
“The connection was through music, it gave us a common ground. From my previous visits to the Philipines I could speak the [Tagalog] language and she could speak English, we started off this relationship through music.”
Mr Royle has since bought property there and spends a month at a time with her through the Australian winter, when the Port Stephens tourist season dies down.
All this, he explained, meant it was destined to work with Imelda.
“We bonded,” he said.
“When a lot of people starting out in a relationship only share the positives, we shared our shadow.
“I became responsible for my past [failings] so I wasn’t bringing any baggage into this new relationship.”
Reflecting on his brief marriage to Jenny, he said it wasn’t to be.
“Part of me knew during the marriage ceremony,” he said.
“It wasn’t until later I knew that it was intuition. When she got off the plane in Sydney, she had her arms behind her back, she was hiding the fact she wasn’t wearing her wedding ring.”
Mr Royle said he and Imelda will begin the visa application process later this year.
“Hopefully by Christmas next year she’ll be here,” he said.
But it’s not without some frustration with the Department of Home Affairs and its minister Peter Dutton.
“Virtually overnight, two years ago, he increased the partner visa fee from $2000 to $8000,” Mr Royle said.
“Whether it’s the government trying to make a motza or just make it harder, it kind of makes guys think twice. I can see they’re trying to protect these women.”
But for now, it’s hard.
“We’ll video call each other six or seven times a day.”