A love well lived
Twenty years ago a beautiful friendship blossomed between Roberto Luca and Renate Bowden. Both key members of the gay community in Brisbane, they broke new ground when they conceived a child together – a unique bond that changed their lives forever.
“I kept swallowing my tears and saying, ‘really?’ and in that moment, all of a sudden our whole journey was acknowledged,” Renate says, looking across at Roberto.
“Love is incredibly powerful and full of integrity, therefore marriage should not be entered into lightly or frivolously. In this day and age the act of marriage has become loose, where challenges are more about how to get out of it, give up and walk out on someone. This has a massive effect on how we love and our understanding of what an authentic commitment to loving one another is.
“One of the main reasons I wanted us to be married was to not only give hope to our children, but we’re saying something about what true love is – love is gracious, gentle and transforming, it’s very beautiful and very true, especially when you acknowledge it to the wider community.”
Roberto and Renate Luca have an epic love story to tell, at times it’s almost hard to even comprehend, but spending time with them in their tranquil Noosa home, sharing laughter and tears, it’s impossible to envisage their lives without each other.
Roberto grew up in New Zealand, before spending 10 years as a primary school teacher in London. But his partner wanted to return to Australia, where the Luca brothers opened the Moray Cafe in New Farm, Brisbane.
Through his partner, Roberto and Renate were introduced in 1996. They had an immediate connection and became the best of friends – supporting and nurturing each other through life’s ups and downs, and working on high profile LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) events.
“Then Renate decided to take me out on a dinner date, she said, ‘I’ve got two things on my mind, one is I’m applying for NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts), if I don’t get in, then I’d like to have a baby’.”
A 30-year-old Renate just missed out on a place, but as fate would have it she was destined to be a mum and asked Roberto to father a child with her.
“We both wanted children, but didn’t necessarily want to be in a relationship with each other,” Roberto says.
“Rob was gay and I was gay and we’d both had long term same-sex relationships and we both separated at a similar time,” Renate adds.
The feeling of true love is powerful and gives everybody great hope.” - Renate.
“This was 17 years ago and it was very new to be doing same-sex parenting, so we kind of lead the way in Brisbane in terms of home insemination.”
Nine months later, their miracle son was born and Renate would bring him to the cafe every day, where he’d sleep under the table as they drank coffee and talked into the night.
But when their son was about five, Renate delved into personal development work, searching for lifelong answers stemming back to her own childhood.
Having been adopted when she was a baby, Renate grew up in New Guinea before entering the Queensland boarding school system – she’d virtually left home before becoming a teenager. But despite a disconnected childhood, Renate always had a strong inner knowing about her purpose to love. It’s a sentiment she carries with her to this day.
In the midst of her journey of self discovery, Renate had a “major awakening” that she wasn’t gay and was destined to be with Roberto.
“I had complete certainty that I was meant to be with Rob, spiritually on a soul level, it was very emotional and I know we didn’t just make a baby, we’re meant to be together. We then had to confront everything we’d built up in our lives around being gay,” Renate says seriously.
“We had high profile lives in the LGBT scene in Brisbane, the Moray was a big gay cafe, all of our community was gay. It was very confronting, a lot of people didn’t like it. But I knew I loved him to bits.”
Resolute in his feelings he was gay, Roberto denied the possibility of them being together, but agreed to attend one of the courses.
“I was very caught in some areas of life and I went to the first course and it blew my mind, it opened up understanding around things and when I did the second course it hit me like a tonne of bricks,” he says.
“Growing up in a rugby-heavy nation I didn’t fit in. I was very soft and sensitive and I liked gardening and cooking, so a lot of people called me poofter and a girl. It’s traumatic when society automatically labels a soft sensitive male as gay. I knew I was different, so I thought maybe that’s what I am, maybe I am gay.
“I became aware that it was a decision I made very early on, based around a lot of upsets in my relationships and it stemmed from a desperate need to be loved. I then realised I am supposed to be with her. It was a massive awakening for me.”
While the shift from homosexuality to heterosexuality was like a bomb being dropped on their community, Renate says the bigger issue was the change of belief that being gay had been a decision they consciously made, rather than the way they were born.
“When I was gay I thought there’s no way I would never be straight – this is how I was born. So we made a lot of noise forcing that viewpoint on a lot of people.”
Turning their back on a life they fought hard to live, Roberto and Renate entered into a teenage-like whimsical romance.
“It was really beautiful, no one really wanted to quite believe it – his mother thought it was a miracle from the angels!”
While in New Zealand for work, Renate became pregnant with their now seven-year-old daughter, prompting them to move back to Australia and settle into life on the Sunshine Coast. Then in 2013, while looking to buy a business in Thailand, they stumbled upon a B&B in Noosa for sale.
“When we walked through the front door we had a great vision about everything that was going to happen here – so we deliberately created all of this so that people feel loved, inspired, cared for and special,” Renate says.
With the perfect haven to house their new lives as a family of four, two years ago Renate floated the idea of marriage, but given Roberto grew up in the Roman Catholic Church and witnessed many separations, he’d lost hope around the integrity of marriage and thought, ‘What’s the point?’
But in March last year, Roberto had a change of heart and nervously proposed with a magnificent jewelled ring designed and inspired by an antique Nepalese wedding ring.
“She’s bold, beautiful and bohemian – I didn’t want to buy a regular diamond ring!”
Roberto and Renate married at their Noosa Valley Manor property in October last year in a celebration described as Dolce and Gabbana meets Frida Kahlo.
Candelabras lined the long tables decorated with golden cutlery, lace napkins, vintage crockery and gold-rimmed crystal glasses. Vietnamese silk lanterns lit the romantic garden setting, and 350m of satin fabric was used to create the wedding canopy complete with a floral wreath.
After an emotionally charged ceremony, they celebrated in abundance with drinking and dancing, and a feast complete with an Argentinian barbecue of organic spring lamb and a mezze board, laden with cheeses, exotic tapas and Italian delicacies, five-spice pork belly, muscatels and fresh figs.
“Because what we do is quite special we couldn’t keep our hands off it, even though it was our wedding day, we couldn’t hand the reins over completely. We wanted our love to be in every bit of it.”
A fitting way to end another chapter in this modern-day fairytale, I can’t imagine what the next will bring.