Bala Thuraisingam is a Mechanical Engineer, his expertise being in water pumps. Having retired about 3 years ago, Bala continues to do some consulting work and is a member of the Fire Protection Association Australia (FPAA) and also represents the Association, on the technical committee of Australian Standards for Fire Protection Water Pumpsets.
Bala joined U3APP, seeking an alternate activity following his retirement. “So, I took up Scrabble, as it keeps my mind ticking.” Pre Covid, Bala was a regular member of the Friday Film group.
Bala was born in Malaysia, he was 20 years old when he migrated to Australia, having first obtained a place at Monash University. Changes within the political system in Malaysia led to him making the decision to move to Australia.
During his early childhood years, Bala observes that “Malaysia was really good, in the sense that all religions and races were equal.” The Malays, Chinese and Indians had the same opportunities, there was little discrimination. At that time, the population consisted of 60% Malays, 30% Chinese and 5% Indians, plus other nationalities. They had equal opportunities more generally, also in respect to education. However, this all changed when “the crazy man”, Bala laughs, Mahathir Mohamad became Prime Minister in July 1981. Politics, “became entangled with religion.”
When Bala sought to do a Higher Certificate of Education (HCE), he was unable to do this, due to a quota system being applied in respect to different races. 70% of university placements were given to Malays, “everybody else was struggling to obtain a place.”
Students were required to have obtained a credit grade or rating in the Bahasa Malaysia language. However at school, this was a 2nd language, single lesson per week class, so together with the low quota of acceptance for non–Malaysian students, Bala failed to gain entrance to university, despite “scoring very good grades in all other subjects. It was very upsetting.”
Bala’s parents were from Sri Lanka, so he was in the bottom 5%. His parents were Tamils and “ran away from Sri Lanka”, due to religious discrimination and violence. They migrated to Malaysia, to “escape persecution.” When Bala was unable to obtain entrance to university, an uncle who lived in Malaysia, “put his hand up” and paid for and supported his migration to Australia. Bala was required to complete a matriculation course, which he did through Taylor’s College in Malaysia. He was accepted into Monash University where he completed a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering degree.
On his arrival in Australia, Bala had nowhere to stay, he had obtained his visa, “had everything sorted out”, but no accommodation in the vicinity of Monash University. One of his schoolmates had a brother who lived in Glen Iris and had given him his address. “So, I just landed here at 6am, took a cab to his house and knocked on the door. It was opened by a man in his pyjamas. I introduced myself, ‘come in, come in’, he says. Then he gives me breakfast and drives me to Monash University.” After some “chit chat”, they organised accommodation with a family, later finding him a place to stay with other students.
This experience of being cared for, along with other students, without discrimination, having his meals cooked by the woman providing homestay accommodation, “was so good, she even packed our lunches.” Bala adds, “I had also never heard a horse go up the road carting milk. I used to hear this clip, clip, clop on the road, wondering what was going on here. All these things were so new to me.”
Bala recalls feeling “very lucky, as Gough Whitlam, was Prime Minister at that time and we all got a free education.” University “was fabulous.” It provided a new lifestyle he had not experienced before. “It was wonderful, I failed one year, having too much fun!” But of course, “then I buckled down, and finished the course.”
Bala’s first employment was as an estimator with Ajax Pumps, he worked in marketing for about 8 years. “But I could see myself not going anywhere, so I decided to start my own business.” He and two partners worked from a small office. “We had two phones each, so 6 phones.” Bala recalls with some amusement, juggling the phones and calls, as they built up their connections with the building industry in respect to manufacturing water pumps.
What exactly is a water pump? “Good question!” Bala laughs and explains, “most households don’t require a water pump as the water that comes into your house is already pressurised, right?” Right! “The pressure reduces as you get higher, so once you get to a certain height, you need a pump to boost the pressure. So, you can think about that concept. You may have a pit full of water, but you can’t get the water out. You need a pump.” Bala laughs at the obvious simplicity of this concept. But in a building, you also have wastewater that needs to be gotten rid of, also fire protection as in sprinklers, which are mandatory once the building reaches a certain height.
Bala and his colleagues came up with the idea of “building packages.” These consisted of a pump, a driver, a control panel and also pipe work, put together as a package. “So, it became a 3 meter by 3 meter skid, complete with all the bits and pieces. All the plumber needed to do was to purchase the skid which is then plugged/connected to Water In, Water Out and Power Supply in a pump room. Our aim was to make it plug and play for the customer.”
Where were the pumps and products made? “We actually pushed all Australian products. The pumps were manufactured by Southern Cross, in Toowoomba.” Diesel engines were made locally, also the control panel. “We would coordinate these products. One year after we started this business, we built our own products in our own factory from 1988.”
Over the years, the company named BKB Pumps and Tanks was responsible for fitting out 101 Collins Street with fire pumps, also the Rialto Tower, the Melbourne Casino and more. They also designed flat packs of metal sheeting, enabling the construction of water tanks. A crew would then assemble it on site. The company started out with “3 of us. 5 years later 15, then about 30 workers’’. The company was sold a few years ago (2013) to a Danish Company.
Bala acknowledges that he feels, “very proud, it was a lot of hard work. When I left Ajax the only funds that I had were $8,000 in superannuation. So, I cashed it in, my partner equalled that and that’s how we started, not taking wages for about 6 months. We struggled so much in that first year, I am thinking, this is madness, initially not realising that having cash flow was a big issue, but somehow, we managed.”
Currently, Bala is of the view that building regulations are more lax, “I would not buy an apartment in Melbourne.” Buildings are, “cheaper and cheaper. The pumping systems are not the best … it’s really very sad, it has become self-certification, in a sense. Councils walk away, rubber stamps.” Bala provided further information in respect to current issues within the building industry, which the government and industry are trying to rectify, noting also that products are now made overseas. Southern Cross in Toowoomba closed their factory and now imports their products.
Bala will assist via FPAA to rewrite the standards, the last being written in 2013, despite this being required every four years, staff shortages being one reason for this.
Bala met his wife at a Monash University party, she was a nurse, but is currently working at St Vincent’s Hospital in administration doing coding relating to identification numbers of respective surgeries/procedures for insurance or funding purposes. They have 2 daughters and 3 grandchildren, one daughter has moved to Queensland. “We go and help them out with babysitting, when we can.”
Bala’s youngest daughter is a biomedical statistician, currently in Canada (Calgary), as part of a research team from St Vincent’s Hospital. They are continuing to analyse data on knee surgery, the conclusion seeming to be so far, that “if you can get rid of your problem by doing exercises and maintain your knee rather than surgery, this is preferable.”
Bala’s other interests include golf and darts. He enjoys playing scrabble at U3APP and he and tutor Sunny Acreman have achieved an admirable score of 300. “It is also strategic, because you are looking at where you can slide in and double up and maximise your points. You get their points and yours!” Bala “loves movies” and attended Friday Films prior to Covid. He enjoyed sitting in the big hall, (back then) watching a “very good choice” of movies. He hopes to return when his Friday commitments ease.
Bala has a continuing interest in politics, “I love my politics,” He listens to the radio, ABC/SBS TV, reads the Guardian newspaper, subscribes to Crikey. He refers to himself as being a “swinging voter”, preferring not to have long terms of any particular party, as this encourages corruption.
Subsequent to the violent disputes between the Singhalese and the Tamils in Sri Lanka in 2013, Bala decided to visit Sri Lanka, “just to see for myself how people lived and how they were treated.” What he found was “so sad.” He hired a driver who took him from the south where Singhalese is the main language, to the north, where the majority population speak Tamil. When the driver spoke to the Tamils, “it was very belittling, aggressive, very, you know, upsetting.” Leaving his driver to wait alone for his return, Bala toured the area together with some local, very friendly and helpful Tamils, who took him to interesting places where tourists generally do not visit.
Bala repeats, “it is so sad that people cannot get along. Both Hinduism and Buddhism preach tolerance.” Tamils are Hindus, Singhalese are Buddhists. Whilst in Sri Lanka, “ I found out that it is the religious monks who are very militant, they make a lot of money!” Bala comments with cynical humour.
Bala and his wife are travelling to Canada, to meet up with their daughter. They will also go on a train trip in Alaska. They plan to visit some of Bala’s siblings, who live in America, (Phoenix, Arizona) and will be away for a couple of months.
Bala provided interesting details on current building issues, fire risks and much more than can be recorded in this interview. His wider knowledge, expertise, and aptitude for making concepts into reality is impressive. Bala is appreciative of the opportunities to “keep his mind ticking”, not just in Scrabble! But, by ensuring that past discrimination, religious and political, has not prevented him from attaining and then contributing to these achievements, here in Australia.
Felicity May interviewed
David's fascination with various chemical compounds, with the potential to become explosive, set him off on a significant, and fascinating career in biochemistry.
David Bourne is a U3APP Tutor, currently for the online course ‘Why Insects Matter.” He is a PHD graduate and research scientist.
David joined U3APP about five years ago, after moving from Elwood to St Kilda West. David likes to keep fit, so enjoys the convenient walking distance to the MKC, “no parking permit needed.” David became a tutor subsequent to Jim Pribble, who “was on the ‘look out’ for new tutors, approached me about running a course on Evolution. I thought, "I could do that, it’s been a real pleasure.”
David was born in Brisbane, but following his father’s decision to set up an accountancy business, the family moved to Warwick in south east Queensland. David remembers vividly, “I was five years old, sitting in the back of my dad’s old Ford Prefect, watching the road through the holes in the floor, for 160 kms!” At that time the population in Warwick was 12,000 however following closures of the rail and maintenance yards, it decreased to about 10,000.
David referred to his family life as being, “ordinary, fairly boring so I played up a lot!” How so? “Umm … well, blowing up things.” With some amusement, David supplied the detail. In those days you could easily get hold of fireworks, as in “big bungers.”
Was he motivated by boredom? “No, being naughty was the thrill. In one incident my gang and another local one had organised to have a bit of a punch-up at the local park. Someone let on and we had a police car drive into the back yard in full view of our neighbours, my father was not so happy.”
Aged 13 years, David became avidly interested in chemistry specifically, rather than physics. “I think it was because you could do stuff yourself.” This was not possible with physics unless you had the relevant equipment. “But with chemistry, it was easy to do in the back shed.”
What were you doing in the back shed? (Asked with some trepidation.) “I started off making fireworks, of course.” Cautiously avoiding any specific instructions for making fireworks, “they are made from gunpowder.” David explains, “gunpowder is easy to make, then you wrap the gunpowder in cardboard and stick a wick in it!”
“I remember one ‘experiment’ with my older brother. We found a large balloon one day and were wondering what we’d do with it. Inflate it with air, no not interesting. Inflate it with hydrogen and let it drift upwards. Yep. That’s a bit boring, let’s tie a wick to it, light it and let it go. Excellent idea. The balloon made it to around 300 metres and exploded with a nice bit of flame. A day later there was a small paragraph in the Warwick Daily News about a mysterious explosion in the sky above Warwick.”
Fortunately, David had only one major accident. It was in the back shed, of course. He was engaged in a process whereby he needed to light magnesium powder to initiate a thermite process. It wasn’t going so well and needed some more magnesium powder to get going. It wasn’t a good idea to add more from the bottle. Of course it then caught fire. One thing you cannot do with magnesium fire is put it out with water, it just goes off. “Probably the most dangerous thing I did.” David assures, that his parents were not too concerned about his activities in the back shed but perhaps should have been.
Academic progress at school? “I breezed through chemistry, physics was my downfall.” David proceeded to the University of South Queensland in Toowoomba, partially completing a degree in applied science, essentially training to become an industrial chemist. Whilst still a student, aged 18 years, he was called up for conscription but put it off for as long as possible as was the norm then. However, he was required to complete 12 weeks of basic army training, at Singleton.
How did you find that? “Well, we got so fit, it was unbelievable, lots of route marches and circuit training. A friend and I used to play a round of squash flat out for an hour and usually extend to two because we were so fit we could easily do this.” When Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister, we were able to choose whether we wanted to leave or go into the armed forces. “The good thing about that was if you decided to leave the army you would get a scholarship to finish university. That scholarship was about three times the amount you could get on a commonwealth scholarship, that was fabulous.”
After qualifying as an industrial chemist, “my girlfriend and I hopped into a transit van, we travelled around Australia for about 2 years, getting jobs wherever we could, usually picking fruit, it was really a very good time but there were a few challenging times. Like when we arrived in Melbourne with no food and no money. We parked the van in Footscray and I went off to find a job. Found one at a wool baling place and the manager paid me some cash after the first day. Crisis over! ”
Aged 26 years, David obtained his first position as an industrial chemist with the Abbotts Pharmaceutical company at Kurnell in Sydney. However, this turned out to be “boring, you did the same thing every day. I left that company after two years and got a position as a part time research assistant at the University of NSW (UNSW)”
While doing a biochemistry degree, “I was trying to find a hormone that causes ripening and leaf drop in food plants.” When plants lose their leaves, this triggers reactions that cause hormonal changes, known as senescence. We call this hormone senescence factor.
David commenced his PhD, studying part time, researching further into the “senescence factor” as part of a collaboration between the University of New South Wales and Cambridge University in the UK. “Essentially, in the long run we found out a lot about the nature and properties of this hormone and we discovered a few novel molecules from bean and tomato plants. David subsequently obtained a post-doctoral position with John McLeod, a prominent mass spectroscopist at the Research School of Chemistry at ANU in Canberra. ”That started my interest in mass spectrometry”
Further discussion with David revealed that he has had a great many other interests. For instance, he was asked by the editor of Two Wheels (through a friend) to road test a motorcycle. “I was trying to do a good job because that would mean more motorcycles. It took two weeks to test and write the article. The editor was happy so I continued road testing motorcycles for about another nine years. It was a great experience with many highlights. One was the day Kawasaki Australia flew a group of journalists up to Bathurst and let us loose on the Mount Panorama race track on several Kawasaki motorcycles. I remember going down the mountain with 280 km/hr on the speedo.’’
What was the most interesting position you have held? “Probably, at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. We were researching the possibilities of developing medicinal drugs from marine life. Divers would collect sea creatures, corals, sponges etc., which were then extracted and tested to see if they had any activity in certain bioassays.” (‘Measurement of potency of a substance by its effect on certain medically important metabolic enzyme systems.’)
David was responsible for a successful submission to obtain an ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer. No mean achievement, “given the cost of around one million dollars.” This provided an “incredibly high resolution,” which is essential when an accurate mass and structural information was needed.
His next position of significance and interest was with the Defence Science Technology Organisation at Fisherman’s Bend. “During the 2000 Sydney Olympics DSTO provided the scientific input to the armed forces security effort and I was part of the scientific team. An important backup system was the new ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer which was commissioned a few months before the Olympics.” Due to David’s experience with mass spectrometry a “this mass spectrometer was purchased, costing about $1.5 million.”
David summarises, “we moved away from chemistry into biochemistry and one particular collaboration with the Swedish Defence Science would not have been possible without the high end mass spectrometer. This was a nice piece of work, we identified some unique marker compounds that would indicate exposure to a castor bean extract containing ricin.”
Liaising with domestic and overseas intelligence agencies was another area David became involved with for a time. “What we were trying to do was to design projects that were useful for Australian, US, UK and Canadian Intelligence Agencies.” Further discussion on this was, of course, out of bounds.
David has not married, he has had two long term partners. He has one daughter and two grandchildren aged 16 and 13 years who live in Queensland.
David and Barbara Coles, also a U3APP member, have travelled quite a bit. “We did quite a bit of Europe and the United Kingdom, the US and Canada, but we were more interested in wilder travels. Highlights were Cambodia, Kalimantan, Cuba (we wanted to visit Cuba while Fidel Castro was still alive) and Belize. Then there was a trip to the Gili Islands (off the northern coast of Lombok) which was “interesting, really wild, no cars.” A fairly big earthquake erupted just off the coast while they were there.
David reads science publications, he has good social connections with work colleagues. Does he think science has the same respect as in his working past? “No, definitely not. It is not as trusted as it used to be. It makes their (scientists’) opinions ‘less punchy’ when trying to negotiate with politicians, you are just not believed as much.” There is a huge amount of knowledge now, about insect sprays for instance, “that we did not have when I was younger.” But “people will continue to do science if they are interested, it’s just so bloody interesting, I don’t think they will be put off.”
David acknowledges that, “being a researcher, industrial chemist, is now in my past life.” He enjoys golf, has a large golf screen in his backyard and is also a member of the Middle Park Bowls Club. He enjoys walking, table tennis, being active but also watching foreign films. His favourite film is a Russian Sci-Fi movie, ‘Solaris’.
As for U3APP, “it is absolutely fantastic. It is a good organisation, with a bunch of really good people.” David enjoys his involvement with the various courses he has run and the interesting discussions the courses evoke.
David’s developing interest in chemistry during his early adolescence, his fascination with various chemical compounds with the potential to become explosive, set him off on a fascinating scientific career, leading to his expertise in obtaining significant data from high end mass spectrometers. He has come a long way from the thrill of “blowing up things.”
Felicity May interviewed David Bourne
Would you like to see your story here? So many of our Members have had some truly amazing experiences throughout their lives, and we'd love to share them here.
You don't need to write your own story - we'll interview you and make notes before liaising with you to ensure you're happy with the article before we send it to press.
To discuss please email SpotlightOn@u3app.org.au
"Spotlight On" is a place where we shine a Spotlight on some of the amazing adventures and stories about and by our U3APP Members. Each box contains a fascinating story about one of our U3APP Members. To move to another story, use the navigation arrows which appear on the left or right edge of the slider display. Click or tap on the arrow beside "Read more..." to see the whole of a story. Click it again to collapse the story and see the navigation arrows again.
Jane has been a member of U3APP for about eight years, (prior to this she was a member of Brighton U3A) she is a tutor and organiser of the Pétanque classes.
Jane grew up in Elwood. Her mother was a War Widow. “My dad was in Changi POW camp, in Singapore, then he was made to work on the Burma Railway, it must have been horrendous and something he never talked about after his release and return to Australia.” He survived for about seven years, Jane was six years old when he died.
Jane recalls how she and her mother were looked after for many years by Legacy Australia. They also provided services for children. “So, I started doing various activities when I was six years old, Legacy is an incredible Organisation.” Jane found that she especially loved the gym and ballet classes. At the end of the year there was always a big concert at the Melbourne Town Hall. One year they performed, The Nutcracker. They had to “fit in all the kids, so instead of having six mice, they had thirty of us!” Attending ballet and gym classes became a focal part of Jane’s life. Whilst she did not pursue a career in ballet, “the fitness side of it just stayed with me forever.”
After her father died, Jane, her mother, grandma, and her mother’s youngest brother lived together. She reflects, “it was a bit crowded … we lived in this little one bedroom flat in Elwood.” Her uncle lived in a “sleep out” at the back. “ However, I was lucky, my grandma insisted that my uncle look after me on weekends, this was to be his mission, to look after Janie and take her wherever she wanted to go.”
Jane was very fond of her uncle whom she described as a “frustrated academic.” None of the family had the opportunity to attend university. He was self-taught, embracing his love of music, ballet, art, literature and languages.” So, on weekends they would go to the art gallery, the Botanical Gardens, museum as well as the opera, musical theatre and also to performances by the Borovansky Ballet Company, which later became “The Australian Ballet.” Jane is most appreciative of her uncle’s and her family’s commitment to providing her with a “well rounded” childhood experience and her love of all these pursuits has never left her. They also managed to find time to attend AFL footy matches. (Jane is a passionate Melbourne supporter, hardly ever missing a game.)
Jane was about 13 years old when she and her mother learnt yoga, “before anyone even knew what the word really meant.” The teacher had trained in India, there was a group of about six people in the nearby church hall, “and so I have practised yoga regularly ever since.” She has also been involved in fitness programmes for “pretty much all my life, as I really believe in fitness and exercise.”
However, it was very difficult in the early days to find a gym, “that wasn’t just a macho body building, male oriented gym. I was really thrilled when the whole fitness industry took off.” This was about 40 years ago. Gyms came replete with exercise classes, fitness instructors, not just “body building men.” Women embraced the gyms, many were looking after the home at that time, “but they could go there, do workouts, aerobics, have coffee after with friends, it was a sort of Jane Fonda era.” Some provided creches for the kids, “it became a huge expanding industry.”
Jane wanted to work in this growing fitness industry but lacked the formal qualifications required to study Physical Education, not having completed math or science during her school years. She left school at fifteen, “to support my mum … so I was always a bit of a frustrated Phys Ed teacher, until I later qualified as a Fitness Instructor and eventually ran my own aerobics centre.”
Jane started her working life in Advertising, initially as a PA and working her way up to a position as Account Director and Television/Radio commercial producer until taking time out to raise her family. Whilst still working in the fitness industry, she acquired her Real Estate Agents' Licence and went on to work as a property manager then office manager until her retirement 8 years ago.
Prior to that, aged 21 years, Jane had saved up enough money to fulfill her “passion” to go overseas. She worked in advertising in the UK , then went on a trip around Europe with a small travel company that took only 12 passengers on a camping trip. “And that’s where I met my husband!” He was the driver, “after two weeks we got engaged, everyone thought this would not last, it’s just a holiday romance… but we have been together ever since then.” Mark Denniston is Jane’s husband, he was on the U3APP Management Committee a few years ago. They have two children and two grandchildren aged 11 and 13 years. Jane has had great pleasure in taking her granddaughter to the ballet from the age of 5, and both grandchildren, to as many Demon matches at the MCG as possible.
Pétanque (repeatedly mispronounced by this interviewer!)
Why is this so popular, not only at U3APP but everywhere, it seems? Pétanque, also called Boules, a la “the ball you use,” originated in Provence, France. “In France, it is played in almost every village, they will have a “piste.” (“A marked patch of ground on which one plays pétanque.”) Jane describes with some humour: “It’s mostly played by men, wearing a little cap, a striped shirt and a Gauloises cigarette hanging out of their mouth. It’s an after work type of thing, they have a glass of wine, play pétanque, chat, socialise, while their wives are at home cooking dinner.” Jane laughed as she added, “typically French!”
In Australia however, “Aussies turn most things into a competition.” U3APP has resisted invitations to compete with other clubs, preferring to keep its vitality as a social event, as in France. Jane took over from Helen Donnellan about two years ago. The history of this group being, Helen and Jane’s husband, Mark, attended a French class together. One day, over coffee, they discussed the possibility of introducing a new course of activity to U3APP. Sounding like a good idea they found an unused Petanque piste alongside the light rail in Port Melbourne and shortly after Petanque was on the list of courses offered to U3APP members. They started with about six members, then everyone found out about it and “the rest is history.”
Due to the growing number of interested members, they have needed to split into two groups. Richard Saleeba, who was a tutor prior to Jane joining, “is more experienced, knows the rules.” He now takes charge of the Early Birds/Beginners, “I’m more of a bossy organising person, I oversee the two groups, send out emails and so forth.” I jokingly refer to it as “herding cats!”
The game itself? “You have two teams, the way you hold the ball is crucial, an overhang over the ball, and a sort of subtle flick, (not as in lawn bowls.) So, the rules are, you have a little cochonnet, which translates as 'little pig'. You throw that onto the piste, then the pétanque boule is thrown as close as possible to the cochonnet. Whichever team gets the closest number of throws, wins the game.”
Is it seriously competitive? Jane laughs when responding, “the guys are a bit more competitive, the girls are a bit chattier. But yes, we want to win, we get quite serious and excited, especially when it's close.”
Following the game, some of the later group go to Rubira’s pub, conveniently located across the road, for drinks and dinner. Jane books a table each week. “For me it is my night off cooking, some just stay for a drink.” Jane surmises that part of the attraction of pétanque is that it “plays a dual role.” You don’t have to be fit, you do not need to be skilled. Perhaps dodgy knees or a wrist disorder would be an impediment, but it’s not physical. It also provides a social outlet, a ‘get together.’ It’s a lovely way of not only getting out, getting fresh air, and having a bit of fitness activity but also, getting to meet other people doing the same thing.”
Jane’s passion for ballet, theatre and opera has continued to consume her interest, as well as the footy, of course. Jane has been a member of various U3A groups, including choir, French songs, book group and art classes and has just started learning lawn bowls, very much as a beginner. In recent years, Jane needed to manage a serious illness, however she took great pride in completing a rather challenging Kumano Kodo trek through the mountains of Japan to celebrate her positive post chemo outcome.
Jane has dedicated herself over the years to, “teaching other people about my love of fitness.” The enthusiasm of members of the U3APP Pétanque group is an affirmation of this. Through Jane, together with Richard Saleeba, Pétanque has become a social and outdoor activity that would rival any village in France, perhaps? The wait list is growing!
Felicity May interviewed Jane Denniston
Dr John Craven became an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia on 26 January 2023.
Details of his academic and professional background and portfolios can be read in the U3APP Newsletter - 29 January 2023.
John has been a member of U3APP for eight years. He was on the Committee of Management for several years.
John grew up on a farm in Terip Terip with his parents and two brothers. His “forebears” arrived in Australia in 1835 or thereabouts and established a farm in the 1880’s. Initially a sheep farm, then cows, then beef cattle. John attended Primary School in Terip Terip and subsequently completed five years at Euroa Higher Elementary School. After working for a year on the farm he felt an urge - to explore other career options. “Veterinary science seemed a fairly respectable alternative to a long term commitment to the vagaries of farming.” His father accepted this decision although he ”lost a labour unit.” John moved to Middle Park, obtained work with a Wool Brokers firm whilst studying at night at Taylors Coaching College, as “country kids did in those days.”
In later years, John inherited the farm and he and Lu Craven lived there for about 15 years. They raised Aberdeen Angus cattle at that time. The farm was sold about ten years ago. John laughs as he recalls, “we found that we were getting slower and weaker, but the cows were getting healthier, it was a bit much! So, the time came when we needed to return to Middle Park,” where they had lived previously.
“Back in the day,” John’s specific interest was looking into diseases that caused diarrhea in young animals, and as it turned out, in children. This work morphed into studies on ways to reduce the prevalence of food poisoning and diseases transmitted from animals to people. “That became a large part of my research career.” John reflects modestly, that he has been “pretty lucky” in respect to acceptance of his work, he published “a reasonable swag of papers” in respected journals.
The presence of salmonella in chickens was also an area of interest. “Despite all our good work I suspect there is still as much, these days.” John acknowledges that currently the general public are much more aware of the risks from raw chicken. He laughed, whilst affirming that he and others may have contributed to this awareness.
In the 1990’s the agricultural industries started to invest much more in research. “I was heavily involved in helping the dairy industry develop research programs to improve productivity on dairy farms.” He worked in the dairy industry for about 20 years, part of the time as an employee, later becoming “a consultant, as you do.”
In respect to various changes in the dairy industry, John acknowledges that the impact of disease has diminished but the threat of exotic disease being introduced to Australia is ever present.
When asked about the achievements he is proudest of, John referred to his position as Chair of the Committee evaluating the performance of Veterinary Schools in Australia and New Zealand. He was involved in developing protocols for accreditation in Veterinary Schools, “to see whether they were up to scratch and to assess whether their students were trained adequately to be registered when they graduated.” During this time there was also a tortuous process of getting alignment of Australian processes with those in the UK, USA, and the EU.
John recalls a “few nice little diversions.” He attended a conference in Jordan when the Arab countries were looking to develop an accreditation program for Veterinary Schools. “It was a huge adventure.“ John laughs as he recounts the experience of his luggage being lost in transit. “I am at the airport in Aman at 5am, no case, and nobody to meet me.” Another interesting diversion was a period of work looking at veterinary school accreditation in Indonesia this work being “probably one of the most, I’m guessing, useful things I have done.”
The Order of Australia Award, was that a surprise or did he know it was coming? “Umm, I sort of heard whispers some years ago but there was nothing affirmative and I thought it had died a death. Last year Lu (Lulita) got a bit of a heads up and she managed to keep that from me completely!” In September 2022, he received an email, “but I thought it was spam until Lu said no, it’s not.” Then another letter arrived “to say it was all go, but to keep it under your hat, so we did.”
The Award will be formally presented on 3 April 2023 at Government House in Victoria. “I have no idea of the protocol but guess that I will have to suit up, don a tie and, in due course, they hand over the award, you get your hand shaken and are served a delicious arvo tea.” John admits that he had wondered if it was all “a bit old school,” but, “I have found that I get a great buzz out of it.” “It” is the recognition of your peers that is special, and it is very rewarding. The other “fun thing” is that “you get back in contact with people you haven’t seen for “donkeys’ years, so that’s been pretty good.”
Reflecting further on his achievements, John acknowledges that he was lucky to have worked in an era when science was seen as valuable and to have been part of a group of incredibly gifted individuals pursuing common goals. It was a time when there was enormous growth in agricultural research, and it was “a great feeling that we were pushing back the boundaries a bit.”
In further discussion, John reflects that at that time, the agricultural industries had faith in science, and saw it as an investment in their future.
John is of the view that the level of investment is “now greatly diminished.” Food production is under considerable pressure with deteriorating soils, competition for water, pressure from consumers for reduced use of agricultural chemicals and the threat of animal and plant diseases being introduced into the country. However, funding for research has “got chopped,” and investment has been run down over past decades. ”I think there has never been a greater need for research in agriculture.”
One of the problems seems to be that social media gives the impression that everyone is now an expert on everything, and more community members do not see a need for hard evidence to support their views. Scientists must bear some of the blame as their communication skills have not kept pace with the media revolution.
Talking about his family and other interests, John and Lu Craven share seven children and seventeen grandchildren. They are a ‘blended family,’ John’s first wife died many years ago. He comments, ”so you see why I am concerned about the future of the earth”.
John sought to develop his writing skills, as distinct from scientific publications and some years back joined Pat Ryan’s creative writing class. He has an ongoing interest in story writing and is working with his grandchildren, as to how best to write stories about climate change, “that engage and inform them about the problems but also do not scare them.”
John is an active member of Vets for Climate Action who are committed to reducing the footprint of veterinary practice and working with clients, particularly in rural areas, to assist in changes to farming practice aimed at reducing production of greenhouse gasses and improving biodiversity.
Currently John enjoys participating in Petanque, Current Affairs, Films on Fridays, and David Bourne’s "Why Insects Matter". He enjoys these classes as “my background is in science, but there are so many interesting subjects that I don’t really know about. ”
“I think U3APP is brilliant, an organisation of this size run by volunteers, is incredible. It provides physical and mental stimulation for members to engage in, it gives you a sense of purpose, of belonging, and opportunity to meet others, to learn. It’s incredible.” This view would resonate with many U3APP members.
John is remarkedly modest in respect to his achievements and dedication to research, which has brought about significant changes in Veterinary Science and Agriculture, benefitting us all.
Dr John Craven was interviewed by Felicity May.
“This is what it is all about, we all help each other.”
Irene joined U3APP just four years ago and is now running the group” Natter Knit and Sew”. Members may have wandered down the corridor and sighted colourful quilts in Room 2, perhaps wondering what goes on in there.
Irene was born in Norway, where her extended family continues to live. She was just seven years old when her parents made the decision to migrate to Australia. Irene has fond memories of her early years in Norway. “As soon as you could walk, you had your own skis, toboggan, ice skates.” They lived in Skien, (the birth town of playwright Henry Ibsen) and had a holiday place up in the mountains. Irene did not attend school prior to coming to Australia.
In the Post-World War 2 years, migration from European countries to Australia was encouraged, by way of boosting the Australian workforce. On arrival they were taken to live at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre, where they lived in huts along with other migrants. They were then moved to Tongala near Echuca, where her father worked at the Tongala Dairy Farm.Irene attended her first school in Tongala. She “didn’t speak a word of English,” so this was a challenging experience, “a lot of kids didn’t play with you, but I was OK with that.” After a few years the family moved to live in Bentleigh, Victoria, where Irene attended Brighton Technical School (now demolished). Irene has four siblings. They developed different creative interests. Irene recalls painting Mickey Mouse cartoons on her younger sister’s cubby house, she would make things for her out of lace and decorate the walls. Irene was always “top of the class” in needle work. She taught herself to knit and crochet from a book and “kept going and going.”
Irene has an avid interest in ‘Junk Journaling.’ She is doing a Junk Journal for her 12-year-old granddaughter. It is titled, “Just Us”. Irene might write a scribble, include a picture of her granddaughter, then add a memorable theme, like “funny eyes or just anything we have done together”. She has helped look after her granddaughter since her infancy, “so, I will give this big pile of books to her when she turns 21.” Junk Journaling can consist of anything, it seems, “you can do anything your heart desires with a Junk Journal.” It’s more personal and meaningful than a regular photo album. This same granddaughter recently won First Prize for her exhibit of a jewelry tree, at the Royal Melbourne Show, competing against adults.Irene records fond memories in a personal and intimate way. For instance, she may select an image and then print this onto calico. She then prints onto this, a picture of herself and the person. Irene makes up a poem about “what I have done with that person” and attaches it to the back of the piece. She then puts a little crystal near the person’s name, “like my signature.” Irene enjoys writing poetry, “I see things in my head, and I create it.”
Irene has only recently been entering competitions, winning major awards at various shows, including the Royal Melbourne Show and The Dandy Show. Irene does not sell her work, preferring to give knitted or crocheted garments, blankets, rugs to family and friends.
Irene has had many jobs, including as a paid worker at the Salvos Store South Melbourne, where her skills in sewing and garment alteration were much appreciated. All staff at Salvos Stores are on a salary with the requisite obligations of a paid member of staff. Currently Irene works at the South Melbourne Community Chest Op Shop. Irene has owned two shops at various times, one on the Gold Coast and the other in Geelong. She sold fashion, jewelry, crafts, not her own work.
Irene believes that interest in handmade items, knitting, sewing, weaving is growing rather than declining. She does not purchase her yarns or materials in local stores but rather online, in order to obtain the best quality. Even if the cost is much higher, “it is no good doing a nice piece, if you are going to use cheap wool”. She has bought wool from Spain for instance.
Currently Irene is working on a Christmas wall hanging. But not so traditional, Irene laughs as she describes this. The quilt features the green Grinch, who hated Christmas. She is making it entirely by hand, it will have lights shining behind it. Despite Irene not being good at math at school, she acknowledges that she has a good eye for spatial relationships. “I just fluke it. I don’t sit there and measure everything, I already know if the design will fit the shape or not.” There are times of course when it is necessary to use a ruler.
Do these handcrafted works require much patience, Irene responds emphatically, “Yes!” There are times when quilting, you need to use a very fine needle. “I’ve been known to sit there for 20 minutes trying to thread that needle.” Some items may take many months to complete. Irene is also a collector and maker of masks. She has acquired masks worldwide. Perhaps her favourite being an antique mask that has eyes that “follow you.”
The U3APP Natter, Knit and Sew group meets weekly. Current members are also skilled, so they are able to work and talk. “This is what it is all about, we all help each other,” sharing tips and advice. At times members will simply bring in items that need mending. Irene welcomes beginners as long as they are willing to learn how to read a pattern for instance, and perhaps start on a simple item like a granny square. “We would advise and help them.”
Irene’s son and daughter live in Melbourne. Irene also has three great grandchildren and her “mum is still alive, and she is well.” Irene stays with her daughter once a fortnight for several days at a time, helping to care for the children.
Irene has needed to deal with some serious health issues and currently attends a gym several times a week. She is contemplating moving to live on the Gold Coast, perhaps at the end of the year. Whilst Irene says she will miss her involvement with her many grand and great-grandchildren, she feels it is time, and the internet makes face-to-face contact very easy. Irene likes the lifestyle on the Gold Coast.
She plans to visit Norway, she has not been back since leaving as a young child. She intends to visit the Greek Islands, the UK and also Morocco. Irene refers to herself as optimistic, rarely complaining, even about the weather. Over the past years, Irene has supported herself, she is independent and has no concerns about travelling alone. “I don’t worry about this, I enjoy it.”
Irene has been sewing, knitting, crocheting, rugs, quilts, and garments throughout her life. It has been fascinating to learn how she records memories of her family and friends, in such an intriguing way. By adding a poem, inserting a picture or item, Irene highlights something unique about that relationship.
Felicity May interviewed Irene Johnsen.
Michael Perkal joined U3APP in 2013, having recently retired from his work as a Forensic Science Chemist with Victoria Police. At that time, he was doing Tai Chi at St Kilda Park, where he met Teresa Martin- Lim. She was teaching Mandarin at U3APP, so Michael decided to join her class, as he had plans to visit China later that year. “Learning Mandarin was my first introduction to U3APP”.
Michael’s parents were born in Poland. After the invasion of Poland in 1939, being Jewish they escaped the holocaust and fled to Russia with Harry his elder brother (by 11 years). Initially they went to Ukraine. Michael laughed at the irony, as they lived in the Donbas region for a while, this being annexed by Russia currently. Michael was born in Magnitogorsk, an industrial city famed for its magnetite iron and steel, situated in the southern area of the Ural Mountains. His dad worked in an iron foundry at that time. They lived there only for a short time until the war ended in 1945.
His parents returned to Poland to search for members of his family. However, Michael’s grandmother died in the holocaust, along with his parents’ siblings who also “perished, unfortunately.” Having no living relatives Michael’s parents made their way to France, with baby Michael and his elder brother. Michael recalls attending kindergarten in Paris, where he learnt to speak a little French.
Michael was five years old when the family travelled to Italy where they boarded a ship to Australia having been sponsored by his father’s cousin. They had also contemplated going to America. The family lived in Grosvenor Street, East St Kilda for many years. Michael attended Brighton Road State School then Elwood High. His father was a machine embroiderer and was involved in a project that made embroidered chevron patches for the Australian military. They had a factory in Elsternwick then called Perkal Embroidery, an interesting piece of history.
At home, his parents spoke mostly Yiddish, having not yet learnt English at that time. They had been raised in Poland according to Jewish religious practice, however “the war sort of cruelled it all as far as religion goes.” In discussion with Michael about his experience at school, as a non-English speaking migrant he referred with some humor to being called names from time to time. “You shouldn’t be in this country ….go back to where you came from, sort of thing, but we managed to survive - that’s the main thing.” This type of name calling is still very current unfortunately.
Michael’s decision to study science, rather than humanities, the two streams offered at Elwood High, led him to complete a degree in chemistry. He reflects that he has always held an interest in “the workings of the world, the compositions of things,” and felt more naturally inclined towards the sciences. Michael worked with the Commonwealth Department of Air, then with Customs in Williams Street, Melbourne for 3 years, followed by 38 years as a Forensic Science Chemist with Victoria Police during which time he obtained the Master of Science degree in 1983.
Michael worked in the forensic area of illicit drugs. He recalls that one of the more memorable cases was the investigation of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club in 1982. They had a laboratory in Wattle Glen, where they made methyl amphetamine. It was raided and the forensic team located a lot of chemicals and equipment. Part of their job was to enter the premises after it was secured and prior to the police entry, to ensure their safety from harmful substances. They would take samples for analysis and prepare statements for the Court. In 1987 after a number of trials of the members of the club were completed, Michael and the police investigators each received a Chief Commissioner’s Certificate for this investigation.
Michael has presented evidence in court throughout his long career, including periods of up to 8 days in the witness box. Michael laughed as he recalled that as the years progressed, “we became used to giving evidence.”
It was an interesting job, with good social interactions. Remuneration was not huge, but the environment was interesting and, in a way, cohesive. Michael retired finally in 2013, “I pulled the pin and started going to the gym, Tai Chi and things like that … to widen my knowledge in subjects I hadn’t studied in the past.”
Michael married Christine Perkal in 1969. Her parents also came from Poland. Christine was 10 years old when she migrated to Australia. They have a daughter and a son and a 13-year-old granddaughter all living in Melbourne.
In 2014, Michael was asked to take on the responsibility for coordinating the U3APP Saturday Seminars which at that time were held in the hall at the Mary Kehoe Centre. He did this for several years. Amongst other memorable seminars, Michael referred to Father Ken Letts’ presentation, ‘There and Back Again: Twenty Years of Living Otherwise’ given in 2016. Ken Letts received the Chevalier (Knight) of the French Legion of Honour for his 20 years’ service in France. Currently Ken Letts tutors the class, French Discussion.
In June 2015, Michael organized the Seminar, ‘Two Daughters’ Recollections’ presented by Ms. Kathleen Kehoe FACN[Ret.] and Sister Mary Kehoe AM. Michael writes, “We as users of the Mary Kehoe Community Centre were privileged to hear a well-researched presentation by two of the younger daughters of Mary Kehoe”. They gave a history of the site and their mother’s work in supporting “the underprivileged and elderly citizens in the community… including introducing ‘Meals on Wheels’ to Australia.” Michael also organised a first time presentation of live music with ‘Hedy’s Trio and Quintet Concert,’ playing music by Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven.
Currently Michael attends numerous classes with U3APP. He starts off the week with Japanese for Travellers tutored by Helen Devereaux. Michael, Christine, and a few others are intending to travel to Japan next year together with Helen. He attends Greg Woodford’s class, “What is Earth”. Last year he tutored David Bourne’s class when the topic was biological forensics. Michael continues to study Mandarin with Teresa Martin-Lim and he attends the U3APP ukulele class and then yes … also, Ballroom Dancing with Christine. He enjoyed Philosophy classes with Maurita Harney, and values being enabled to learn about subjects he has not studied before. Michael is currently responsible for booking rooms for U3APP classes at all venues.
He continues with Tai Chi at St Kilda Park, and also attends a gym in Inkerman Street run by volunteers at PC/YC Youth Police Club. Michael likes to fill his days in this way. When asked what he likes to do when he is just relaxing, Michael laughed, “Well I like to play tennis and I like walking, that’s great fun!” He also organizes brunches with some old friends from Elwood High School and belongs to the Forensic Science Society. He enjoys being “socially engaged.”
Michael refers to himself as being politically, “slightly left of centre.” He values the era when Paul Keating was active. He reads books written by, and about politicians. He views the current world situation as being “a bit grim,” including the implications of climate change.
Michael surmises that U3APP has enabled him to develop many new interests as well as offering valued social connections. It has been, “almost life changing,” in respect to his involvement in a range of diverse activities. Michael has no plans to curtail these.
Michael’s life story weaves its way from Magnitogorsk in the Ural Mountains, to learning French in a kindergarten in Paris, and eventually, to settling in Port Phillip. His enthusiasm for languages and for a wide diversity of subjects and activities is unwavering. Michael’s contribution to science and thereby citizens’ safety throughout his 38 years as a Forensic Scientist with Victoria Police is notable. U3APP may be pleased that Michael’s family chose to come to Australia, rather than America.
Felicity May interviewed Michael Perkal.
Michele coordinates the U3APP class ‘A Community of Writers’. Joining the U3A City as a first-timer, she attended a Writers’ group where she met up with Peter Chung. After three years they made the decision to “jump ship” from the City to join Port Phillip U3A as they both lived in the area. A fortuitous decision; Michele now participates in a number of classes and feels very “at home.”
For Michele growing up, “home” was in the Latrobe Valley. Her early infancy was spent in Camden St, St Kilda. Her father secured a job with the SEC, initially in Morwell which in those days provided good employment opportunities.
At that time there were many migrants working in the Latrobe Valley having fled war torn Europe. Michele grew up with their children who came with “nothing but their school sores, ringworm and their post-war trauma.”
Michele reflects that having multicultural classmates as her everyday friends was rewarding, “Oh, I think my life was enriched because of their presence … I really believe in multiculturalism, and I think our society has benefited greatly from the interaction.” More currently Michele observes that Melbourne has “pockets of cultural groups”, such as the multigenerational Greeks living in Albert Park. Nowadays there is perhaps a bigger divide between rich and poor, especially in respect to migrant groups.
Michele initially trained as a primary school teacher, “I was even a swimming teacher for ten years which taught me a lot about kids, actually.” It also meant that she was able to get to know them differently, in their more “vulnerable state.”
Michele felt she was more suited to teaching secondary school students but later became an Education Officer in Literacy and Religious Education. She obtained a masters degree in Language Education and studied functional grammar at a high level, able to then adapt more effective ways for teachers to work with students and show them how language works. “It’s the way of using grammar very effectively, showing them how the language works.”
Reflecting on what being a teacher is about for her personally, Michele observes, “well, teaching is really about relationships … because at the end of the day, kids don’t remember what you taught them, but how you treated them. That was foremost for me, I loved my job.”
Michele retired six years ago. “I have to say I mourned the loss of teaching for at least 18 months.” She still sees some of her students in the area,” they call me Miss, and are happy to see me.”
Michele was the eldest of seven children in her family, “it was leather hard, perhaps not to be recommended,” as there is an inevitable disparity between sibling groups. Tragically, Michele’s mother died in a car accident on a “torrentially wet road, it was very traumatic.” Michele was just 20 years old. She was 21 years old when she went to “big bad Melbourne.” Down the track she returned to South and East Gippsland for a further sixteen years.
Michele has four children, “born in less than four years of each other, I wouldn’t recommend that either.” One lives in the Macedon Ranges, the other three live close by in Melbourne. She has five grandchildren, ranging from 5 years to 16 years old. “They are a great joy, and I do love being called Granny.”
Michele’s dad nurtured her love of classical music and often took her to the opera. This continues to be a much valued part of her life, her favorite opera being La Traviata (Verdi) and perhaps, The Barber of Seville by Rossini. “Its liveliness, uplifting aspects, I just feel totally invigorated after hearing it.”
Generally, Michele has an eclectic taste in music, she has music playing in the background all day. “Music makes me feel alive, I sing along because singing releases endorphins, it makes you feel uplifted.”
Michele belongs to what is still known as Bob McGuire’s Parish in South Melbourne, Sts. Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church. She claims to be more spiritual than religious, but acknowledges the human need for ritual. The Catholic church has not progressed in respect to women’s roles as they might have, “I don’t like the way women have been excluded by so many aspects, even in the liturgy eg ‘For us men and for our salvation’, when we are an essential element.”
Michele worked as a volunteer in the Melbourne Remand Centre, as a member of Catholic Prison Ministry, assisting with phone calls to the inmates to let their family and friends know where they were and other supportive tasks. She did this for nine years until post pandemic requirements by the police, such as being fingerprinted seemed too onerous, “I actually refused.”
Michele believes that voluntary work, “is essential, it is affirmative for everyone.” At Trinity College for instance, there were eight ovens in the kitchen. The friends of Romania (ex FCJ students from Genazzano College and friends) would cook there to make Christmas cakes to raise up to $40,000 a year to send to girls in the Philippines and Romania, enabling them to acquire some tertiary education.
Michele refers with passion to the U3APP ‘A Community of Writers’. The title reflects “the value that we have for each other and for each other’s writing, and our view of the world.” It is such a joy, we have great discussions. We read out loud prepared pieces and give each other feedback, mainly positive, sometimes constructive criticism.
“We have major award winners in our group,” referring to Roderick Waller and James Cattell’s achievements in the recent competition, Port Phillip Writes. Michele will be continuing in her role next year and plans to “expand our repertoire,” to introduce new aspects. “We may publish some works, but we are very open as to what we might do”.
Michele has written a memoir about “living in Inverloch for six years.” It is unpublished. She enjoys writing short stories and feels inspired to write more poetry, “from the heart.” Michele’s sister is a published poet. Michele has done a number of courses with Writers Victoria.
Michele is an unashamed, “avid cook.” Currently she is concentrating on plum puddings and Christmas cakes. She also makes yo-yos and ginger biscuits, “I see food as hospitality, so I am very big on that.” Michele enjoys sourcing the ingredients. “For example, if you need pomegranate molasses, which makes a delicious salad dressing for a bean, beetroot and feta salad, you think, where can I get that? You may have to go to specialist shops or simply the supermarket”.
What Michele likes about cooking is “the pleasure in doing it and I like the pleasure it gives other people.” She likes to try out new recipes, such as making an interesting dish out of perhaps only five ingredients or following a Rick Stein or Jamie Oliver recipe. “Cooking shows can inspire me.”
Recently Michele has started painting having joined Linda Condon’s ’Watercolour’ class. “It’s a tonic every week.” She enjoys the interaction with the other painters and holds a high regard for her teacher. She likes to paint scenes depicting the sea and seems to have success with painting birds. Magpies are her favourite, they are so communicative. “Birds add something to our lives.” The ‘Hoppa Hey’ class has also become an enjoyable thing to do, despite, “my brain not telling my legs what to do! I could dance 50 years ago, I’m out of practice.”
In concluding, Michele was emphatic, ”I think the importance of U3A cannot be underestimated.” She is very grateful that she “jumped ship” and joined U3APP, in her own local area. It provides such a wonderful broad range of interests, “I really love this organisation.”
Michele prefers not to look too far ahead. “I’m a bit more of an in the present sort of person.” As you grow older, your body isn’t what it was, so you are limited a little by health issues. “But I don’t let those dampen my enthusiasm for doing things.” Michele lives a walkable kilometre from the Melbourne Recital Centre and considers herself lucky in this respect. She also has a house in South Gippsland that she and her family use. Watching the birds, writing, painting, a dip in the arctic waters of Bass Strait, and of course cooking keep her well occupied.
Michele has spent many years of her life living in Gippsland and still has good country friends. However, living in South Melbourne offers an equal sense of belonging to the local community. “We want to belong to a neighbourhood just like country folk do. “I don’t care what I wear when I go up the street, when I go to the market, whereas a small country town gossips, believe me it does, I’ve lived in one or two!” I love being in my area, “I’ve lived here for 25 years and hopefully that will not change.”
Michele’s advice to other writers is “to keep trying.” If you get an idea, do something about it, keep notebooks, keep quotes and observe people’s mannerisms . Writing is an important part of our development. It also has an important functionality in society. If you can write a good letter to the council on an issue you think is worth pursuing, you are likely to get a better response . Writing creatively is different, but it is still a process you are continually trying to perfect. “I certainly still have a lot to learn.”
Members of the Community of Writers, continue to enjoy occasional treats of scrumptious, Michele-baked biscuits or cakes.
Felicity May interviewed Michele Green.
“My name is Cornish, not Italian, and the first member of my father’s family to come arrived in NSW in 1820 as a Wesleyan Missionary. So many people get very confused when I am not dark haired and curvy!”
Elizabeth Carvosso was on the Older Persons Consultative Committee when U3APP was founded. She joined U3A because she was keen on education, both for herself and for other people. At the time she had a lot of commitments in the city and so long as she wasn’t attending a concert or play she would go to the Saturday Seminars.
“They have been wonderful. The quality is getting better and better,” she said. “Our technical committee has been quite extraordinary; I have loved everything. And every time I look at the program there is something more wonderful – now Colin Macleod has another lovely program, on the constitution, but it’s on Wednesdays so I can't go!” Elizabeth is a member of Melbourne University Graduate Union and goes there twice a month on Wednesdays. “Not that I am a Melbourne graduate,” she chuckles.
We are spoilt for choice, aren’t we?
Oh yes, the (U3APP) program is extraordinary. The quality of lectures – we are very lucky. I suppose it’s because Albert Park and surrounds are on the way to Monash (University) and on the tram (route) to Melbourne. Many in this area seem to be connected with those organisations and therefore are available now in their retirement.
In the early days of U3APP Joan Ashbolt one day appeared at Elizabeth’s front door and said she had not had a holiday for over a year. “Could you do the office for me?” Not many people rang, but she was there to answer the phone, send out enrolment forms and do other things. From her house, and then when they first were using the Mary Kehoe Centre, Joan had run the office pretty well on her own all that time. She really did need a break. I think it was only for a week – certainly not very long, nor very onerous.
Do you have any other memories of that era?
Carolyn Hutchins asked me if I would join the Older Persons committee. I had seen her about something the council wasn’t doing well – I always want to organise other people. She said, “You’re the sort of person we need on the Older Persons committee,” and I thought I’m pretty busy but if she thinks I should, I should. Then I discovered I had to be interviewed and approved. The man interviewing told me all the librarians he knew were back-room people and they didn’t like mixing with other people much. “Do you really think you would have anything to contribute to this committee?” I thought to myself, you must know a very limited number of librarians because I’ve been to a few parties with librarians and we always have a very good time. Big library conferences always came with parties as well as serious lectures. I always worked in areas where you had to mingle with people, reference and acquisitions work, publishers, and so on. Cataloguing is in the back room and is very important work. But most of us are in for a party when the time comes. I lasted on that committee for a couple of years; then U3A came on the scene.
I used to go to the (U3APP) AGM, because I know what it’s like to be on a committee when people don’t bother coming. I made a point of going, and to the Saturday Seminars, and then gradually more courses, after I gave up the pretty intense Italian course I had been doing in town.
This year I have been doing three things, and Saturdays, and anything extra that turns up. I’ve been doing Shakespeare with Helen (Vorrath), which of course is truly amazing. It feels good to go back to your university roots and be reminded of things you used to know, and then there are all the other plays you never did. Even at school or university you only ever cover a few, so it has been terrific. And I have been doing David’s films for quite a while too.
That is how I got an iPad, because my computer was so old. My great-nephew kindly bought me an iPad so I could join in the Zoom discussion. I have since got a new computer with a lovely big screen, although I still have my great-nephew on call for technical things. Of course I was born before the war, so I grew up, even in my library work, without computers. So what I know about computers I have partly taught myself. I didn’t have the iPad in the days when you could drop into U3A with problems. Some young people – because they grow up with it – don’t understand why we don’t understand.
So you were a librarian?
Yes. That’s how I came to live in Melbourne. I lived in London in the early sixties, like lots of Australians. I was having a wonderful time and didn’t want to come home because all we did then was go to concerts, plays and travel. Eventually I realised I had to get a proper job, settle down, stop mucking around. Some parents were writing to their kids saying how much they missed them, and how lonely they were, but my parents were so good, they didn’t do that to me. My mother wrote once a fortnight – as she had when I was in boarding school – but then suddenly my father said, “We think it’s time for you to come home now,” and so I did after just over two and a half years.
I am a Queenslander from the ‘deep north.’ I grew up on the Darling Downs in Dalby, and so I went to Brisbane for a job at the State Library. I loved the work but it was so hot. The only parts of the original library in those days that were air-conditioned were the Rare Books, the upstairs administrative offices and the catalogue where the public came. But downstairs, where most of us worked, the heat was really getting to me. I found the humidity was difficult. So I started looking around and there was a job going at the new Essendon library based in Moonee Ponds. The librarian there had been writing really interesting articles in the journal about automation. There was nothing doing in Queensland and NSW public libraries – they were in a real mess at that time – so I went to see the man in charge of public libraries in Brisbane for some advice and he said, “That new library in Melbourne sounds like just the thing for you.”
I stayed there for a couple of years and then moved on to Melbourne University Baillieu for another couple of years – the main library for general students. Then I had a brief fling at the Department of Trade. Oh, I had impeccable timing because a week after I left there to go to CSIRO the Jim Cairns/Juni Morosi scandal broke and I missed it. I could have been in the building! (Laughing.) That was typical of me, and my decisions. But I stayed at CSIRO for something like fourteen years. I was in charge of ordering the journals for the whole of the CSIRO. It was funny because there were two jobs going, one at CSIRO and one at the Teachers’ College, and not knowing Melbourne terribly well, I got out my Melways and realised the CSIRO job was closer. Most sensible people would have applied for both to see what would happen; but it was different then.
I had always been interested in publishing and we handled all the journal ordering. There were over fifty individual divisions and they all had their own librarian. They ordered some of their own material. Anything that was complicated or identified-to-be-ordered from some obscure place, especially overseas, we did it for them in East Melbourne. The budget for serials at the time was over a million dollars – I am sure it is a lot more now. It has all changed since publishing became electronic. In those days of paper, journals were constantly getting lost and sent to the wrong place. The post office had an enormous collection of unclaimed journals. It was fascinating work because you had to liaise with the publishers a lot and that was what I enjoyed. I have always enjoyed meeting people outside my own work.
Some years ago, I was complaining to a friend that the National Book Council used to have lovely lunches with authors. The lunches weren’t anything to speak of but we had lots and lots of authors who came and spoke and sold some of their books. Inevitably, it got taken over and turned into a very expensive lunch at a hotel somewhere and then just faded out altogether. I missed those lunches and my friend said, “Why not join the Graduate Union? Any university graduate can join and they do have regular monthly lunches with really quite interesting speakers.” There was also a small group of women who met once a month and so I got involved in that, but sadly all the senior people organising it have died and I have rather got lumbered with it. I am praying that someone a bit younger will turn up who wants to organise it.
Did you write? Are you a writer?
No, but I wrote a manual on how to look after the journals in your library, and some journal articles. After I left CSIRO I went to work for a subscription agent. I had been at CSIRO a long time and that sort of specialisation was going out of fashion in libraries. They were tending to let clerical people do what I considered professional work. It was an American company based in Alabama with an office in Sydney and I was the Melbourne Office. This is how I came to Albert Park. I was working out of my flat and I needed a second bedroom as an office for my new job. Since I was not a Melbourne native I didn’t know Albert Park existed. I was living in Toorak and I didn’t really enjoy it there because I came from the country where you always knew your neighbours. Walking around Toorak there’s no way you could ring a doorbell and introduce your self. When I arrived here (in Albert Park) and saw all the verandas and things I decided this is where I wanted to live. I was lucky; it was 1981.
But unfortunately I got asthma in “Trendy Albert Park.” It was always called Trendy Albert Park. I said it’s not my fault it’s trendy, I certainly don’t add to it. Gradually my asthma got worse and worse and I had to retire. I lasted until I was sixty. Twenty-six years ago. I was representing Melbourne, Tasmania, South Australia – and because my family lived there, bits of Queensland too. The first couple of years after I retired I was sick a lot, but with new drugs it all settled down and I was able to pick up and start doing things again. I never move without a puffer. One lesson I have learned is to wear a mask to concerts and public places. Even if Covid-19 goes away completely I will always wear a mask now. And I am very conscientious with my preventers.
Did you give any classes at U3A?
No, there is so much volunteering involved in librarianship and I worked very long hours at CSIRO and then I was involved heavily with the Library Association. I do make an effort to join and attend things. I was in a lovely garden club here in Albert Park, which I think was one of the oldest garden clubs in the state, founded by Kevin Heinze and a man from the council at the time. We had our meetings in St Vincent Gardens. I remember being there and coming out one February night and you could smell the fires. Meetings were in some sort of hostel and the residents discovered that after a garden club meeting there was a nice supper available. Then the meetings went to the MKC.
You’ve seen some changes in the area then?
Three fruiterers were here when I moved in, now none. One was much better quality than the others. And we had butchers. And of course we had several banks. We don’t have any now. I will not on principle use that ATM near the chemist. Think of all those people whose pensions go into their bank accounts and every time they withdraw from that thing they are charged $2.50. It annoys me, so while I can go to Port I do. I could not believe they would close down the Commonwealth Bank. I’ve been with the CBA since I was about five or six. It was the CBA when you took your pennies and threepences to school in Queensland. And I worked for them in London. They were very good to us in London. We had winter jobs; they knew we weren’t going to stay. I never pretended that I would. And I always gave lots of notice and I worked in the bank right in the City of London – the Old Jewry.
What is that?
The City of London is separate from Westminster. It is where all the old banking institutions are still located. You will remember Prince Charles after he was originally proclaimed King had to go to the City and have a separate proclamation from Westminster. There are streets called Bread and Honey Lane and where the Commonwealth Bank was, it was called Old Jewry. The City has its own lord mayor.
It was a lovely experience in the City, and then they sent me to Australia House in The Strand. (All the states have a house.) It was right near St Clemens – I remember because if you were late for work you could hear the 9.00 am chimes of Oranges and Lemons. That was a great life – very careless. It was cheap in London then, theatre tickets were five shillings, seven and six for something extra special. I worked out, when I was sharing with some friends I had met there, it was cheaper to go out than to feed the gas meter. So we mostly went to concerts and plays. You didn’t stay home at night at all. I didn’t have a responsible job. I couldn’t have done that when I was at CSIRO where I worked until about 6.00-6.30 pm and then I needed to be home, with dinner and into bed, and back at work by half past eight the next morning. That is why having jobs that were fairly routine in London was just to give you sustenance. But you always got a midday meal with those London jobs, or a voucher to get yourself a midday meal. Of course that was 1960. The war wasn’t long over. There was still very much a sense of socialism looking after people who needed a meal. This silly woman who was the prime minister, believes in the trickle-down effect. It has been proven it doesn’t work and she wanted to go back to it. That’s when I became interested in politics, living in London, reading The Guardian, and The Sunday Times. Before Rupert owned The Sunday Times of course.
You are in one of the Current Affairs groups?
Yes, I’ve been in it for a long time. It’s very popular, which is why they’ve established the second group. It is interesting because at U3A all the people in the classes have interesting backgrounds, they all bring different experiences to the discussion. You find yourself in a class beside somebody whose life is very different from yours and you learn just from chatting. I’ve done a lot of interesting things at U3A but not as many as I would love to.
Elizabeth Carvosso was interviewed by Julie Butcher
James Walter is Emeritus Professor at Monash University. ‘He has published widely on leadership, biography and political ideas. Volume two of his history of the Australian prime ministership (with Paul Strangio and Paul ‘t Hart) The Pivot of Power (Miegunyah Press) was published in 2017.’ (Monash Website)
This is only a very brief synopsis of the many published books, articles and reviews written by James. James is a familiar face on U3APP Saturday Seminars, the most recent being ‘Prospects for the Albanese prime ministership.’
James was born in Hamilton, Western Victoria, where he lived together with his sisters until Form 3 when he became a boarder at Wesley College Melbourne. His English teacher at Wesley College encouraged his writing skills. His family would read widely but did not discuss politics more than “other interests, including music, they shared.”
With some amusement James recalls that he planned to enrol in English and history at Melbourne University. However, following an enrolment interview by prominent philosopher, Lauchlan Chipman, and feeling rather “bewildered,” he decided to enrol in English and philosophy. This perspective over subsequent years has shaped James’ interest in the underlying philosophical aspects of politics, particularly Australian politics. After completing 3 years of English and philosophy, James transferred into politics, completing an honours degree in politics at Melbourne University. He comments, “I was much influenced by two people, Alan Davies and Graham Little, I met in the Politics Department at Melbourne University.”
James’ various academic qualifications, leading to important positions in a number of universities, are significant and impressive, too many to list here. They include Professor of Australian Studies at the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at the University of London. Also, a more instrumental role in management at Griffith University, Queensland, over a number of years. James felt there was a need to combine the social sciences and humanities, to look at political sciences and sociology from a specifically Australian perspective.
James wrote a case study on student radicals in the early 1970s for his master’s degree in politics, at La Trobe University. It dealt with the different interpretations motivating protest action, and reaction of right wing students. While there, he also tutored in philosophy.
James makes particular reference to his PhD. This was intended to be a “sort of history of Australian prime ministers, but it ended up being a psychobiography of Gough Whitlam”. This psychobiography “being built in some ways on psychological theory. It was umm … quite controversial.” When published, it received a lot of attention; some commenting it was an innovative approach, others viewed it as overly critical. However, this then led to James receiving an Australian Parliamentary Fellowship.
In respect to James’ interest in psychology, “well, it was about … you know, why … what influences people to make the decision to go into politics? It is quite unusual when you think about it.” Research in the US shows that less than 1% of people ever consider going into politics.
James’s book, ‘The Ministers’ Minders’, was the first book about “what we now call ministerial minders,” giving an historical perspective as well as looking at their potential influence on policy making.
Reflecting further on his interest in studies on Australian perspectives, James found that working overseas at the Menzies Centre, London and also for a period at Princeton University, in the US, “it becomes necessary to think comparatively about what’s happening in your own country.”
After a number of extended years as Pro-Vice Chancellor at Griffith University, James became concerned that he was “losing academic currency. I had to decide whether I am just going to be a manager.” He applied for a large research grant, as a sort of “gamble … a long shot”, but he received the grant which fortuitously coincided with an academic position at Monash University.
Pursuing the theme of “what drives you? Is it a more purely intellectual interest, what of social issues?” James refers to themes that had been “sort of germinating,” leading to a number of publications, one being The Citizens Bargain. This is about ”what does citizenship mean, who gets included, who gets marginalised. Questions about immigration, refugees.’’ When asked, do you have an end point? James laughs – Well, "the end point was, we have to understand that … the bargain is that if you accept shared responsibilities, you get certain entitlements, such as state protection and support.” That is how it works. As a writer you would like to think, “this is a problem, how can it be fixed? You may offer solutions, but they hardly go anywhere.” James believes that his work on political advisers and leadership has had some influence on how those roles are understood.
Is there any politician you think has really made a difference, in recent history? “Gough Whitlam, despite some chaotic years, made some major social initiatives, some lasting changes.” Hawke, Keating, made “an enormous difference to the economy and understood the way it worked.” Howard too made a difference though he did it by running a prime ministerial government, not a cabinet government. However successive prime ministers have felt that they have to do everything themselves, when in fact the most successful ones have always been collaborative. Even competitive Hawke let people get on with their own jobs. The most egregious example was Scott Morrison, thinking “I am going to do everything.”
Policy activist politicians often say ”only we can… make decisions… we have information that nobody else can have, so only we can make these big decisions. This leads to a sort of “group think” trap. These are the sort of issues I am interested in.”
James is currently writing a book on the period between 1940 and the present. What’s changed? What are the patterns? “I look at three areas. 1. Immigration because this is a settlement society -leading to our economic growth. 2. Indigenous policy. Our secular society has marginalised First Australians, we now have to face up to this and deal with it. 3. Housing. Policy on social housing was more prominent in 1940 then slowly was whittled away, now we have this huge problem that is simply not being addressed.”
Moving the topic away from politics, James loves reading and music in particular. He used to be a member of a choir as a boy, but now medical issues restrict him from singing. But not from whistling! James plays the ukulele and is a member of Minuk Richards’ class. He has a good ear for music and will often whistle an introduction for a new piece, “I’m fairly proficient at it, cool chord changes, I can usually do virtually anything she puts up – she’s a great teacher”.
Also, petanque is “fun”. James and his wife Robyn, a well-known member and office volunteer at U3APP, join a group of other U3APP players. Afterwards they go to the pub for dinner. Making comment on U3A, “I would recommend it as a new way of social networking for people who have left professional lives behind.”
James has a long standing interest in films and at one stage earlier in his academic pursuits, while in London, he applied to the Slade School of Fine Arts’ film program, still toying at that time with “this fantasy of being a literary writer.” He submitted a couple of short films. It was only some time later that he received a letter confirming that he had been admitted. However, he had by then commenced his long career in political writing. James’ favourite film is ‘Notorious’. He likes Humphrey Bogart, Billy Wilder, “my interests are fairly scattered.”
At home James and Robyn are kept busy looking after their grandchildren. They have four adult children and six grandchildren, all living currently in Melbourne. The youngest two grandchildren who are at preschool stay with them at least one day a week. These duties are juggled with James’ other responsibilities and finishing off his book.
In November, James will be hosting a documentary on Julia Gillard, ‘Strong Female Lead’, for the U3APP Friday Films class. Whilst anticipating this may evoke robust discussion from several aspects, U3APP encourages and provides a ‘safe’ place to air opposing views.
James ends with an amusing reflection. He used to play to his Honours students a video of Ry Cooder playing Chuck Berry’s song, ‘The 13 Question Method (is the one to use).’ His students would ask “why, why?” James would respond, “That’s what the search is all about, the question, rather than the destination.” A more eloquent version of the true meaning of Chuck Berry’s song!
The Australian political scene has gained much from the tireless and ongoing work of James Walter, asking important and discerning questions.
James Walter was interviewed for "Spotlight On" by Felicity May.
Introducing Lisa Musgrave: Lisa is a Tutor at U3A Port Phillip. Lisa, who is a Storyteller herself, has conducted four sessions of ‘Storytelling for Fun’. During the final term of this year Lisa will be tutoring ‘Public Speaking’.
Lisa returned from America 6 months ago, having been away from Australia for 21 years. Just prior to the life changing impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lisa had moved to Portland, Oregon, with the aim of commencing something like a Storytelling business, although she had no clear conception at that time of how this might evolve.
However, being unable to move around, or make new social contacts, “My entire social life for 2 years was on Zoom,” particularly with her friends in Melbourne. So, she figured, when the pandemic was more or less at its end, why not return to Melbourne? Her adult daughter was settled in America. “So, I came home looking for things to do that are creative.” Lisa resides in her recently purchased apartment near the Catani Gardens. Her parents live in the area.
So, what to do? Lisa was familiar with U3A and thought, “Well I like telling stories.” She used to be a teacher and thought U3APP seemed like “a great place to find people who probably had some interesting life experiences,” and who also enjoyed writing.
Casting back to her childhood years, Lisa described one family storytelling tradition, ”That you always interrupt! Whoever is telling a story you always interrupt them and do whatever you can to push them off the topic, and they will keep trying to come back to it.” Perhaps good training for the debating skills which Lisa developed during her secondary school years.
During her early adult years in Melbourne, Lisa developed skills in business and served on a number of Boards.
Interestingly, Lisa was invited onto the Board of ‘The Big Issue’ just as it launched. “It was a fascinating project.” Lisa recalls the effort it took to obtain sponsorship as it was a unique business model. They needed to encourage homeless people to turn up once a fortnight to pick up their magazines and then go onto the street and sell them. “We knew we had to have compelling stories, we had some very good journalists and a very good Editor. It was very eye-opening, it is one of the things that I am proudest of.”
Lisa was aged 37 years when she moved to live in America with her then husband and five-year-old daughter. She later became a teacher, “almost on a whim.” Each year, her school would have a multicultural week. It was suggested that she teach the students how to throw a boomerang, “Of course, we all know how to do that!” Lisa laughed, as she recounted this story. She purchased some boomerangs, went to the park, and taught herself first! However, “One of them hit the PE teacher, so we weren’t allowed to throw them after that!”
Reflecting on her return to Melbourne, Lisa observes, “there is a lot of open space in my life. I have many interests, but I have room for new and interesting connections.” She muses, “I never stop thinking. During the pandemic, there was no hugging friends, neighbours stayed out of the way, I spent fourteen months of the pandemic, inside my own head, having a lovely time.”
Lisa has performed at The Moth, a monthly storytelling event in Melbourne, standing on stage telling a 5-minute true story, to a set theme, in front of an audience. She is very modest about her Moth performances, and her rather stunning rate of success.
Lisa views humour as an “icebreaker.” When performing, she likes to connect things in an unusual way. The audience may be expecting the joke to go this way, then it goes another way. “Hannah Gadsby does this very well.” Lisa was at one of her shows recently, the first show since the Queen died. Hannah came out and said, “Big day,” the audience laughed, “There is going to be a period of adjustment, we have to get used to saying King Charles the Third instead of”… you think she is going to say, instead of Queen Elizabeth the Second, but she says …“instead of King Charles spaniel!”
Lisa believes humour “puts people at ease, and helps you connect.” As a teacher, she observed that nobody learns if they are stressed. The quickest way to get someone to relax is to get them to laugh. When on stage, Lisa aims to get a laugh within the first 30 seconds. “It not only relaxes the audience, it also relaxes me. If my first three jokes fall flat, then I am really struggling, I have not connected.”
Reflecting on the upcoming ‘Public Speaking’ course at U3APP, Lisa considers that it is necessary to create a space where people feel safe and supported. Stories can be funny, tragic, personally revealing. ‘Public Speaking’ has a broad audience. It may be that someone has been asked to make a toast at a wedding, or a birthday celebration, or people may simply want to feel more confident in social situations. Lisa finds it very humbling to find something that comes naturally to you and then teach that to others.
Lisa writes consistently, sending her work to various short story competitions. This ensures that she writes regularly and completes the work. She hopes to be published, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, hinting that something may be pending.
Lisa enjoys walking along the beach, eating out with friends. She refers to two distinct friendship groups. One involves Lisa’s growing interest in astrology, (she is a Leo, for those who may be wondering), and her past school and work friends. Lisa is comfortable in either group and she is okay with her old friends laughing about her astrology club.
As to the future, this is “very open.” At a rather difficult period of her life, Lisa adopted a good friend’s attitude of saying, ”YES, to everything.” A refreshing and yes, spirited, way of facing the future.
Felicity May interviewed Lisa.
Linda Condon thought she would never be old enough to join U3A when she first heard about it ten or fifteen years ago.
Also, through life drawing with Di Gameson, and another group of really competent artists at Gasworks, Linda heard more of U3A Port Phillip. “I was really pleased (to join) in the end because it was a really good way of connecting with people, particularly through COVID. And I was helping with another program by then working with Hannah Len running the climate change program.” Linda admitted that Hannah did most of the work, “but I was supporting her, giving her some climate knowledge as a result of my past work.”
When Linda first joined, five or six years ago, she was asked, “What can you do for U3A?” She thought WHAT! Then jokingly, she said, “I could teach watercolour… and U3A said ‘Could you?’” She hadn’t taught it anywhere else at that stage, and started off with one class, which was full from the beginning. There are still people who started with Linda five years ago, still painting with her. “It’s been lovely, just the nicest group of people you could ever meet. Supportive, kind, convivial, social, and I have made some good friends as a result of that class, and other courses I did as well.”
When someone at U3A suggested Linda give her classes by Zoom, she happily agreed to give it a go. But it was not really the same – “you can’t really critique other people’s work over Zoom – that’s a bit harsh,” she said. So she would do a demonstration and the class would talk about what they might do with it. Some people painted along with her while others recorded the lesson with notes and then they would do their painting later. Suddenly Linda had about 45 students.
Earlier this year they decided to return to face-to-face classes after two years of Zoom. “We had such a great camaraderie, which is a hard thing to maintain through Zoom. We had people living in Brighton, a young woman from Taylors Lakes, Malvern, Northcote.” These people had all joined the class and they preferred to do it on Zoom. So Linda now combines Zoom with face-to-face sessions and sends the link for anyone wanting to prepare for the next week’s work or see the last week’s work.
Linda plans a whole program covering two semesters (four terms) depending upon what people want. “And we are having a show on 18th November for three weeks this year, a sale, a proper art exhibition at the South Melbourne Community Centre.”
Linda was very thrilled with her recent exhibition at the Gasworks. “It was astonishing,” she said. “I didn’t want to come home with work – and most of it sold. 30 out of 34 paintings! But because so much of it sold – and I have talked to other artists about this – I felt as though I had lost a bit of myself. I love the fact that people liked the work and they actually wanted to buy it, but this then created a feeling of elation and joy mixed with a strange sense of loss. I think maybe it’s to do with my cancer as well, having shed something of myself. Is that crazy? I put 18 months of work into it. It was a good way to focus on other things. Yes, I was tired, but the hardest part is getting your work ready and framed, and then I discovered at the last minute, when the work was hanging up, that one work had two signatures on it! Fortunately it was an oil painting and the next day I was able to paint it out.”
Linda says that a lot of energy goes into painting and thinking about what you want to paint, what appeals to you. In the end it has to appeal to the artist. If it doesn’t appeal it is not going to come down onto the paper or canvas in the right way. It’s a form of meditation. It’s absolutely a mindfulness exercise. Totally. You are just in that space and it’s wonderful. “I have a little studio and I disappear for hours on end. You always worry when somebody asks you to paint something that is not going to be quite what they expected. But sometimes there is tremendous joy in seeing someone’s face when you produce something they like.”
Linda was born in Holland and she still has a little booklet her parents gave her when she was six years old. It is all in Dutch – how to draw a child – and quite a sophisticated little book. Even at the age of five or six she was drawing a lot with her parents’ encouragement. Her father was an industrial chemist and Linda had done all the sciences up to year 12, or Matriculation as it was in those days. Linda recalls her father saying, “You are not going to be a photographer; you are going to be a scientist.” In those days you did what your father wanted you to do, she surmises. “But, by this age we have pretty much chosen our own path. My confidence has grown through a group of artists I work with in Port Melbourne, under the stewardship of Anne Esposito, called The Artist Group Port Melbourne. I don’t have any qualifications in art – but I have always drawn.” She has now exhibited in the Camberwell Art Show, Kuringai Art Society (Sydney), Bayside Art Show, Gasworks Art Park and a few other smaller galleries.
Linda did a degree in Applied Science, majoring in biochemistry at RMIT and University of Melbourne, “sort of a combination of the two” and her first job was at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research – Australia's oldest medical research institute – working with Gus Nossal and others. “He was an extraordinary man, really, you could hear him coming down the corridor hours before he arrived, he was so loud, a wonderful man, heart as big as gold, really an extraordinary person.” Linda suggested that was a good start for a young woman, especially as she left school when just 17. She started off in the “mouse room”. It sounds ridiculous, she mentioned, but anyone who started off as a research assistant at the Walter and Eliza Hall was cleaning out the mouse cages. And washing up bottles up and sterilising; really starting from the ground up. After that she worked at the Royal Women’s Hospital in the biochemistry department. Then she headed up the biochemistry department at Dr Dorevitch for seven or eight years in the late 70s.
Around that time Linda, with her husband and two daughters, went overseas before returning to work in Sydney, to the forefront of DNA. She was headhunted to help design the technique for DNA finger printing, forensics and paternity testing. “We were the first people to bring it to Australia.” But by then she didn’t really want to work in a laboratory anymore. “The hours were becoming terrible for people in laboratories – working 24/7 to get the results out. I didn’t want to do that.”
Fortunately, when the family moved back to Melbourne in 1995, a woman living across the road from Linda informed her that Swinburne University was looking for staff. And soon she was offered a part-time, three-days a week position, lecturing in biotechnology, bio-chemistry, zoology, anatomy, and physiology – “anything they could throw at you.” Linda had undertaken a Post Graduate Diploma in teaching at Macquarie University in Sydney. Then RMIT set up a global sustainable institute, and knowing the woman who had set it up, Linda became interested. “I thought it was a brilliant idea to set up something around sustainability.” The year was 2000, and Linda was just back from being overseas, when one of the directors at Swinburne suggested she write a two-page business plan and “we’ll see if we can set something up.” Two pages, literally, to seek funding for two years, and they agreed. “It was not because my business plan was particularly good,” said Linda, “but there was a growing interest in sustainability and the university was very keen to be at the forefront of issues – a great university for innovation.”
The two-page business plan was approved, Linda got two years of funding and a wonderful young woman, Kathryn, came to help set up the centre, and within three or so years they had thirty staff and were thriving. So it was the right time. It was called the National Centre for Sustainability and they had other partners around Victoria and eventually partners in Perth and Cairns and in Mildura as well. “It was terrific and the nicest thing about working in sustainability and climate change,” Linda reflected, “was working with people who were passionate and caring. An extraordinary group of young people, all in their thirties; terrific people to work with. I have never had a better work environment.”
She left that when she had a strong sense that if you are the innovator, after five or six years, you have got to let it go and give it over to someone else. She handed it across to a doctor who was known as a great researcher. She knew that with thirty staff you had to have a turnover of two or three million dollars and that was what they were managing with projects and grants and working with industry and communities and councils. “We did some great work.”
After that Linda worked with TAFE Directors Australia, with Pam Caven. Pam was the director for stakeholder engagement and policy development and Linda was the director for green skills network. “It was great working with Pam for a couple of years, and then I went out as a consultant and did some research work for various projects.”
Three years ago Linda decided she had had enough of all that and she would paint, fulltime. She had been painting all through her career although when she set up the centre at Swinburne she was working twelve hours a day. “I had no time for anything. I was at Swinburne for 17 years – the longest in one job. I started in 1995.”
“My father had said I would never ever make enough money to live as a photographer. I think I was logical enough to realise that it would have been a problem, but look, I liked science as well. There is a logical side to the brain and a more creative side and maybe I was lucky that I had the capacity to think logically – although I must say when I first really started painting and trying to be creative it was almost like my brain was hurting! Trying to get the right side of my brain activated after so many years of very logical thinking and writing research papers and doing the other things that we were doing, to suddenly being creative in art – I did struggle with the transition.” "But finally, I am doing what I have always wanted to do."
"My time at U3A has been so rewarding and I recommend that anyone who is able to join should do so for the learning experience and the joy of being with interesting and caring people."
Introducing Fay Bock: Fay is a Co Tutor and longstanding member of Play Reading.
Fay’s family history can be traced right back to the Gold rush in the 1890s, when her grandfather, together with his brother, embarked on the long sea journey from England to Western Australia. Her grandfather in subsequent years moved to Melbourne where he opened a Pawn Shop and married a young bride sent out from England. Fay’s family continues to reside in Melbourne.
Fay refers candidly to her grandfather, making comment on alleged mistreatment towards his wife and children. She was told that he and his friends mistreated their wives and children including one who used a “cat of nine tails” on his family. Fay believes her Auntie “eloped to get away.”
In respect to her own upbringing and religious adherence, Fay recalls that her father, after his Bar Mitzvah, in his teenage years decided that religion was the major cause of conflict in the world and was not for him. He subsequently became an atheist. Her mother came from a more religious family so Fay and her brother participated in all of the various religious festivals and celebrations.
Referring back to her own teenage years, Fay was about 15 years old when she first became acquainted with her husband. She talks with some amusement about her final year at school, Year 12, when she would “skip classes” and go to visit her then boyfriend. Her mother would drive Fay to school and pick her up at the end of the day. However, Fay would often skip off from school to his home in Elwood. Consequently, she “performed badly” in the Year 12, October Tests. Her boyfriend then tutored her, “I got my best mark in Physics!” Looking back Fay finds this amusing, reiterating “it was not every day” that she skipped school. Intriguingly, at that time, Fay tells that she developed “a crush” on the boy who later became her husband. They started going out together just before the end of Year 12, “we became an item on December 13.” Her husband, known as Issy, “had a beautiful chin,” in this way outdoing her former boyfriend!
Fay went on to complete an Arts Degree at Melbourne University, obtaining a double major in History and Philosophy of Science. She has always been interested in Science. Fay later completed a Diploma in Education enabling her to teach Maths. However, it eventuated that she disliked teaching, “I wasn’t very good at it.” She subsequently obtained work as a trainee computer programmer with The Olympic Tyre Rubber Company in 1973. Why? “Because I could do it.”
Giving a glimpse of the early development of computers and industry in the 1970s, Fay described how they would write their programmes on sheets of paper, these would then be punched onto punch-cards and taken from Swanston St (near RMIT) to the corner of Elizabeth and La Trobe Streets, where the computer operators would run the programme and send the results the following day. A far cry from the immediacy of computing today.
Fay reflects however that she did not feel comfortable working in an office environment, finding that “people were petty, would talk about you in a negative way.” This presented a dilemma for her. She did not like working in an office, enjoyed working in a school, but not teaching Maths. Fay resolved this conflict for herself by obtaining a Graduate Diploma of Librarianship. This turned out to be a good decision. In 1995 Fay obtained the position of Teacher Librarian at MacRobertson Girls High School, where she spent “the bulk of my career.”
Fay got married in 1970 at the St Kilda Synagogue. Her husband, Issy, eventually obtained his Articles in Law and joined her father’s law firm in Melbourne. They had three daughters, initially purchasing a home in Richardson Street for $29,000, a reminder of how times have changed. Fay now lives in South Yarra.
Fay spoke about her husband‘s sudden collapse while having lunch with a work partner. He was diagnosed with having a brain tumour. Defying the initial predictions made in 2006 that he would live for only three months, Issy underwent a very risky but successful operation to remove the tumour. The tumour returned in 2013 after 5 years of remission and sadly he passed away in 2016. The last 12 months were very distressing for all. Fay became his 24 hour carer, supported by a team of carers from an agency. Fay spoke about this difficult period, showing courage and determination to care for her husband throughout those distressing last years. Fay reflected with feeling, “that’s why I joined U3A.”
Amongst other courses, including Spanish, Fay became involved in Play Reading “because I enjoyed it.” She had loved reading to her children but recalls feeling disappointed when attempting to read Enid Blyton out loud. As a child she had loved The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton but when she tried to read it to her children, it “was awful to read aloud.” It would be interesting to hear the perspective of others on this intriguing observation. Dr Seuss’ books became a favourite for “putting on voices.”
U3APP Play Reading has been running for many years, initially run by Moira Fielding who would select the plays and allocate the parts. When Moira decided to leave, this left a gap which Fay decided to fill, in so far as she agreed to coordinate and to organise the course for the group. Currently Ruth Yaffe selects the plays and allocates the parts. Fay stresses that her contribution is the organisation, which others are more reluctant to do. She enjoys the process of getting into a character without pre-reading the play. “Hearing your voice, tragedies or comedies, I just enjoy it.”
Fay draws solace from nature, walking and in particular her love of trees. “I am absolutely smitten with trees,” saying with some humour, “when I die, I want to come back as a tree.” Fay enjoys reading about Tree Science, as in communication signalling between their roots, providing information for other trees on available water, for instance. Fay likes to walk through the nearby gardens, to touch and talk to the trees. A few years ago the City of Melbourne had a programme where you sent an email to a tree. Laughing, Fay recalled, “I did send an email, but I never heard back.”
Fay enjoys listening to the radio “all day” when at home. “I’ve always been a radio person.” She has been listening to The Science Show on Radio National since it first started, “it just keeps up your interest in science.” Like all of us, Fay hopes Covid-19 will be all over soon and has thoughts of travelling to the Kimberleys rather than returning to visit Europe at this time.
Fay continues to work as a Relief Teacher at a secondary school, assisting students with their computers or other tasks. It is demanding and she restricts herself to manageable hours.
What does the future hold? “After my husband died, attendance at various U3A activities became a part of my life.” As it is perhaps, for others in U3A who may have lost a close family member or friend, leaving a gap to be filled. Fay continues to meet with friends, her daughters and grandchildren, her oldest grandson being “very gifted on the piano.”
So, Fay concludes, “that’s me.” She wondered if her life story would be of interest to others. Fay’s story is what U3A is notable for. Obtaining new perspectives, the opportunity to acquire knowledge on subjects that perhaps past work and family commitments have hindered. Relaxing with Play Reading or Petanque, learning Spanish, and also enjoying Israeli Dancing at Glen Eira U3A, Fay reiterated with feeling, “I just find U3A wonderful.”
Felicity May interviewed Fay Bock
Introducing Sue Taffe: Sue is currently tutoring the course, ‘Rethinking Our Story, Part 2: The Uluru Statement, January 26th and other matters’. She is a Melbourne historian and has published two books: FCAATSI Black and White Together and A White Hot Flame: Mary Montgomerie Bennett – Author, Educator, Activist for Indigenous Justice, published in 2018. She holds a Master of Arts and a PhD in history.
Sue researched and wrote the permanent online exhibition, ‘Collaborating for Aboriginal Rights’ which can be found on the National Museum of Australia website.
Sue retired after completing A Hot White Flame. Marketing the book was brought to an abrupt end by the Covid lockdowns. Sue had wondered how she was going “to do that retirement thing.” Her thoughts on running a class at U3APP being, “perhaps it is the last thing I can usefully do, with regard to my research work” on earlier cross-cultural collaborations for Indigenous justice and the challenges we face today.
Sue refers to Ian Spalding, who had a “really strong influence on me.” Ian and his wife, Barbara, were original 2004 members of U3APP and Barbara is a life member. As a young man in the 1950s Ian Spalding had travelled around Australia visiting Aboriginal missions and camps and seeing firsthand the appalling conditions of life for first Australians. Horrified by what he saw, Ian Spalding with a group of supporters edited a journal On Aboriginal Affairs to educate non-Indigenous Australians about the systemic injustices facing Aboriginal people and contribute to the groundswell movement for reform which culminated in the 1967 referendum and the land rights campaigns of the 1960s.
Sue gives an example of systemic racial discrimination in the 1960s. If you were Aboriginal and contracted tuberculosis and lived in Queensland, you were not eligible for the Commonwealth Government’s tuberculosis allowance which was designed to keep those who contracted the illness at home so they did not infect others. Kath Walker (she later became Oodgeroo Noonuccal) alerted the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders (FCAATSI) to this discrimination and FCAATSI took up the matter.
Dr Barry Christophers, a Richmond GP, who was a FCAATSI office bearer and Joe McGinness, the Aboriginal president of FCAATSI, a wharfie who lived in Cairns, worked together to highlight this injustice. Joe interviewed Indigenous tuberculosis patients in the hospitals and clinics in north Queensland. He sent this information down to Barry in Melbourne and Barry worked within his medical networks in the Australian Medical Association to apply pressure on the Federal Government to amend the `Tuberculosis Act, even threatening to raise the issue with the United Nations. In February 1965, after a sixteen-month campaign targeting members of parliament, health bureaucrats, doctors and even the Governor-General who was patron of the Tuberculosis Association, they succeeded in getting the Act amended so that Indigenous sufferers would be eligible for the allowance.
At University, Sue studied Anthropology and Sociology in her undergraduate degree. For the following 20 years, she worked as a teacher. Sue and her husband lived in Canberra for twelve years, where she taught at Narrabundah College which offered a course in Aboriginal languages and culture. Sue taught this course gradually learning more and more about Aboriginal history, languages and culture. Rachael Perkins, daughter of Charles Perkins, was a student at this school.
Returning to live in Melbourne, Sue continued working in education, running a program from the Catholic Education Office to assist secondary teachers to incorporate Indigenous perspectives into their curriculum. This was “very forward thinking at that time.” It was during this time that Sue met Ian Spalding. He would come and critique their work and, along with Aboriginal educators, provided guidance for secondary school teachers, interested in expanding their knowledge and broadening their perspectives. Sue reflects that the momentum generated by reconciliation groups set up across Australia, organised through the then Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in the 1990s, has sadly been lost when it is most needed now.
Reflecting on more current controversies, Sue responded that she is somewhat ambivalent in respect to changing the date of Australia Day. Her personal view is that it would be better to celebrate on another day, as the “vehement feelings that Aboriginal people have against it, will not go away.” Sue asks, “What are we celebrating on Australia Day, the arrival of ships?” Laughing at the absurdity of it, “it’s not as though we are celebrating an achievement, just the arrival of ships with convicts, so it makes sense to shift it.” Sue wonders if many are aware that in 1938, Aboriginal people came to Sydney for the sesquicentenary to protest on what they regarded as a day of mourning.
Sue supports the Uluru Statement from the Heart, as it expresses a strong case for acknowledgement and inclusion. How can Indigenous Australians have no sovereignty when they were here for 60,000 years? Did they lose it because Europeans arrived?
Sue feels apprehensive however, concerning likely conservative opposition to it. Many may be suspicious, fearing that the Voice to Parliament will have too much power. A community education campaign is much needed.
If the Voice to Parliament isn’t managed well, “my greatest fear is that it might fail.” Reaching an agreement on the words that are acceptable to the Opposition is essential otherwise it will just turn into a fight and not do any good at all.
Recent valuable initiatives in our society, such as the establishment of the Koorie Court Magistrates Court of Victoria show we are capable of creative thinking. Young Offenders may be taken out to the bush by elders as an alternative to putting people in jail.
Connection to country: Sue related an interesting experience conveying the importance of connection to country. She was engaged with an interview programme with an Aboriginal organisation which took her to the Murray River in New South Wales. The Aboriginal cameraman on the project from the Echuca region teamed up with an Aboriginal man who was from further down the Murray. These two men were both from an urban environment. They talked to each other by first establishing ways in which they were connected. They did this by telling each other river stories, comparing how they were similar but also how their stories differed in relation to their own history of the Murray. This mattered and both men needed to establish communication with each other in this way before talking about other content for the interview.
A White Hot Flame: During the course of Sue’s interviews with Barry Christophers about his work in the 1960s, he had talked about Mary Bennett who died in 1961. Barry had described Mary as the ‘spiritual mother’ of FCAATSI. Sue’s interest in Mary led to a decision to write her biography.
In the 1930s Mary was opposed to taking Aboriginal children away from their mothers and became a strong advocate on their behalf. Interestingly, white feminists at the time promoted the separation of children from their mothers as being the best thing for them. Mary was convinced that this was wrong. Her views at this time were later upheld by British psychiatrist John Bowlby whose Attachment Theory reinforced the need for unbroken care between mother (or significant parent figure) and infant during the first three years. Mary Bennett was then in contact with the United Nations and informed the Western Australian Government of Bowlby’s research findings which led, eventually, to an end to the taking away of children on racial grounds.
Moving to other current themes, Sue agrees that movies and sport can influence our culture, assisting people to examine their own attitudes and be more open-minded towards Indigenous Australians.
Programs such as those run by Melbourne Indigenous Transition School in Richmond, also at Melbourne Grammar and Warragul Regional College are valuable in assisting Indigenous students to find pathways into mainstream education. Sue fully endorses such programmes.
Sue confides that she started the second term of her course with “some trepidation,” knowing that she does not have the answers, she is in the same boat as her students. “I am just another person trying to work out how we can go forward and what roadblocks there may be.” When asked if she has a sense of achievement after finishing her book, Sue accepts that it was an effort, but it was also a wonderful experience. She had been all over Australia gathering information. The project was mainly self-funded, with a little outside help.
While writing A White Hot Flame Sue visited many of the places where Mary Bennett lived and worked, in northwest Queensland, Kalgoorlie, Mount Margaret Mission, which was a “privilege.” People shared stories with her, “you feel a strong sense of responsibility, you have to get the story out.”
Sue located a series of professional photos sent to the Victorian Council for Aboriginal Rights by Mary Bennett, in a folder in the State Library of Victoria. She related “one of the most memorable experiences of my life,” a very moving occasion was when she showed these photos to living descendants in Kalgoorlie. Sitting around a large table, Sue told them her purpose was to return the photos to them and to ask their permission, in the interests of education, to put them on the ‘Collaborating for Indigenous Rights’ website. She recalled how they looked at these photos “in silence” they had never seen them before. The Elders in the group conferred together and gave permission to display copies in the National Museum.
Sue is looking forward to doing some U3APP courses, to being a “student” again. She enjoys taking their Border Collie for a daily walk to the beach. Sue and her husband have a house at Marlo where they can enjoy the ocean and go bush walking.
Interviewed by Felicity May and edited by Sue Taffe
Morphing into a
How does a classical violin teacher become a ukulele tutor? That idea wouldn't have occurred to me during the first phase of my musical identity. Some of my classical music friends laugh at my being a ukulele tutor, some think it's a bit of a betrayal. It's not, really.
When I was a violin teacher, I wasn't really satisfied. Surrounded by other string teachers who were passionate about correcting violin students' playing techniques, I felt like a fraud. What I was doing was mimicking what I was taught during my university studies at the Elder Conservatorium at Adelaide Uni, a place where I never really felt comfortable.
It probably was the two-year stint as a journalist in Indonesia in the early 80's that made me restless. I landed a job at a news magazine called Tempo (not a music magazine, but a weekly publication based on the Time magazine model). There I saw the world away from the confines of a music teaching institution, where priorities aren't based on how well a child plays for an exam. I really enjoyed being an observer of people and seeing how they reacted to events.
However, life circumstances (marriage to a non-Indonesian speaking Aussie) brought me back to Australia and the reality of earning a living brought me back to music teaching. It's not that I didn't find my perfect school. I got a teaching position at a very nice girls’ school. I remember the first day I stepped into the school, I saw girls sitting under a tree, reading books during their lunch break. I thought: This is the place for me! I wasn't wrong. I ended up teaching there until my retirement, thirty-two years later.
Thinking back to the reaction I got from friends, some Adelaide friends laughed at me when I told them I was going to Indonesia to be a journalist. I wasn't pushy enough, they said. Two years later, my journalist friends in Indonesia laughed when I told them I was going back to Australia to teach. I wasn’t pushy enough, they said. I seem to have this habit of making people laugh at my life choices.
Back to my music teaching, the restlessness grew. After more than a decade becoming quite good at teaching violin techniques and getting kids through examinations, I had this niggling urge to do something different. I wanted something more 'real', something more central to people's needs, but I didn't want to leave the security of the lovely school. And there was the mortgage to pay off. I looked in the mirror to see how I could 'market ‘myself, and I saw it clearly: an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher.
I did the TESOL course at Deakin while still working full time as a music teacher and subsequently taught ESL at my school. It was the best career move. I was finally in a job where I didn't feel like a fraud. By teaching my students English and cross-cultural skills, I allowed them to overcome the barriers to their needs. I felt I was finally making a real difference to the lives of others. I was also encouraged to express myself creatively in my teaching - to think outside the box when needed. My husband commented that I was working so much harder teaching ESL than when music teaching, but I was clearly happier.
But I didn't abandon my love of music. Once I no longer spent my days teaching violin, I got back into violin playing by joining the Victorian Amateur Chamber Music Society, where I found a subculture of people who organise themselves into trios and quartets, enjoying music making in each other's homes. I currently have 5 different chamber groups running. There's no financial incentive for paid gigs when we play. There's just joy in playing together, in belonging to groups where real musical connections happen. Playing together can be exhilarating and you develop real friendships as a bonus.
And where does the ukulele fit in? I was inspired to learn the ukulele after a colleague showed me a YouTube clip of Jake Shimabukuro. This was no plinky-plinky instrument - this has real power! I bought myself a uke the same size as Jake's and trawled YouTube for tutorials. I soon realised that although I would never get to Jake's virtuosic level of playing (I’m a realist - I was already in my 40s then), I enjoyed strumming chords to improvise a backing for vocals. I started to learn how to think like a folk/pop musician, who isn't reliant on detailed sheet music to play. This was liberating.
Now I'm not a properly trained singer, but I enjoy singing. I used to enjoy singing with the kids at school during assemblies, but I wouldn't be confident enough to sing a pop song out loud. But put a uke in my hands and suddenly I'm a pop singer -- in my head, anyway! Strumming the ukulele gives you confidence.
I joined a local community ukulele group and discovered that, unlike community orchestras who are led by the professionally able conductors, you don't need to be an expert to start a community uke group. A solid intermediate player with good organisational skills could lead a group.
So the year after I joined U3APP - I enrolled in life drawing and watercolour classes - I volunteered to tutor a ukulele group. This group, which eventually named itself Beaut Ukes, started off as a real mix of total beginners and people with varying levels of experience. It probably had an identity crisis of whether it was a class to learn basic uke skills or a community singing group, but this didn’t matter. It was a happy group filled with great members who were keen to learn.
Beaut Ukes wasn't even fazed by the pandemic. Throughout the lockdowns, this class continued on Zoom - a platform that isn't suitable for group playing because it only allows one sound source to be heard at a time. We had a system of taking turns being heard: members unmuted and re-muted themselves when it was their turn to perform different verses; others strum along while muted. It was brave of people to do this. We got to know each other better through our Zoom sessions. There were also plenty of opportunities to chat socially between songs during this time. So Zoom was OK, but there is nothing like getting back together after the lockdown ended.
Beaut Ukes is now one of three ukulele classes offered at U3APP. New Ukes is for beginners who want to learn the basics of playing. Fun Ukes is for those who want to learn more songs using just basic techniques, learning songs at a relaxed pace. Beaut Ukes allows members to be more adventurous and learn more complex songs. My role is now more of a moderator of this more advanced group. I encourage this group to develop independence in musical thinking, with members suggesting new songs or alternatives in ways to perform the songs. Some members will take on the role of leading the group in the song of their choice. Above all, we enjoy strumming and singing together. I get a great buzz from our shared music making.
I've been very lucky at finding U3APP. I've attended so many interesting courses (including classes in Spanish, Feldenkreis, understanding the stock market and a number of lecture series on science topics). I've enjoyed being in the U3APP both as a tutor and as a student. I see U3APP as a community of life-long learners who understand the fun in learning; and we are fortunate to have members who are happy to share their knowledge and skills with each other. It's great to be a member of this tribe!
Written by Minuk Richards
All Sorts of Music
Introducing Zoe Hogg: Zoe is Tutor for the Music of All Sorts class. The title of this group says much about Zoe’s love of music. She and other class members can be seen carrying heavy instruments down the corridor into the hall where they perform. What music do you play? “Anything goes”. Throughout the conversation with Zoe, she emphasised that the opportunity to play, the actual performance itself, is what she finds so rewarding. We are talking about the guitar, mandolin, jazz, even heavy metal.
Zoe has been a member of U3A Port Phillip since its establishment in 2003. However, the history of Zoe’s Music Group goes way back to the very early days of the EcoCentre in the St Kilda Botanical Gardens.
But, back to the beginning. Zoe spent her childhood and early adult years in England. She recounts that during the 2nd World War, enemy planes would bomb Luton Airport, which was near her home, then empty their fuel load onto the streets below. She witnessed houses bursting into flames and has vivid memories of the sound of bombs, of spending hours in an air raid shelter. It was scary.
Zoe laughed when asked when she first became interested in playing an instrument. “I had no choice, I was told I could play.” Zoe’s father played the lute, her mother the mandolin. Musical performance was the family’s major focus. She was just five years old when she first performed on stage. The concert would often begin with Zoe playing the guitar on stage, wearing a gypsy dress. She was so small her feet couldn’t reach the floor, resting instead on her mother’s sewing box.
Did she have much choice? It seems not. Everyday Zoe was required to practise for half an hour. “I had to.” There was no exception to this rule. She would get one sweet when she finished, sweets were rationed in England at that time. The discipline of practice became ingrained. Zoe is now very appreciative of that.
Zoe would accompany her parents to all their musical ventures. They would perform at the circus each year when it came to town. “I used to be invited to play my guitar in the circus ring. I would be there with a circle of clowns around me. The best bit was talking to the lions outside the ring while they were waiting to do their thing. They were just like gentle pussy cats, only a bit bigger.” Zoe won her first music prize at the age of 12 years by playing a Spanish Tequila.
Zoe recounts fond memories of her childhood friendship with Julian Bream. (the English classical guitarist.) “We grew up together.” Later, Julian Bream attended the London School of Music, Zoe laughed as she said, “and I got married.” Her twin sons and daughter were born in England.
Zoe’s (late) husband Robert was brought to Australia as a Specialist Plastic Producer. Zoe acknowledges how perspectives change over time, being aware of the unfavourable view of plastic held today. With their three young children, the family made the long boat trip to Australia.
Zoe first developed an interest in Math and Science at school, in England. Settling into the Australian way of life and raising her children, she became aware of the shortage of teachers at that time. Zoe tells how she turned up at Syndal Technical College, Glen Waverley, with no formal qualifications, other than her ‘A’ Levels. She was invited in, “no questions asked.” Zoe recounts with humour her very first class, a lesson on static electricity. “So, there I am in front of a class of thirty boys with a rabbit skin and a plastic rod and I am pushing this rod up and down and the whole class collapses into laughter.” No imagination needed to understand the reason for this. To this day, some of those boys from Zoe’s first class are still in contact with her.
Other passions: When the family moved to live in St Kilda, Zoe joined the Penguin Group established by members of the EcoCentre situated in St Kilda Botanical Gardens. Earthcare St Kilda, jointly with researchers from Monash University, undertook scientific research to monitor the welfare of the penguins. Zoe ended up running this Penguin Research Group for some years. It is a continuing project, although currently with less input from Monash University.
This long term project continues to protect the welfare of the penguins from the often wilful or thoughtless intrusions by humans. Many years ago, there were people living on the breakwater at the end of the pier. Those that were homeless but also many others living on the ‘fringe of society.’ Zoe recalls bizarre events that happened out on the breakwater. “I was holding a penguin once and they said, don’t put it away, it’s a good meal!”
Zoe is dedicated to the welfare of the penguins. Penguins are cheeky. They look after their young very well and will attack you if you go near their ‘chicks.’ Referring to their mating behaviour, the “guys” find a hole in the rocks they want to live in and sit outside, making a certain sound to attract the females. The pair then live together for many years, and both share in raising their young.
Zoe has fond memories of a particular penguin who attached herself to the Caretaker of the Kiosk on St Kilda Pier. She would wait for him. Zoe acknowledges this would not be appropriate now. In respect to the current health of the penguin colony, Zoe advises that their numbers have increased over the years. They are microchipped, protected, although some tourists continue to poke sticks down their holes, to entice them out. Zoe and the group monitor the penguins once a fortnight. She does not think the new pier renovations will trouble the penguins. There will be a new boardwalk which will protect them. They have been through many rebuilds of the breakwater over the years.
Neil Blake (OAM) continues to take an active role with Earthcare. He is also a musician. Zoe set up a Music Group at the EcoCentre which way back then was a place where Backpackers would come and work in the gardens. They had big parties and would often sleep there at night. There was a cupboard holding many musical instruments and they would all go there and “just play”. Anybody who could play an instrument of any sort could join in. "It used to be fun when all these different people from all over the world would come and play together." In the early days, the Caretaker lived in the cottage at the EcoCentre. It was a very different establishment back then.
The ‘All Sorts Music Group’ at the Mary Kehoe Centre plays all sorts of music, on any instrument. Members play separately, Zoe arranges the music; they need to be able to read music. People come, people go, numbers have been steady over the past five years or so.
For Zoe, the actual performing on an instrument, being on stage, playing with a group of likeminded players, is what drives her passion, gives her a sense of importance. Playing in a jazz band “turns me on.” Zoe is also a member of the Mandolin Orchestra and plays with this group every week. She comments with some amusement that she is “not good at sitting still”.
Zoe concludes that she has had an interesting life. The greatest influence on her life has been “my Mum, she pushed me. At times I hated it but now I realise it’s done me a deal of good. I will have a go at anything, and I don’t care, I enjoy life”.
Zoe has dedicated herself to the joy of performing. The pleasure of playing ‘all sorts’ of music and inviting others to play any instrument or style of music that they like, is gratifying. Arranging compositions to resonate as an integrated performance is Zoe’s contribution to music.
Zoe’s dedication over many years to the welfare of the penguins on St Kilda Pier continues.
Felicity May interviewed Zoe Hogg.
1928 - 2022
In 1954 I made one of the most momentous decisions of my life by joining the communist party of Australia at the height of the cold war. This was sparked by the execution of The Rosenberg couple as spies, but was also the culmination of years of personal questioning of the values of our capitalist democratic society and my abhorrence of capital punishment.
My father once told me that when my mother was in labour with me he was sent to bring the doctor for the delivery, and in his nervous haste backed the car into the garden tap sending water gushing skyward as he sped off. I was born safely on that day the first of May 1928. Perhaps both events contained a hint of prophecy.
My father was a stern man-of-his-time but caring and diligent as a parent, growing vegetables and fruit trees in the large back yard of our modest home in North Brighton. He extended the house, made my sister, Moya and I, a walk-in play house, and used his skills to make inlaid cigar boxes which he sold to one of the big tobacconists in the city to extend the family income. This became even more necessary as the great depression hit after the Wall Street crash of 1929. Government policy was to cut workers’ wages and living was very hard, even if you were lucky enough to retain your job, as was my Dad, albeit with reduction of income.
The "Willys" car in Greville St, Prahran,
outside the barber shop where Aunt Jean & Uncle Bert lived in the upstairs flat
The firm which Dad worked for were importers of high class English woollen worsted material, and my father the salesman to the many bespoke tailors in and around Melbourne. Hence the provision of a car, which I remember as an odd and draughty little car with cellophane/mica windows and a ‘dicky’ seat, which Dad adapted for use as a passenger seat, so that my Mum’s younger sister and son Glynne, one year and a half my senior, could ride with us. Moya and I regarded Glynne more as our brother because we spent so much time together. This car was replaced later by what I knew as the ‘Willy’s’ which was an exceptional improvement in comfort, especially in our occasional trips to bushland which was quite close to the outskirts of Melbourne. We would boil a billy and come home with arms full of wattle, bluegum and pink and white heather or, depending on the season, field mushrooms or blackberries. My mother then seemed happy and playful, coaxing my father to join her in a song - she had a very sweet voice, and tending us lovingly in our childhood illnesses and accidents. Tragically, just a few short years later she died of cancer at the age of thirty five. I was seven. The shock and grief of her death hit hard for all of us. For me it had long term effects of loss of self-esteem and anxiety and was to take many years of struggle to overcome.
The outbreak of war in Europe meant that the firm which employed my father, which relied on importing, had to fold up, and the ‘Manpower’ as it was called, decreed that Dad was to be Government Inspector of woollen mills in Daylesford and Ballarat, which were in wartime production. Thus we were to be in the care of my Aunty May, one of Dad’s sisters, a war widow with two sons, one of whom was in the Airforce heading for England. Dad built a bungalow in the backyard for her teenage son so that we could have a room apart from the shared bedroom, and space for him when he could get down to Melbourne. This happened sooner than was expected when some of my adventures turned into near disasters. Forbidden to own a bicycle, I would borrow one or failing that I would be ‘dinked’ on the bar of one of the boys who were the mates of my best friend’s brother. This was totally forbidden. Unfortunately, we had a pile up turning the corner into Acland Street and I ended up in the Alfred Hospital with concussion. Another time by coming off a horse at full gallop (hired at Caulfield stables) and breaking my arm. There were other incidents which I am sure were a trial for my aunt and required my father’s intervention. However, we remained there until the end of the war when we moved to a house in McKinnon with my father at last.
In the intervening war years much had changed. The USSR was “our brave ally”. Sheepskins for Russia was a popular cause and sometimes at the pictures when the Anthem and the Stars and Stripes was played there would be a chorus of “what about Joe?” meaning of course Joseph Stalin. In Ripponlea, the Eureka Youth League opened a shopfront youth club which I visited a couple of times and enjoyed.
Capitol Theatre Ushers 1950s
By then I had a little more freedom and was able to visit my Aunt Freda, my mother’s older sister who “took me in hand”. This was the beginning of the healing of my fragile ego. Aunty had divorced her philandering husband and supported herself and young son by working, also helped by my grandma. She was a pianist and used to play the accompanying music for the silent movies. She was later one of what were known as the Capitol Girls, chosen pretty girls who were the ushers in the new Capitol theatre in Swanston Street, and sometimes took part in performances on stage. She smoked cigarettes in a holder, liked a drink and would talk casually of topics not spoken about at my Aunty May’s. I loved her, but my Aunty May thought she was not a ‘proper’ person which of course did not deter me in the least. Aunty Freda and Uncle Don (she married again) often discussed social justice issues and wartime topics such as opening the second front. I was introduced to many contemporary authors and some classics. She encouraged me to have my own view on life. These views were leading me to Marxism.
A most sad event was the death of my adored cousin Glynne. In 1946, at just twenty he contracted the most virulent form of Poliomyelitis and died within a very few days; the last to die in Victoria of Polio, as the Salk vaccine was released only months later. Paradoxically, as I was leaving his home in shock after hearing the terrible news, I literally bumped into Donald, a close pal of my cousin who had just come down on leave from Japan where he had been stationed, and had to break the awful news to him. He was greatly affected, and I invited him to come home to my family. We struck up a friendship, finding to our mutual glee, that we both wanted to change the world. We were married in December 1949.
During the first year of our marriage we were apart, as Donald was in the Navy stationed in NSW. At the time he joined he was young and at a crossroads in life, having already lost his father and with his mother remarried. He took this step before we met. He was now desperate to be released from what would have been twenty years’ service. He was opposed to the Korean war, and on that basis he sought a discharge, which he won but which possibly put him on ASIO's files for life!
Our first child, Roderick, was born November 1950 while Donald was still away, but on his return we were very lucky to have the Sunshine house, half of which he inherited from his mother who died not long after our marriage. Donald had studied art at RMIT and was a talented artist, he had also been a trained Radar operator in the Navy but finding a suitable job locally was not easy so he took a factory job nearby. Nevertheless, as an active communist his skill in producing silk screen posters was an asset, and we were hellbent on campaigning for political change. Many nights were spent sailing forth with a tub of homemade paste, a brush and an armful of posters to advertise our messages on suitable lamp posts and spaces.
We continued our interest and study of political economy, Marxism, etc, in study classes and discussions for local groups, central lectures when possible but also in cultural and entertainment groups such as New Theatre which brought to life Australian folk music and produced classic and significant plays and satires. But we were also, over time, subjected to inroads into our privacy by phone interceptions, 'spooking' in cars outside private homes, photographing at public demonstrations even though the CPA was a legal organisation and none of this was justified.
Drawing by Mary Leunig for 'Taking Time' - removal of Koorie children
The Union of Australian Women, UAW, was an organisation allied to the Women's International Democratic Federation, WIDF, set up in Europe at the end of the war. I was invited to a meeting to set up a local group. Alison Dickie, the President of the Victorian Branch, spoke of this group of radical women who wanted to be heard and valued as equals. I was so impressed by her quiet will to make the world a better and safer place, I joined immediately and agreed to be secretary. We set out to right a long overdue removal of a surcharge in gas prices which applied to a wide area of land between West Footscray and Sunshine, which previously had been open land and now was fully built up with public housing, for which the Gas company still charged the higher rate, After much lobbying we succeeded in having this rectified. This spurred us on to campaign for many needed improvements, from bus shelters to public meetings on contraception and other health and child related issues, to factory gate meetings about equality and equal pay. We asked Koorie women, active in the land rights struggle to speak at our meetings.
In 1957 Donald's health deteriorated and he was hospitalised and diagnosed as 'Anxiety state', which was bad enough but seemingly reassuring in terms of serious physical illness. But early the next year he died suddenly. We were later to be informed it was haemorrhage from a brain tumour. Needless to say this was the most catastrophic personal loss. I had taken a secretarial job at the Hospital just a few months earlier to shore up the family income. Our children, Rod and Jeff were seven and three respectively. My family, friends and comrades all supported me and the children but there seemed nothing for it but to continue on working. The pay was not great however, and when I was offered a job at the railways union (ARU) which paid equal pay (naturally) I took up the offer. Donald's death was finally accepted as war caused (he had been stationed at an airfield close to Hiroshima) and I was paid the war widows pension. The back pay enabled me to buy a small car. I was then able to enrol Jeffrey at the Footscray Creche, and get to work and home on time.
1961 Equal Pay Demonstration - Yvonne centre front of picture
It was another five years before I went into full time work again. In that period there was a lot of activity collecting signatures to an ACTU petition (61,000 sigs) presented to the Commonwealth Government asking for Equal Pay, helping organise and take part in the marches. With the UAW, lobbying for the first Australian currency (other than the Queen) to feature a woman - Caroline Chisholm; "Boycott War Toys" committee resulting in at least one large toy distributor declaring they would not stock them. I married a long time dear friend and fellow communist Bill Smith.
In 1966 I went to work for the A.M.I.E.U. - Meat Industry Union - better known as 'the butchers'. This position gave me the opportunity to also work in an area giving special attention to the needs of women workers. I was later appointed by the Management Committee as Claims Officer in workers compensation and award disputes, as well as editor of the Victorian Union Journal's Women’s section, where I achieved a small degree of fame by heading my article about Vasectomy "A Cut Above the Pill!" There was a gradually growing awareness within the union movement of the importance and value of working women. Some teachers got equal pay at this time. Restrictions on married women in the public service were lifted. The Union had been urging the ACTU to step up action for Equal Pay. The 1969 test case was for the women meatworkers, many of whom came to the buffet teas held by the union to keep them informed. These were bright and carefree events where the women themselves expressed in no uncertain terms, belief in their right for equal pay. At one of the meat works in Melbourne the shop committee decided that everyone was to heat or prepare their own lunch food instead of wives waiting on husbands! A small step for Equal Opportunity! But the '69 case was a big disappointment, applying to only about 10% of women covered by the Federal Award. We had to wait another three years.
Action for Adequate Child Minding was sponsored by Unions and community organisations at Richmond Town Hall and was just one of the many meetings at which I and many other women were finding their voices. We crowded the Trams cheerfully refusing to pay full fare, to publicise women's unequal pay rates. I made my debut on the 'Stump' at Yarra Bank. Women invaded the men only 'Bars' of pubs. The 1972 Equal Pay case was won thanks to the newly elected A.L.P. All prior Commonwealth Governments had opposed the claim.
Bourke St, Melbourne - Vietnam Moratorium 1970
1969 our family moved to Middle Park. The Vietnam war was still raging and coming closer to the age group of my boys, both of whom looked very unfavourably on this conflict. Both Bill and I were active in opposing the war and conscription. One of my first memories of this time was, with others, trying to stop the intake of conscripts at the barracks; lying on the damp ground to impede entry and being carried away by the police; the Moratorium marches, and we also had a draft resister hiding away in our house for a period. We did what we could and were overjoyed when the war eventually ended.
I had also been involved in the Victorian (U.N. Organisation) Status of Women's Committee and was asked to take part on the national committee. We convened a large meeting of women's groups and individuals to alert women and plan towards the coming U.N. Conference and 'Tribuna' in Mexico City the U.N. Year of Women, 1975. I remember the conference well, mainly because after all the work, I was unable to attend. This was because I was playing my Viola (not solo!) at a South Melbourne Orchestra Sunday concert. I had, at forty three years of age, started to learn the violin, as it was something I had wanted to do much earlier but events got in the way. Difficult as it was, I have no regrets and much pleasure in having been able to join in with musicians over the many years, and still with 'Allsorts' at U3A. However I was able to get to the 'Tribuna' together with 60 other women from Australia. It was a very exciting experience and several unions back home published my report in their journals. Bill came with me as I had some time for a holiday and we were able to see some of the remarkable Inca constructions and relics.
The UN World Conference of International Women’s Year opened on 19 June 1975 in Mexico City with 110 delegations present at the opening session.
Often in the UAW office there were requests from students and others for information about the events which shaped the progress of women in society, and I felt the need for a concise book which would set this out. Thus "Taking Time" A Women's Historical Data Kit was born and in 1986, with grants from the Women's Trust, the Reichstein Foundation, The Bicentennial Authority and the support of several unions, it was published.
After retirement Bill and I travelled in our combi van throughout much of Europe which is another story. When we came back, Save Albert Park was upon us and, yes we did join in, and our house was one of many homes which sported large signs on our rooftops opposing the Grand Prix. That battle is yet to be won. But we met wonderful people who enriched our lives immeasurably. I call myself a 'cyber' protester now, in my nineties with ongoing involvement in struggles for asylum seekers, conservation and anti climate change campaigns, and giving support to the brave and resilient young people and oldies too, who speak out about injustice and are working still to change the world.
Hitting The Refresh Button
The new editor of the U3APP E‑Bulletin is David Robinson. Here is an interview with him conducted in May 2022.
How did you become involved in U3A?
Years ago I joined U3A Melbourne because I heard they had a very good film group and they utilised a small theatre at The Docks Library. The tutor who ran it had 2,500 DVDs. He wouldn’t tell you what the film was in advance; you’d come in, tick your name off and sit down, and then you’d see the film of the day. I really enjoyed the first few – older films, but the fact that he never told you what they were going to be sometimes came unstuck. We had to score them at the end, out of ten. And we were all itching to say something about the film; our insight into what the story was about, the cinematography, that sort of thing. After a few years I started borrowing DVDs from libraries and learning how to assess them. There is an international movie database (IMDb.com), which gives insights, and there’s Rotten Tomatoes (RottenTomatoes.com), which gives you thousands of people’s opinions and scores.
I soon got the feel for what was a good film for the participating demographic, and started my own group here at U3APP – probably eight years ago. Just a face-to-face class to show the film, but I did send out an email naming the film and I’d teach people about the International Movie Data Base and Rotten Tomatoes. Yes it was about more than the film. A lot of people go just to be entertained and that is good, nothing wrong with that, but others go for some sort of enlightenment. I used to run two streams, one on a Monday, a documentary, and the one on Friday, a movie-film. It’s harder to find a good documentary because the documentaries always seem to be about something that has gone wrong in the world. A filmmaker sees that thing and tries to expose that wrong to the world. Port Phillip Library and the Melbourne City Library have as many documentaries as they have films. Between the two libraries there are like 10,000 DVDs, always lined up on the shelves. You type the name into IMDb and if it gets a seven-point-five it might be okay. Anything above eight is usually really good. Occasionally there will be a nine or ten where the filmmaker has probably encouraged his friends to vote for it! The trouble is, if it is a genuine nine everyone will have already seen it. Genuine eights, even. If they’re good and haven’t been around for 20 years, people don’t mind seeing them again. You have to pick ones that haven’t had a release in Australia or are in a foreign language. That’s what got me into films.
I went to other classes at U3A Melbourne and U3A Port Phillip, such as Current Affairs and Economics. I try to keep my activities to one thing a day. As soon as I am doing two things a day it gets a bit much. Once you are looking after grandchildren for two days a week it gets busy. You have to pace yourself.
You are obviously full-time retired now…
Yes I have been fully retired since I was 60. I spent my career in IT; so just about every day since 1968 I have been using a computer for something. Initially it was mainframes and then it became PCs in the 80’s. Now, when my wife asks how many hours I spend on my computer, I reply I’m reading things. I don’t read books. I tend to read articles, news feeds, and things like that. You can spend a whole day doing that. You get onto YouTube and you spend the whole day looking at videos of all sorts and all the ones I look at tend to be interesting. But that also depends on the weather and other things that need to be done around the house. I am fairly skilled at using a computer and I enjoy it. That’s one reason why I volunteered in this area at U3A. It’s like a little work group in a company. I am editor and a member of the IT team and there are seven of us headed by Helen Vorrath. The IT system here at Port Phillip with its website is quite mind boggling, you know.
I bet any company would kill to have an IT team like U3APP!
Yes, yes, exactly. There are a lot of skills and it’s all done gratis, but it’s good fun. You are here with people who, when you go ‘blah blah blah’ about something really technical, they understand it – LOL. You are working with a group of people who have had a similar work life, just maybe a different emphasis.
I was interested in the E-Bulletin and when the opportunity came up (to edit it) I thought I had better not tell my wife, but when she found out she said oh, good on you! Lots of men like to fiddle around with engines. I don’t like getting my hands dirty, but I like to tinker around with computer application packages. In the case of the E-Bulletin newsletter we use a package called Mailchimp. I started my career in 1970 supporting technical applications big companies would use in a computer service bureau.
The usual thing I experienced at work was you’re now the support person for structural engineering. Now, what did I know about structural engineering? Nothing! But there was the manual – about an inch thick. I remember once having a questionnaire analysis package that advertising companies used. There was a course on it in Sydney and I thought I might go and learn something. But then the boss said well you had better get up to speed because the guy that was going to give the course has left and you’re giving the course now. I was to be the teacher! So I had four days to get to grips with this application package. I just had to get my head around subjects like structural engineering, transport planning, questionnaire analysis and mine planning. I was working for a company called Control Data that dealt with a variety of technical applications and I really loved that.
Back in the late 1960s I applied to BHP to be in their intake of new graduates. They gave a programming aptitude test and I wasn’t in the top 10%. So I was not offered a job by BHP. However, within a month of working for Control Data there I was, teaching the BHP graduate intake about linear programming – one of the programs they use for cutting up steel. I always thought that was great: I was standing out in front of all the ones who had been selected, and there I was teaching them something. So I started developing teaching skills and I enjoyed that.
That’s one reason why I applied for this (editing role) – it has revived the challenge I enjoyed in my early working life. I am starting to get interested in virtual reality at the moment. I like to learn new things. One day in the not too distant future virtual reality will be how a lot of people "travel". Ideas like this are discussed after the two film groups I now tutor.
And I’m in the climate change course, which I know a bit about, having been an activist since 2007. I think. I went to see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and you walk out and think oh my god, we’re done for, and you’d better do something about it. So then with a friend I started a climate change action group called “LIVE.org.au” It’s still going, and now I am involved in another local climate change group called “PECAN.org.au” (Port Phillip Emergency Climate Action Network). We recently had a live-streamed forum with the Liberals, Labor and Greens in St Kilda Town Hall. In the past I would have been organising the video streaming. But now I believe it’s best if the younger people in their thirties and forties look after the group, rather than me doing everything, which I tend to do when I start out. Younger people – even some in their twenties – are quite active. You need to give young people responsibilities.
I like my new role as the E-Bulletin editor I feel useful. A lot of things in my life are interesting to me but not very useful to anyone else. At U3APP I work with colleagues and an audience. I have control over what the E-Bulletin looks like and I have presented it, as I like to see it. And I do appreciate any feedback coming in from the bottom of the newsletter. Every newsletter I will try something new.
I like to hit the refresh button whenever I can.
Interview April 2022
Jenny Hunter, how did you get involved with U3A?
Betty Knight introduced me to U3APP. I went down and found out about the classes and joined. I wanted to learn French. It might have been 2005 because I was still working then.
I volunteered for office work when it was still simple – work that I could manage. When Jose took over as president, and I was sort of organising the office girls, she decided I was going to be ‘office manager’. I had done that sort of thing for years at work, but it was a bit of a shock when she suddenly presented me with this manifesto of three pages of the rights and responsibilities of the (U3APP) office manager – a job description. When it all started to get a bit technical it was decided that I would become property manager.
John Wroe and I established a partnership because he understood mechanical things and we organised tables and chairs and equipment. Jacek (Przybylski) and I have a very close relationship. I could ring him up at any time and run things past him. He soon knew that I knew what I was talking about. I didn’t bother him for silly things. I understood that I couldn’t just call a plumber in for one little thing. It had to be worth his while.
I suppose because I was property manager, and I had designed some forms, I got involved with Brett Hedger who works in the sustainability department at the council. He believes in ‘no waste and a green planet’ and I still ring him up occasionally to ask about things. We started looking at how we could reduce some costs of running Mary Kehoe Centre (MKC) and other properties as well. We went everywhere, taking notes and talking to people, getting information and statistics. We’d get rid of things in council buildings that used an enormous amount of electricity. We worked out what we could do better with newer light globes, and draught reduction. We started out looking at our own homes and then translating that knowledge to MKC. We were the ‘Carbon Cops’.
Not many people knew about us. I don’t know how we did it, but our little group proved to the council that if we could get solar panels on the roof of MKC and it pay for its own electricity, which it still does, the excess would go into the council funds. We also recommended the changing over of the air conditioning heating unit, which is old and expensive to run – it would be a big job to pull it out and start again. We got rid of hot water services and old refrigerators and put in modern ones. This wasn’t just for MKC. We went everywhere. We poked into all sorts of places. That’s why I know so much about all these council properties. Brett was great; he just guided us to do the research and calculations. We organised better windows in the MKC toilets; we looked at paper towels versus hot air. Our plan was to make these places mostly self-sufficient, with heating, cooling and lighting and food facilities without too much expense. We have a very good council that cares for its elderly people and their needs. We met once a week for quite a while I think, in Room 1. And anything we could do to help and we thought was the right way to go. People got to know us as the Carbon Cops.
What was your job before all this?
At this stage I think I was working for a nursing agency. I was an operating theatre nurse. Age and experience. Some places asked for me because I knew what I was doing. Once when I went to Sandringham and was introduced to a surgeon, he said, “Oh good, an old nurse. She’ll know what to do.” He was in fact a guy I had helped train as a registrar many years before. I trained at Footscray and then I did midwifery and then I went overseas to live and work in London.
I got a wonderful job where they liked Australian nurses because we knew what we were doing. And we were willing. I worked with a surgeon whom I later discovered was the son of Lionel Logue, the king’s speech therapist. Valentine was the neurosurgeon and he was ‘god’ in this hilarious operating theatre in Maida Vale. I could live in, and there with three other Australian nurses and we got a wonderful neurosurgical nursing training. When I came home I got a job on the basis of that training at Prince Henry’s Hospital.
Then I went to the College of Nursing and got a theatre qualification, which taught you how to run theatres. I applied for a job at Royal Melbourne and was second in charge of their operating theatres. I went on to Footscray as supervisor and then I went to the Queen Vic.
Then I got married. And divorced. By then I was about 42 and was offered a good job in the Cabrini Theatre.
The Cabrini nuns are involved with refugees; you never had to advertise any jobs at Cabrini because everyone working there had a cousin just off the boat. We went through all the immigration phases – Middle East, Greeks, Vietnamese, Timorese, Africans. They are often studying university courses while they are getting a very good training and their standards are very high.
I worked there on and off for years and years. I worked at Masada for a while too. I also had a couple of jobs as secretary to surgeons. The first one I was also his theatre nurse. We used to go off to the country once a month, and also work in East Melbourne at the old St Andrews and Epworth. That was great.
Also I worked for Spotless Laundry looking after surgical linen for three years. But I was in Brunswick and because I had always worked in filtered air, I got terrible asthma. When the factory moved from Brunswick to Richmond I saw what industry could do to people. I think it was a dead heat between me deciding to retire and them telling me I wasn’t needed anymore. Because I had set up all these systems and it was absolutely foolproof, I was earning more there than I got in theatre. This was in the eighties around the time of the nurses’ strike. I felt terrible working and getting money while all my nursing friends were on strike. But we got things set up for nurses like a proper line of command, an ability to move up through the levels with a proper system of pay.
At this time I also got a place as a mature aged student at Chisholm Institute to do an Arts degree. That was also when I started traveling overseas and that was when I was diagnosed with a lymphoma attributed to Agent Orange. In 1967 I had spent nine months in Vietnam in Long Xuyen. And 18 months later (1969-70) I went back for six months to Bien Hoa. We were working in civilian hospitals. All the local doctors had been conscripted into the army so there were teams from all over the world running the provincial hospitals. They used to defoliate along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in the mountains, and it drained down into the delta, and as we lived on a branch of Mekong that was where our water came from. Even though it was purified, obviously not enough. I still don’t like iced water or ice blocks. I used to clean my teeth from the tap and drink the water.
I travelled to China in the early eighties too, when it was opening up to tourists.
Bored again, I went off and did post graduate studies in Library and Information Studies at Melbourne University. I wanted a job as a medical librarian because that is what I knew. But I couldn’t get a job anywhere. They were always filled by friends and relatives.
What do you do with U3A now?
Mondays, I do Shakespeare with Helen Vorrath because I think it is good for me. (I did French for about 15 years or so but Claude moved to Castlemaine. I am not going to France anymore. I’m probably too old to do all that travel now. I used to set out and wander Paris everyday.) Thursdays I play petanque. There are two pistes over in Port Melbourne but they desperately need work. That is something I must get onto the council about. And I do the Friday film with David. I watch movies to be entertained, interested, informed. I like history, biographies, and archaeology. At one stage, I went off for a while and did painting, when I got bored.
I garden a lot, as I find it relaxing.
I think this U3A has been a tremendous service for the Port Phillip residents, and the area as a whole.
"So much to do"
How did you find U3A?
I came across U3A when I went looking for a local ukulele group to join after a small group of friends I began learning the Ukulele with disbanded. I put out an enquiry to U3A and the leader of ‘Beaut Ukes’, Minuk Richards, responded and encouraged me to join.
It was a lovely welcoming, friendly group that was well organised with room for a bit of friendly banter between songs. At the time I joined we were in one of our lockdowns and the group was meeting via Zoom. This was challenging, as with Zoom only one person can be heard at a time, so people would volunteer to play a verse and chorus, with everyone else playing along ‘on mute’, so essentially playing a solo. This was quite intimidating being new to the group and self-taught! Most people were reticent to put up their hands, so after a couple of weeks I thought I’d give it a go and everyone was very kind and supportive. One benefit of Zoom was I could learn everyone’s names as they appeared below their videos.
When Covid restrictions lifted we were looking forward to meeting in person, but the council was using the Mary Kehoe Centre hall for immunisations, and we were scheduled to return to Zoom. As it is so much easier and fun playing in person I suggested we look at an alternate venue. My husband is the president of the local bowling club in Albert Park, and I knew it was trying to involve more community groups, so we arranged to use their clubhouse for free. I was the Covid marshal and the president checked that things ran smoothly. We used the clubrooms for subsequent venue conflicts and even had our Christmas concert/singalong there. We all brought a plate of nibbles and invited club members, family and friends to be our audience and to sing along to Christmas songs with us. A few uninitiated bowling club members rolled their eyes about the ‘noise’ we were making but we didn’t care.
Around this time Bunnings requested a choir to sing at their Christmas festival and contacted the community choir, With One Voice St Kilda, that I am a member of. With One Voice choirs are all about bringing people together from different walks of life to reduce isolation in the community and to share the joy and promote the benefits of singing together. I asked Bunnings if they would be interested in a ukulele group too. Some of Beaut Ukes players were keen, while others were a bit nervous. It is one thing to practice and play together but appearing in public is very different. U3A have performed at the Seniors Festival concert in the past but these were cancelled due to Covid in the last few years. In the end eight of us were brave enough to go off to Bunning’s wearing our red and green Christmas colours and played in a cabana in the outdoor furniture area. We brought our families, friends, neighbours, and grandchildren along who became our audience. It was a hoot and we were told we would be welcomed back any time!
There are now three Ukulele Groups at U3A Port Phillip – “Beginners”, “Fun Ukes” and “Beaut Ukes” for the more adventurous and accomplished musicians. So now Minuk runs three sessions back-to-back all in one day. She is an ex-teacher and her skill and enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge really shows. I have joined both the more relaxed Fun Ukes, with easier chords and chord changes so I can focus on learning new stumming patterns and techniques and just have fun; and Beaut Ukes for the challenge of new chords and trickier songs - and bang, you’re playing really fast! Both classes run for an hour and a half. It’s great for your brain with lots to coordinate – chord changes, strumming patterns, singing lyrics and holding a melody. There is a lot going on when you are playing a ukulele.
Minuk was sick last week and asked me to run the Fun Ukes class, which was challenging since I am such a new player. She makes it look much easier than it is, keeping everyone together in time and in tune. It was a team effort managing without her and we were very happy when she was back the next week. It gave us a new appreciation of how talented she is in pulling everyone together. I hadn’t chatted with many of them before, as we’d arrive, we’d play and then leave and with Covid there wasn’t much time for socialising. But going around the group I found we had a wealth of skills and experience: past lawyers, accountants, teachers, plumbers, administrators, scientists, engineers, and many more professions. It was amazing to hear of everyone’s backgrounds and realise the diversity in the room.
So, what is your background?
I started my professional life as an industrial chemist conducting research for six years. I then moved into technical sales, followed by product management, and finally strategy, marketing and development. I worked for ICI Australia for ten years and then we moved overseas. In America I joined ExxonMobil Chemicals for several years (ExxonMobil is the parent company of Esso Australia, a big multinational oil and gas company). When we moved to Perth I joined an engineering company, WorleyParsons, which is a true Australian multinational. It grew amazingly during my ten years with them from around 8,000 to 40,000 employees globally by the time I left. In Perth I was responsible for their Marketing and Communications for Australia, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. When we moved back to Houston they created a US Marketing role for me that grew to a regional Americas role including US, Canada and Latin America regions. Finally my husband retired and we returned to Melbourne after 15 years absence and I took on the global marketing director role for WorleyParsons with a team of 40 people reporting to me from around the world. My team would help prepare proposals for big capital investment projects, support investor relations, develop sales brochures, manage social media and the website, coordinate customer events and conferences. My team was also responsible for databases to track new opportunities and we rolled out a global customer relationship management database which was a massive task. It is funny where your life takes you, from bench chemist to global marketing director with no marketing qualifications to now here I am in U3A Port Phillip.
Did you have withdrawals when you retired?
Not at all! I’ve never looked back. There is so much to do. I had a bucket list of things I wanted to do when I retired and so dived right in. I joined a community choir, got back into watercolour painting and discovered new things like textile art. I have made an art quilt with a friend embroidered, appliqued and hand quilted. I discovered patchwork is a bit too rigid for me and required discipline and straight lines. I have dabbled with needle felting where you felt wool by stabbing raw wool with a barbed needle. I have painted a community mural in Dundas Lane and painted little people in amongst an ivy in Gatehouse Lane for people to discover on their many walks during Covid restrictions. It is wonderful just to do what you want, when you want to. I am on the board of Duldig Studio, a not-for-profit house museum in East Malvern and involved with their events, fundraising, website development, and social media. I volunteer with Australian Migrant Employment Services, helping new Australians get their first job in Australia. What else do I do? Oh, I play lawn bowls and I walk two sausage dogs twice a day. I like going to the theatre and museums and I host a weekly good-movie club with a bunch of friends. I also love gardening, listening to music and reading.
Do you ever have a day where you don’t do anything?
Those are the days I reluctantly do housework and sneak some time in my hammock listening to music. And I would like to join a book club …
Interview March 2022
What year did you move to Australia?
I migrated to Australia in June 1972 after marrying Annemarie in Milan on 8th November 1971. We went back to Italy in early 1979 and we returned to Australia on a permanent basis in 2006.
Had you visited Australia previously?
Why did you come?
First of all because I wanted to meet the rest of Annemarie’s large family. When Annemarie and I decided to get married, which was a decision we took fairly quickly after only one year of knowing each other, only one of Annemarie’s brothers could be present at our wedding. Secondly because I was driven by a sense of adventure. I had always loved travelling primarily within Europe to improve my learning of French, German and English and in 1966 I visited also the US where I spent two months on an exchange program. When I met Annemarie, Australia sounded very exotic and unexplored and that was one reason for me to decide to come here.
How did you meet your wife Annemarie?
I met Annemarie at a private party in Milan in October 1970. At that time, I had an Italian girlfriend with whom I went to this party. By the end of the evening, I was dancing more with Annemarie than with my girlfriend. Annemarie gave me her phone number but it took me almost three weeks to get in touch with her and ask her out. But after that first time we kept going out more and more often and I broke up with my Italian girlfriend.
What was the best part of your life like in Italy?
There were a lot of happy and interesting periods in the life Annemarie and I spent together in Italy, but if I have to choose one in particular, I would say the six years we spent in Florence from 1979 to 1985. I got a job as Product / Area Manager with the Italian branch of the American company Mobil Plastics looking after the export of personalised plastic bags for supermarkets and department stores in Great Britain, France and Scandinavia and Annemarie started teaching English to the company’s Italian executives. She became a buyer assistant with the Anforti buying office to look after foreign buyers who were searching for Italian products to buy. Because we lived in Florence for such a long time, we became very popular with all our Australian friends who frequently paid us a visit there. We rented a small apartment within a big villa owned by an elderly couple, with whom we got along so well that we even spent some holidays at various Club Meds together. We took advantage of the long time spent in Florence to get to know the city of Florence and the rest of Tuscany in depth. I will never forget this memorable experience.
Were you born in Milan?
My family lived in Milan, but because I was born in the middle of the second world war in December 1943, when Northern Italy was siding with Germany while Southern Italy was siding with the allied forces and Milan was frequently bombed by the Allied Airforce, my father, Angelo, decided that it would have been safer to move the family to the countryside. Therefore, I was born In Clusone, a small town 87 km northeast of Milan, in the Region of Lombardy. We returned to Milan when the war ended in northern Italy and the allied forces together with the Italian partisans entered Milan on 25th April 1945.
What courses are you enrolled in in U3APP?
I am enrolled in a couple of Yoga courses, a relaxation course, a course on using android phones and I play Mahjong.
What does U3APP mean to you?
Before joining U3APP, I belonged to U3A City of Melbourne. When I realised how many interesting courses U3APP offered for a fraction of the price I was paying but above all the friendlier and more relaxed atmosphere experienced at U3APP, there was no hesitation in me to join U3APP and I have never regretted my decision.
Any other thoughts?
When your loved one, your best friend, your confidant with whom you have spent 51 years together all of the sudden disappears from your life, you need some time to readjust your focus on life and U3APP is helping me in doing exactly that. Once I have reorganised my affairs, I am more relaxed and have more time available, I would be happy to become more involved in U3APP activities both as a volunteer and a tutor.
Photography and interview by Margaret Smith.
In Praise of Neighbours
Clunk. Uh oh. That’s the sound of the back door locking behind me. I try the knob. Yep, it’s locked. This is not good. I am locked outside my daughter’s house, in her Fort Knox style backyard.
I’m staying here just to look after my teenage granddaughters’ rabbits during one of Port Phillip’s rare heatwaves. I’ve come outside first thing in the morning to give the rabbits some greens, cool water, and shade to keep them safe. Backyard bunnies don’t do well in the heat. My family are off looking after a house with a swimming pool and a dog. (I thought that gave me the easier job.)
My brain goes into overdrive. The back gate is locked and barricaded. The side gate is padlocked. (I’ve never seen a key for it.) I contemplate huddling in a heap and living on rabbit pellets and lemons until they come and rescue me. They would (eventually) notice my phone going unanswered because it is, of course, locked inside the house.
The heat is the problem, and the reason I shut the door in the first place – to keep the heat out of the house. (didn’t mean to keep myself out as well!)
So, what to do? Even if I could climb over the high fence, which is unlikely, it is hardly practical because I am clad only in my nightie. And add to that (and I realise this could be classified as way too much information) no glasses, no denture, no underwear.
I contemplate breaking into the house. But if I did smash a, multi framed, window there’s still the problem of clambering through it.
Instead, I will break out - through the side gate. I scour the shed for suitable tools. Armed with screwdriver and hammer, I attack the padlock. I break part of the gatepost (oops) but it means I can slide the bolt and open the gate.
My objective is the key-keep on the front porch. This, of course, brings on another dilemma. I don’t know the code. Thankfully my daughter knows her neighbours well, and they know me by sight. (But usually, I am more appropriately dressed and with all my teeth.)
I take a chance and bashfully creep through their front gate. Thankfully Amanda is up and to her credit she doesn’t laugh. She doesn’t know the code, so she texts my daughter. Awkward minutes pass then I say, “She’s sent the code to my phone, hasn’t she?”
Amanda’s next text produces the code. Then I need more help as, without my glasses, I can barely see the key-keep let alone its numbers!
Amanda’s boisterous new puppy is overjoyed by the early morning excitement and will not be left home. I happily carry him while she wrestles with the underused, awkwardly placed, key-keep. Eventually she calls her (grown up) son over to help. Oh, the embarrassment. Thankfully I have the puppy to hide behind. But it gets me the key.
Inside, reunited with my phone, and glasses, I find texts from my bewildered daughter:
Text 1: Hi, the pin is…
[and there is the magic number]
Text 2: Sorry the bike is in the way
[No answer from me, of course.]
Text 3: Everything ok?
[Well at that stage, no!]
I text back that the bike was the least of my worries and give a brief rundown of events. I’m able to reassure her that at least she knows that her house isn’t easy to break into.
Oddly, we continue to text instead of calling.
Just got confused because:
- A) It was early
[I am notoriously not a morning person]
- B) you are always organised with keys
- C) you always have your phone!!
[Again, true and I briefly admire her ability to text in an orderly alpha style list]
1st thought (literally) was that maybe you’d been up all-night partying and just got home! LOL! And lost your keys and phone in a bar or something.
2nd thought was that you’d been out for a walk and didn’t take keys – that’s why I pinged your phone first – didn’t occur to me that that’s why Amanda was sending the message for you! Coffee not quite kicked in! What a drama. I’m so sorry that happened to you! Thank goodness for amazing neighbours. I’m still trying to process it all. But glad you’re safe and sound. I think scout badge earned.
[I’ll accept that]
The flurry of texts eventually ends with her: Phew! Well played!!
It’s then that the adrenalin kicks in. I indulge in comfort food.
[I earned salted caramel ice-cream drowned in chocolate topping for breakfast].
When I feel brave enough, I prop the door open so I can check on the rabbits.
[At this point I no longer care if the heat gets into the house.]
There they are, oblivious to the drama. So cute, contentedly chomping kale.
There I am, completely exhausted before eight o’clock in the morning.
There’s No Easy Money
Gossip: “Casual reports about other people, involving details that are not confirmed as being true”.
In my retirement years, I find I’m tuning into financial information left, right and centre and checking my super balance almost daily. I’ve never been much of a punter, either at the races or the stock exchange.
Being risk averse maybe doesn’t provide the highs of a big win yet it also means I don’t endure the lows of losing those hard-earned dollars. Jumping up and down hugging perfect strangers across a crowded room and being a Melbourne Cup winning owner packing a suitcase full of cash does have some appeal – just once to know what it’s like.
However, a prime example of my conservative approach was earlier this year; a charming barrister gave me a tip on a company listed on the stock exchange which was as close to a sure thing as one could get. The company, Allgate, listed as ACN on the market. I mention his occupation as it gave credibility to his tip as opposed to advice coming from a local barista.
Allgate’s story is interesting – an Australian gold mining company whose mining leases were confiscated by the Thai Govt in 2011 preventing them from mining in Thailand. That’s 10 years of no income. Yet a year or so ago Allgate challenged this action in the World Court and the matter was finally settled in favour of the miner.
In the lead up to this decision there was much speculation with savvy investors buying in. It appears the King of Thailand wanted the gold for himself not some Australian company, and the World court supported the Aussie miner.
The actual date of handing back the mines has been set, yet it means rivers of gold will flow. The temptation to buy shares was attractive and I sought the counsel of my sister. Big Sis being the one to turn to for advice and didn’t miss the mark this time. “Only buy what you could afford to lose” were her words which still echo in my ear.
So, I bought 1200 or so shares at 98c and then again later a further 2,200 at 1.70 ish. Yesterday on the eve of an announcement the share price moved to 1.99. Then today an announcement Allgate could resume mining within a month. The news couldn’t be much better.
However, the fickle stock market didn’t see it that way and the shares fell to a 1.69 – go figure. The share price is now bobbing around 1.42 per share. Proof there’s no sure thing in gambling and one needs to be careful in listening to financial gossip no matter who it’s coming from.
I felt crushed.
p.s. My mate says some hedge fund is artificially keeping the share price low so they can buy more of them. Pays to be in the know, yet really is what we know really in the know. I really didn’t have the faintest idea.
My Day in Court
My day in Court was not as I’d planned as I hadn’t planned on being in Court at all.
I was all of 15 years of age, accompanied by my father, sitting in front of Magistrate Bishop – funny they always have those beyond reproach names or at least that’s what I thought at the time.
My crime was riding a 50 cc, yes 50 not 500, on the footpath next to a railway line in leafy Brighton. Seems a couple of grumpy residents got jack of innocent boys riding their machine and actually enjoying themselves in their suburb. So, they called in the police.
The Police turned up and we turned green with concern. The subsequent charge issued was riding an unlicensed motorcycle on a public road. That charge ballooned by the fact I was carrying a pillion passenger in young John without a helmet. It had been raining and whilst we didn’t have helmets, we did have an umbrella to cover our heads. That was the excuse anyway.
I was a little staggered the matter required charges being laid at all as the motorcycle really was a step up from a pushbike, the kind the postie uses.
Fast forward 3 months and we were sitting in front of Bishop. I of course was dressed in my school uniform looking like butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth. We couldn’t measure what sort of penalty would be awarded as the magistrate gave nothing away.
His Mag opened our case with the comment "does the accused have anything to say for himself?" Internally I was thinking yes, you can all go and get stuffed, yet looking at the magistrate who had a face which had transformed into solid rock, I pulled my head in. My father in fact elected to speak first. “Your Magistrate my son was involved in an accident whilst riding on a private property and the motorcycle has been disposed of. He has learnt a lesson which will not be repeated”.
“Is that right boy” quizzed the magistrate? I could feel a slight wetting sensation around my groin area. “Yes sir” I said. “Then 12 months good behaviour bond is my sentence – you’re free to go yet don’t be back here.” And I did not buy a motorcycle ever again.
Vegemite - Aroma and History in Port Melbourne to preserve
In the early 1970s my father, the late Albert Edward Daley, a boilermaker, often walked across Murphy's Reserve in Port Melbourne from our home in garden City to the Vegemite factory to work on the boilers.*
My brother John, who died just recently, worked for Hewlett Packard and travelled overseas for the company. Taking along with him his wife Wendy and four young children, he was away for nearly five years, setting up new branches in Germany, California and Singapore.
While overseas, they contacted us by phone to tell us they could not buy Vegemite in Mexico, so our dad bought tins of it from the factory to send to them, much to the delight of the children.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table writing letters to go inside the parcels; there was no internet or mobile phones in these times or places.
Listening to today's stories of preserving the aroma still coming from the factory on Vegemite Way, we are reminded that one can often smell it as we alight from Westgate Bridge.
Going overseas in those days, to places so far away, was a big adventure. Our parents were a little horrified that they needed this adventure with such a young family, but in the years to come, as Hewlett Packard expanded into many countries around the globe, their travels took them to many parts of the world. Memories, memories and more memories.
* Postscript: In 1976 dad died from working on those boilers in factories around Port Melbourne, having contracted Mesothelioma from asbestos the boilers were lined with. The disease was in his body for some twenty to thirty years before it took the toll of a condition not able to be cured - and not a death one would wish on any family, or any enemy either, as most died within eighteen months.
It was fortunate I was a nurse at the time, so came home to help mum nurse him for the fourteen months after diagnosis until his death, here in the home he bought as a 26 year old single man in 1928 when he was an apprentice boilermaker.
I was a little bit sad. My 80th birthday party celebrations had been cancelled. My three Interstate daughters and their families cancelled their flights, and nothing could be done about it.
On the morning, I gave myself breakfast in bed and bemoaned the fact that it would probably be a slow, quiet day. The sun was shining through my bedroom window as the first calls and text began to ‘ping’ on my phone. I wasn't forgotten after all.
Suddenly the doorbell rings. I am still in my satin pink PJs, so I grab my housecoat smooth my hair, check I have my teeth in and make sure I am decent. All good. I rush to open the front door and there a lovely, handsome young man presents me with a beautiful floral arrangement which needs both hands.
At that moment the satin tie of the PJs lets me down, and my pants fall to the floor. I laugh and laugh, but the young man, with a startled look on his face, turned on his heels and ran.
I laughed all day after that. In fact, when I repeat this little tale, I still laugh as I realise, I couldn't have scripted it better.
‘Flasher at 80.’
p.s. I did have my knickers on
Music and Me
Then and Now: Helen playing 50 years apart
I am the ultimate dilettante. I failed Art at school and I’m not going back there, but I’ll give almost anything else a go, from software to Shakespeare. And underpinning it all is a love of music.
There is music in the family. I still have my great-grandmother’s music books, with the dreadfully sentimental Victorian popular songs that she played for weddings and parties. And her volumes of Mozart and Chopin. Sadly she didn’t pass down her skills to my grandmother or mother, but my great-aunt’s house was fitted with the piano that all upwardly mobile homes aspired to. When she died her two children were in places distant from Melbourne (South Africa and Tasmania) so my mother purchased the piano from her estate. I was the youngest and therefore got the most out of this acquisition as I started learning at about 8 years old. By modern standards that’s still a bit late.
I progressed fairly steadily to Grade 5, but then decided to copy my brother who’d decided to play the clarinet. I thought then, and still do, that it is the instrument with the most beautiful sound. It’s also versatile as I’m now proving in my later years.
I went to a school where music was much more important than sport, which was great for me as I was a bit of a dud at anything that involved interacting with a moving object. Swimming and gym were OK, anything else, not. But I was happily singing in the choir, playing in the orchestra, continuing with lessons on piano as well as clarinet, and learning theory as well. By the time I left school I’d completed grade 5 in all three subjects.
This is where the story takes a turn for the worse. By the time I left school I was over it, dying to move on to University. I dropped everything that was related to school. Copying my brother again, I bought a guitar, learnt the basic 3 chords and joined the folk singing society (embarrassing, but true). I acquired a boyfriend who scorned folk singing and introduced me to modern jazz, and I began the gradual slide from player to listener. By the time I started work I wasn’t doing much of either.
After one year working in Australia I left for England, where I fell in love with a French horn player. This was a plus and a minus. He was a very talented musician, would have been a professional if working as a computer person hadn’t been more lucrative. With him I rediscovered classical music as we went to hear all the great orchestras in London, see opera at Glyndebourne. He was into early music, so I learned about that too. He played in semi-professional orchestras and chamber groups, and I dutifully went along to all the concerts, even a music camp where they played Wagner opera. So what was the problem? He was such a good player that anything I did seemed very second rate. Even after returning to Australia and reclaiming the family piano, I still didn’t play. My school clarinet gathered dust until I discovered, much later in life, that the significant other of the time had pawned it.
I continued to be an active concert goer. I subscribed to the ABC concerts in Geelong, where I lived when I first returned to Australia. I subscribed to Musica Viva concerts and have done so continuously for over 40 years. After my marriage to the horn player broke up, I returned to Melbourne. There I went to the opera with my parents, and various relatives and friends joined me as MSO subscribers from time to time, including the man who’s now my husband.
He encouraged me in a dream that I had: when I retired I would take up the clarinet again. He promised that he would buy one for me. It remained a promise until I started getting more actively involved in the chamber music scene in Melbourne. First I got a gig as the Jury Manager for the Melbourne International Chamber Music Competition (aka MICMC). This meant I spent a week shut up with some of the world’s best musicians, and with them listened to dozens of brilliant young ensembles as they competed. MICMC was a four-yearly event, but in between there was an Asia Pacific competition. I managed to do a good enough job to retain my position as Jury Manager through several competitions, and after one of these I decided I just had to start playing again. A week or so later, I shared this decision with a childhood friend I met at a concert, and then thought, “Right, I have to do it now.” On the way home from the concert I stopped off at the Music Place in Clarendon Street to try out instruments, which ended with my phoning my husband to ask him to bring his credit card.
Have clarinet, need teacher. Ask Google. Here I was extraordinarily lucky. From the web I selected a clarinettist who lived in St Kilda and was studying at ANAM in South Melbourne. I figured it wouldn’t be difficult for him to stop by and give me lessons on his way to and from ANAM. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He is a great teacher, now the Associate Principal clarinet with Orchestra Victoria, and through him I’ve become a supporter of his Melbourne Chamber Players group. And then a year or so ago I got a phone call out of the blue from a friend of my sister-in-law who was drumming up support for her daughter’s ensemble, Genesis Baroque. Long story short, I’m now the secretary of Genesis Baroque Inc and the keeper of their website. Somewhere along the line in the last decade I’ve also been recruited on to the Musica Viva Victorian Committee.
Much more exciting and important than any of that is the story that began in the days when I wrote the e-bulletin (in the era BK (before Kate) when it was just a boring fact sheet). José Simsa contacted me to ask if I would advertise for players to join the Allsorts. I put my own hand up instantly, and rediscovered the joy of playing with others. Fortunately they had had a clarinettist in the group before, so there were already parts for me hand-written by Zoe Hogg, but in those early days I also did a lot of sight-transposing (that’s sight-reading and transposing at the same time), very good for the ageing brain. And then I bravely, or foolishly, decided that it would be fun to try playing more jazz, and so the U3APP jazz group was formed. I had always thought of myself as someone who could only play with the notes in front of them, as I’ve never been able to play from memory, but to my surprise and pleasure, I am learning to improvise. One day, if (no WHEN) we get out of lockdown, you’ll be able to hear the results.
Lockdown has been a desperate period for us musicians, as you really can’t play together on Zoom. So I needed another music-related project. In last year’s lockdown I organised an on-line trivia quiz as a fund-raiser for Musica Viva, which some of you participated in. This year I started something much more ambitious: I founded a new organisation to support chamber music in Victoria, called Continuo Community. Unsurprisingly, given the current circumstances and my predilections, it’s main activity at the moment is a website. If you’re curious and want to see more, go to https://continuo.org.au. I’d love to have some more members.
My Wonderful Weekday Women
Oh I feel so guilty when I get the regular phone call with the voice on the other end solemnly sounding out the words “Are you okay?” I don’t really know how to answer without lying because it is a genuine and heart-felt gesture of a well-meaning person checking on my mental health.
The truth I should really be confessing is “Hey I’m fantastic; I’ve never been so busy in all my life. So much so that I have too much on and would sometimes love to be doing nothing.” That response, although it defines my reality, would nevertheless be totally inappropriate to a caller who is simply fulfilling a duty to keep an eye on her friends.
Unfortunately, for them, they have not been introduced to My Wonderful Weekday Women.
Let me explain.
I don’t know how familiar you are with the well-known and well-loved children’s story book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” For many grandparents and grandchildren it’s the delightful bedtime story of the greedy caterpillar gorging itself each day of the week on juicy leaves and fruit until he reaches bursting point on the seventh day.
And now I find myself drawn to convincing parallels between my experience and that of my friend “The Grub”.
Like the very hungry caterpillar encased in his cocoon, I also in lockdown was enclosed by my surroundings. We both found ourselves needing to escape our predicament. Over seven days, my friend “The Grub” succeeded by eating his way through fruit and plants and finally emerging as a spectacular butterfly. I too - thanks to my Wonderful Weekday Women - was transformed, spending my weekdays gobbling up courses and activities and by Saturday renewed once more into a fully-satisfied woman with a smile on my face.
The start of my journey began Monday morning where I chatted my way through a zoom session devoted to catching up with a group of my school friends. We had been walking together every week for the past ten years and now zoom is substituted to keep up the relationship.
On Monday afternoon from 3.30 to 4.45, I held one leg in the air behind me and wobbled, wiggled and wavered my way through Julie Smith’s “Build Strength and Flexibility – Yoga Yin and Yang Advanced” class.
On Tuesday from 9.30 to 10.30, I shut my eyes and balanced one foot in front of the other and searched my way through darkness in Lorna Wyatt’s “ Exercise to Feel Well and be Active” class.
On Wednesday from 4.30 to 5.30, I lay on the floor with my block and cushion and stretched, twisted and twirled my way through a bonus Julie Smith “Yin Yoga for Flexibility & Relaxation - Beginners/Intermediate” class.
On Thursday from 10.00 to 12.00 noon, I imagined my imminent metamorphosis and wrote my way through Pat Ryan’s “Creative Writing Group 1 1st and 3rd Thursday of the month” class.
On Friday from 1.00pm to 3.00pm, I listened and learnt and finally mastered my way through never-before-discovered apps and links on my iphone in Jude Hatton’s “How to be Smarter with your iPhone/iPad” extravaganza.
My week was full. I was well-exercised, mentally stimulated and connected to the outside world thanks to these four amazing women (and not forgetting the marvellous men) who graciously volunteer their time and professionalism to keep the wheels of U3A Port Phillip chugging along for the likes of me and so many other lucky members who are privileged to be included in one or more of their classes.
Unlike the Caterpillar who transforms into a magnificent butterfly, I cannot fly by myself; so a big thanks to all my Wonderful Weekday Women for being - in the words of the Bette Midler song- “The Wind Beneath My Wings” and enabling me to soar.
Janine Mifsud Class member U3APP Pat Ryan’s Creative Writing Group 1 2/9/21
Order of Australia Recipient June 2021
It was the Fifties. I couldn't wait to leave school. I wanted to be an adult. I started working in the local cannery, and using this as a base, I then worked on the itinerant track as a teenager, roaming up and down the East Coast of Australia, and occasionally inland.
The jobs were menial, but at least I got paid (most of the time) while my general education continued in its own way, although I didn't realise now much I was learning about life at the time.
I learnt that taipans only bite you if you annoy them, followed by information on how not to annoy them - don't stand on them for starters.
As an 18 year old, while trying to talk a pregnant teenager down from a cliff where she was going to jump to a certain death, I learnt that we do not always have a choice between right and wrong. Sometimes there is no right choice available, and we have to choose the least worse option.
Then, along with a girlfriend, I got a job with a squatter family on the Darling Downs. This taught me to be wary of 'nice' people. There were two positions available, one as a cook and one as a housekeeper. As neither of us could be described as capable in a kitchen, and our housekeeping efforts at home had also been close to non-existent, despite how we might have described our qualifications on application, we arranged to share the jobs.
We were informed that the last servant had left as she had stolen two shillings and sixpence from Miss Elizabeth's piggy bank. "It's not the money. It's the fact that she was a thief". We were also informed that we would eat our meals in the kitchen, after the family had been served.
We worked for nearly two months, seven days a week, including over the Queen's Birthday long weekend, never leaving the property which was isolated out in the Darling Downs. We were not allowed to be familiar with the children, themselves teenagers, so the only rational and/or fun conversations we had were with the family dog.
It was clearly time to return to civilisation. We resigned, expecting to get a nice payout. Wrong! Our wages for the duration, were kept to pay for our keep, apart from enough to purchase a train ticket into Brisbane. The oldest boy, Master Alex, would drive us to the station to catch the train into Toowoomba, where we could transfer to the train into Brisbane.
What station? Alex drove us to the railway line. He gave us instructions to flag down the steam train from Jondaryan, which would arrive within the next two hours, then disappeared over the horizon. Only the odd bird looked down as two teenagers, with a suitcase each, sat in the Queensland sun with barely a tree, or the occasional cow, to break the monopoly. Then the train came. Climbing on this monster was not easy for two vertically challenged girls. The driver helped us get on board.
I made one farewell gesture. The train was like something our of a Wild West film, with a small observation deck at the back. It was the time of the full starched petticoats. Miss Elizabeth had one. I had stolen it and now pulled it out of the suitcase. I twirled it around over my head and launched it into the air. That was one for all the previous servants who had been labelled thieves.
At Toowoomba, we caught the midnight special train from St Georges, and continued into Brisbane. It was full of miners. We partied all night, as they handed around the beer. We joined them loudly singing country and western songs.
We had arrived safely into Brisbane but without any money to get a room for the night. I rang the union to report receiving no wages for working long days over many weeks. "We don't cover domestics" a male voice told me. My dad was an old union man. He had told me about Jondaryan and how the shearers strike was precipitated from the woodshed there. Frustrated, I yelled this information into the phone before slamming it down.
We then fronted up to the Salvation Army. Yes, they would provide us with a roof over our head, but it came with a long lecture about how irresponsible we were for roaming the country without any funds.
Strangely, the behaviour of the two groups who should have helped us, hurt more than that of the squatters, who were clearly in the wrong. The helpers had reinforced our lack of worth; they were pure - we were not. It was in itself, a strong lesson. Helpers good - receivers not.
Not long out of my teens, my itinerant life ended. I stopped in St Kilda to help look after a young brother who was starting an apprenticeship. We were staying in a rooming house and this rolling stone then gathered some moss. I got pregnant and the father went on his own itinerant track. I was in despair for a while, then moved to action. I checked in at the hospital and, as an unmarried mother, had a compulsory visit with the social worker.
My track experience, reinforced by warnings from others in the rooming house that the help I may receive could lead to the baby being taken from me, had prepared me. I told her that I didn't need any help as the baby's father was providing everything. Then I got a job at six months pregnant; because I was small, it didn't show as I wore the ubiquitous shirt that grew. I worked until the week before she was born.
Baby Wendy, whom I had not been allowed to touch at birth or breast feed, was placed in intensive care. I was discharged at one week and could come in every day to look at her through the window. I was finally allowed to take her home when she was two weeks old; that was the first time I touched her. They put me in a taxi and gave me a bottle of formula with details on how to make more.
The women at the boarding house supported me in many ways; when another girl got pregnant we share child care between us. In a different hospital they told her if she loved her baby, she would not take her home as the baby was 'entitled' to two parents. She was distraught. We helped her and the new baby back to the boarding house where she and baby thrived. The help we gave each other was reciprocal and not based on a helper and helped model. Later I rented a house in Acland St - it became an open house in which everyone helped everyone else.
Then I met Rosemary West and became a founding member of Council for the Single Mother and Child (CSMC). At last! Somewhere that provided help with dignity. Previously, women who were divorced or separated could get pensions, but there was no pension available for moths of ex-nuptial children, as it was believed this might encourage them to have more, with "Illegitimate" stamped on the babies birth certificates. Wonderfully, we eventually got this changed, and it also covered males who were bringing up a child on their own. It was amazing, reinforcing the lessons learnt on the track.
Later, as Vice President of VCOSS, I was lucky enough to head the Committee of Self Help Groups. The self-help model works both ways. It not only helps those who, for whatever reason are in need, but, having someone who has experienced that situation, now being a helper, they can provide invaluable information to the organisation.
So a big thank you to all those who shared experiences on the track and for those continuing to do so in Port Phillip. Those who've laughed with me and those who've cried. You've taught me so much.
By Brenda Richards
In the 2021 Queen's Birthday honours, long time U3APP Member Brenda Richards was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the community through social welfare organisations.
Brenda has kindly written this story for us, detailing her journey from leaving school at a young age and taking up varied casual work along the east coast of Australia, through to settling in St Kilda where her daughters were born, then into a life of service helping those in need. One thing she omits in her story is that after this adventurous start to "adulthood", she completed high school and gained a degree at Monash university, before taking up a post as a Psychiatric Social Worker in the Children's Court Clinic.
Some of Brenda's extensive service history includes:
- Founding Member (since 1969) and inaugural treasurer of the Council of Single Mothers and their Children
- Member (1976-1980s), former board member and Vice-President (1981) of the Victorian Council of Social Services
- Board Member, Australian Council of Social Services, 1981.
- Supporter, Victorian Adoption Network Information and Self Help Group (VANISH), 1990s.
- Chair and Member, Project steering Committee (1977) Collective of Self Help Groups (VIC).
- City of Port Phillip: former Member, Multicultural Committee/Forum & former Member, Seniors Festival Sub-Committee.
- Senior Psychiatric Social Worker, 1977-2003, established, Step Family Program (for parents whose children were before the courts), 1985-1986 - Children's Court Clinic
Brenda also includes in her busy life being an advocate for adoptee rights, a member and advocate of Veg Out Community Garden, Number One Ticket Holder, St Kilda City Football and Netball Club and Ambassador for Women, Labor Party of Australia.
International Women's Day 2021
Jessie Georgina Craske was born 1904, the eldest of five girls, to John and Sophia who lived in a small rented cottage in Ross St Port Melbourne.
Jessie was a pupil at Nott St State school till the age of 14.
She found work at Johnson and Johnson Talc Powder Manufactures, working five and a half days a week, becoming an expert at Box Powders with beautiful ribbon silk bows.
Jessie and her Sister Hilda loved dancing, live theatre, train trips to Belgrave, and best of all outings along the Bay on the ship Hygea to Portsea at weekends; and of course their local Port Theatre was a favourite Saturday night outing.
Jessie's Mother Sophia died in her fifties leaving Jessie and her Father Sidney to care for their family. Kathy, the youngest, was born disabled so Jessie became a surrogate Mother for many years.
Jessie met Albert Daley in 1930 and they married in 1935 after they put a deposit on a new Garden City Bank Home of English design facing a beautiful reserve and with a large backyard to grow veggies and fruit trees; such a large block compared with most homes in the Borough.
Jessie made pickles, jams, chutneys and bottled fruit, and cared for her well tended garden. She upholstered furniture, painted, mended shoes, cut our hair, made all our clothes; there was nothing she didn't have a go at - she often said she loved her life in Garden City.
Her memory and presence is with me every day as this where I have made my home. My life growing up here moulded me to whom I am today and as her Daughter I am truly blessed.
Darling Mum I miss you.
Jessie died peacefully in her sleep in her home in July 1991 Age 87 years.
Written by her Daughter Lois Hilda Daley of Port Melbourne.
(Pictures shown are for effect only and are not connected to Lois or her mother)
The Red-Fanged Snake Cake
Cake! Is there any other word so guaranteed to start the smiles, the joy, the celebrations?
Our family’s cake story started nearly nine years ago, when my about-to-turn-eight years’ old oldest nephew pleaded with his parents for a red-fanged snake cake for his birthday party. He’d been a bit obsessed with snakes for a while… but this was an unexpected and rather daunting request.
At that time, I had no experience of cake decorating . . . but well, I put up my hand. I was able to borrow a couple of ring cake pans from friends. They seemed to be the style most likely to lend themselves to snaky body curls. Those red fangs? A red Freddo frog and a very sharp scalpel. And how to keep the snake’s mouth open so that we could all admire those red fangs? … a clear plastic decorative plate stand. Yes, it all worked and we had one super happy birthday boy.
A birthday boy with two younger brothers… my nephews’ birthday cake tradition had just got underway.
Fortunately, I was able to find a wonderful bakery offering cake decorating lessons. Thanks to Mandie at Three Sweeties, I’m so grateful for the skills and techniques that I’ve learned.
Every birthday offers a new challenge. My philosophy has been… whatever they want! These past years’ birthday cake challenges have included: roller skates, bats & spiders, a koala, Nerf Gun, Thomas the Tank Engine, Pikachu, Lego, Minecraft, Star Wars BB-8, Shrek Swamp House, Septiceye Sam, Sonic the Hedgehog and many more.
My oldest nephew is about to turn 17. Yet I have no doubt that he’s already thinking about this year’s birthday cake theme. I doubt they’re going to outgrow this given their Dad asked for a cake featuring the Star Trek Enterprise attacking a Borg Cube for his 60th. I’m looking forward to many more years of crazy and very enjoyable family and friends’ cake challenges.
Dave and the blow in
a true story
Not actually Dave (all pictures sourced from stock photos)
People joke about how you need to be in a country town for 30 years to be accepted, but I assumed that things would be different for me.
“If you phone this number at 8.30am you should catch Dave”, said the local estate agent when I told him I needed assistance with restoring a substantial house I had just bought. He added, “I probably should warn you that some people find him a bit strange”. I quite like quirky people so was happy to try.
Dave, the odd jobs man, turned the time I spent in a beautiful country town in the western district of Victoria into an adventure.
No doubt intrigued to know more about the stranger from the city who phoned him out of the blue, Dave arrived to begin work on my first day in town. In turn, I was curious to put a face to the voice at the end of the phone. He was about 45, deeply tanned, with longish curly unkempt hair, fit looking, and wearing (only?) a dirty blue boiler suit. His eyes had a strange distant stare that suggested he had once used hard drugs.
Being an old hand at renovating city houses, I was wise to potential trades’ traps. So, watching the clock, I became tense as Dave talked and talked and talked as he fitted fly wire in the back door that he insisted on rebuilding. He talked about various townsfolk and the jobs he’d done, mostly for people who could not afford to pay much. His stories made him sound kind and I should have felt ashamed at thinking he was a con man. His first bill was modest, not the exorbitant bill I had feared.
Once I realised Dave was not going to fleece me, I relaxed and called him whenever I was in town and needed a small job done. He was originally a boilermaker and his workmanship was superb. He could fix split doors, mend broken locks, and rebuild chimneys. No job was too big or small. I grew to love hearing about the locals and the town’s history and could easily encourage him to chat by asking, “What’s new?” He, in turn, was keen to hear about my city life, a life that probably sounded both exotic and chaotic. Remarkably, he had never been to the city. His orbit was 60 kilometres around the town.
Dave was amazed by the amount of time I spent reading and working at my computer on drafts of articles and chapters. He called me ‘the writer’ and, becoming tuned into my interests, would bring around cuttings from the daily national newspaper about issues in the visual arts he believed would be of interest to me. He was always spot-on.
I learned in this tiny town that many of the people had the time to talk, but the accuracy of a story was not of paramount concern. If they didn’t know what is really going on, they merely surmised, perhaps from observation. Dave revealed one day that some locals had told him that a senior politician, whose family property was about 50 kilometres away, had set me up in the old mansion as his mistress. I found that suggestion flattering, being semi-retired and pushing 60. I did not want to ruin a good story by denying it.
“Hey, you’ve got the same smelly as me” Dave said one day. As I wondered whether I should be offended, he shocked me with the news that at Christmas time the local teachers often tossed out perfumes, talcs and other gifts the children had given them. Being in charge of the school bins he saw what was thrown out, scooped it up, and gave retrieved items as gifts to his friends. He did not know or care that the YSL perfume he used as an air freshener for his truck and sprayed on his overalls when they were a bit “on the nose” was expensive.
Suspicious of his intentions in the early days of our friendship, I was nervous about going anywhere with Dave. He wanted to take me to a good fishing spot on a friends’ land, to a plantation behind town to see an eagles‘ nest, to a track where there was excellent firewood, or to a house where there was a nice old table on a veranda that I could get for a bargain price. I always found an excuse for not going. One day he suggested I should see some work he had done at a mate’s old shed. I had run out of reasons for saying no and so I said I would go, but insisted on taking my car. His battered old truck had to be parked facing downhill to ensure that it would start, so getting anywhere and returning without a mishap was a risky proposition. He suggested we take the short cut along a rough gravel road - the one with a very steep hill - to test my 4WD. I thought to myself, “You idiot, he just wants to get you somewhere secluded”, so I said I wasn’t a confident driver and would prefer to stick to the bitumen road. Without incident, we inspected the repairs to his friend’s ancient shed. Talk about having tickets on myself! As if …
A re-cycler extraordinaire, Dave used bits and pieces he had picked up at the local tip or saved from his past jobs whenever possible. Each time we went to the tip to drop off building junk he would pick up handy bits and pieces. It was fun. You can’t explore tips in the city any more. I watched him put the ‘new’ junk into his back yard, already full of bits and pieces that would come in handy one day and enough firewood to last a lifetime. Dave’s back yard junk pile was on a small scale compared with other blocks on the outskirts of the town. Nothing seemed to be thrown out (for long) in the country.
We travelled to other nearby towns and tips looking for doors, flooring and windows for my house. I loved passing the crops on the beautiful rolling hills we passed through as they changed colour with the seasons. Once, as we threw things off the trailer at a small tip, people emerged from the bush and swooped on them. Some tried to sell us junk they had rescued from the tip. Seeing poverty so close at hand was a sobering experience for me.
When I was making lunch one day Dave asked if I could spare some breadcrumbs for some mousetraps he had bought. “Mouse plague?” I inquired. “Nope” he said, “there is a bush right outside my bedroom window that the sparrows call home. They wake me up at dawn every morning. I want to catch them so I can sleep in.” By now, nothing Dave said surprised me. I uessed he was serious. Next time I saw him I asked whether he had caught any sparrows in the mousetraps. “Nah, but I got a blackbird. It flew off before I could get its beak out.” He tried to tell me more about the gruesome fate of the bird, but I quickly changed the subject.
Although quite short, Dave was as strong as an ox and would use his skills and guile to get anything done. He usually worked alone and courting danger seemed to be an incentive. One day when no-one was around he climbed into an empty well beneath my house - no doubt checking for old treasures. On hearing about this later, I thought about a possible drowning or snakebite and shuddered to think of what could have happened if the ladder had broken or the lid slammed shut. He didn’t have a mobile phone to use to call for help.
I arrived from the city one winter’s day to find him on the roof. He had replaced the wood heater with a ‘new’ recycled version. He had inserted the heater and erected the flue on his own because his mate hadn’t turned up to help. He knew I would need a fire as the inland nights were bitterly cold, so he had done it alone rather than let me down. Health and safety precautions were not on his radar.
Muriel was one of the people he helped out for next-to-nothing. She owned some beautiful gates from a demolished church. Dave thought they would be perfect for my place and talked her into selling them to me. She lived in a wreck of a house behind a heritage-listed shop-front. She spent a lot of time sitting outside the house trying to keep cool during summer’s scorchers. A transvestite, she did not keep a low profile. In heels, Muriel was nearly two metres’ tall and wore a fur coat almost all year round. Dave told me that she once asked him if he could push a caravan in through the back wall of her place because it would be cheaper and easier than building a kitchen. He had measured the caravan but it wouldn’t fit. The towns’ powerbrokers used the derelict state of the house as a way of getting rid of Muriel. The house was condemned and quickly bulldozed. The main street now looks like it has a missing tooth – so much for the heritage listing! Dave thought the treatment of Muriel was dreadful. She moved to the caravan park.
We found that some bees had built a hive in a wall of my outside dunny. Dave offered to get rid of them, insisting on doing it because he wanted the honey. He bashed a small hole in the wall near the hive and sprayed insect repellent through it each time he visited the house. When I went to inspect, a pile of empty cans of fly spray told a tale. Although Dave believed the fly spray would have a cumulative effect, the bees did not vacate the hive. He decided to hasten their exit by pulling off a sheet of fibro. His protection against stings was shade cloth draped over his head. He did not realise that I was in the garden just around the corner. The agitated bees headed straight for my head and several stung me. I screamed “Daaaave!” as other bees were becoming caught in my hair. I was terrified. When he appeared around the corner of the house I called him everything under the sun. He assured me they would calm down if I did, and suggested I stay away from the dunny for a while. Next time I saw Dave one side of his face was swollen and purple, particularly around the eye. I didn’t need to ask what had happened. He told me he managed to get some honey but that the bees were still around. A pest controller was called.
While I was renovating the house I would fall into bed exhausted at night not caring that there was no entertainment or anyone to talk to unless I phoned home. There was nothing to do in the town if you didn’t drink at the pub. I found the absolute quiet of the main street at night eerie, and it seemed to emphasise my loneliness. One night as I walked the dog around the silent town I asked myself “What on earth am I doing here?”
As much fun as this journey was for me, the 4-hour journey from Melbourne proved to be too far for my city friends to come to visit me. They didn’t notice the beautiful countryside they passed through to get there. “What mountains?” asked my sister when I commented that the spectacular range of mountains near the highway never looked the same twice. I was incredulous that she had not seen them. My partner, ‘highly suspicious of this Dave’ visited and played on the nearby golf course a couple of times, but showed no enthusiasm.
In three years no-one knocked on my door (although the house was in the main street) to say hello or invite me over. My only human contact was with the shopkeepers and tradespeople and then only as their customer. Where is the country hospitality they talk about? I decided it was a myth and that the city was a much friendlier place. Perhaps the 20 year rule for acceptance is true – 3 years was not nearly enough for me to be accepted.
Dave had been there to entertain me and keep me company while there was work to do. But when the job was finished, when I had changed a neglected partial wreck of a house into a loved and repaired home for posterity, we realised that my time there was over.
So, no doubt as many locals’ predicted, the ‘mistress’ left town. However, I have my photos to remind me of the fun and beauty.
The Choir & French in Song
End of Year Celebration
by David Sharples - Tutor
Picture by Heather Barker
On Wednesday 2 December, two U3APP musical groups - The Choir and French in Songs - finished 2020 in style by gathering in the open-air café at Gasworks Park, holding their final classes Face-to-Face for the first time since March.
For the past eight months these Classes have continued Online with Members learning and practicing in the comfort and privacy of their own homes, using materials and music provided by email and through the Choir Websites.
A number of Members met each other in person for the very first time, and all present were able to sing collectively, including songs which they had only previously practiced alone. The Choir sang music by The Tokens, Miriam Makeba, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and Cole Porter - rounded off by a hearty rendition of "U3A Will Survive", while French in Songs sang music by Jean Sablon, Charles Trenet, Joe Dassin, Yves Montand, Michel Sardou and Bob Azzam. The rendition of Sympathique by Pink Martini would have raised the roof if sung indoors. Both groups provided a finale with a few seasonal numbers to celebrate, with other clientele at the café, and indeed many people passing by, pausing to listen as the two groups sang. Everyone is now looking forward to being able to polish these songs in normal Shoulder-2-Shoulder practice sessions when we are finally able to hold classes together.
We recorders are a renegade group at U3A Port Phillip. We meet off campus at the Middle Park Bowling Club, we Zoom on a private Zoom site and finally we are back together live.
Zoom and recorder playing don't go together. Not only is there the timing problem that prohibits most musical work, the program hates the sound of the recorder and tries to block it out as background noise, no matter how much you work on the sound settings.
So here we are back together live at Gasworks Park on the 12th of November, in a sheltered space with walls giving us some sound feedback.
Playing recorders outside can be problematical, as wind can steal the sound away. But we did pretty well, and given that we had not played together since February, we sounded pretty good.
Not ready for concerts yet, but that will come.
Recorder Consort Leader
The U3APP COVID-19 Working Group
In the beginning –
On Friday the 13th of March 2020, members of the U3APP Committee of Management drafted a plan to manage the risk of COVID-19 within our U3A and to prepare for any potential shutdown of operations.
The virus moved fast and within 3 days, the CoM had decided to suspend all face-to-face courses and to close our office. On Monday the 16thof March, the Ides of March, CoM met, for the last time face-to-face as it eventuated, and agreed to set up a Working Group to manage our Coronavirus Plan. Pam Caven, Jim Pribble and Diane Boyle were appointed to the Working Group. At the meeting a trial of remote classes using Zoom and the purchase of one Zoom account was also approved.
And now -
Over half a year later and the Working Group has been working continuously managing the strategy and the day to day decisions needed to allow our U3A to continue its operations. And we have not just one Zoom account for our remote (or online as we now call them) classes but six!
And it is the same 3 people on the Working Group, who not only have overseen all the tremendous work put in by all aspects of the organisation, but have also come to enjoy each other’s company and become friends.
How do they manage?
Respect for each other’s skills, a “can-do” attitude and a sense of humour all contribute. Meeting at least weekly, by Zoom of course, there is a good sense of camaraderie and focus on new initiatives, issue resolution and communications. In between meetings, they keep in touch with updates on their agreed actions.
Who are they? Here's some more info about each of them:
Pam Caven, Deputy President and Events and Functions team
U3APP has been a good fit for me. My career has always been in education as a teacher, lecturer, curriculum writer and author of textbooks.
The power of good teachers. My history teacher in Matric urged me to study History Honours at University. The academic environment was a revelation to me. I loved it.
Reality hit when I was posted to Mildura High School, a cultural shock for someone who had grown up three miles from the Melbourne GPO, although over the course of a year I did come to appreciate the town and its surrounding countryside. From Mildura to Carlton where I lectured in British History at the Secondary Teachers College.
Europe beckoned. I was well prepared for teaching the Industrial Revolution in a London comprehensive secondary school. The undoubted highlight of my time in Europe was the six months I spent in Italy. Three months learning the language at the Universita per Stranieri in Perugia. Bellissimo! My time there left me with a lifelong love of all things Italian.
On returning to Australia via South America I entered the world of TAFE and there I stayed until I retired experiencing wonderful and varied times as a teacher, writer, and an executive in state and federal governments.
I have been on several not for profit boards, including being President of the School Council, when our son was at Melbourne High School,
Following my retirement, I joined U3A Port Phillip and I became an active participant in a variety of U3A courses, too numerous to list and joined the Committee of Management.
I have loved the U3APP experience.
Jim Pribble, member of Committee of Management & Course Coordination team - Tutor Support
I am an American (Yankee)-Australian, born, reared and educated in smallish towns in Southwestern Oregon. I excelled academically and was soon off to University immediately after graduation in 1961.
I graduated from Oregon State University with a BSc and MSc, having spent some years prior to that getting married and serving in the US Army. I entered the workforce in 1974 as a Research Biologist for the Oregon Department of Fisheries, (Research Division) and spent my professional career either as a research biologist or a manager of biological research teams - in the USA and in Victoria.
I first became involved in U3APP in 2009, enrolling for the first time in Shirley Armstrong’s Art Class on Friday mornings. That was my only involvement with U3A until 2017 when I retired from a second, non-scientifically based career, to take a course lead by Geoffrey Levy. I so enjoyed the course that I decided that I would give facilitating a go. Since 2018, I have facilitated/tutored courses, presenting 1 or 2 courses each term. I really enjoy the experience, especially now that we are delivering the courses on-line.
The COVID-19 Working Group has provided formidable challenges to the intellect and stamina of the participants. The complexity of issues is sometimes daunting, with no apparent solution to the issue at hand. Owing to the organizational skills and experiences of the group members we have managed to conceptualise, compartmentalise and solve the challenges impinging on U3APP since lockdown in a timely manner. I believe that the Working Group has served the Committee and membership well. I wouldn’t have missed working with Pam and Diane for quids!!
Diane Boyle, member of Committee of Management and IT Team
I am a Canadian-Australian who has lived in Melbourne more than half my life. I grew up not far from Toronto, in London, Ontario (a very cold and snow-covered place in winter), and obtained one of the inaugural Computer Science degrees from the University of Waterloo. My working life was spent in IT, in software development. After taking up scuba diving just prior to retirement, I worked after retirement on a casual basis for a dive safety organisation, Divers Alert Network.
I joined U3APP in 2012 as I was interested in Colin Jones’ Tales of the Sea course. And when the IT team was formed in 2014, I joined the team as a way to contribute to the organisation.
I was a former Australian Ambassador. I worked in a number of countries including as Ambassador to Turkey, Lebanon and Poland where I was also accredited to Ukraine.
I thought you might be interested in one of the major crises I dealt with during my career.
On 17 July 2014 Malaysian Airlines 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Together with Sir Angus Houston, we led Australia’s response to the disaster.
All 298 passengers were killed in the downing of the aircraft. The plane originated in the Netherlands, and most of the passengers were Dutch nationals. Those killed included 28 Australians and nine permanent residents. The international media quickly speculated that the plane had been shot down by a missile. At the time, Russian-backed rebels were conducting a war against the Ukrainian government in the region of the disaster.
I arrived in Kyiv around 11pm on the evening of the shooting down of MH17. I had just flown back into Warsaw from Australia earlier that afternoon and immediately caught the next flight to Kyiv.
On behalf of the Australian government, my objectives were: to support the families of the Australian passengers; to do whatever it took to collect the human remains from the crash site with dignity; to repatriate the remains to the Hague for identification; and to assist in finding out how the crash had happened, with a view to the international community eventually holding those responsible to account.
For five weeks I worked in Kyiv on the disaster, with a large crisis management team from a range of Australian federal agencies. For the duration of this time, the team leadership had no more than four hours sleep a night and usually less.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting down, the primary focus of the team was to gain access to the crash site to recover the remains.
Our problem was that the territory of the crash site was under the control of the Russian-backed rebels. It was a dangerous location in which to operate.
With the assistance of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which was coincidentally in Ukraine at the time to try to resolve the war in the east of the country, we gained access to the crash site for the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Some of the remains had been collected by local emergency authorities under the command of the rebels and were held in train wagons at a nearby station.
We eventually secured permission for the AFP to enter the crash site, but it was risky work as they often had to withdraw because of gunfire.
We also gained access to the train wagons holding some of the remains. I met the train on arrival at a location near the city of Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, and farewelled the plane carrying the remains from Kharkiv to the Hague.
The Dutch accident investigation found that the cause of the crash was a BUK missile. A subsequent Joint Investigation Team including Australian, Dutch and Malaysian investigators found that the BUK missile belonged to a Russian anti-aircraft missile brigade. Australia and the Netherlands asserted Russia’s responsibility under international law for the downing of MH17. Russia has rejected any responsibility.
The Dutch Public Prosecution Service prosecuted four suspects with murder: three Russians and one Ukrainian. The Dutch have commenced a trial of the four in absentia.
I completed my assignment in Poland and Ukraine in early 2016. The crisis remains etched on my mind, and not least the tragic loss of lives. This was a terrible tragedy with a geostrategic overlay which made the management of the crisis especially difficult.
Ukraine is a vast and beautiful country, with grand cities like its capital, Kyiv, and Lviv in the west. If you have a chance to visit Ukraine, you will marvel at the magnificent churches of Kyiv.
St Andrew's Church, Kyiv
Having grown up in regional WA, I married young, as much because it was the norm as it was to escape the farm! Not the best basis for a marriage…
After divorce I discovered study and got myself into University as a forty something mature age student. It was one of the best times of my life. I found out how much I didn’t know. My BA focussed on Asian Studies (with the language component learning Chinese Mandarin). For one of my first year essays on Chinese Politics, the tutor, a young PhD candidate, was very critical and barely passed my effort. Fortunately we had a chance to talk about that at the Uni coffee shop.
The conversation went something like this:
Me: I feel you marked me quite harshly.
Tamara: Well, you left out the ruling class and Marxism and...
Me: Yes, I am finding out there are huge gaps in my education.
Tamara: Why? What did you study before this?
Me: I haven’t studied anything since I left high school. And I didn’t finish high school by the way.
Tamara: Well, when did you leave high school?
Me doing a quick calculation: Oh, about 1966. (The look on her face was priceless!)
Tamara: I wasn’t even born then!
Fortunately we both found that very funny and she became one of my biggest allies as I continued my adventure in education.
My original plan of a three year degree became a four year plan as I found I could spend a year in China, learning Chinese at the Hangzhou University. What a life changing experience. Long story short, I became a teacher, eventually specialising in teaching English as another language. A few years ago I tried retirement but it didn’t suit me, so I still teach part time.
The other day in a class my China adventure came up as a discussion topic. I told my students that I had made a good friend in Hangzhou and he taught me Ballroom dancing. Dance, especially Ballroom, was something I had longed to learn as I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn dance in regional WA.
I explained that our friendship had started as a pure exchange. He would teach me to dance as stylishly as he did from his childhood study of ballet, and I would help him to improve his English. They asked for photographic proof!
I thought you might also enjoy seeing how much, serious, fun we had.
Bev & Lois
Our Office Coordinators
Once upon a time, a long, long while ago – I often used to visit a place in Albert Park known as “The U3APP Office”. Perhaps you remember it too? The Mary Kehoe Centre was then a bustling, sociable place crowded with smiling friends and neighbours intent on sharing their experiences and broadening intellectual horizons. In daydreams I can imagine us back there, but then the vision fades …
Bev Fryer had been a member of U3A for only a short time when Renate Mattiske wrangled her into becoming an Office Coordinator early in 2016. Very happily, her first job-sharing partner in this was Margo Anderson, and for almost two years they worked together. When Margo stepped back, Meredith Mancini came on board for nearly a year. Early in 2019 Pauline Amos was joint coordinator until she was enticed back to part-time work with an employer who had come to realise how much they were missing her. But there are depths of talent at U3APP, and Lois Best very fortuitously agreed to share the job with Bev. They have continued to collaborate through the COVID-19 lockdown.
The position description for Office Coordinator is pretty elastic. Broadly it requires someone to keep a close eye on activities which are auspiced by U3APP at the Mary Kehoe Centre and other locations, with the aim of ensuring that tutors, members and volunteers all have a positive experience. An understanding of policies and systems is also needed. One day is never quite the same as the one that went before! Is equipment and furniture ready in all class rooms? Apologies recorded? Photocopier on? Fresh milk in the fridge? Members’ queries answered? Parking permits all accounted for? Phone messages answered promptly? Ceiling fans switched off? Emails getting through? Enough trained office volunteers for the roster?
The Coordinators delegate a lot, and rely a great deal on people with specific expertise, such as the IT wizards. Happily, the team of 25 or so Office Volunteers – the people you meet at the reception desk - are resourceful, adaptable and generous, very much imbued with a ‘can do’ approach. After the closure of Mary Kehoe Centre in mid-March, phone calls and emails to the office have been efficiently monitored by a roster of OVs from home. In second term they made outreach phone calls to over 150 members who had not been participating in courses after Mary Kehoe Centre was closed. Now here we are on the brink of Term 4, and whatever shape our program takes in weeks and months ahead, you can be sure that the OVs will be ready to help make it happen. And when we put out a call for new people on the team, perhaps you will be ready to volunteer!
Bev’s working career was firstly as a secondary school teacher in English and languages, in Australia and UK. With small children underfoot she freelanced as an editor with a number of publishers, then - thanks to Gough Whitlam’s retraining initiative – studied for a post-graduate diploma in office management. Administrative roles followed at Prahran College, the Victorian Institute of Colleges, Council of Adult Education, Caulfield Institute and Monash University involving student/faculty administration, fundraising & development, alumni liaison. Along the way, more study in personnel administration. In short, plenty of people contact in interesting settings. She and her husband Colin are keen independent travellers who have visited 44 countries, and share a love of music, theatre, cryptic crosswords and the South Melbourne Market.
Lois started her working life in WA as a telephonist (remember when that was a thing?) receptionist, then left work to bring up children. She came to her second career, teaching, in her 40s and still teaches English as Another Language, Literacy, and teaches an ‘Intro to EAL Tutoring’ short course in the Learn Local sector.
Study took her to live in China to learn the language and later teaching took her to live in Japan to hone her teaching skills. The lure of expected grandchildren (both of whom are teenagers now) brought her back to Australia, eventually to Albert Park where she discovered U3APP. Our wonderful Member Liaison Officer, Jill Hearman, made sure she felt welcomed enough to become involved both in classes and volunteering. She will step down from the Committee of Management this year after serving for 3 years.
An ‘emerging writer’ she attends the Creative Writing Group at U3APP. She is addicted to entering writing competitions and has twice been awarded in the Port Phillip Seniors Writing Awards “Port Phillip Writes”.
By Bev Fryer
Dear younger self
So you’ve decided to become an IT professional when you grow up? Good choice! You’ve already discovered the satisfaction of getting a program to work – that will continue to excite you for the rest of your life. You’ll also find that debugging the things that don’t work is equally rewarding.
What you don’t yet know is how much more exciting it is when a whole new system goes live, and all the parts function together as planned. Even better and more important is when the users of the system tell you how great it is. By the way, if that’s not happening, you need to try harder. The first priority for a system is that it is fit for purpose, does the job, but the second is that it is easy to learn and use. If it isn’t, it will suffer from misuse or disuse. When you’re designing or building systems, step into the users’ shoes, understand how they work now and why. If you can see that IT can make their job easier and more effective if the existing processes change, be prepared to sell your ideas for improvement, because everyone is resistant to change, some more than others. Design flexibly: anticipate the way that needs may change in the future.
Helen (on right) at Alcoa on International Women’s Day mid 1970s
I know you’ve thought about other professions from time to time. One of the great things about IT is that it is a service industry. It has now invaded every other industry and profession, from health to hospitality, from finance to film production, from manufacturing to the law. This means you can combine an interest in IT with any other industry or profession, or you can work in a lot of other industries and occupations, constantly learning about the way they operate. For me that has ranged from making aluminium products through to managing mobile phone billing, from selling wine and beer to controlling water and sewage, from selling shoes to superannuation.
Whatever route you take, you’ll be learning constantly anyway. The world of IT is like the world Alice found behind the looking-glass: you have to run very fast every now and then just to stay in the same place. The things I’m doing daily as an ageing IT person you would find almost unimaginable. In 50 plus years I’ve used dozens of computers, learnt dozens of languages, systems, methodologies… Just as the building industry has changed from hand-crafting doors and windows to assembling pre-built modules, so my time these days is spent linking apps, plugins, extensions together to build the systems I need, providing immense functionality quickly and cheaply. And it all happens in this amazing thing called “the cloud”, which means I can work on my projects from anywhere in the world, including on a yacht in Tasmania.
Hey look, now we have PCs - in the 1980s
As IT invades our world, the social impact is increasing, opening up new areas to work in, and giving you the opportunity to really make a difference. IT can give greater access to information, or to misinformation. Big data can be used to make life better or worse. The industry needs people who are passionate about using IT to make life better, while protecting human rights.
IT is breaking down barriers of distance, of access to services. But if IT is going to support communities in need, there is work to be done in building digital literacy. I know you have a hankering to teach, and you’ll find plenty of opportunity in explaining, training, mentoring. Helping older people to come to grips with technology is an on-going source of satisfaction for me.
Here are the lessons I’ve learned:
- Be agile – keep learning
- Small is beautiful - the bigger the project, the bigger the team, the greater the chance of failure
- Build and implement systems incrementally if you can so that change is gradual
- Women make really good team leaders and project managers
- “Imagination is greater than Knowledge” (Albert Einstein)
Your older self
Postscript: This piece was written for Ada Lovelace Day in 2020, to inspire young women to go into IT.
The ITEM Team
Perhaps it’s time for the strangely named ITEM team of U3APP to come from the shadows and reveal themselves. When you hear ‘ITEM team’ do you picture a group of individuals who together believe that they have some special qualities that make them an ‘item’? Sadly, perhaps, that’s not the case. Are they all tech-savvy retirees? Or is it possible that they found themselves being seduced by smooth-talkers into volunteering for U3APP?
No matter what their individual stories, your ITEM team bonded around the necessity and challenge of managing enrolments in every course. As time has passed, you may have noticed that we more commonly refer to ourselves as the Enrolment team, with the IT team focusing on, you guessed it, the IT side of the operation.
So who are we, what do we do and why did we join?
The Enrolment team is made up of five members: Karen English (our leader), Lyn Place, Branko Colavizza, Errol Malta and Julie Smith. The membership of U3APP has grown enormously and thus the number of courses grows and the amount of work required to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Karen and Lyn first joined the Enrolment team when everything was done manually with pen and paper, a process that would be impossible now. Karen recognised that to successfully manage the enrolment team, she needed to understand the computer system which at that stage only held the member details, so she joined the IT team as well. This has ensured a strong bridge between the two teams and, of course, as time has gone on the IT team has automated the membership fees, course enrolments and finally the class rolls.
In her own words, Karen explains why she fits this team:
‘To be on the team you need to be rather a nerd: read and action your emails every day, love paying attention to detail and like interacting with people. This description seems to fit me.’
Interesting that Julie describes her motivation thus:
‘I got dragged into this by another team member who had worked with me before and realises I am a bit OCD. I am a mathematician, who ended up in marketing and am now amongst other things teaching yoga (4 classes a week at U3A).’
Is there a pattern? Branko:
‘I had time on my hands and was interested in attending a course a few years back. That encouraged me to offer some of my time as an office volunteer which then grew into being part of the ITEM team.’
Errol: ‘I work part time as a consultant in clinical research for new drugs… and as needed volunteering at Port Philip Special School.’ (This could lead to some significant conversations around the development of a covid vaccine.)
Lyn: ‘I originally joined U3A to enrol in some courses and realised I wanted to give back in some way, so joined the Enrolment team. Contrary to Karen’s assertion, I am not in any way a nerd, in fact I’d be the slowest kid in the class, but persevere.’
It appears that there is no pattern to our choices to be on this team, but the constant is enthusiasm to keep on giving, as you find with all volunteers. And there is also the opportunity to get to know members and to form new friendships. Speaking personally, in these times of isolation, of solitary walks with faces masked, the familiar eyes of U3A members and the short conversations, at the appropriate social distance, lift my spirits enormously.
So what do we do? The Enrolment team manages all movements in and out of classes. We monitor every automated and manual email that lets us know that someone has joined or left a class and then we update the class lists and e-roll. If the cancellation creates a vacancy in a class with a waitlist then we take the next person from the waitlist and add them to the class. We liaise directly with members if they need help enrolling or removing themselves from a class. We monitor the rolls for attendance and follow up non-attendance in an attempt to keep all classes full and give as many members as possible the chance to enjoy a particular class. To this end, we each have responsibility for one day of the week.
Using the expertise and passions of Branko and Hugh Sarjeant (who has since left the team but still helps Branko) we birthed a program that we lovingly call the ‘Monster’ which is run once a week and alerts us to any rolls that have not been marked, any long absences by members, whether members are doing more of the restricted classes than is allowed and any inconsistencies in the data on the rolls, the website and the waitlist. Any errors that are picked up are addressed by the team. Friday evenings are no longer the same since Monster entered our lives as the report lands in our inboxes just as I, for one, am settling down to dinner and a glass of wine and usually some serious binge-watching. On the up-side, however, gone are the hours of trawling through each eroll and manually checking the data. At the time of Monster’s introduction, each team member processed between 1000-2000 emails annually and handled countless telephone calls. Monster is much smarter and most communications are now generated through the program!
While all this IT enrolment activity may sound as if team members don’t have a life, of course, it’s not accurate. Family, travel and hobbies feature in all our lives.
Karen and her husband Kevin love to travel. Kevin suffered a stroke ten years ago and when he recovered enough they decided to travel while they could and have had a great holiday every year and on a couple of occasions two holidays in a year. ‘I love learning the history/geography of all the places that we have visited as being a Maths/Science student, I did not learn much world history/geography. Springing from this interest, is my interest in editing and cataloguing (nerd nature again) my photos using Photoshop. This keeps me very busy in between trips. If I get time, I will also make a photobook of the trip.
‘I have been tracing my family tree for sometime and have collected the family tree information from many of my elderly relatives and recorded it all on Ancestory.com. I recently did the Ancestry DNA test and through that several unknown relatives in England have contacted me and I have been able to further enhance my tree.
‘Then of course I love spending time with my 3 children and 6 grandchildren all of whom live in Melbourne, so I am very lucky.’
For Julie, coronavirus has necessitated her camping in Brisbane, actually caring for her 95 year old mother who lives at home. ‘She is very happy, 24/7 care, three healthy meals a day, and I live on zoom. My yoga by zoom has developed, some of my classes now include people’s pets, and full attendance record goes to Mickey the cat; he is attending three classes a week (1X U3A and 2 I hold privately), and he is getting very good, however I worry about his downward dog pose.’
Julie, too, loves travel: ‘Apart from yoga I love to trek, get into the country with friends, book an air bnb with them and chill out over a good dinner and a glass of red. I have a particular passion for France and usually head to Europe each year. Maybe 2021?’
Errol is still working part time as a consultant in clinical research for new drugs. After working as a Senior Lecturer in universities and then for a large biotechnology company in USA and here in Australia with many small companies, he is enjoying what may be a quieter life in Port Melbourne. Perhaps like most of us, the attractions of the beach walk make exercise much easier, as he’s been managing to get out most days. Especially now since lockdowns commenced he’s been enjoying getting outdoors, either walking or cycling.
Travel features highly again including to the Galapagos Islands three times, Marquesia Islands, Chile (Atacama Desert) , Ashmore Reef, Ningaloo and the Kimberleys coast. Other interests are astronomy and cosmology, music (rock and classical), nonfiction reading, history, meditation, and as needed volunteering at Port Philip Special School. Errol is also a proud grandfather for the 8th time.
Always the quiet member of the team, when he’s not in covid isolation or volunteering at U3A Branko spends much of his time doing home maintenance at his daughter’s residence to save them some money. This ability came from using logic on how and why things work, and he’s also trying to pass this onto his five year old grandson. This is a role that Branko plays in the Enrolment team, searching for solutions and then gently coaching and encouraging the rest of us to develop our skills.
Lyn began her working life as a secondary English teacher and quickly moved into consultancy and management roles, always in education. Travel came reasonably late (too busy working) and immediately became a passion (Italy, France especially) and like so many of us, she is wondering when/if/where post covid. Keeping fit and active is important to Lyn, either zooming with U3A’s courses, or pounding the footpaths and the beach walk (hello, Errol). Quiet times are spent reading, listening to music (jazz, blues, rock, classical), watching way too much tv and streaming services. ‘I’m also running two book groups for U3A and love the connection, interaction and the way in which everyone has embraced zoom sessions, despite some glitches. It demonstrates the resilience and the capacity of our members.’
So this motley group of people are responsible for all your enrolment queries, requests, and the occasional plea to be included in a full course. We wrangle the waitlists to make sure that courses are full and that as quickly as someone leaves, the next person who’s been patiently waiting is moved as a replacement. Occasionally, we might be overheard (if there was anyone in ear-shot in covid isolation times) muttering and questioning how and why we find ourselves in this role, most often around enrolment times, but we are extremely proud to be a part of such a successful organisation. It sure feels good to know that we have been playing our part to help keep you actively involved and connected especially in these challenging times.
Our Covid-19 Travel Diary
“Exercise” was a great gift during the Pandemic, and Brian and I, both in our late 80s, grasped it with both hands (or rather, both feet). We early decided to pretend we were Melbourne tourists, so each morning we left the house with our walking sticks and focussed on a different garden, park or trail, starting with those nearest home – Catani Gardens, St Vincent Gardens and Westgate Park – then further afield as restrictions allowed. We avoided sporting fields, playgrounds and shared bike paths.
On our return each day I would Google the garden for its history and associated art works, find an apt quotation or historic picture, print my photos, sketch or paint, maybe of masked walkers or astonishing tree roots, and write about what had impressed us – perhaps the garden design, the vegetation and birdlife, or the people and dogs we saw or spoke to. Sixty walks produced 60 double-page spreads in our “Covid-19 Travel Diary”.
The variety of parks and gardens we visited was remarkable, everything from botanic gardens to foreshore trails, from lake reserves to native grasslands. A park like Fawkner featured avenues of trees; a garden like Maranoa was ablaze with Australian plants; and a garden like Alexandra in Kew represented the “Gardenesque” aesthetic in a “pocket” setting.
Which were my favourites?
For lush garden beds flowering in winter, the National Trust properties, Como and Rippon Lea were the leaders.
Small gardens in the heart of busy suburbs, like the Hedgeley Dene Gardens in Malvern or the Victoria Gardens in Prahran, gave a wonderful feeling of enclosure from their surroundings.
The parks and gardens in the West of Melbourne – Footscray Gardens, or Cherry Lake in Altona - were special partly because the other walkers were so friendly.
For features like fountains and sculptures, Queen Victoria Gardens and Carlton Gardens would have to be on the short list.
The extensive lakes, particularly in the northern suburbs, were distinct both for their birdlife and for the reflection of light and beauty that still water provides.
Unspoilt was Gresswell Forest Nature Reserve in McLeod - 70 hectares of bush and birds, previously enjoyed by patients at Mont Park Mental Hospital, including “shell-shocked” soldiers after World War I.
The Iramoo Wildflower Grasslands in Cairnlea, an example of several grasslands in the Western suburbs, was a real surprize.
And the St Kilda/Elwood foreshore hit the jackpot for beautiful trails.
The origins of this range of parks and gardens were of great interest. The large public parks and gardens that encircle Melbourne were reserved by Governor La Trobe in the early 1850s to establish a ring of green around the city, and we are ever grateful for that.
The suburban Botanic Gardens in St Kilda and Williamstown, with their intricate walking paths that invited a stroll, were established in the mid 19th century and had generous help from Baron von Mueller, who supplied most of the trees that are now magnificently huge.
Many of the smaller gardens in the suburbs started their lives, following Aboriginal use, in private European hands, often for farming, and were either donated by owners or purchased by municipal authorities, who have developed and maintained them. One example is Landcox Park in Brighton East, bought as a farming estate in 1841 by Henry Dendy, later Premier of Victoria, and J.B. Were, a portion of which was sold to Brighton Council in 1905.
Others replaced industrial uses. Gasworks Arts Park in Albert Park followed the decommissioning of a gas plant, Karkarook Park in Heatherton had been mined for sand, and Alma Park in St Kilda East was used as a loam deposit and a depot for road metal.
More recent parks and gardens were often reclaimed from rubbish dumps. Westgate Park at Fisherman’s Bend was said in 1970 to be “scrofulous scenery indeed – dead water, swamp, sick factories, dead wood, wretched refineries, wheezing chimneys, institutional putrefaction,” (Age). Then there is Cruikshank Park, in Yarraville, which had been surrounded by noxious industries – meat processing works, glue industries and tanneries. The skyline of Cherry Lake in Altona still displays dozens of industrial chimney stacks.
Many feature lakes and wetlands. The beautiful grotesque pond, grotto and fountain in the Malvern Gardens was a natural spring. Some lakes, such as Coburg Lake Reserve, Newport Lakes and Darebin Parklands, had been quarries that were exhausted and allowed to fill with water. Some, such as the wetlands at Royal Park, use aquatic plants and weeds to absorb and clean stormwater runoff. Others, like Albert Park and Cherry Lake in Altona, were used for flood retention.
A number of parks and gardens rely on “Friends” groups for voluntary labour. Sadly their activities were cancelled during the Covid19 restrictions, leaving their charges a little neglected. As we walked in these, we averted our eyes from the weeds that had begun running away.
I feel particular gratitude to the 19th Century garden designers, like Carlo Catani, William Sangster and Thomas Pockett, and for later ones like Edna Walling, for creating the foundations on which so many of our gardens rest today, and to the curators and gardeners who add to and maintain them.
Being autumn and winter, I focussed particularly on the trees - their trunks, their leaves and their fruit. I blessed those who had carefully labelled them. This was to be expected in botanical gardens, but much appreciated in the small but lovely Kamesburgh Gardens in Brighton and the suburban Hopetoun Gardens in Elsternwick. The labelling allowed me to learn about the tree’s habits and origins (some from exotic locations). The Morton Bay Figs, with their massive convoluted trunks, stole my heart.
And every day our legs got stronger.
Jill Hearman & Diana Stock
U3APP Member Liaison Team
U3A Port Phillip Committee of Management created the position of Member Liaison in 2009 to welcome new Members with a phone call, and also to send cards to Members who were unwell or bereaved.
Jill Hearman was appointed to the position and at that stage we had around 200 Members; this year we are close to reaching 800!
We believe U3APP is unique amongst U3As in creating this position and we have received so many positive comments over the years.
We think we have the best job at U3A!
As our numbers grew, Meredith Mancini came on board from 2016 until 2018, and we were also joined by Robyn Foy in 2018 until 2019, followed by Diana Stock who is now part of our two Member Team.
During 2019, it became increasingly difficult to phone new Members as hoax calls were making people wary of answering unknown callers, so we started using email contact which has been most successful. Many new Members reply asking for information, e.g. parking, public transport, size of classes, etc. and thanking us for welcoming them.
We rely on Members to keep us informed if they know if a Member is unwell or has lost a partner or close relative. Don't hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Jill Hearman
Photography with thanks to Barry McIntosh
SARDINES ON TOAST – A vignette
Spreading her toast with butter, sardines, lemon juice and black pepper, Julie recognised it was Saturday lunchtime.
She was one of four-children-born-within-six-years that on Saturday afternoons ate sardines on toast. Then they watched the B-grade movie while Mum, close by, tackled the ironing. Fifty years later, in lockdown with her husband, and sardine-toast crumbs spilling off onto the Saturday newspaper, Julie text-messaged a snapshot of her almost-empty plate to her brother Richard. She watched, and waited, for his response.
Ever the tease, two days later, his reply pinged in. “Looxury!”
A contralto amongst the cricketers
Recently, following the death of the matriarch Mrs Ian Johnson, wife of the test cricketer, the Johnson house in Page Street, Middle Park was sold. In a mad scramble to get everything out, books, photos, trophies and trinkets were hastily thrown into boxes by her sons and grandchildren. Many of these boxes ended up in my garage (daughter-in-law) and were not looked at, or perhaps even forgotten.
Thanks to the COVID19 lock down I decided to tidy my garage and put the Johnson memorabilia into plastic boxes to preserve it. This was no ordinary memorabilia. My father-in-law, Ian, had been an Australian Test Cricketer and his father (William James 1888- 1941) before him, a Test Selector. The bottom of a ‘downstairs’ cupboard at the Johnson house which had been in the family for two generations was the source, and it seemed as though the contents had been untouched for 70 years.
Amongst the trophies and souvenirs was a diary, a large, Australian Commercial Diary for 1911 published in Melbourne by Sands and McDougall Ltd. It had two days on a page. The first 24 pages had miscellaneous information like postal money and telegraphic information, customs tariffs, and directions for making a will. However, no commercial use had been made of it. Following the early pages there were hundreds of newspaper clippings, photos (some people are named in pencil), menus, and postcards. But who had done this?
Due to dates and content of photos and newspaper clippings I gathered it was Ian Johnson’s mother, Edith (nee Geddes 1882-1949) who had later used this diary as an album. I didn’t know her name until I saw a birth notice of Wilma in January 1917 to William and Edith Johnson. This then made sense of a photo of a Geddes wedding (undated) in Moonee Ponds pasted inside the front cover with first bridesmaid Edith Geddes. Just below the birth notice was the death notice of little 9 month old Wilma in 1916. I had never heard of this daughter who preceded Ian (1917) and his younger brother Colin who both lived in Page Street until they died.
As would many a proud wife and mother, Edith kept numerous newspaper articles, postcards, menus and photos about William’s 1930 tour of England (and Europe) as Selector with the Test team. Then there was a gap before the same had been done for Ian’s 1948 Test tour of England as Captain.
I imagine Mrs W. J. Johnson used the diary because it was largely empty and the few diary entries were of no interest to her. I surmise the un-used diary could have belonged to Mr Johnson, as he was described in a death notice as a prominent businessman.
Someone else had used the diary
As I turned over the pages, I could see, under a newspaper photo of “King George V and Queen Mary with Johnson, Woodfull, Kelly and Richardson”, what looked like a young person’s diary entry. Just a few words were visible – e.g. “helped” “afternoon” and “sight”. The news clipping was stuck down over the Sunday 15 January, 1911 entry.
The next handwritten entry showed it to be the dairy of a young girl making entries that were all similar and described events typical of a young person’s life. (I only discovered her name and age – she was 14 - later in the diary). Below is a typical entry. (I have not changed any of the entries - I quote it by adding punctuation or fixing spelling.)
Saturday 6 May 1911. Got up at about 8 o’clock had breakfast had my practice went into shop had dinner and cleared away the table washed up and wiped went out and skipped then went to the Milkman’s with Alice also to Flemington bridge station for a parcel came back again and put it in then went out skipping came in to my tea set a a few things on table and had my tea after I done my lessons read for a while and went to bed.
Entries for Monday May 8, Tuesday May 9 and Wednesday May 10 1911 all begin with “Got up, had practice”. I assumed this was piano practice, but May 10 revealed that was not so when she wrote:
“Mr Don came for tea after tea set phonograph going … then sung for Mr Don. He thought I was Soprano, done my lesson read and went to bed.”
So she was not practicing piano but was practicing her singing.
The May 11 was her birthday and, unlike what she may have received as a young girl in 2020, she “got two postcards, 3 books serviette ring bottle of scent”.
I assume she was somehow connected with the Johnsons because her entries contained references to Kensington and North Melbourne. A newspaper clipping noting William Johnson’s death referred to his being a prominent businessman in North Melbourne and Kensington. She mentioned “the shop” on May 6 and the Johnson’s business was a grocer’s shop. The fact that most entries included setting the table, washing and wiping up, point to her having light household duties. But I can find no other evidence of a connection.
There are no more entries until June 18, 1911 when, in very untidy writing (looks like she is struggling to use nib pen and ink) the young girl talks about meeting friends (Hilda, Alvie, Annie, Marion, Alex, Colin) a baby and auntie. On July 15 she writes about going to town and then on tram to Prahran with Mrs Stubbs where they walked around Big store (was the Maples?) and then had lunch.
A big surprise!!
Then suddenly, an entry for 24 October, in a mature hand: “Sang for Melba. Turn to back page”. This entry shocked me but it reminded me of an entry of May 5 in the same hand that originally had made no sense “Miss Cullen thought I was soprano” and then on 16 November, “Sang for Fritz Hart at Conservatorium”. What was going on? The back page held the answer. (See below ***).
17 November 1911. Young hand talks about a Mrs Ross and Miss Stubbs. Whilst on a station she described an interesting historical event: “watched a lady on a stretcher getting carried in[to] Guard Van. Train steamed out of station”.
November 24, 2011. (Young hand.) I wonder who Auntie and Uncle are?
“Mrs Cook, Auntie and Uncle and I went to hear Melb. (Melba) Grand Opera Romeo and Julliet. In first act she had a lovely dress of spangles. She acted and sung beautifully in second balcony scene. Had ice cream and lemon juice in interval. She was beautiful in 2 last acts when on tomb in a trance she lay very still. After each act she came out and bowed. She had a white dress on ? last act which looked very pretty. She was done up beautifully on the stage, rather stout for Julliet but still nothing to be noticed. A lovely opera all together. Romeo was lovely also.”
(This is accurate re Melba at Her Majesty’s Theatre Melbourne on this date. Source NLA.gov.au)
Saturday 23 December, 1911 (young hand). Talks about making preparation for going to Colac and leaving by train for Colac (quarter to 6 train). Arrived in Colac at 10.
“Had a ride home in a cab with a whole lot of luggage.” “Had supper at about 12, sat around talking and went to bed at about 1 o’clock.”
In the next entries - Saturday 22 and Sunday 24 December 1911 - something strange has happened in the diary. It seems that 19 year old Eileen (Identified by the writing on the back page which is a mature version of the young hand) has written in her old diary after 6 years.
Sunday 24, December 1911 (young hand). Stayed home and helped Mrs Johnson. (This is the first time a relationship with a Mrs Johnson is mentioned.)
As well, Sunday 24 December is crossed out and replaced by the mature hand to December 23 1917.
“Went to Evelyn Scotney’s to sing. Met Mr White and Mrs Scotney. They said I had … [see] back page.”
On the opposite page to these December entries is something I missed first time through. Eileen Kerwin is written clearly with Eileen scribbled a couple of other times.
Christmas Day December 25, 1911.
Young hand describes walking to Tulloh meeting Jack and Rene and catching a train that took 2 hours to “get down there”. Talks about shelling peas, having dinner, and “Ella Morgan on the table giving us a bit of amusement”. At 12 o’clock they sang Auld Lang Syne.
December 26, 1911 (young hand) talks of helping with girls. After a tiring walk the girls went back to “Elliminite” [sic].
29 December, 1911. Went to Colac for Regatta. After that she had tea on the lawn at Sittlingtons
“very nice and then went to concert @ night enjoyed ourselves we got home at 10 o’clock”.
There is a lot of scribble on the opposite page to this last entry with ”Parkinson” and “fearfully” and other illegible words written variously.
All (nearly) is revealed!
*** At the top of the last page of the diary is written “Eileen Kerwin 1917 Age 19 yrs”.
Here the following is written:
“Sang for Melba very nervous said I had sort of contralto voice. It was the farewell and we were introduced afterwards by the pupils of the Conservatorium Mr Hughes (PM?) and Italian Consul were both present including other noted people. Melba was presented with a black satin cushion as a parting gift.
Sang for Fritz Hart he was very nice and told me I had a noble voice and it was a voice in a thousand.
Annie was with me. He wished me every success and was pleased to have heard me.
I have verified the facts about Melba and Fritz Hart being at the Conservatorium at this time through a website that listed a dateline of all Melba’s activities.
Later on same page Eileen writes:
“Sang for Evelyn Scotney and Howard White both exceedingly nice and told me I possessed the voice people were wanting – liquid tone (twig that). She had heard so many sing that she thought all Australians must sing or compose ??? she liked best because I did not screech. They both wished me best of success and wanted to hear me on their return (May 1919).
Have also sang for Pauline and Mr Prudelt /Pruidley(?) at different times.
Evelyn Scotney was a Melbourne soprano and Howard White was an operatic basso and cellist. They had returned from Boston in 1916. (Ballarat Courier, 22 July 1916)
Once I discovered the writer was Eileen Kerwin a contralto I found reference to her singing. For example on the ABC (3AR).
1.14pm Eileen Kerwin (contralto)
Songs: My Dear Soul (Sanderson) and The Lonely Caravan (Woodford-Finden).
(p.22 The Wireless Weekly: the hundred percent Australian Radio Journal. Vol. 10. No 21 (16 Sept 1927).
Dr Sue Wilks
More from the Kerwin Diary
Sue Wilks enthralled us with her revelations from the Kerwin Diary. Now her friend, Colleen Abbott, when asked if she could make any sense of the loose news cuttings about cricket, has written the following, as Sue puts it "valuable social history".
Cricket Tours 1938 to 1948 - Colleen Abbott
This is a personal response to my reading of the newspaper articles in the “1911” diary Sue Wilks lent me in July 2020. While the story of the diary could be a novel in itself, my interest was mainly in the newspaper articles about cricket.
Most of the names of cricketers in the articles are very familiar to me. I grew up in country New South Wales, about 800 kilometres north-west of Sydney, south of the Queensland town of Goondiwindi, where my extended family was part of a cricket team that played on a cricket ground on my grandparent’s property in local competitions from the 1920s to the late 1950s. Everyone played cricket apart from the stockmen and jockeys, everyone listened to it on the radio and read about it in the papers when we got them.
In the period covered by the articles it was clear that cricket was much more than a game. The only thing resembling cricket’s position of importance in the national psyche today would be Aussie Rules in Victoria. Knowledge of and interest in cricket linked men and women together across the social gaps created by age, wealth, occupation and education. I noticed this type of cross pollination of social interaction when we came to Melbourne in the 1980s, in overheard discussions about Aussie Rules, the warmth of tone as an ancient Greek grandmother and the local bigwig shared their love and opinions about their favourite team in the local fruit shop. Women went to watch cricket as they did Aussie Rules in a way that usually did not happen in other sporting codes.
Australian cricketers were household names, but for reasons which may be different to the way sports people’s names are well known to day. Then again, when I was a kid, grownups did not gossip in front of you. They would discuss a sportsman’s ability or lack of it, but few personal details. I suspect they did not know the very personal details we do today.
The cricket world was totally dominated by New South Wales and Victoria. State rivalries were maybe even stronger than they are today. Cricket management was done by the professional class.
Having a good character, and being a ‘character’ was almost as important as skill. Good sportsmanship was essential. You shouldn’t be representing the country if you were a bad sport. You could be uneducated, a bit rough around the edges but not ill-mannered!
The booklet ‘The Listener In Test Cricket Book’ that was tucked into the diary encapsulates the above. It was compiled and edited by Rohan Rivett, a very well-known ABC broadcaster, journalist, newspaper editor and survivor of the Burma Railway. People who wrote about cricket were also expected to be of good character and properly literate. Even the ad for ‘Richmond Pilsner’ on the inside of the front cover is written in full complex sentences, sentences containing more than one clause!
On the matter of the writing, much of what I browsed was telling the story of the game with little criticism of the players, just statements of how the skilled opposition had got the better of them. The articles are from several different papers: The Record, The Globe, The Sun, The Sun News Pictorial (A A P.) The Melbourne Herald and The Times. Some articles have no identification and some are written in a literary style with the odd classical reference.
For many people newspaper articles would be read some time after the game so the radio was the main source of information. People were used to waiting for news and detailed explanations. Newspaper reading was done in leisure time, in many homes not till after work.
Things worth remembering. These games were just before the war and shortly afterwards. There was international tension and then devastation of places and people. It is surprising that countries, especially England, could field a team in 1946. In light of Covid we might reflect on the importance of sport in helping us get through tough times. People need heroes.
One thing that struck me about the articles was how many games a touring side played against the English Counties. I counted at least eight plus a couple of other games. I assume these were three day games. No wonder the touring teams were away for so long.
I noticed the use of the word “barracked” as we would use heckled. Lindsay Hassett was “barracked” by the English crowd because a ball hit a batsman and he fell. But not as badly “barracked as in Australia”!
Ian Johnson was offered a thousand pounds to play for Lancashire for a year but he did not accept the offer. I wondered about the financial situation of the touring men. How many came back to secure jobs?
Character was as important as skill. You didn’t have to be educated but you had to be a decent person. The public (as I knew it!) had high expectations of decency and good sportsmanship. They also formed quite strong opinions about the players. The following opinions have stayed with me since childhood. They may not be reliable.
- Bradman was a wonderful player, a good man but a bit mean, lacked warmth and didn’t like to drink!
- Hassett was a gentleman. Arthur Morris a tough nut. Harvey a young spark.
- Miller was a hero because of the war and then because of his social antics. “Turning up to play a game still in his tux after a night out with Princess Margaret”. Also because he refused Bradman’s order to bowl fast at some county tail-enders because he had flown with them in the war.
- O’Reilly was outspoken and didn’t get on with Bradman who didn’t like Catholics!
And so on. People did not know anything much about wives, or families, let alone what sort of car someone drove or where they dined.
Rick McCosker / Bob Willis
I have a second cousin, Rick McCosker, (on my mother’s side) who opened the batting for Australia. We thought he was ok, a bit boring as a player. In the Centenary Test his jaw was broken but he went back out to bat and he became a hero and we all claimed him.
For all the differences in the times we can still see some threads hold strong.
Buskers: We walk past buskers every day. Sometimes we step around them as if they are a nuisance in our busy lives. Other times we pretend they are not there. Occasionally we put a coin in a hat or a guitar case. And sometimes we enjoy their music or whatever other entertainment they are offering us.
Unfortunately, we rarely see the person behind the performer. This is our loss.
Dave & his Dog
A Busker with his dog
Rosie lay beside the open guitar case, pretending not to notice the people passing by, but the flicker in her eyes notifies that she never misses a trick. Dave, with his mop of unruly dark hair under a battered bushman’s hat, sings his songs with meaning, his soft blue eyes also watching. Just another busker? His voice and guitar skills hint of more.
Dave was born in Maffra, near the Dargo High Plains. One of five boys, he taught himself to play the guitar when he was young. At 15, Dave was working in the saw mills. No easy job for a youngster, but he is a survivor and it was not long before an adventurous spirit saw him on the move.
He arrived in the city, working in factories in Fishermans Bend. From there he graduated to working as a Flyman/Mechanist, which is a highly skilled job carried out in the wings behind the scenes in theatre productions. It’s not by accident that complicated scene changes occur precisely and silently.
In the theatre world, Dave met a wider slice of humanity than had rubbed shoulders with him in the mountains. He worked on such varied workds as the “Holiday on Ice” show and a selection of operas, as well as some complicated ancient Japanese productions, involving the Noh and Kabuki traditional works. Some of the masks used here are up to 800 years old. Handle with care.
A smattering of French comes out now and again in his conversation, hinting at adventures further afield. I get a strong suspicion that there is a learned man underneath the rough exterior. And not surprisingly, find there is a lost love somewhere in the mix.
When the “Holiday on Ice” show moved on, Dave followed his dreams with a one way ticket to Paris, via Tokyo, where one of the top ice skaters in a show had danced into his life, and into his heart. His eyes light up with memories as he recalls the unique Scottish border accent of his skating ballerina. The boy was now a man.
But there was no happy ending. The show moved on. Dave discovered that dreams can be elusive. Sometimes they dance out of our lives when we need them the most. But the memory of the dream is never erased. Nor should it be.
Alfred Lord Tennyson said it in 1850, referring to the death of his beloved friend, Arthur Henry Hallam:
‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all’
When I first met Dave, he was singing “Me and Bobbie McGee”, as I trudged up the ramp from the Safeway car park. I stopped for a chat. We exchanged itinerant stories. After his dream died, some of his jobs were picking fruit in France. I told him of my fruit picking days and other itinerant work further afield. As my friend Barbara and I hitch hiked around the country moving from job to job, we were known by our nicknames, ‘Bobbie’ and ‘Billie’. And in between we danced. Yes there were hard times, but we survived, and the good times provided a balance.
Acland St, St Kilda
Eventually we grew up and settled down, but we carried the spirit of ‘Bobbie’ and ‘Billie’ with us into adult land. We both started families, which saw us living in different states.
Then one day, Bobbie didn’t survive. She disappeared, believed murdered. How and where has never been solved. Where she lies is believed unknown. But somebody must know. There is no closure in these cases, but the wonderful memories remain, mixed with grief.
Somehow, “Me and Bobbie McGee” is ointment on the wound. As I told Dave my story, his expressive eyes filled with tears. He told me his story and we cried together. Whenever he sees me coming, he sings our song – and he calls be ‘Billie’. Through our tears, the world becomes a brighter place.
People walk past buskers, sometimes noticing an unkempt appearance and clothes that have seen better days. Most have no understanding of the paths that these entertainers may have trod, the despair they may have known, or how easily someone can fall off the rails. But that is their loss. Hiding under the ragged clothes you might find a gem like Dave if you stop to look.
Rosie understands. She has also known sadness. Rosie is a rescue dog. Just like a child that has been abused, Rosie is wary of strangers who rush towards her, not sure of their intentions. Dave finds a sunny spot for her to sit. Wherever he is, she is home.
As Dave sings, Rosie’s terrors fade, and the world is a better place. For all of us.
Busking in Acland St, St Kilda
Written by Brenda for 'Port Phillip Writes' 2015
Colin practising the Lithuanian language
How lucky I am to have joined U3A Port Phillip. Among all the other benefits, it has brought me many new friends. A few years ago, a friend in the petanque group heard me talking about cryptic crosswords and said that she had always wanted to understand these puzzling beasts. So for nearly three years, I’ve been running cryptic crossword courses.
Recently, a friend in one of those classes said to me: “You were an engineer. How do you come to have such a love of words?” I refrained from expressing my dismay at her implied view of engineers, but it did get me thinking. Why? Not only why do I enjoy playing with words but why do I see them as so important? It made me think back over my life, both personal and professional, from just that point of view.
The story starts with my mother – a highly intelligent woman whose family situation prevented her from having a tertiary education. She read a great deal (and did a cryptic crossword every day in the later years of her life). In my early boyhood in Adelaide, she encouraged me to read and took me to the local library every week. I have fond memories of hunting for the latest adventures of Biggles, Gimlet or Worrals. (As I often say in my cryptic classes – if you don’t know about these people, look them up). I’ve enjoyed reading ever since that time. I must note also that later, when I enrolled in engineering, Mum took great delight in learning with me how to do calculations on a slide rule.
At secondary school, I had several science teachers who were men of broad intellect and insisted on precise expression in every report. And my Latin teacher made a great impact on me – his love of the written word was infectious. At university, again I was lucky to have lecturers with wide interests who gave credit for clear accurate written work as well as accurate calculations.
And so to my major influence. At university, I met Bev Hill, an Arts student who took several languages and majored in Old and Middle English. She’s been my companion in words ever since. Together we have always delighted in exploring the origins of words and expressions, laughed at quirky use of words, weird spellings and odd punctuations that one sees every day, and supported each other in making the best use of words in whatever we write. And somewhere along the way, we started doing cryptic crosswords. Neither of us can remember just when, but for many years we have each had a book of puzzles at our bedside and, when we are away from home, in our travel bags.
David Astle's super hard Cryptics are no match for word-wise Colin & Bev
Immediately after we married, Bev and I spent nearly three years in the north-east of England. My first professional work there was in chemical plant design, with great emphasis on calculations and little on words. But soon I moved to an operations role, where getting the words exactly right in daily instructions was of paramount importance, not least for safety reasons. That emphasis continued when we returned to Australia, where I worked for a year in Sydney on the start-up of a new petrochemical plant.
Our next move was to Melbourne, when I took a lecturing position at Monash. In parallel with teaching, I completed a doctorate thesis. There were many many words in that, and I knew that they had to impress the examiners. In classes at Monash, I tried to pass on to students my respect for the written word, urging them to present clear reports with precise grammar and correct spelling. I remember well one design class that brought struggles and laughs as I dealt with students’ attempts to spell “phthalic anhydride”!
With three school-age children in tow, Bev and I enjoyed six months in Connecticut and six weeks in Texas. I was lecturing at universities there and assisting a colleague to complete a text book. Once again, words had to be well-chosen and well-presented.
My mid-life crisis took the form of recognition that I was in danger of becoming a life-long academic, so I left Monash to do some real engineering with a major design and construction company. Clearly written procedures for our staff and well-argued proposals to clients were critical for business success. During my last six working years, I was responsible for teams in up to seventeen locations around Australia and New Zealand. Memories of those years are of travel, travel, travel - almost every week. Books and crossword puzzles were my constant companions, providing great respite from business pressures, especially on the flights home.
Colin enjoying the sunshine with his wordsmith companion Bev - in Ronda, Spain
At retirement, some eighteen years ago, I decided that forty years of engineering was enough – there are too many other interesting areas to pursue. Bev and I have been lucky to travel overseas quite often, sharing the challenge and enjoyment of foreign languages. I’ve spent a lot of time on boards and committees of several mental health charities and our local residents’ association. The filing cabinets and cupboards at home are testament to the volume of words that have been produced over that time.
This ex-engineer has had a life full of words. Just as well I love them!
The Weekly Team IT Meeting
Meet The Fabulous Five - aka Your Team IT
Team IT at U3A Port Phillip is a go-getting gaggle of gals who keep the wheels of IT churning, turning out Courses as fast as the Tutors and Course Coordination Team can produce them; while simultaneously fending off foes like the fiendishly evil Covid-19, they bravely handle any crisis that pops up - with diligence, dedication and aplomb - and still manage to have heaps of fun doing so.
Each Member of Team IT has their own special skills, but their main aim is a joint one, namely the smooth operation of U3APP Courses; maintaining and constantly updating our great Website, keeping our Members up to date with regular e-Bulletins, responding to queries from Members, while constantly researching new ways to improve services for our Members, and all the time devising daring ways to keep the deviously devilish villains at bay.
This has been more than usually apparent during the recent onslaught of that dastardly evil villain, Covid-19, when Team IT swung into action to make sure defeat was never an option, enlisting the help of Zoom, a little known super heroine who quickly took the world by storm with her ability to keep people connected, positive and above all - healthy.
Captain Marvel - secret identity Helen Vorrath
Special Powers: Super Brain with all synapses firing simultaneously - brain cells never sleeping. No evil virus, technological or pathogenic can sneak past her guard. With vast experience and stupendous stores of IT information, Helen uses her Super Brain to constantly think up new ways to improve U3APP for the benefit of all; doesn't let devious enemies like Covid-19 stop her from delivering Courses to our Members.
Duties: When not out with the Marvel Team saving the Universe for the umpteenth time, she heads Team IT at U3APP, tutors Courses on Shakespeare, plays clarinet - currently in isolation but with the U3APP Allsorts and jazz group Jam Tomorrow in better days - maintains and updates everything IT, including the U3APP Website and IT Manual. Along with all this, Helen easily completes her Team Tasks like creating new Courses and assisting Members to manage the hurdles of logging on to the Website and Zooming their Classes.
Likes: Cats (specifically her cat), yachts (specifically her yacht), Shakespeare, music, good coffee.
Dislikes: Getting up early, people who think getting up early makes them virtuous, bad coffee.
Fun Secret Fact: Winner Fairsky Fancy Dress Competition, Feb 1969, in mini-dress made out of postcards of the Fairsky (as "The face that launched 48 ships")
Childhood Nickname: Daisy (or Dazie, as she was usually in one)
Wonder-Woman - secret identity Diane Boyle
Special Powers: Wonder by name, Wonder by nature; her calm exterior a plethora of patience and perfect problem-solving ability. This gentle and tranquil facade hides a Woman with decades of IT experience and an extensive knowledge of all things technical and procedural, which she uses to lasso, corral and tame even the slightest problematic villain who tries to muddy the sparkling clear waters of U3APP.
Duties: Member of Committee of Management, integral part of the Covid-19 Working Group, helps to maintain and update the U3APP Website and IT Manual, creates new Courses on our systems, including the recent Holiday Program, facilitates Zoom Webinars, responds to queries and concerns from Members and Tutors. Project manager who keeps the rest of the team organised.
Likes: Scuba diving, travel, quilting
Dislikes: colour yellow
Fun Secret Fact: can be found doing wasgij
Childhood Nickname: Alice (in Wonderland)
Super-Woman - secret identity Karen English
Special Powers: Super Tech Wizard supreme on all things IT related, including the U3APP Office Equipment. Multi-Tasker Extraordinaire, able to effortlessly leap from one task to another, or one problem to another in a series of elegant and efficient bounds. A lifetime exposed to IT technology allows her to slay any evil before it has chance to take even a tenuous hold.
Duties: When not racing around Albert Park Lake faster than a speeding bullet and generally stopping bad people dead in their tracks, or flying into the Office to help with multiple issues, Karen also manages the U3APP Enrolment Team which looks after Class Attendance and Waiting Lists. With her Team IT mates, she ensures all Courses are created on our Website and helps Tutors and Members alike with the sometimes daunting task of accessing Courses on our Website as well as Zoom. Queen of designing, defining and documenting processes.
Likes: Travelling seeing new places and learning about their history, socialising with friends and family
Dislikes: Also hates getting up early especially on winter mornings
Fun Secret Fact: Loves the colour yellow!
Childhood Nickname: Kassie or Kaz
Buffy the Vampire Slayer - secret identity Jude Hatton
Special Powers: No Vampire or Ghoul is a match for this Slayer who takes her role surpassingly seriously. Superior IT Skills and an innumerable level of 'know-how' allows her to tackle any testy task with supreme confidence and ability. A keen knowledge of everything 'Computer' makes it easy for her to stay busy Slaying with one hand while keeping U3APP up to date with the other.
Duties: When there are no Vampires lurking and waiting to be Spiked, Jude tutors classes in everything to do with Computers, Tablets and Phones, as well as all her IT duties of creating new Courses for our Members and responding to calls for help at all hours of the day and night. Sadly a rather vicious vampire attack put Jude out of action for a while, but nothing can keep the Slayer under wraps for long and she's ready once again to get stuck in to the pointy end of her job.
Likes: Her beautiful dogs (and all Mini Schnauzers), passionate about horses, and Quilting.
Dislikes: Being called 'Judy', cats and the colour GREEN
Fun Secret Fact: Buffy always thought she was destined to be a country girl but didn't get to prove the point until she was nearly 60, divorced and children all grown up - she bought a beautiful 20 acre property on the top of a hill in country NSW and lived there for an idyllic 10 years surrounded by her beloved puppies, horses (Cruiser and Mystery) to ride, wallabies, koalas, snakes and incredible views and star-filled skies at night. Yes - she was a country girl after all!!!
Childhood Nickname: Hey Jude!
Bat-Woman - secret identity Kate Richards
Special Powers: When the Bat Signal shines out, she answers the call to protect and serve. With super fast typing speeds, a way with words and a turn of phrase that beguiles all her foes, she's able to leap from one email to the next in a single key-stroke, dispatching any evil creature that crosses her screen and ensuring that all at U3APP are kept well-informed and guarded against any villainous acts.
Duties: When not out fighting grime (whoops - crime) and hassling Batman (who's a real pussy cat btw), during these Covid-19 times Bat-Woman churns out, and keeps the "bullet" in the weekly U3APP e-Bulletin, has Members chuckling with regular posts to our Facebook Page, and along with the rest of Team IT, helps to create new Courses, responds to Members cries for help and generally tries to ensure things run smoothly at U3APP.
Likes: Chocolate, long walks on the beach with Diesel Dog, Chocolate, Alliteration, did we mention Chocolate?
Dislikes: when there's no Chocolate!
Fun Secret Facts: has (had) a Brown Belt in Karate
Childhood Nickname: Calamity Kate, Katie-Did
Thank you wonderful U3A IT team and dedicated Tutors for helping us ‘Zoom’ along during the lock down period. You have made the difficult time so much more bearable for me. I came to Japan intending to be with our son for some extra time prior to the Olympics, when my husband also planned to join us. They didn’t tell us that the Olympics were to be cancelled, did they?
Arriving just a day before Narita Airport imposed a stricter quarantine, I decided to live in a self-imposed quarantine for two weeks; during this time my son shopped and cooked for us. After two weeks, it was my turn to shop and cook, and I loved it. The ready-made Sashimi and seafood are all so cheap, because restaurants are not buying them. I also get out for the daily morning radio exercises with local residents at a nearby park, wearing a mask and being careful to be 2 metres away from the nearest participant.
Rumi's selfie at Asakusa Thunder Gate wearing the notorious Abenomask and a face shield
Japanese law doesn’t allow a ‘penalty’ for disobeying the lock down. Rather, it seems to operate on the ‘name and shame’ basis. Some Pachinko pinball parlours were ‘named and shamed’ for being open, and others complained that the naming ‘advertised’ and attracted more customers.
I could have got back to Melbourne if I tried, but I am happily ‘stuck’ here using the Corona virus as a once in a lifetime excuse. I’ll probably stay here till Melbourne’s spring time. I’d miss U3A meetings, but I don’t want to add an extra burden to the medical team in Melbourne. Thanks to Corona crisis, the air normally polluted here in Tokyo is fresh and lovely, especially after the rain. Restaurants and shops are opening gradually back to normal. We are supposed to be in the rainy season, but there’s enough sunshine and blue sky to dry clothes. And when we feel safe enough, I want to see my friends who I used to go to school with.
Keep well, everyone, and thank you again, IT team and tutors.
(Photo) The block of small apartments disallow playing musical instruments, so I cheated and locked myself in this Japanese bath cubicle to ‘Zoom’ with the Ukulele and Choir classes. Thankfully, no one has complained to date.
Cheers - Rumi
I’m not Donald Trump’s greatest fan. But indirectly, thanks to him, my life has literally turned upside down in the past two years – and here’s why.
I’m from the UK originally. I was born in London and lived most of my adult life in the North of England, close to Sheffield – until I went on holiday to Albania in June 2018.
Albania is not the most popular tourist destination, but it is different. It has a reputation for lawlessness, maybe because it was a closed country for many decades. But it’s also renowned for its hospitality, history and beautiful mountain scenery.
So why Albania? Well, that’s where Mr Trump comes in.
I was happily semi retired, teaching yoga on a part time basis and adjusting to having lots more time on my hands after leaving a busy full time job in 2016. I was living next to open countryside, woods, fields and hills, with a handsome but demanding rescue cat, Rosie, for company. I had a close group of friends, was secretary of the local Choral Society and enjoyed walks, theatre trips and meals out – pretty much like life in Melbourne!
I had decided to go on a holiday on my own for the first time, and had paid a deposit on a trip to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. This was April 2018, when the Donald suddenly decided to bomb Syria, and then move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Suddenly the world seemed a little more dangerous, and the situation in my intended holiday destination more volatile. Who knew what Donald would do next? (Nothing as it happened, and the tension did fizzle out, but it wasn’t a very appealing holiday location any more).
So a week before my full holiday payment was due, and four weeks before I was due to leave, I decided to cancel the trip and look for somewhere else….and a trip to Albania popped up on my radar. It was a country I’d always been interested in, having taken many trips to the neighbouring countries of Croatia and Greece. It seemed to be a mysterious, scenic but little known place and therefore off the beaten track. All appealing reasons to go on an escorted tour! I rang the holiday company, Pegasus, and got the last place on the 16 person trip, bought the only available guide book (Bradt) and off I went.
Being new to the world of escorted tours, I’d assumed that all the group members would be from the UK. In fact, I met most of them at the airport but there were a few gaps in the numbers, who turned out to be people who’d travelled from elsewhere.
We assembled in the lobby of the hotel at teatime and sallied forth for a guided walk round the small but colourful capital city, Tirana. The guide asked us at the first stop if there were any questions. As I opened my mouth to speak, one of the group who I hadn’t met en route asked him “Why is this street named after George Bush?” My first reaction was: that’s the question I was going to ask. My second reaction was: he’s Australian!
Fast forward two years and I’m now happily living in Port Melbourne with that selfsame Aussie, Brian.
Ironically, he had also changed his holiday plans at the last moment, having been booked to go to Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – a trip we then booked together for this year but have had to cancel. So maybe fate was working in our favour….
After several subsequent joint trips to and from the UK and Canada, where my son George lives, I sold my house and my car in the UK last June. I packed the remains of my worldly goods onto two pallets for shipping and said my au revoirs to friends and family. A friend took Rosie the cat (in case anyone was worried about her fate!). And I then flew off to my new life in Australia with Brian - quite a big step at the grand age of 65.
We’ve bought a house together and there’s now just the minor matter of waiting for a temporary, then a permanent visa. There’s currently about 90,000 people waiting around 2 years for a partner visa. After 15 months in the queue, I reckon I may be at about number 35,000, but I try not to think about it! Ever the optimist, I’ve invested in a ten year Australian Drivers’ Licence as a sign of my faith in a happy future.
It’s a bit worrying that I can’t leave the country to visit my family until who knows when, as I wouldn’t be allowed back in because I’m not a permanent resident – yet. But hopefully life will return to normal in due course, whatever that looks like. Or maybe I’ll get my full visa sooner than that.
Meanwhile, I’m immersing myself in Victorian life, singing, walking, volunteering with the State Library (when they’re open again) and of course Zooming. Discovering U3A and all its amazing courses and tutors has been a real plus – I was vaguely aware of it in the UK but never investigated its potential. And, very importantly, there may be a successor to Rosie in due course – I’m working on it!
So thank you to two former US Presidents for bringing Brian and me together….it may well be the best thing that either of you will ever have done:-)
My Third Age Adventure
Not long after my 60th birthday, I walked past a bright colourful sign which attracted me. It said “Learn to Scuba Dive”.
Now, I had never before had the slightest inclination to scuba dive, but I have always been interested in the sea and, most importantly, I was going on a holiday to Lord Howe Island in a few months. Thinking it might be fun to dive on the reef at LHI, I went into the shop to make some inquiries. Laden with brochures, an appointment for a dive medical and a booking on the next Learn to Dive course, I had started my new journey.
Learning to dive in Melbourne is an adventure in itself. Over a few weeks, there were textbooks to read, online tests to pass, theory lessons to attend, equipment to master and – finally into the water carrying about 20 kilograms of gear on my back. Firstly, at the local swimming pool, swimming along the bottom of the deep end, trying to remain neutrally buoyant in the water, stopping for group exercises such as removing and replacing your mask underwater. It was way beyond my comfort zone. Not one to give up, I went back to the next dives which were in Port Phillip Bay, off the shore at Black Rock – and, the big test, onto a dive boat at Portsea, out to Pope’s Eye and two dives down to 12 metres. I got my certificate, I was qualified!
In the Water!
Thank goodness I had persisted as the journey in the underwater world has been amazing. Together with my son, Mark, who learned to dive shortly after me and became my dive buddy, we have done numerous dives in Port Phillip Bay, outside the heads in Bass Strait, Westernport Bay and Phillip Island. We have dived the coasts of Tasmania and New South Wales and Queensland and Western Australia, the fresh water lakes of South Australia, Kangaroo Island, Rottnest Island and New Zealand – and the Melbourne Aquarium with the sharks. And dived in warm waters - the Great Barrier Reef on a liveaboard dive boat, Heron Island, Ningaloo Reef, Vanuatu and Thailand. And dived in very cold waters - in Canada, in the Great Lakes. Every holiday became a dive holiday.
On a dive boat after another dive
We took advanced dive courses, such as deep diving and navigation and rescue, becoming dive masters. Mark went on to further technical diving and cave diving, but I am content with a maximum of 39 metres in depth.
Diving amongst the beautiful reefs or under piers, amongst amazing fish and marine animals and coral and sponges, the sights are always enthralling. Did you know that Port Phillip Bay has more marine life than tropical waters? Being able to float along in 3 dimensions is always magical – even the rituals of preparing for the dive and cleaning up afterwards are reassuring. Meeting many other divers with many a good tale to tell is always good fun – and so is catching your own food, scallops and crayfish and abalone.
Diving with Sharks and Turtles
And then I became enthralled with shipwrecks - there are over 200 known wrecks in Port Phillip Bay alone, including wooden boats wrecked in the 1800’s and decommissioned naval boats. This has led me into maritime archaeology, with study at Flinders University and Southampton University, attending maritime archeology conferences, archaeological research on shipwrecks in Port Phillip Bay, the acquisition of a whole new library of books, special trips to maritime museums around the world, training with the Nautical Archaeological Society and now maritime archaeology webinars – there is more than a lifetime of learning ahead of me.
On a whim, a spur of the moment decision, I had embarked on a whole new adventure.
wooden boat shipwrecked over 150 years ago in Lake Huron, Canada
At 4:13 am on the 20th day of November 1942, the silence of the dark and stormy night was shattered by the scream of a newborn baby boy at the Coquille Valley Hospital in the County of Coos in the State of Oregon, USA. Named after this paternal grandfather, Howard, and his maternal grandfather, James, Howard James Pribble was launched on the world stage.
So they called him Jim.
The family was of modest means, being engaged in farming and the timber industry. There was always food on the table and clothing on our back, but there wasn’t much left after expenses. Luckily, southwest Oregon is blessed with an abundance of harvestable resources like venison, duck, salmon and other edibles; clams, crabs, oysters, mushrooms, berries etc., available at specific times of year. Not all harvesting was done legally, but . . .
Intermixed with the edible items were animals not quite as savoury: bobcats, pumas, black bears, skunks, civet cats, timber rattlesnakes, scorpions and river otters, although these critters were rarely seen. The most common were the Disney group – deer, squirrels, chipmunks, blue jays, robins and other cuddly creatures.
My early childhood was spent in a small township in the Siskiyou Mountains in the southwest corner of Oregon, on the banks of the Coquille River - named Powers after a local potentate from years gone by. The town, a fly spot on the map of Oregon, boasted a postbellum population of about 1,500 people, the male component of which was engaged in timber harvest. At its peak, prior to World War II, the town would have had a population of about 3,000 people. It was, and still is, a rough little community that refuses to die, with about six streets running North-South and about the same number running perpendicular to those streets. Beer halls (taverns) outnumbered churches, of which there were eight of various denominations. The town contained a “drug” store, hardware store, variety store (“Five and Dime”), barbershop, jail, post office, several gas (petrol) stations two grocery stores, a 1950’s ‘soda’ fountain and a movie theatre (25 cents/ two bits).
In the early days (late 40s and early 50s) the town had two schools, a high school (grades 8-12) and a grade school (grades 1-6). There was no schooling prior to grade school; grade one pupils (usually six years old) were expected to read simple stories, add and subtract and have some semblance of penmanship. Because of my birthdate, I was nearly seven when I started primary school and the late start proved to be a distinct advantage. The total student body consisted of around 15-20 students per grade, so the total student population was about 200 young souls in the 12 grades. There was a room in the basketball hall that served as a repository for a pile of donated books, and was dignified by the name ‘library’. I spent much time there. Medical help, when required, could be found 21 miles downriver in a slightly larger community.
My brothers and I (as the stereotypical middle child), when not in school, spent our time roaming the hills and valleys surrounding Powers like savages on the loose. The world was ours to use as we saw fit, and use it we did. Magic!!!
Our household had two rules: Stay out of trouble and be home before dark - easy rules to remember, especially if they were transgressed. Punishment was sharp and not soon forgotten. We didn’t worry much about the first rule – the trick was to not get caught. It worked most of the time, but in a small community, everyone knows what everyone is doing, or not doing, so it was tricky business. Also there was some latitude provided because ‘boys will be boys’ and allowance was made for that truism because, beyond our comprehension, Dad tried to convince us he had once been a boy.
We moved from Powers in 1957 - to Coquille, a slightly larger community about 40 miles downriver, population around 4,500. Our home was about twelve miles outside the ‘city’ limits. My older brother and I, now in high school (secondary), rode a school bus to Coquille to continue our education. The education gained in the back seats of the school bus was as interesting, or more so, than the one received in the classrooms.
In the four years at Coquille High, I participated in all the activities expected of a red-blooded American youth. My coursework centred on sciences, maths and other “hard” subjects because I had long before determined that University was a primary destination. The only non-science subject, and one which has proved to be of major utility, was typing. I wish now I had also taken shorthand, but . . .
During those four years, I was quarterback on the football team (gridiron), ran sprints in track and field, was inducted into the National Honour Society (scholastic achievement), was Student Body President in Senior year and continued my investigations first started in the back of the school bus.
In 1961, with a shiny high school diploma, I attacked the realm of higher education at Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon, about 180 miles North of Coquille, and 90 miles south of Portland. I did really well first year, had a really good time second year, then dropped out of full time study (with prompting from the University), worked in a grocery store, got married and, in Autumn of 1965, my wife Linda and I loaded ALL of our possessions into a VW microbus and drove over the Rocky Mountains to Chicago, where she was to undergo postgraduate training in physiotherapy.
Soon after settling in central Chicago, I received a ‘valentine’ from the local Draft Board saying that I had been inducted into the US Army and to report immediately, so I became a soldier stationed in Louisiana, then Texas, then back in the Chicago area. Thankfully I missed the rigours of Vietnam.
We were released from duty in January 1969 and started the journey back to Corvallis. Our route was still named Route 66 and it lived up to its image. We saw the Painted Desert covered in snow (not very colourful), the Petrified Forest, The Grand Canyon - inaccessible owing to about 20 feet of snow, stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, scurried through Vegas, across Death Valley and into southern California. Then we headed North up US 1 and US 101 along the coastline through Monterrey, San Francisco and the redwood forests of Northern California and farther North, back to Coquille. In all, a magnificent trip – I would recommend that trip to anyone.
When we got back to Corvallis, it was straight into the studies and I collected my Bachelor’s degree in 1970 (Radiation Biology and Zoology) and a Master’s (Biochemistry and Zoology) in 1972. Jobs were few in the US in 1972, so apart from being a job seeker and a house husband (we had two sons by that time), I worked part time on research projects at Oregon State University. I finally landed a job (pun intended) with the Research Division of Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department, working on, firstly, defining the habitat requirements of salmonid fishes, and later, an assessment of the construction and operation of a dam built on one of the last rivers in Oregon, protected as a wild and scenic river. The whole episode was an oxymoron from the beginning.
One day in the office, while several people were talking about advancement and job opportunities, it was mentioned that there was ‘this job’ in Australia. My ears perked up. Being a biologist I had read about the curious animals in Australia, so I investigated it. Seems the guy mentioning the job was a best friend of the Director of Fisheries in Victoria. Through him, I applied for the job and, lo and behold, got a phone interview, then a job offer for a two-year contract to set up a project to eradicate European Carp from Victorian waterways. That all sounded interesting, but it was curious that no one in Australia wanted the job. So in 1979 we packed up our household, sold our house and headed off for a new adventure half way around the world.
It turned out that the thrust of the position was political – the government needed to demonstrate that it was ‘doing something’ about the carp problem. I knew before I arrived in Australia that eradication of the species was an impossible task because of the very biology of the beast. The director acknowledged all this after I arrived, so the project took a different tack - study native fish with the intent of developing artificial propagation techniques to increase the numbers of native fish in the rivers and streams, rebuild the state-owned fish hatchery near Eildon and define the habitat requirements of native fish species.
Life was, and is, good in Australia. I was offered a job that I couldn’t refuse in 1981 (retiring in 1998), and I am still here and happy to be so. It is a fascinating country with a considerate and intelligent population, even though I am occasionally referred to as septic tank and challenged to explain Trump.
Excerpts from José's Blog - Part 1
How amazing to have an outlet for those thoughts that would normally lay dormant in the thinking process and never be uttered. 'Musings' can ponder on life's happenings, reactions and responses.
In this part of life the mind is paramount - it is a daily companion that affirms or disagrees with thoughts. It is pleasing to note that confidence in the mind and its processes still rank high. I still trust the mind and revel in exchanges with others.
In my life I have an escape in the form of two music groups of which I am a member. One is called AllSorts (probably best described as a world music group), while the other - a fledgling jazz group - still remains to be named. I play a keyboard and, for a few hours every week, I become an invincible being that transcends this life of an ageing person with mobility issues. Jazz is my forte - since I discovered syncopation at the age where I should have been embarking on a classical career. How fortunate that in the Third Age I found a group of musos who've been together now for 14+ years.
26 Sep 2019
This morning I opened up my blog to the outside world.
It's quite scary to go public, as blogging isn't necessarily all froth and bubble. Some posts lay bare my real feelings on specific issues. I console myself with the fact that most people know I have strong opinions with a political bent! I'm bracing myself for their comments. It's a glorious day today. One of those days when you look out at your immediate environment and a smile grows on your face. Even Sophy Wu, my old, demented dog is running up and down the back garden with an idiotic look of joy on her face.
I'm reading The Lost Man by Jane Harper. It evokes memories of a wonderful time way back when I was governess on Mt Willoughby cattle station in middle Oz. It was 3000 sq miles and ran 6,000 head of cattle. Nearest neighbours 45 miles east, 60 miles north, and nothing west until you hit WA. Nearest town (?) was Oodnadatta, used for trucking cattle down south. Oodna (as it was called) had a pub, store, an AIM health outpost with 2 nurses, and a one-teacher school. Most of the stations in the area had a house (previously RAAF buildings from WW2) in Oodna. We'd go in when the stockmen were trucking and there would be a film and a dance put on in the Hall. All stations had their own flying strip to facilitate the Royal Flying Doctor Service, and communication was conducted by radio. I was there for three years (1954, '55, & '56) until the youngest child was old enough to go to boarding school in Adelaide. That period of my life still ranks highly in my memory.
27 Sep 2019
Yesterday I was wandering down memory lane and it has led me on to other periods in my life.
I recall very clearly when Gough Whitlam not only made tertiary education more or less free, but encouraged mature-aged people to apply. A friend and I decided to embark on this together. Our previous matriculation qualifications were considered out-of-date, but we could upgrade by doing three subjects at Year 12 level.
We approached the Principal of one of the local High Schools and he was somewhat thrown by our request to join Year 12 classes. However, he soon came on-side when he realised it would bring good publicity and kudos to the school by being the first to accept mature-age students under the Whitlam education program.
In consultation, we chose English Lit., History, and Biology as our three subjects and we were duly enrolled. The Principal said he wouldn't ask us to wear uniform - this had never entered our minds and we thought he may be joking, but one look at his face told us he was not only serious, but also granting us a huge concession. To this day, I often ask myself if I would have gone on had it been mandatory to wear uniform at 39!
We survived the year and passed with flying colours despite having full-time work and family commitments. In the beginning of the new year we were invited to sit an entrance exam to university. This hurdle too was jumped and we enrolled at Flinders University in SA - my friend in an English/Drama degree, while I enrolled in Sociology and Politics.
We had the good fortune to be studying in the 70s with Don Dunstan as Premier of SA and Gough Whitlam in Canberra. Campuses were alive with luminaries on teaching staff and active students who went on to become luminaries in their own right later. It was heady, exciting and the best atmosphere in which to soak up knowledge. In the refectory was an enormous mural of Don Dunstan as Superman, and Daddy Cool entertained us in the quad. Halcyon days!
1 Oct 2019
Today my eldest grandson flies out to Iran and that has triggered memories of when I went to Iran way back in 1991.
To begin this story I must return to another significant part of my fortunate life. In 1985 I joined the Overseas Service Bureau (OSB) as a Field Officer. OSB, or the Bureau as it was more commonly known, ran a program, Australian Volunteers Abroad, where Australians with specific skills were matched to developing countries that needed those skills.
As a Field Officer, I was initially responsible for the program in Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Pakistan, Botswana and Zimbabwe. The job entailed receiving and researching requests from both the government and non-government sectors while in 'my' countries. Upon return to Australia I, along with the other FOs, would participate in interviewing applicants in every state and, when final numbers had been selected, begin to match their skills to the requests. It was a huge and demanding job, but it never ceased to delight and/or dismay (depending on the success of placements). It was a job that gave the highest work satisfaction, and the one where I stayed the longest (seven years).
In Pakistan, a large percentage of my work centred on the Afghan refugees in the camps of the North West Frontier and Quetta during the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. On one occasion, I had time off while in-country and I popped over to Iran for a week in Isfahan. After the harrowing and hectic times in Pakistan and Afghanistan, Isfahan was a haven of peace, culture and beauty!
At the time I was at the Bureau (1985-92) there was a stunning group of people on staff. We undertook and managed a mammoth program in countries of the Pacific, South-East Asia, South Asia, Southern Africa and Central and South America. These days we meet rarely but when it happens it's like the intervening years never existed and we all agree that it was a period of great impact in our lives.
There are funny stories too and I'll share some of those later . . .
5 Oct 2019
It's Saturday already and a promising spring day is ahead. Sunshine is such a tonic - I drop 20 years as I bask in its glory!
Reading Bob Woodward's 'FEAR' - on Trump in the White House. When a significant period of your life has been spent in many other countries and you can recall the wonderful people and their cultures whom you have had the good fortune to get to know and to live amongst, then you treasure this time to reflect and realise how you have received the ultimate gift and how it has enriched your life. This is what I'd rather think about - not the consequences of erratic actions and decisions emanating from madmen around the globe.
10 Oct 2019
Seniors Festival has begun and there are two weeks of events in the City of Port Phillip. Last Monday was the opening Spectacular and AllSorts opened the program. It was a mixture of dancing and musical items, accompanied by an abundant afternoon tea. Both AllSorts and Jazz Tomorrow have further gigs during the Festival.
I recall participating in a festival of a far different nature in the wilds of Sabah when I was a field officer for OSB.
I was visiting John Kelly, a forester, whom I'd placed in a reafforestation project in Sabah. To get there, I went by car to a river in the west of Sabah, then by motorised dinghy to the other side, where a local Iban took me on the back of a motor bike to the camp where John lived and worked. It was a very isolated location but John had familiarised himself with his surroundings and, during the week I was there, I not only saw the project and its workings, but John also took me to his friends in a Long House some miles away from the camp. A Long House is traditional community living accommodating many families, usually along the banks of a river. As couples marry, another room is built on and they share the communal cooking and washing facilities.
We attended a wedding and welcome ceremony, a very formal but festive occasion. The local brew was very potent and the music mesmerising. The Headman made us very welcome and it was obvious John was a special visitor.
On Saturday night John said "Righto FO (me) put on your glad rags we're going out". I thought he was joking, but we went for miles on the motorbike until we reached a building, literally in the middle of nowhere! It was a grocery and haberdashery shop run by a Chinese couple, and although there were no obvious settlements around, it was well stocked. We were ushered into a back room where meals and alcohol were served. We were the only customers and again John was well-known and welcomed.
My admiration for the Australians we placed in developing countries knew no bounds. John would stay and work in the project camp for months on end before going into KK for some R&R. Yet he had created a social life and become a welcome visitor to the scattered communities that he met.
16 Oct 2019
I'm looking forward to Saturday. Mr Thanh who was on the community health team of my staff in Vietnam is in Australia with his wife, settling their daughter (who gained a scholarship) into a school in Sydney. They are travelling to Melbourne as we speak and we will have the day together. I last saw them in 2017 when I was in Vietnam for our 20-year reunion. The project was centred on ethnic minorities in the mountains of Binh Thuan Province and was based in Phan Thiet where I lived on the South China Sea. I, plus a Frenchman, were the only foreigners in the whole province. I was there for 14 months and it stays forever in my heart, mainly due to the wonderful & dedicated Vietnamese with whom I worked.
22 Oct 2019
One of my old staff in Vietnam - Vo Thi Hong - phoned today and said Thanh and his wife (who visited me last Saturday) had told her that I lived alone and she felt very sad. It is interesting how people see life so differently. Hong lives with her husband and son in the same compound as her parents and siblings with their families. Besides being an accountant in a travel agency, Hong has a small shop in her locality in Saigon that is run by her mother and one sister. The whole family support each other in all their endeavours and raise each other’s families as needed. Despite Vietnam modernising at a prodigious rate, the clan system still reigns supreme, and long may it do so.
I, on the other hand, enjoy the lifestyle chosen for my old age. I have an apartment where I am alone when I choose and in company when I want. A garden to potter and enjoy breakfast in, and the beach a block away. The location in the City of Port Phillip is the envy of a lot of my friends while the accessibility to all services, cinema, and shopping is very close.
Two very different lifestyles but both Hong & I are content.
26 Oct 2019
Ah Melbourne - hot one day and freezing the next! Capricious in the extreme - pounding heat yesterday and a storm today with thunder, gale winds, and rain. Melbourne will tantalise us with its fickle weather and hay fever - yet it ranks highly among 'the most liveable cities'. When it's stormy, memories are evoked of other cataclysmic events.
I was in the Maldives, travelling to one of the northern islands where I would visit an Australian medical science technologist. She was based there to establish a laboratory for blood testing under the OSB program. On board the dhow (local sea craft) was the son of the chief whose island we were heading towards. Accompanying him was his wife who was heavily pregnant with their first child, and one other local man. The captain (who steered the craft by standing with his back to the tiller and controlling it with his toes) had one crewman, whose main duty was to bale. The day was sunny (naturally) and appeared to be balmy.
Out of nowhere, a monsoonal storm struck. The friendly sea became the most terrifying monster whipping up huge walls of seawater that we climbed up and dropped down the other side, only to be confronted by yet another seawall! The wind literally shrieked all around our craft, the most frightening noise encircling us. The crewman indicated a pole I should hold; I clung to it and prayed to every deity that is and was.
Then above the noise of the storm, I heard the young woman screaming. I wondered if she had gone into precipitate labour - and then I realised I was the only other woman on the boat and I would be expected to help if she was in labour!! She was in the covered area while I was out on deck. I thought "if they expect me to assist her then they'll have to unclench my hands from MY pole and drag me across the deck"!
In the midst of all the monsoon could throw at us, the captain remained completely unruffled. The only concession he made was to use the tiller with his hands as he rode the seawalls one after the other. When he looked my way, he would give a reassuring smile and then returned to looking straight ahead. It was obvious that he had done this many times before.
After some thirty minutes of seeing nothing but water and hearing only the cacophony of wind, the captain looked at me and pointed ahead. I could see nothing but he knew the island was looming. With a last vicious swipe, the sea picked up the dhow and spewed us on to the island where we sat like Noah's Ark on the sand. People appeared and helped us, our luggage and the supplies out of the boat. The young couple moved off. She was not screaming and fortunately for me (and her!) she had not been in labour but very scared.
The next morning the Chief visited me where I was staying. He came to thank me for my assistance to his son and his wife! I felt such a fraud because I knew that I had had no sympathy for, and no skills to offer the young woman. But I thanked him in return for his courtesy as we engaged in diplomatic small talk. All's well that ends well - that Lab technologist was one of my outstanding successes. She learned the language and took to the life like the proverbial duck. The laboratory was well set-up and well used by a cluster of islands in the north of the atoll.
Not all turned out that way, but that's for another time.
2 Nov 2019
When I first joined the Bureau in 1985, I said I wasn't good on water - "that's okay we won't give you any of the Pacific countries".
Initially, I was made responsible for developing the program in Malaysia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and the Republic of the Maldives. The first three were entities, but the Maldives?? To top it all, my first field trip was to Pulau Bidong, an island off the coast of Kuala Trengganu, where Malaysia had a detention camp for Vietnamese refugees. The sea was subject to swells and the wharf on Pulau Bidong was ridiculously high above the water. Old hands waited for the appropriate swell and jumped, until I was the last one left on the ship (I had no idea how to jump upwards) - they all called encouragingly and promised to catch me (with the best will in the world I couldn't imagine how the lightly-built Malays and Vietnamese could do that!) After a nightmare wait, a good swell came that almost allowed me to walk onto the wharf. Such relief!
Pulau Bidong was a hellhole where rats outnumbered the camp inmates by many hundreds. The Malaysian military paid the Vietnamese so much per rat killed and provided them with a pole in which a long, thick, sharp-pointed nail was embedded as a weapon. The island was not large and had beautiful beaches but the Vietnamese were not allowed on the beaches in case they took the risk of swimming away.
The accommodation for the refugees was open-sided large sheds with three layers of wooden bunks. Staff was housed in long buildings of small rooms that were very hot. While I was there, I slept with the light on and sweated off a couple of kilos while watching for rats. I observed the education and medical programs where we had teaching and health workers. It was obvious the Australians with their friendly professional manner were popular with the refugees. At night we'd walk to a spot where the Vietnamese had ingeniously set up a very basic ice cream making venture and had the most delicious durian ice cream.
The Australians came back with me to Kuala Trengganu for an in-country meeting. I was sharing a room with one of the teachers and, looking out the window at the stunning view, I brought her attention to the beautiful scene. She was revelling in the luxury of soft, laundered sheets and towels and enjoying the room service. She looked out and commented 'Just another tropical island . . .' Priceless!
13 Nov 2019
Today is Remembrance Day - and I honour all service personnel who have participated in theatres of war over the history of colonisation in Australia. While I deplore war as the most primitive form of failed diplomacy, I respect the women and men who are in the defence forces. Part of that is due to my early history as an anti-war activist in the Vietnam years and then being confronted with the dreadful attitude that was meted out to the returning Viet Vets. A shameful part of our history.
On a couple of occasions, I've had cause to be at close quarters with the ADF. In the early 90s I was working with Mozambican refugees in five camps along the border of Mozambique and Zimbabwe. I was quite friendly with our Deputy High Commissioner and I accompanied her on an official visit to Rwanda following the dreadful internal strife and massacres. We were billeted with the ADF and it was very apparent that the ADF members were very respectful and supportive to the local population.
The second occasion was in 1999-2000 when I was in East Timor following the departure of the Indonesians. The ADF under the command of Peter Cosgrove were the peacekeeping force while the UN prepared to reinstate the governance of the East Timor. The whole country had been devastated by the retreating Indonesian army, so there were no utilities, no food, very bad roads and no infrastructure. We found a building that wasn't too badly damaged and the ADF threw cables across from their camp so we could get power. East Timor looked like a moonscape it was so damaged, but the ADF just quietly helped in bringing back some semblance of civil life while maintaining peace.
All of the above leaves me quite conflicted in my opinion of war and the military and I guess it always will.
Sometimes memories are triggered by casual comments. Last Monday, a group of us had gathered in the foyer of St Kilda Town Hall waiting to be escorted to the meeting room on the 1st floor for the OPCC (Older Persons Consultative Committee to the City of Port Phillip) monthly meeting. One of our number is not long back from a trip in Europe and UK and commented how she was really impressed by the apparently comfortable integration of the population in Portugal. Ouch! Back flew my mind to the three years I spent in Zimbabwe working in five refugee camps along the border of Zimbabwe and Mozambique. I remembered how the Portuguese had been quite vindictive when it became clear they had to leave their colonial lifestyle in Mozambique. They poisoned water sources and destroyed infrastructure as they left and covertly fostered the internal strife that erupted into Civil War that led to many thousands of people being displaced. Hence the refugee camps.
Then I recalled the most rewarding and successful program that our organisation undertook during those three years. UNHCR approached IPA (International People's Aid) where I was the head honcho and asked if we could devise and run a program of landmine awareness in all five camps before repatriation as Mozambique was riddled with landmines. Five Engineers from the Zimbabwean Army would be seconded to IPA and training for them, and me, would be provided by the Norwegian Refugee Council. I made only one stipulation, the engineers must be in civilian dress as the Mozambican refugees had been terrorised by military uniforms before their escape.
The biggest obstacle was illiteracy as the majority of the refugees had never been to a school, so we had to plan a program that didn't rely on the printed word. Those Engineers were brilliant! They built mock minefields in each camp and ran programs with groups of refugees, while refugee artists designed posters depicting risks, what to look for, and taking that information to the mine clearing agencies. We had fantastic gatherings where leading refugees would role-play finding landmines on the smallholdings of villagers. To reinforce the messages, we had competitions for the best posters and best storytelling.
The visiting UNHCR senior manager was taken through one of the mock minefields and commented that she was sweating during the exercise due to its realism. On returning to Geneva our program of Landmine Awareness Training was cited as the flagship in all UNHCR supported programs. Princess Diana also visited the camps and did a walk through a 'minefield'.
I was still there when repatriation took place, and as far as I know, there were no fatalities among the returning Mozambicans. I visited many rural villages and was very proud to see that many of the posters had been replicated and placed in prominent points of the village.
A lovely PS: when I was finally leaving Zimbabwe, those five Army Engineers came to me and said if I ever had to run a Landmine Awareness Training program in any other country they would leave the army and come with me.
To be continued . . .
Excerpts from José's Blog - Part 2
(Part 1 can be viewed on the next slider)
25 Nov 2019
There are many instances of families being decimated through wars and natural disasters. None more so than in Sudan, where, prior to dividing into two countries, whole villages would be wiped out causing massive displacement of people. The two major population groups were Arab and African. There was an unstated position of Arab dominance in the government and the commercial sectors. The African communities were mainly found in the rural areas and in the south of the country. The displaced South Sudanese gradually made their way to Darfur where large refugee camps grew and the people were looked after by a large international NGO Sector.
I was a HoM (operations) for an agency that represented all the Caritas, CAFOD and NCR. The program had its main site of operations in Nyala, Darfur. The major refugee camps were quite nearby, but we were getting news of groups of people moving in from other centres. It was decided that we would investigate to see if we could find these people and bring them in to relative safety. The CPO (Child Protection Officer), Senior Logistician, and myself set out with an interpreter and driver.
About three hours into the journey, we came upon a guarded outpost that was manned by members of the SLA (Sudanese Liberation Army). We needed their agreement to go further, and also any information they may have on the moving groups of refugees. With the interpreter's help, I began to negotiate. The SLA had seen and spoken to some groups of people who had been chased out of their villages by Janjaweed (government militia). International NGOs had good standing with the SLA and they were quite happy to share this information plus directions to where we would find the displaced people, but they needed permission from their superiors.
While we waited, we were offered tea. The senior SLA rebel took my hand and we walked (hand-in-hand as was the custom) to their shelter. In such situations, I tend to blend and accept what to outsiders might appear to be unbelievable. And so I sipped tea while holding hands with a heavily armed SLA rebel soldier and thought nothing of it! We found the walking groups and sent trucks to collect them the following day.
2 Dec 2019
A week of mixed emotions - my dear old girl, Sophy, went to doggy heaven on Monday 25 Nov. It was peaceful for her and hard for me. Hope there are a million smells for her to sniff and nice corners to have a doze.
Our two music groups - AllSorts and Jam Tomorrow played at two CASPA sites, and Jam Tomorrow participated in the Bay St Festival. These occasions lifted my spirits considerably - there is a feeling that is hard to describe when you are playing music and so enjoying it.
Africa is a huge continent, full of music with distinctive sounds and beats. There were many occasions in different African countries where the music impacted my life.
Botswana 1986 - I was in Gaborone (the capital and of ‘First Lady Detective Agency’ fame). I was told Hugh Masekela would be playing at the stadium - I'm a big fan - so I went along with all the population of Gaborone! Concert began at 8.30 with local artists and groups who were really talented and got the crowd going. As the hours went by I wondered if I was at wrong venue, but it was the only place in town to accommodate the crowd. Everyone reassured me Hugh Masekela would 'be on next'. By 2.00am, I was beginning to question my sanity when the great man arrived along with his fabulous group. He'd had a gig in South Africa and just drove up to Botswana after!! He blew that trumpet and sang with a group for three hours and the crowd woke up and went wild (including me). That was my introduction to African time, and love of music, and I was in seventh heaven!
Zimbabwe 1995 - We were repatriating the refugees back to Mozambique. They had been in five camps along the border for many years. It was the occasion of our first group to be repatriated; buses were lined up and people milled with their few possessions. Those who were waiting for future convoys began singing in farewell as the buses filled and slowly departed. Then a few scratchy guitars, drums and steel instruments with a sound like xylophone joined in. The music became more animated, people formed circles around the musicians and swayed to the sounds. If you wanted to dance, you pointed your foot to the bandleader and when he nodded you went into the centre of the circle and danced. Several people urged me on but it was another hour before I pointed my foot and went to the centre. It is hard to describe how freeing such an action is - I danced for the allotted minutes and it felt like flying. After, one of the women said 'You are the right structure but the wrong colour'!!
16 Jan 2020
I remember crossing the border between Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and having to change to the local currency at the border station. Having come through a war of self-determination with Portugal followed by a prolonged civil war, Mozambique's currency had lost a lot of value. On the advice of my driver, Arnold, I took a capacious bag to hold the money. When I paid for our first meal inside Mozambique, I couldn't believe the pile of notes needed to pay for our modest fare! In fact, after paying for our first evening's accommodation, I was concerned that the pile was not enough to get us to the capital, Maputo, two days drive away. Mozambique was so devastated that Maputo was the only place with banking services at the time (1993-4). We barely managed and while in Maputo, I made certain that I exchanged enough dollars to get us home again. Poor, long-suffering Arnold was so happy when we crossed the border back into Zimbabwe because he would get sadza with his meals again. All the chasing after fuel and having to negotiate the roads in a foreign and damaged city were nothing compared to the lack of sadza. I had really enjoyed the potatoes in Mozambique but to Arnold a meal wasn't a meal unless it had a liberal helping of sadza!
(Ed. note - Sadza is a thickened porridge made out of any number of pulverised grains. The most common form is made with white maize)
Eleven days since my last post - the self-nagging begins in earnest when I've passed the seven day mark - I question the benefit of 'must' and 'have to'. It would be too easy to give up with some self-concocted 'feel good' excuse but when the muse kicks in it's energising and fun!
In Pakistan, the more north you travel the more conservative it becomes. The northern reaches are the most beautiful, with stunning and dramatic scenery, but narrower in attitude. I was in the habit of always wearing the shalwar kameez even though in parts of Lahore and Karachi, modest western style was accepted. I learned to cover up more as we (Wakheel my driver and I) pushed through North Western Frontier Province. It was hard going as the roads became more difficult but Wakheel could coax another mile from any vehicle.
It was a seesaw time - on the one hand as a westerner, I could be invited to events where women are not usually found - e.g., a game of bushkhazi - on the other hand I would be expected to be with the women in seclusion. This last was actually very invigorating. Those women in their own walled areas knew how to enjoy themselves! There would be singing and dancing and many naughty stories being related. To me, it was the best of both worlds because, of course, no male could be invited not even their family members. They were the occasions that provided me with welcome relaxation from the rigours of staying firm but modest in my negotiations in the male-dominated public sphere. Those occasions preserved my sanity and sense of fun. I often remember those women and wonder how they fare.
21 Feb 2020
Sri Lanka in the 80s and 90s was in the throes of an undeclared civil war where death and disappearances were commonplace. In some ways, it hardened, or perhaps built barriers, in people, so that the atrocities became part of the norm. Driving along the canals and seeing floating bodies; watching the large ships moored at sea and knowing they were the holding pens of interrogation and torture; travelling in the north between the opposing sides with a white flag tied to the jeep; trying to find relatives of people in the south to take messages of hope and support; noticing what seemed to be the extreme youth of armed groups and hoping nothing would startle them while passing; and curfews dominating life.
This race of gentle, courteous people whom you have grown to love - how can they be responsible for what you see?
Nowadays, there is peace of a sort, but the underlying tensions have not altered much. Tourists can enjoy the beautiful island without being touched by, or aware of, its cruel and recent history. A new era of colonialism has emerged in the form of villas for expatriates being built along the stunning coastline, and the growing economy is, as usual, in favour of the 'haves', while politics is dominated by the same names.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka is a jewel in the ocean and its breathtaking scenery keeps on giving. You never forget its beauty, the spices, the tea, and above all, its gentle, warm people.
Rain and lots of it! Garden looks lush and there is a smell of cleansed earth. Good for the soul. We are in my favourite season - autumn. Sunny days and cool nights. It's the time to savour the outside before the cold winter descends.
I'll only mention Covid-19 because it's here, along with many other countries worldwide. On the flip side, the world of comedy is having a field day with the panic buying and storing - particularly with the resulting rationing of loo-paper!
In the early days of my work in Zimbabwe, (mid-'80s), there were shortages due to the sanctions that had been imposed. My first visit was like re-entering the '50s with the fashions (lots of crimplene), the old models of cars (Peugeots were, and are, big in African countries), NO plastic bags, and the roughest loo-paper!
When in Harare, I made certain to visit the leading hotel (frequented by expatriates and white Rhodies). After coffee, I'd head to the rest room and luxuriate in the feel of the toilet tissue. In time, I became quite adept at 'appropriating' 2/3 rolls to take home.
In that period, it was not unusual for people to ask you to bring plastic bags on your next field trip. But despite the sanctions, food was readily available. In those days, before the big drought, Zimbabwe was the bread-basket for Southern Africa. Everything on the table was produced locally and tasted delicious. If people dropped by, the custom was to serve tea and jam sandwiches. All locally grown and/or manufactured - tea, coffee, bread, butter, jam, milk and sugar. Beef was the main meat eaten, and vegies were often cooked in a delicious peanut sauce. Freshwater fish from the lakes and rivers, and a variety of crops on the farms. There was even an emerging wine industry.
I didn't return to Zimbabwe until the early '90s. By that time, the drought was at its height and it wasn't uncommon to see empty shelves in the shops. The five refugee camps along the border with Mozambique were at capacity and basic rations were being trucked in from other countries. To me, it was astonishing as my memories were of ample, nutritious foodstuffs. Zimbabweans had come out of a long war of independence and only wanted peace, but the new struggle was to scavenge for enough food to put on the table. AND plastic bags had found their way there.
24 Mar 2020
It would be good, at this stage, to list the positives in my life as it has evolved since retirement:
- As I sit here typing, I can see out the large full glass sliding door into the lush garden I have created since moving into this small retirement complex in 2005
- I can look around the compact one-bedroom unit and see the memories of a rich, full working life mainly in the developing countries of Asia and Africa and latterly, in remote indigenous communities
- My email and phone contact lists contain the contacts of many of the people I have worked, lived, and loved with, and learned so much from, in far-flung countries
- I enjoy good health with small limitations
- I play (keyboard) in two combos - world music and jazz - a real buzz
- I am part of a very large extended (very loud and noisy) family. Joy!
- I have loving memories of life with my partner of 47 years and treasure the memories of our grandson who was taken from us, and hold close to the friendship with our daughter and her son
- And last, but definitely not least, I have enjoyed the unstinting love and company of four rescue dogs in their 'senior' years!
- There that's perked me up no end and despite the current situation and its restrictions I'm once again feeling very satisfied with, and looking forward to the next chapters of 'my fortunate life'.
28 Mar 2020
The last time I had involuntarily allowed my hair to grow was in Sudan in 2003-4. I was based in Nyala, Darfur where services for women were non-existent.
At first, I was so busy establishing shelter with a multi-faceted accompanying program (food, health, education, landmine awareness training) for the many refugees thronging into the nearby areas, that I didn't have time to look at my hair. A chance comment from an American community health nurse, who was confined to base waiting for the establishment of a camp, made me aware: in a distinct Southern drawl she said; 'well yoall I won't get bored, I'll simply watch your hair grow!'
Now 16 years later, I'm the one watching my hair grow. I can blame it on the restrictions of the virus (even though hairdressers have the blessing from ScoMo). It will be an experiment that will go on for the life of COVID-19, and provide some sort of a yardstick e.g., lockdown lasted for --- and in (?) weeks my hair grew (?) inches!
I remember going into Khartoum for R&R after three months stint in the camps of Darfur. One of the staff in the central office had enquired from family and discovered a discreet 'Beauty Parlour for Ladies' in a secluded section of town. Off I trotted - how can I ever forget the looks on those statuesque, tall, beautiful Sudanese women as I arrived with the appearance of a wild woman from Borneo! I was whisked away and for the next three hours I was scrubbed, pummeled, oiled, de-haired completely, painted and coiffured, and emerged transformed! When I returned to Darfur my Sudanese staff thoroughly approved, while the few expatriate staff looked as though I'd lost my mind. There's no such thing as 'keeping up appearances' in emergency relief work!
8 Apr 2020
I was speaking with a musical friend earlier today and made reference to a particular piece of music saying it's been over 60 years since I'd last played it. In retrospect, I realise it's over 70 years! That's a substantial period of time - I can't believe I've experienced life for so long - and even more. I recall my 30th birthday and my joy at being able to say (with credibility) ‘twenty years ago' - such a goal to attain!
The enforced conditions of physical distancing during the pandemic are so strange. I'm blessed with friends who take my scrap of a dog for a long walk (he's about 3kgs, 10 inches high) and goes for close to 2 kilometres. Now, instead of sitting and having a chat post walk, we space ourselves in the foyer of the building where I live and have a rather loud but much shorter conversation.
It brings to mind when I managed an emergency relief program in Timor l'Este post occupation in 2000. The program was supported by all the Oxfam agencies globally and staff hailed from a variety of countries. One of the engineers, a Brit, was a real wag and delighted in sending up our group and often heated meetings. It was a wonderful feeling to be able to laugh while jostling with the never-ending obstructional problems that impeded our program. If I missed a comment from a logistician and said 'Pardon?' (probably not the only time during our animated discussions) he'd put on a loud and avuncular voice saying "now dearie don't you worry, we are here to help in any way we can" while patting me on the arm in a calming down manner. He was so good at conjuring up characters, many of which we'd probably all encountered at some stage.
He was also a very resourceful fellow and he managed to get me a permit pass to the docks much to the horror of the Harbourmaster who'd assumed from my name I was male. From then on, I could access the cargo lists and have a better understanding and control over our supplies, the suppliers and transportation. The country had been completely devastated and literally everything had to be shipped in. In time, the Harbourmaster came to accept my weekly visit. My biggest triumph was being invited to drink coffee with him!
17 Apr 2020
Indoor confinement is still the norm and it's paid dividends in the larger picture. Australia is managing well in comparison to other countries and I feel optimistic about the future.
Today I shall do some market shopping - a treat I look forward to each week. No domestic activity is a chore any more, but rather a very welcome distraction.
The only task I haven't tackled is sorting through musical scores for the two music groups I play with. It simply terrifies me when I see the piles in the cupboard. Every time I open the cupboard door I swear the piles have grown to double their normal size! I find myself avoiding the doors but to no avail - it is a very large storage cupboard and I'm bound to need an item or two each day. Oh for a magic wand, a fairy Godmother, or seven little people!
During my working life, one of my goals would be to obtain 'the full cupboard of life'. In other words, chasing the funding and support to maintain the aid and emergency relief programs I was responsible for in countries of Africa, S-E Asia, and Southern Asia. One of the donor agencies operating in countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan was the Aga Khan Foundation. It was a standout agency, in that it had staff who would travel with you to the remote areas where the programs were operating. They would work alongside you for a period of time and also share your living space. In this manner, they gained the best knowledge to support your application. I was never refused by the AKF because of this process of becoming intimately informed about the projects.
I recall being accompanied to a very remote village in the Hindu Kush area near the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan where a program training women in small business and micro-credit was established. The women had built a co-operative program of raising chickens and selling eggs. Bear in mind, these women were totally illiterate and lived in a very remote area. The program trained the women in all aspects of chicken raising, keeping them disease-free, understanding and developing the life and productive cycles of their livestock, how to market their produce, and how to keep the books and remain solvent. After two years, the collective had become a smooth and well-run business. The women had also branched out to providing training and expertise to other remote villages in the region. Their request of AKF was to build a road so they could access market outlets more easily. Until then, the women had climbed and trekked many miles with their produce to larger towns where markets operated regularly. They had become leaders in their community and further afield. One of their main objectives was to build similar collectives in other communities.
Needless to say, these magnificent women got their road and remained leaders in their field!
To be continued . . . ?
I was born in a stable (but that’s another story) in Preston, in the County Palatine of Lancashire in England.
Only six weeks earlier Princess Elizabeth, on holiday in Africa, had learned of her father’s death and of her accession to the throne. I went to school in Preston, studied both banking and law at the university there, and lived for over 50 years, in 10 different houses, all within a 10 mile radius of Preston city centre. I then moved to and settled in Melbourne in 2009 having visited Australia a few times previously.
Preston sits on the River Ribble, half-way between London and Glasgow on the West Coast main railway line. It has been the administrative heart of the County of Lancashire for well over 1000 years, which until 1974 also included Manchester and Liverpool. It was a major settlement for the Anglo Saxons, the Romans, and two of the knights following William the Conqueror. It was a refuge for Bonny Prince Charlie, and a catholic and royalist stronghold which held out for years against and repelled the onslaughts of Cromwell and the Roundhead armies. Preston was the major seagoing port on the west coast after Bristol until the development of the port of Liverpool in the late 1800s, and has the largest dock in the country.
The Preston Guild is a city-wide celebration lasting for one week which takes place every 20 years. The Guild celebrations first came about in 1179 after King Henry II awarded Preston with its first royal charter along with the right to have a Guild Merchant. I have been personally present at four Preston Guilds, and I hope to see at least one more in due course. This event has given rise to the common expression in the UK, “Once every Preston Guild” which means “rarely”.
It was also the birthplace of Arkwright’s Spinning Jenny, and the T’Total (Temperance) movement. As well as Richard Arkwright, it is also the home of many famous names including Sir Robert Peel (twice Prime Minister), Andrew (Freddie) Flintoff, (England Cricket Captain), and Nick Park, (the creator of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep). (co-incidentally Nick’s mother and mine were good friends and used to sit together in church on Sundays).
My formal involvement with music began through school and church choirs when I was seven years old. I later took up the violin in Grammar School but after 2 years conceded that my fingers were too big and switched to the double bass. Throughout school I sang lead roles in the choir and played the double bass in the school orchestra. After leaving school, I became a member of several Musical and Choral Societies. I was a member of the Royal School of Church Music (RSCM). I progressed with the double bass to the Lancashire Youth Orchestra and also played with the Preston Symphony Orchestra for several years.
My musical involvement all but stopped for about 15 years. Four young children will do that! There was also the pressure of a developing career in banking, industrial relations and the law. I did stay in touch with church choirs and at one point sang with all four children in same church choir.
In the early 1990s I was invited to take a role in a local Gilbert and Sullivan production, Pirates of Penzance. This re-launched my involvement with singing. I became an active member of two Gilbert and Sullivan Societies and the Musical Comedy Society. I also decided that, after a number of year’s relative inactivity, I needed to polish up my vocal skills, and so received professional operatic training for several years. This enabled me to take a more prominent part in a range of operettas and stage musicals.
During this period I was an officer of the English Law Society, and I also produced the music for the annual Law Society Pantomime in London. For 10 years I wrote songs for and performed in these shows which highlighted the major ‘goings-on’ and issues of the legal and political year. I enjoyed taking principle baritone solo roles (and dressing up – especially as a pantomime Dame).
Professional links with the media created opportunities to get involved with co-hosting music and discussion programmes on BBC Regional Radio. This extended to presenting regular radio programmes on local independent and community radio stations.
My activity in radio and musical variety shows led to an opportunity to produce and stage a musical fund-raising event. This fund-raising work continued, and over fifteen years, raised many thousands of pounds in support of a number of charities. One such event was as the host for an annual wedding-dress fashion show, where pre-loved dresses were sold to raise funds in support of the St Catherine’s Hospice.
The River (Ribble) Dance
Such activities launched my side-line career as a DJ and entertainer. This began with the spontaneous request at one event to provide music for a 50th birthday party. This resulted immediately in further bookings, and soon I was employed nearly every weekend to sing at weddings and then provide the dance music for the receptions. So much so that, even after moving to Melbourne, I still had to travel back to England to fulfil bookings made several years in advance.
Since my move to Melbourne I have continued to sing, including a number of years with the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Chorus, where I had the pleasure of singing the soundtrack from The Lord of the Rings, and perform alongside the Cybermen and the Daleks in a concert of music from Dr Who.
I have presented a number of Soul music programmes for PBS Radio, and additionally, I have provided music as a DJ and Singer for a range of different events. I’m currently a member of PPCA, Music Victoria, PBS Radio (as a performer member), Victorian Jazz Club and I provide music services under the registered ABN business name, “Soul DJ”.
In 2019 I started the French in Songs course at U3A. In June the same year, I unexpectedly “inherited” the U3A choir on the retirement of the previous long standing choir leader, Serena Carmel. I also became a member of the U3A Jazz Group. 2020 has brought some challenges but the year began well with the French Songs class and the Choir enjoying growing numbers. The Jazz Band was also in full swing. Since mid-March, none of these groups has been able to meet in the flesh, but members have continued to get together via the internet using video conferencing. Term 2, for these singing classes, kicks off (online) on Wednesday 15th April, and hopefully we’ll all be back in real contact and in full voice before long.
Some links to David's many music passions:-
The Melbourne International Comedy Festival Gala Eddie Perfect, Tripod & The MSO Chorus https://youtu.be/dR893TUM73A
Melbourne Symphony & Chorus Dr Who Spectacular https://youtu.be/ZqfF5FZytBw
David Sharples recordings and Radio programs https://www.mixcloud.com/DKSoulDJ/
DK Soul DJ website http://www.souldj.com.au
Memories of Life
in Goose Bay, Labrador
in the '60s
My name is Ann Gibson and I timetable the U3APP Course program; am a member of the Committee of Management and facilitate Bridge Playing on Friday afternoons. I am enrolled in Choir & Cryptic Crosswords.
That is today, but I would like to take you back to 1959 and a place a very long way from Melbourne. The place is Goose Bay, Labrador, some 55 degrees north of the Equator and approximately 11 degrees south of the Arctic Circle.
At that time Goose Bay was a DEW (Distant Early Warning) line base for the American and Canadian air-forces. With fighter and re-fuelling aircraft landing and taking off at all hours of the day and night, accurate weather forecasting was vital. My husband had just finished his degree in Meteorology at the University of Toronto, and the prospect of a cheap, furnished house as well as a bonus for living in ‘isolation’, was a very attractive prospect.
In 1959 there was only one road in Goose Bay and that led to a native settlement, sadly mis-named (then at least) Happy Valley. Access was by air and, as a Canadian Department of Transport employee, the family were entitled to one free flight a year. Flying in was to realise just what an ‘isolation base’ meant. Endless miles of nothing but forbidding forest interspersed with stony outcrops and lakes of all sizes and shapes. Goose Bay itself was centred around the airfield and the facilities for the two air-forces. Civilians, such as my husband, baby son and myself, lived in our own area with houses for married couples and barracks for the single men and women. We had access to most of the air-force amenities - pool, ice hockey rink, officers’ club, cinema etc.
What we did not have access to was the American PBX, where almost anything could be bought very cheaply. We had a very basic Hudson Bay Store which sold some food and other items, and where fresh fruit and vegetables were obtainable twice a week – at a price. When the ice melted a supply ship would arrive in Spring and again in Autumn, before ice once again closed the North West River. Many hours were spent trying to work out what and how much frozen meat, tinned vegetables and other supplies would be needed for the six months or more of winter. The arrival of the Spring shipment was exciting as the order had been placed so many weeks beforehand. The first job was to stow lumps of poorly labelled frozen meat into the freezer. Later, it was always hard to work out what a package contained. It often meant eating the same meat cut for several weeks - especially before the next supply ship was due. One year we were able to buy sides of salmon caught by local fishermen. They were huge and stored in a large community freezer warehouse. Getting it out entailed donning full cold weather gear; braving the freezing temperature inside and feeling very frightened that somehow the door would lock and there you would be until you froze to death!
The two houses we lived in were fully furnished and the second one two storeys with a basement. This latter had the boiler to heat the house and was much prized as a drying room. Being country brought up I believed all washing should be hung outside and, to my surprise, when these frozen stiff, awkward shapes were brought in they only needed a short time airing to be perfectly dry.
The coldest day we experienced was minus 21C which was unusual as winter temperatures were usually about minus 12C with snow from October to April. Surprisingly, I was rarely cold as everything indoors was heated, and going out we donned layers of coats, scarves, gloves and overshoes. Getting one small boy ready to play outside in the winter took ages. Invariably it wasn’t long before he needed to come inside for the toilet or food and the process had to be reversed. Summer was much easier as our area became a giant sand pit, but as temperatures rose so too did the black flies!
Clothes were ordered from the Eaton Department Store catalogue which always contained the possibility of the garment being much nicer than it looked on the page, or the reverse (much like shopping on-line today). Often clothes sent by kind family from Australia were too thick and warm except for outdoors. Communication was by letter with delivery time being a week to ten days. Because of the cost we had only one phone call home to Tasmania in our three years in Goose Bay. It was wonderful – if emotional - to speak to our combined families and I was amazed at my father’s Scottish burr; I had never noticed it before.
One cure for homesickness was that most of the civilian personnel were young, and babysitters plentiful from the older children of other families, so we were able to enjoy a very active social life around my husband’s shift work. Dances, parties, films, ice hockey in winter and baseball in summer, bike riding, playing bridge, afternoon teas and suppers, snowshoeing and so forth. The big night out was a visit to the American Officers Club where food and drink were cheap. There we also encountered our first One Armed Bandits – and they did have an ‘arm’ in those days. It was reputed that these machines paid the best odds in the USA - even if not for us. Summer holidays, when others left to see family and we took the opportunity to explore eastern Canada, were looked forward to with much anticipation and were a nice cooling off period for people living and working closely together.
After three years it was time to leave - with another son, money in the bank, many close friends and an experience only a few could share.
I look online today and am amazed. There are two ‘highways’ to Goose Bay; the American air-force has left and there are hotels advertising for tourists in both Goose Bay & Happy Valley!
Mary Chetwin Powell
(aka Juliette Davis)
Mayhem in Melbourne
Behind the scenes at Caruthers Real Estate
A Novel by Juliette Davis
We love to let our Members know about the achievements of their U3APP compatriots, so we're delighted to put the Spotlight On! Mary Chetwin Powell aka Juliette Davis who has just had her first novel published.
Mary is a Member of Pat Ryan's Writers Group, and Pat offers this glowing recommendation of Mary's work:
"It is a pleasure to congratulate Mary Chetwin Powell / Juliette Davis on her significant achievement. Over the past 3 years I have enjoyed being part (a very small part) of her journey as she shared some of her drafts with us - the Writing Group. The structure of a week in a Real Estate Office provides the reader with a cohesive and believable glimpse into the behaviour of a variety of characters. It is a warm, humorous, recognisable, contemporary tale of everyday transactions in the Real Estate world.
Patricia Ryan - Writer Group Tutor"
Mary explains a little of went into bringing this novel to fruition:
"Thanks in part to Pat Ryan and the Writers Group at U3APP I have launched my first fiction novel onto the world. I launched it under my pen name Juliette Davis.
It was great fun writing the book and also fun sharing some of the stories with fellow writers in the U3APP writing group who all gave helpful feedback and often laughed, which heartened and motivated me to continue.
Mayhem in Melbourne looks at life working at Caruthers Real Estate. It follows Juliette, a Senior Property Manager in this busy real estate office, through an action packed week of highs and lows, difficult and lovely tenants and landlords. It introduces us to Juliette’s colleagues and her interactions with them and the stories they have to tell. Through personal experience I know you learn a lot about human nature in the Real Estate industry.
We need to find humour and joy to life our spirits in these stressful times. I hope Mayhem in Melbourne does this by taking you into Juliette’s world with laughs, hijinks and some very human stories.
The book is available through all Amazon sites in both a Kindle/eBook version and paperback.
It is also available at Barns and Noble who have the eBook version for nook readers. If you have trouble sourcing it, I am happy to organise a copy for you. Please email me: email@example.com
If you read it I’d love to know your thoughts."
For many of us, turning sixty means slowing down just a little, spending more time with family, perhaps enjoying grandchildren, travelling the world, playing more sport or simply socializing and enjoying a relaxed lifestyle – and rightly so.
Few of us decide to make a total life changing decision at this age, but Joanna White, longtime U3APP member, is one of those who did.
At sixty, the combination of a serious health scare, unexplained depression and a subsequent seven day transformative retreat, allowed Joanna to fully come to terms with her life and led to her following her childhood dream of creating music, in particular writing music and lyrics. Despite a total lack of theatrical and musical knowledge, the overwhelming urge to write a stage musical took hold.
Joanna set about the difficult task of learning how to write music; she’d always ‘heard’ music in her brain and had songs yearning to escape from inside her head. Now was the time to put this, along with lyrics, down on paper, eventually to be performed. She was extremely fortunate, and Joanna may say “lucky”, to meet up with two people who could assist her; one a woman she met on a tram who was able to translate her rough handwritten music into a gorgeous piano score, and another, a fabulous barefoot pub singer, after which the musical “The Time Pilgrims” was born.
Over the ensuing twenty years Joanna continued to focus her musical talents, and wrote forty songs, all professionally recorded, many of them included in the two musicals she’s written; one titled “Pink” which has been performed, the other “The Time Pilgrims”, waiting in the wings, perhaps to be turned into an educational, interactive computer game; nothing is out of the question where Joanna is concerned.
In 2000 another touch of fate saw Joanna meeting Sir Tim Rice at the Arts Centre in Melbourne. After an amusing exchange, he invited her to send him her first three songs, and liked them enough to invite her to his London base, by which time she’d written and recorded four more CD tracks.
Sir Tim Rice provided the encouragement for Joanna to continue with her long suppressed dream, and they remain good friends today. After he read her short story, “Miracle in Pink”, published by Penguin Books in the anthology “There’s so Much More to Life than Sex and Money”, he suggested this would be a wonderful idea for her second musical. She subsequently wrote and produced “Pink” which has won various workshops and showcases. Some of you may remember that a DVD of the two-hour performance was shown at Mary Kehoe Centre in mid 2018.
In February 2009, the devastating Black Saturday bushfires engulfed the town of Marysville, destroying almost everything in its path. Joanna and her partner have a farm in Taggerty, where the fire was eventually contained. She joined the team of volunteers at the CFA hub where local cooks had set up a temporary kitchen. While she was cutting sandwiches for the continuous line of exhausted firefighters, a poignant tune came into her head along with one line of verse.
When she found a few spare minutes, she quickly put pen to paper, but that’s all she could bear to write at that very emotional time. In the coming months and years this one line continued to gather dust and was almost forgotten until this year, the tenth anniversary of those dreadful fires.
Early in 2019 Joanna heard about a Regional Arts Victoria Grant, in conjunction with the new Marysville Gallery (MIRA), for artists who had pictures reflecting the ten years since the Bushfires. After making enquiries as to whether this abandoned and unfinished song might qualify as background music, and despite only having three days before submissions closed, it brought that one line of music out of the dust and into the daylight to be completed.
Pressed for time as well as the support needed to complete the song in time to enter the competition, Joanna went to great lengths, both metaphorically and literally, to ensure the song was ready, followed by a tortuous submission writing process, and finally tendering “Paradise Lost” just a minute before the deadline. Some of these lengths included a wild car ride, writing lyrics as her partner drove her from Whitfield, over Tolmie Mountain, through Mansfield and up to Eildon’s Skyline Rd to a house perched precariously on a sheer cliff near the fire lookout. But the achievement of one page of ‘real’ sheet music, computerized by the local musician she found at the end of this drive, made the escapade more than worthwhile, and it gave her enough to submit as a grant proposal.
Ten days later a delighted Joanna received a congratulatory call to advise that she had won the grant, with sufficient funds to finish this, along with another previously written composition, “The Dance of Life”. By changing two of its verses, it became a song of reverence for nature, respect for the planet as well as our own duty of care.
But things didn’t end there; the song had to be ready for the official opening of the Marysville Art Gallery in just a few weeks time, which meant another busy flurry of activity for Joanna on this exciting journey.
“Paradise Lost” had an astounding effect on some visitors when it was finally played during the bushfire-related exhibitions at the Marysville Gallery; some wept openly, grateful for ‘permission to cry’ and ‘not be brave anymore’. “The Dance of Life” was performed at the closing of this event on 4 April, a fitting song of hope and renewal for all those who had lived through those disastrous times and come out the other end with newfound strength and resilience.
One would imagine the adventure might now be over with this success under her belt; but Joanna went on to introduce “Paradise Lost” to the U3A Port Phillip choir and it has now become part of the choir’s repertoire. To coincide with this, Joanna heard that Jonathon Welch, of ‘Choir of Hard Knocks’ fame, would be visiting Marysville to run a community-building choir workshop and contacted him as she felt this very relevant number would be an ideal one to be included in the workshop.
The reply from Jonathon was more than Joanna could have hoped for; she was invited to sing her song – solo – at the concert on 7 April, after which his choir of eighty would perform. After ingesting copious amounts of pineapple juice (good for the voice) and trembling in her boots, Joanna sang “Paradise Lost” to a large local audience in Alexandra Town Hall and received thunderous applause, after which Jonathon interviewed her and endorsed her dream that it would be wonderful for the song to now travel to other choirs, perhaps via the U3A network and other community groups.
The feedback from members of this audience was not lost on Joanna, with many thanking her afterwards for the ‘gift’ she had given them, especially allowing them to open up and cry after ten years of bottling up the tears of grief - men and women alike. One woman who had managed to save only herself, her cat and her dog, had never shed a tear, until now when Joanna hugged her and allowed those tears to flow freely on her shoulder. Joanna, understandably, refers to this as the “the most moving moment in my life”.
And where to now for Joanna? Naturally she is not sitting back resting on her laurels any time soon! She’s keen to find a way to perform some of her work through mediums such as podcasting, or perhaps her dream of turning the musical “Pink” into a serialised radio musical.
She would love to meet and have a chat with people who are audio-savvy radio enthusiasts, sound recording editors, music buffs, writers, musicians, computer notation programmers, etc. In short people who’d like to spend a bit of time brainstorming ideas for producing interesting, broadcast quality material.
If you feel like you have something to share with Joanna, or can offer some advice, she would love to chat with you. Send an email to U3APP4Kate@gmail.com and we’ll put you in touch.