Gillian Kemp

Gillian believes that “Keeping yourself active and interested is important. – You may have some really bad times but somehow the good times are the things that stick with you.”

Gillian Kemp was a high-fashion model in Melbourne. She has also managed a number of prestige retail outlets, including her own business of self-designed fashion accessories.


Gillian has featured in a number of popular TV shows, including Prisoner, Sullivans and many T.V. Commercials.

When did you first join U3APP?

“I joined U3APP about 6 years ago. My husband Phillip had passed away some years before this. Mahjong and Films being the first groups I attended.”

What motivated you at that difficult time?

“Well, I was looking for a way perhaps, to invent myself. My husband was a scholar, with an active intellect. But I was 16 years old when I left school, so I wanted to improve myself. U3APP gave me the opportunity to take up new interests.”

Where did you grow up?

“In Warrnambool, together with my older brother. However, when I was 7 years old the family moved to Frankston. My father worked with BSA motorbikes, owned by the Finlay Brothers. We lived in their holiday home, near the beach. It was wonderful.”

Gillian generously shared some personal information about her mother. “Other people have this problem too and may draw comfort from knowing this. My mother was an alcoholic, I loved her dearly but there were some hard times.”

Her father was away from home a lot with work commitments, but he was dominating, controlling, and had liaisons with other women. Gillian felt the need to stay close to her mother and to care for her, “she was a gentle woman.”

The family then moved to live in Oakleigh. Gillian attended various Catholic schools but, “as there was so much going on at home, it was difficult to settle into formal studies. But I loved drawing and dressmaking.”

What was your first place of employment?

“I was just 16 years old when I went to work at The George, in Collins Street.”

That is impressive! “Yes, due to my love of sewing, I was moved into the workroom which made handmade lingerie and other exquisite items for our customers’ trousseaux. They were made of silk, some embroidered with little rosebuds.”

“It was lovely handling these beautiful garments and learning to sew by hand, rather than machine sewing.”

Gillian recalls this as being a very friendly work environment. She also did a course with the Bambi Smith Modelling School, in 1957.

“This is where I commenced my modelling career.”

How did your modelling career progress from there? Gillian left George’s, after being offered a job at Foy & Gibson (one of Australia’s earliest department store chains).

“I went there as a house model, doing all the parades during lunchtime, together with some other ‘outside’ models, but I was their main model.”

Gillian was then approached by Lucas & Co. “I was thrilled, as they were a high fashion house, with a licence to make Pierre Cardin copies in Australia.”

I have often wondered what it feels like to walk along a catwalk in front of an esteemed audience?

Gillian recalls that, “the first time I did this, it was absolutely terrifying. I was modelling an entry for the Gown of the Year, at the Melbourne Town Hall. It was packed with people.”

“I had two outfits, one was ‘high fashion,’ and the other was the entry for the Gown of the Year.”

The high fashion outfit? “I wore a white dress with black and white spots. And what they called a ‘merry widow bra’ which stretched below the waist. Lots of petticoats, high stiletto heels and a big black hat.”

“I remember walking across the stage and all I could see was the rim of the hat! But after this experience, I couldn’t wait to get out on the catwalk again!”

The entry for the Gown of The Year? “I walked onto the catwalk as the song Autumn Leaves was playing. I wore this beautiful, long taffeta strapless gown, decorated with bronze leaves. It felt really special.” (The dress did not win the Gown of The Year Award.)

Photos taken for advertising purposes were put on trams and buses. “So, sometimes I would get on the tram and see me up there, in an evening dress!”

Gillian modelled high fashion in England for a year. “I learnt a l lot. It was wonderful doing my own thing and being away from home.”

On her return to Australia, Gillian met her husband, Phillip, “it was love at first sight… we married one year later.”

Gillian continued to model, dressmaker, and create business opportunities whilst she raised their 3 children. All 3 were born prematurely.

She has managed fashion departments, such as Mariana Hardwick’s Bridal shop in South Melbourne, also Shop for Shops opposite Georges where she managed fashion parades amongst other events, for diners at a prestigious restaurant.

Gillian also had her own business, making fashion accessories which were dispatched to major stores in Australia.

One special memory for Gillian is when she met Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, at a charity dinner held at the National Gallery. Gillian and her husband were invited to this event.

Gillian in her Silver Lamé suit meeting Ronald Reagan

Gillian wore a silver lamé suit that she had designed and made herself. Decorated with white ostrich feathers around her neck and shoulders.

As Ronald Reagan signed her menu, she noticed “flashes of light.” The following day on the front page of 3 major NEWSPAPERS, was a photo of her and Ronald Reagan. (29 November 1973)

“I think that was one of the highlights of my life.”

How long did you work as a model?

”Right up until the age of 50.” Gillian did not need to be overly restrictive with her diet. She is naturally slim and 5’7” tall.

How has the fashion industry changed over the years?

Gillian notes that dress sizes have changed.

“Currently, designers may use a tag for a size 12, although the dress is actually a size 14. They are making dresses more generous in size, going right up to 22, 24.”

Has the recent pressure on clothing manufacturers resulted in more Op Shop purchases?

Gillian is of the view that “recycling well-made clothes is a good thing. There is too much cheap clothing, copied from designers and badly made with faulty stitching.”

“They are in one season and then thrown out and turned into rags. The sooner they can recycle the fabrics, the better. There are warehouses just full of fabric.”

“There are some wonderful Op shops in Port Phillip, and other areas.” Gillian laughs, “I spend half my time taking items to the Op Shop but unfortunately I come back with other things.”

Your involvement with U3APP?

Gillian reflects, “Joining various groups has given me confidence, and keeps my mind active, particularly following my diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease, just over two years ago.”

“Whilst this disease is a part of dementia, it is not as problematic as Alzheimer’s disease.”

Over a number of difficult years, Gillian cared for her husband who had Alzheimer’s.

“With Parkinson’s, if I keep myself occupied and involved in things, I feel I can keep going.”

Gillian participates in Sue Barnes course “For the Love of Fashion, and Film’s and discussion, with David Robinson.

”This is such a good thing for my brain, I am more relaxed, happier, when I am involved in various activities.”

Gillian also belongs to a book group, Sisters of Crime. After her husband passed away, she gave up reading for a while.

“I am now back reading, so it has given me a lot of courage, coming back into the world after caring for my husband for several years.”

Gillian is extremely proud of her 3 children who have excelled in their various creative professions. She has 6 grandchildren. They are supportive and have a family ‘hotline.’

Your other interests?

Gillian was instrumental in starting up an exercise group for Port Phillip residents, having initially attended a group run by Maria Montebello.

“I thought that I could start up a similar group with gentle exercise, building up muscle tone for those over 60 years.”

The class was held at St Peter and St Paul’s church hall.

Gillian explains, “I was simply the organiser, I employed an instructor. I charged $7 for 1 hour’s lesson. We started off with just 3 people. The group was called Gillian’s Gentle Exercise Group.”

She registered the group with Linking Neighbours Seniors Register. Gradually the numbers grew to 50 people on the books. 15 to 20 would attend each class on average.

“Over a period of 10 years I managed to put together $1,000 for charity. I would pay the instructor and put aside any surplus. These funds were given to the church for charitable causes, such as providing hot meals for those in need.”

“I have now retired, having Parkinson’s, it became too much.” Gillian’s hard work and achievement has been acknowledged by Linked In Neighbours and Port Philip Council. The group continues to be called Gillian’s Gentle Exercise Group.

Gillian is also a member of the Port Phillip Life Activities Club.

She has recently featured in advertising for Retirement Homes, soon to be aired on TV.

Reflecting back, Gillian believes that “keeping myself active and interested” has been crucial to her wellbeing.”

Gillian reflects, “I grew up caring for my mother doing her hair, buying her clothes. I have a genuine feeling of wanting to help people.”

“You may have some really bad times but somehow the good times are the things that stick with you.”

Gillian has very recently sold her home of 33 years, in South Melbourne. “I’ve got my eye on the Melburnian, an apartment block on St Kilda Road.”

Gillian’s personal story traverses a challenging childhood, to becoming a high fashion model, managing various prestige enterprises, and in the past 10 years devoting her energy to benevolent enterprises.

Despite coping with the fatiguing impact of Parkinson’s, Gillian intends to, “keep myself occupied and involved in things.” U3APP provides her with the opportunity to do this.

Gillian Kemp was interviewed by Felicity May


Sophie McCarthy

More Than a Market

On Saturday 20 April, U3A Port Phillip welcomed Sophie McCarthy, Executive Director of South Melbourne Market as this month’s guest speaker.

Titled “More Than a Market”, Sophie took her U3APP audience through a fascinating presentation which commenced with the market’s early beginnings in the mid-19th century. Did you know that it was local householders who petitioned the then Emerald Hill Council for a market, and by 1866 a site had been reserved and the first sheds had been erected? Do readers recall that in January 1981 the market was bombed, then later that year fire raced through the market causing thousands of dollars of damage?

Fortunately, market life now is focussed on offering a true village community with 150 traders offering a wealth of wonderful produce, goods and services. Sophie also spoke about a number of the market traders – many will be well known to you such as Moshe of Moses and Co and Rita of Rita’s Coffee and Nuts. Both traders have been at the market for over 30 years! Perhaps you’ve also queued up for the Market’s famous dim sims – that queue of eager fans can extend for a full block! Ken Cheng who established this business had an extraordinary story including fleeing poverty and the Japanese invasion of China and becoming a personal chef to General Douglas MacArthur! We also learned about the market’s strong Greek connections through many market traders such as Angelo Zahos of Aptus Seafood.

Sophie also eloquently spoke about how South Melbourne Market is a quintessential village market, being a place where people come not only to purchase fresh produce, but to meet, eat, drink, shop, discover, share and connect. This financial year to date the market has welcomed over 4.1 million visitors and expects to finish the year at 5.2 million!

Sophie noted that market planning is both strategic and dynamic including the development and implementation of its first Environmental Sustainability Strategy aiming to wipe out waste, transition towards a zero carbon operation and reduce water usage and impact on waterways.

The future for South Melbourne Market, its traders and customers looks very bright!

See you at the market soon!

Here is a VIDEO of Sophie’s presentation.

Here are the SLIDES Sophie used in her presentation.

Jim Pribble

“As a scientist, I have this insatiable curiosity … in all things.”

Jim Pribble is a Radiation Biologist. He obtained a master’s degree in Biochemistry and Zoology in 1972 at Oregon State University, Corvalis, Oregon, USA.

Subsequently Jim worked with the Research Division of Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.

In 1979 Jim was appointed the Principal Scientist with Fisheries Victoria, based at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.

Jim joined U3APP in 2009 and became a Tutor in 2017. He was a member of the CoM Covid Working Group with Diane Boyle and Pam Caven.

Jim spent his childhood years, together with his brothers, in a small logging town called Powers in southwestern Oregon, USA, where his father was a logger. (Jim has written about his colourful childhood years on the U3APP Celebrity website.)

Do you have a favourite memory you would like to share?

Yes, but it didn’t involve me specifically, more the family. We had this old cat named Bert. She was a Manx, with only part of her tail. She was a few decades old, with no teeth left by that time. She was looking pale and unwell. My father, being a kindly individual, thought, “OK Bert, it is time for you to meet your maker and I’ll make it as easy as I can for you.”

He put Bert into a box and drove to this place called Salmon Creek, 8 miles away and took out his shotgun. As he opened the box Bert jumped out. My father was teary eyed as he raised his gun. Then suddenly out of the bush, a rabbit zoomed by, and Bert took off after it.

My dad returned home worried that Bert would starve to death, he moped around for days and days.

Then one day, we heard a noise, and outside the door sat Bert, she had made it home, where she remained safely for the rest of her life. However, Bert never looked my father in the eye, ever again!

When did your interest in science begin?

From the age of 6 years and throughout my early teenage years. I always knew, in the back of my mind, that I would go to university and secondly that I was going to be a scientist…I just always knew this.

As a child I was allowed to pretty much run wild as long as I didn’t get into trouble. Living in a small town, everyone knew if you did!

But if I wanted to take a clock apart, I was allowed to, and other such things.

Jim also liked to collect bugs, butterflies, and other insects, intrigued by their behaviours.

Whilst attending Coquille High School, Jim’s teacher informed the class about a Science Fair at Oregon University, 150 miles away and asked, “anyone want to go?” “I stuck my hand up along with a few others.”

Jim recalls feeling inspired by what he saw there and “that clinched it for me, I was going to be a scientist.”

Having achieved excellent results at High School Jim was admitted into the Oregon University science department. He was selected to do chemistry. However, after one year he decided that chemistry was not so interesting, and he did not perform too well.

“It was strongly hinted that I should leave, so I quit university at that time.”

Jim married his first wife Linda and was then drafted into the Army, stationed in Louisiana. “Thankfully I missed the rigours of Vietnam.”

Jim decided to return to Oregon State University and enrolled into a Summer course on Biology.

“It captured me, hook line and sinker. I felt really inspired.” Jim then committed himself to studying and obtained a degree in Radiation Biology.

What is radiation biology? Radiation biology studies the effect of radiation on the body. On mice, rats, and other living things. Jim went on to obtain a master’s degree in biochemistry and zoology.

What did this lead on to?

I obtained a position with the research division of Oregon Fish and Wildlife. Jim laughs, “however, I knew nothing about fisheries, only biology and the various processes involved.

“So, I was the odd man out. People would be talking about certain fish species, but I only knew about their biological processes.”

Why did you relocate to Australia? It was a very popular dream of every biologist in America in those days. The unusual marsupials and wildlife…and the people living there, Jim adds humorously.

In a way, as is often the case with me, I just fall into things. I heard by chance about this job in Australia. Following discussion between various directors, I was given a position, relating to eradicating European carp from Victorian waterways. I was never actually interviewed for this position. It turned out that there were no Australian applicants.

However, it took a further 2 years to obtain the appropriate visa to work in Australia. Jim arrived in 1979 with his wife Linda and their 2 children.

What was involved with this project, to eradicate carp from Victorian waters?

Carp were brought to Australia via Europe. The species is incredibly hearty, so are ideal for propagation for food. They are virtually impossible to kill.

The Australian palate generally does not like the flavour of carp flesh or the intermuscular bones within the flesh. Ironically, the presence of carp in Australia may be a blessing in disguise as food sources dwindle owing to climate change.

The initial plan by Victorian Fisheries was to destroy all carp in Victoria. However, a prominent gold fish farmer, a migrant, was unhappy about this decision as he was propagating carp for fish food for his goldfish farm.

He took a bag full of carp to Lake Hawthorn, which has an outlet into the Murray River and turned them loose. They are now in every Murray River drainage system.

As this provided me with a job, Jim adds humorously, we tried every known method to eradicate them. Genetic manipulation, introducing diseases but there are many inhibiting factors to employing such drastic measures.

What is the situation currently? Exactly the same. They are still in the waterways in their millions. You just can’t eradicate them all, it’s a bit like killing every last mosquito.

Are they harming our waterways? Jim considers that, this is in fact debateable. “In 1979, I started this project whereby we set up various experiments.”

For instance, putting carp into enclosed areas in order to test the impact on water quality. It was a little muddy, but the Murray river is very muddy, so it was not easy to measure the difference. We also looked at the possible effect on other fish and wildlife. We looked at every possible aspect during this 4 year well-funded programme. I had a big team of research scientists. But we were not able to definitively establish that carp was harming the waterways.

Four years later, Jim became the Principal Scientist, with Fisheries Victoria where he remained for 20 years. He was responsible for a statewide research program based at the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research.

This role as a program scientist had a much wider range. Other native fish were studied, as in how to generate various species via artificial propagation.

“We worked with Murray Cod, Trout Cod, silver and golden perch and more, even a very small fish called galaxias.”

Do you eat fish? No, I don’t, I just don’t like the taste of fish!

For Jim, the underlying premise of his work, is that “as a scientist, was this insatiable curiosity.”

How did you adapt to a life of retirement?

It was difficult. When I left the State government, I still wanted to do something useful. I contacted the Australian Retired Persons Association and subsequently took up a position at a storage facility, Storage King in Richmond. I stayed there for 17 years, until 2017.

“So, I went from scientist to a much less demanding job. 20 years in public service had taken its toll.”

U3APP? The first course Jim attended in 2009, was an art class with Shirley Armstrong, Friday Artworks.

“Here I am a scientist wanting to learn about art, which I knew nothing about. I stayed in this class for a couple of years, learning to draw and paint. Then due to various other circumstances, I drifted away from U3A.”

Jim then re-joined U3APP in 2017. “I joined the class on the American Revolutionary War. I later suggested to the tutor Geoffrey Levy that he might like to run a course on the American Civil War, and I offered to help him.

Later I thought, “I can do this. I have enough of an outgoing egotistic sort of personality, to stand up in front of a class!”

Jim decided to access the online series, ‘The Great Courses.’ His first such course was on the Aztecs and Mayan civilisations.

From that time on, Jim became a tutor at U3APP. He continued to run a series of courses in Room 3.

However, Jim, who has hearing difficulties as do many others, struggled with the poor acoustics and echoing in this large room, despite wearing a hearing aid.

“So, when Covid-19 came along, we had the opportunity to transfer to ZOOM courses. This was ideal for me.”

Jim ran a number of classical music courses with the American composer and pianist Robert Greenberg. The same group of U3APP students participated in several of these courses. “They absolutely glued themselves to the screen.”

In all, Jim presented more than 20 different courses covering history, archaeology, music, and a few “oddballs.” He has accumulated more than 40 video sets.

Jim recalls with amusement that his first experience with listening to music was in 5th Grade. Their teacher, Mr Cummings, would come into the classroom and command, “put down your pencils, your paper, whatever you have in front of you. For 1 hour, we are going to listen to classical music. You are not to make a sound!”

“And so, I really started to love classical music.”

What do you like about presenting courses at U3APP?

I guess, I like the warm feeling that comes back from the students. It is a validation and verification of what I am presenting.

Recently Jim participated in the U3APP Ukulele class. However, due to ill health he is no longer doing so. He hopes to resume when and if ”things” settle.

In 2023, Jim travelled to the United States to visit his brother who had a number of concerning health problems. “We had a good time, a bit of a reunion, and he began to feel a bit better in himself.”

Jim returned to Australia. However shortly after in September 2023, he felt the need to undergo some medical scans, which revealed that he had cancer. Jim continues to receive treatment. This was completely unexpected. He says, “I have always known philosophically, that everyone has the ‘end of the road’ but perhaps not that the goalposts move…”

Your views on the current American political scene? Jim laughs as he bemuses that he cannot understand how it is that “someone hasn’t assassinated Donald Trump…yes, you can quote me!”

“There are other good candidates in the Democratic party, however they are not well known and so do not attract voters. Hilary Clinton was well known, but she was also an outsider, in respect to US politics, besides being also a woman, so she couldn’t get elected.”

Jim surmises that in the event that President Biden beats Trump, accusations of rigged elections will commence. “Carrot top, is not going to give up!”

Your travels in the past? “Shasta, (Jim’s partner of 35 years) and I, have travelled extensively to all of the continents, including the Antarctic, except Africa, including returning to the USA every 5 years or so.”

Jim’s other interests include cooking. “I absolutely love cooking and have done most of the home cooking over many years. My favourite dish is San Francisco clam chowder.”

Jim’s two children live in Victoria. He has 2 grandchildren.

In summary, what do you think U3APP offers members?

Companionship, camaraderie, a chance to learn something new, and to do something different. I think it gives people a beautiful opportunity to interact and to find shared experiences in the most unlikely places.

For instance, in Oregon I was a scuba dive master. When I was on the U3APP Committee of Management, with the working group for Covid -19, with Pam Caven and Diane Boyle, I found out that Diane also is an avid scuba diver.

“There is a wealth of experiences amongst the membership.”

Jim reflected further, “I am really appreciative of the fact that U3APP exists. It has given me such joy to be a part of it.”

Your outgoing personality has engendered much of that…

“If you can put a smile on someone’s face, then it is truly worth the effort. (laughing) That’s where a dry sense of humour comes in, you just slip it around the corner.”

Jim concludes, “I have tried to pack as much as I could, into 81 years, it’s been a good go.”

Jim has contributed his skills as a tutor, and also his work on the CoM, with dedication and humour. Perhaps many would not be aware that Jim is a scientist, with an insatiable curiosity, which permeates all of his endeavours. Whether that be art, music, or his involvement in scientific research, including trials in relating to removing that pesky carp from our Victorian waterways.

Felicity May interviewed Jim Pribble

Lynsey Poore

See the VIDEO of the seminar if you missed it.

Lynsey Poore  is a volunteer guide at the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria, Melbourne Gardens, where she enjoys showing visitors our heritage. She has travelled to many exciting places throughout the world taking a special interest in botanic gardens and the native flora. Lynsey is a frequent speaker on gardens and travels to a wide range of audiences in Melbourne.

Lynsey’s talk was titled “A Famous Sri Lankan Garden” and was delivered on Saturday 16 March 2024 via ZOOM.

Presentation by Lynsey Poore, botanist, on the Royal Botanic Gardens Sri-Lanka


Lynsey’s presentation was based on high quality photographs of the variety of plants and trees of the Gardens.  She explained that the Gardens are situated near Candy in the highlands of Sri-Lanka. The high location enables a wide range of species beyond tropical plants and trees to flourish. An example of this variety is a beautifully laid out English Rose Garden. The Gardens also cover 147 acres and a river flows around it. It was originally designed in the sixteenth century for a King in this region.


In the mid nineteenth century the Garden was taken over by the British, who colonised Sri-Lanka. Their influence is apparent in the avenue of palms, which go into the Gardens from the grand entrance gates. The influence of the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, which provided a wide range of plant species from South America and other parts of Asia, is apparent. The Gardens are now run by the Sri-Lankan government and are maintained superbly.


Besides a beautiful range of trees and plants with a striking variety of colour, the Gardens also have a stunning Orchid House with 184 species of orchids. The Gardens also have beautiful Japanese gardens. Among features of the Gardens is the largest bamboo tree in the world and an enormous fig tree that is situated in one of the lawns in the Gardens. The Gardens also have a lake in the shape of Sri-Lanka, large expanses of lawn and pathways bordered by banked beds of flowers. 


Richard Gough, Saturday Seminars

See the VIDEO of the seminar if you missed it.

Kevin English

Victoria’s Transition to Electric Vehicles

17 February 2024

The February 2024 Saturday Seminar, entitled Victoria’s Transition to Electric Vehicles, was a fascinating presentation by Kevin English, a long-term U3APP member and EV enthusiast and owner of a Tesla Model Y. Kevin was authoritative, well researched and very informative.

Kevin guided us through the history of EV’s, which first appeared in 1828 but were overtaken by vehicles with internal combustion engines developed in 1876. The revival of EVs started in the 1970s with disruption to oil prices and in the late 1980s with climate change becoming a global issue. The first EV vehicle was introduced in 1996 and there are now over 40 different EV cars available in Australia, notwithstanding electric bikes and electric scooters also potentially contributing to the reduction in air pollution.

Most instructive was the overview of the features of EV cars and what it is like to drive them. Not so exciting was the government rebates available in Australia, being minimal in Victoria. Batteries are an essential component of EVs and the presentation covered charging, technology, disposal and fires.

Kevin concluded by recommending that you consider how you will charge an EV before purchasing and that you keep informed as vehicle and battery technology, government rebates and charging options are continually evolving.

The seminar was ably facilitated by Libby Smith.

A recording of the seminar can be seen HERE

Also here is a PDF of Kevin’s SLIDES

Diane Boyle, U3APP IT Team

Ken Letts

“La langue française est comme un bel ruisseau à truites qui coule avec de douces ondulations”.

Father Kenneth Letts is a retired priest in the Anglican Church of Australia. He was Priest-in-Charge of the Albert Park Parish from 1981 to 1994. In 1993 he was appointed rector of Holy Trinity, Nice, and St Hugh’s, Vence, France, in the Diocese in Europe. He was the Archdeacon of France from 2007 to 2012. (This is a synopsis only, of Ken’s numerous positions held in Europe.)

Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite

Following 20 years’ service in France, Ken was made, by the French Government, a Chevalier (Knight) de l’Ordre National du Mérite in 2015.

During the City of Port Phillip Seniors Week, U3APP hosted a Saturday Seminar featuring Father Ken Letts. (Saturday 15th October 2016).

Ken joined U3APP 8 years ago. He is currently tutor of 4L09 La Belle France à travers sa Langue et sa Culture (L).  France through the lens of its language and culture}.

What drew you to join U3A? “It was French which drew me in. Following my return from France in 2013, I did not have much opportunity to speak French.” When the tutor retired about 3 years later, Ken was asked to take over her class.

Where did you grow up? “I was born in Port Melbourne which, in those days, was a defined community, in a geographical sense, being bordered by the Bay and beach on one side, and the river and City of Melbourne, on the other side.”

“The division between Port Melbourne and South Melbourne was Pickle Street. You knew where Port Melbourne began and ended, so growing up in Port gave a real sense of belonging to a community.”

“My mother was a “Port girl”, my father came from mid-Victoria. He came to Melbourne to play football, but then he married my mum.” Ken was born 13 years later.

Where were you educated? “I went to Graham St State School, Belgrave State School, then on to Melbourne Grammar Preparatory School, then Melbourne Grammar Senior School.”

What were the highlights of your time at school? Ken responded enthusiastically. “I loved school. Only last Saturday, I attended a celebration with some of my best friends from school. One became Professor of Medicine at Melbourne University, another was a High Court Judge. I felt extended by their company and also by what the school offered me.”

“I am not a sportsman by nature, but I enjoyed playing some sports, not so much football and cricket, but I loved rowing, tennis, and swimming.”

Did attending church or religious belief form part of your upbringing? “Yes, particularly after I was confirmed at Melbourne Grammar School. I considered this to be a solemn commitment that should be taken seriously. I have been going to church every Sunday since that time.”

Ken went on to Melbourne University where he completed an Arts degree, followed by an Education degree. Initially he considered becoming a chemist but changed his mind, “I thought, I really like languages and history, and was quite good at communication. So, I completed a degree in Education.”

Where to from there? “I began teaching, but then came across a book about apartheid in South Africa, by an Anglican monk, Father Trevor Huddleston C.R., Naught for Your Comfort. This is the book which changed the world’s understanding of the Bantu Education Act – described as being “the most iniquitous of all apartheid laws.”

Ken recalls feeling “knocked over” by what he read. Fr Trevor was a friend of Nelson Mandela, and Bishop Desmond Tutu had been one of his students.

“I read this book, and it changed my direction. It was like a coup de foudre, a flash of lightning kind of experience. I went to my parish priest and talked with him about vocation, in respect to becoming ordained.”

“The diocese accepted me and wanted to send me to America for formation; however I did not want to do this. Instead, I went via South Africa, to England to train with the monastic Order that Father Huddleston belonged to: the Community of the Resurrection.”

Ken completed post-graduate studies in theology at Leeds University, together with an internal formation course with the Fathers.

How would you describe yourself at that time, an inspired 24 year old? “Well, I was certainly on a very different path to many young men of that age. I didn’t worry too much about what others may be doing as I thought this was right for me.”

Can you talk a bit about that? Ken responded thoughtfully. “It is hard to say, but you know, if you are doing something and you think, this is really what I should be doing, it is a very profound feeling. And that’s how it was with me.”

“I loved teaching and really enjoyed it, and I would be giving that up. But I left without regret. With great happiness, I went into the seminary whilst continuing to complete a further residential course at Leeds University.”

“Interestingly Professor Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings had been a lecturer in English in Leeds. He writes in his biography that his happiest years were spent at Leeds University.”

Ken was aged 28 years when he returned to Melbourne.

What did your parents think about you becoming ordained? “Initially it came as a bit of a shock, in the sense that they thought that from their perspective, I was not using my potential. But they accepted my decision and there were no further issues with that.”

Ken married Isabel. They were in a friendship prior to his departure to England. “I said to her, ‘I am going away for 3 years, but I will come back’. And I did.”

Ken finally was ordained in Australia, initially becoming a deacon in the Anglican Church. He was sent to the parish of Mount Waverley.

“I had the great fortune of being there with Fr Bob Butterss, who was terrific. I spent 2 years there, then I was sent to become chaplain at Melbourne Grammar Preparatory School in Caulfield, Grimwade House.”

When Ken received a call from St Michael’s School in St Kilda, asking him to be the senior chaplain there, he responded politely that his time was fully committed. They responded that they would wait for another year if he would come the following year.

Ken laughed as he recalled this conversation, “I said yes, and went to St Michael’s in 1980.”

However, at the same time the archbishop “called me in to tell me that he was sending me to be priest-in-charge of the Albert Park Parish, St Silas Church. The parish was at a low ebb at the time and was about to be closed down.”

Ken was advised by the Archbishop that “the parish has no money, there is nowhere for you to live, there are only 12 members in the congregation, and I want you to go there.” When he responded that he was already committed full time, the response was, “I know you are, and you will do both. I will send you there for a year; and if you don’t make it work, I will then close it down.”

Ken remained at the parish for 13 years, “making it work…I loved it.”

What was it that you gave to this congregation? “Well, I think there is a real spiritual hunger in this age that we live in. People are looking for something that “abides”, if I may use that word, which no one uses any more. It’s a wonderful word, multifaceted in its references. I think people are looking for something that gives them a sense of personal value in a world that is passing, in the sense of things changing very quickly. They may feel dehumanised by this.”

“So, the spiritual need is there, and in my understanding, this is related to the fact of God, making human beings in his own image, in the sense that we are meant to be creative, through maintaining a relationship with God.”

When did your love of the French language commence? “With Edith Piaf and the French poet Charles Baudelaire…and I can tell you exactly how that happened!”

“I was aged 15 years and was studying French and Latin at school. One Sunday afternoon, I was in my study supposedly doing my homework, but I was also listening to an ABC radio programme.”

“The presenter would play music or interviews that he liked, so there was a very personal and idiosyncratic nature to it. He played one of Edith Piaf’s songs “Milord”. I had never heard a voice like that (Ken laughed) – and it was about a prostitute. I thought, they don’t have songs like this in English!”

“At school, later that same year, we read a sonnet by the French 19th century poet Charles Baudelaire, Meditation. The last line of the verse is simply beautiful: ‘That is beauty,’ I thought.”

“The French language is beautiful, even seductive, because of its vowel sounds, and the non-harsh consonants, I think. It’s like a lovely trout stream flowing, with gentle ripples. The French are very proud of their language.”

Let’s go now to France. “Yes, let’s go to la belle France.” Ken laughed as he recalled receiving a letter from the Bishop of Europe who is responsible for the Anglican churches throughout Europe. “I nearly fell out of the chair.” He had been offered various positions.

At that time, he was busy with his work at St Silas and St Michael’s School, and politely declined. However, 3 months later, this offer was compellingly repeated, “and so, it became a fait accompli !”

Ken and his wife moved to France and resided in Nice. He became the Anglican priest of 2 parishes, Nice and Vence, in the foothills of the Alps.

Ken described how he extended his role by becoming involved in the local life of the city. “Being involved on two levels was effective for me.” Namely, the ecumenical life of the churches in Nice, and also facilitating charitable ventures: raising funds for the homeless, and those with other pressing social needs.

What achievements are you most proud of? “One thing we would have, were ‘frugal lunches’ throughout the year. We obtained food from a number of places, while the cooking and serving was done by volunteers. Perhaps 90 people would attend, and they were asked to pay a certain amount for the meal, the proceeds raised being donated to various needs, sometimes as much as €1500. There were also other fund raising activities.”

One midnight, the police brought to the church a young Indian woman, who spoke no French, who was being mistreated by the family she was working for. Ken provided her with safe accommodation, and the parish raised sufficient funds to purchase her a flight back home to India.

How was the food in France? “The interesting thing about France is that it is still mentally an agricultural country. The French have great respect for the produce of the land, that is, le terroir.”

Le terroir varies from place to place, so there is a variety of produce and therefore a variety of dishes. They treat their produce with great respect. It is only recently that supermarkets have gained the ascendancy in France, which, I suppose, was inevitable.”

Why did you return to Australia? “Having lived 20 years in France, Isabel and I planned to return to Australia in 2013. We were very content there, but considered we needed to return to our home in Melbourne, where we also had many friends.”

“However, 9 months before we were due to leave France, Isabel was diagnosed with brain cancer. I looked after her at home until about 2 weeks before she was admitted to hospital where she died peacefully.”

Ken returned to Melbourne at the end of 2013. This was an emotionally challenging time in many respects. He moved back into the family home and purposefully, “started work on the garden” which had been neglected over the years.

You were made a Chevalier de l’Ordre National du Mérite for your pastoral and ecumenical work in France. How did this come about?

“Well, it came as a surprise to me.” Ken recalls with some amusement that he received a phone call congratulating him, before the letter from the French Government had reached him.

The French Ambassador came to Melbourne to present Ken with this Award in 2015. He acknowledges that he felt “very honoured,” whilst at the same time, “sentimentally wishing that Isabel, and my parents, were there.”

Your French class at U3APP? La Belle France à travers sa Langue et sa Culture – France through the lens of its culture and language.

“I love teaching, I always have. For this class, students need to have some working knowledge of French. But there are certainly grammatical elements, and lexical ones, such as extending students’ vocabulary. The class encompasses French culture, the lifestyle and discussion of these various perspectives.”

What are your views on modern day France and political aspects? “I think that in Europe generally, you have this rather frightening rise of the ‘the right’. In France, votes for Marine Le Pen are increasing. And then, there are the socialists to the extreme left. President Emmanuel Macron, in my view, is a very able leader.”

The rather violent protests in France currently? With some amusement, Ken recalled that revolutions are an intrinsic part of French history.

“France has the best social security system in Europe. But it has to be paid for. The retirement age, for some occupations, could be 50 or less, while 60 years old had been the norm: because of pension provisions, this cannot be sustained. Change is always difficult, and this issue remains unresolved.”

Current involvement with your Parish: Ken leads at the moment, a study on Friday mornings, and he also helps the vicar with the Sunday and weekday Eucharists.

Your other interests? “I love music. I attend, with a friend, various performances at the Melbourne Recital Centre as well as symphonies at Hamer Hall. Just recently, I heard Paul Lewis playing Schubert: it was exquisite. Also, recently, a small chamber choir, whose director I know, is singing in the National Gallery. It was very beautiful.”

Cooking? “Yes, I like cooking. The French thought behind cooking is that if you have to eat, you might as well eat well.”

Ken likes to eat in his dining room, preceded perhaps by an apéritif. He chooses not to have a television set and enjoys reading.

Residing in St Kilda, Ken feels that he has no need for a car, preferring instead to catch readily available trams. He would like to see more care taken in the various streetscapes which he feels are a bit neglected.

Plans for the future? Ken likes “to take each day as it comes.”

This interview does not convey fully the extent of Ken’s dedication to the care of others. He is very modest about his serious commitments and achievements, from the time of his confirmation through to his coup de foudre, that led to his decision to become ordained into the Anglican Church.

Ken expresses his love of the French language, beautifully:

“La langue française est comme un bel ruisseau à truites qui coule avec de douces ondulations”.

”It’s like a lovely trout stream flowing, with gentle ripples.”

Felicity May interviewed Ken Letts


New Members Function 2024

The New Members Function was held at the Mary Kehoe Centre on Friday 23 February. About 50 people attended.

A presentation was given by James Walter (President). He spoke of the U3A mission to provide members with opportunities for following their curiosity in a relaxed and friendly learning environment. He also encouraged members to consider in due course how the exercise of their life and career experience could contribute to many of the volunteer roles on which we rely, and to think of becoming tutors.  

Members of the Committee of Management were then introduced. This was followed by presentations by Margo Anderson (Course Coordination), Cheryl Freeman (Office Manager), Karen English (IT), Gillian Wood (Health and Safety), and David Robinson (Newsletter Editor)

Those present then moved to a more informal mode, with participants refreshing their glasses for a mingle and chat.

Should you wish to follow up with any of these speakers, email and I will forward your message onto them.

Photos of the event are below.

David Robinson, Newsletter Editor

2024 Tutor Orientation

The 2024 Tutor Orientation session was held at the Mary Kehoe Centre on Monday 22 January 2024. 

About 50 tutors attended.

The function was to greet our new Tutors and welcome back our regulars.

There was lots to talk about together and the Course Coordination Team (CCT) mingled catching up with as many as possible.

Afternoon Tea was served, and some time was given to refresh the important matters of being a Tutor with U3APP.
There were 15 new Tutors and our many, many returning ones.
Below are photos taken at the event by Aziza Khamlichi
Margo Anderson – CCT, Tutor Recruitment

2023 Christmas Party

Our 2023 Christmas party held at the St Kilda Town Hall on Saturday 9 December was a great success with approximately 180 members attending. It was a wonderful occasion for members to catch up with friends to celebrate another year of stimulating activities offered at U3A Port Phillip and enjoy a lovely relaxed lunch.

Hosted by Branko Colavizza and Gaye Mason, we were delighted to have the Mayor, Heather Cunsolo, welcome guests and give a brief address. She then opened up the conversation with questions from the audience which was very much appreciated by members. Also in attendance was Carol Gordon, (SPDL). Our organisation is forever grateful to the City of Port Phillip for their support.
The U3APP Committee for 2024 was announced and our new president, James Walter shared his vision on the path ahead in 2024. It was also an opportunity to thank people for their volunteer work over the year and farewell outgoing volunteers. A beautiful heart-felt tribute to honour Sheila Quairney certainly brought tears to the eyes of many.

A number of awards were presented to recognise the amazing volunteer work by members over the years.

Honorary Life Member Award – Lyn Place
Meritorious Awards – Teresa Martin-Lim, Chris Wroe, David Robinson and Geoff Parr-Smith

In conclusion, how lucky are we to have such a wonderful organisation to fulfil our daily lives.
Thank you to everyone who assisted me on the day to make this lunch special for our members. Your time and effort is very much appreciated.
We wish you a happy, fun-filled festive season and holiday with family and friends and look forward to seeing you in 2024.
Merry Christmas and happy Hanukkah

The photos above were taken by Aziza Khamlichi and Barry McIntosh.
Ros Christie, U3APP Event Coordinator

AGM 2023 – 1 December 2023

Below are photos taken at the U3APP 2023 Annual General Meeting on 1 December 2023. 

The photos were taken by Aziza Khamlichi.

On Friday 1st December 2023 members and tutors attended U3A Port Phillip 20th Annual General Meeting, held at the Mary Kehoe Community Centre. The Deputy President, Hannah Len, welcomed those present.
After the 2022 Minutes were accepted, both the President’s and Treasurer’s reports were presented to Members. Hannah gave special thanks to all the U3APP’s volunteers participating as Tutors, Office Volunteers, IT&C Team, Course Coordination, Committee of Management and many more for their continuing support to make the U3APP and the year’s activities as good as they were.

Hannah Len was delighted to announce the awards for Honorary Life Membership and Meritorious Service:
      Honorary Life Membership Award – Lyn Place
      Meritorious Service Awards – Teresa Martin-
      Lim, Chris Wroe, David Robinson and 
      Geoff Parr-Smith

      “for their exceptional and continued volunteer
      support to members over many years in
      tutoring, newsletter production and IT support.
      These volunteers that we honoured are a
      small part of the backbone of our

The nominees for Committee of Management for 2024 were announced and elected by those present, they are:
      Alan Aberdeen, Branko Colavizza,
      Gaye Mason, Gillian Wood, James Walter,
      Kevin Devers, Kevin English,
      Margo Anderson, Nora Vitins and 
      Rosalind Christie

The 2024 Committee of Management met after the AGM to elect the Officers (Executive):

      President: James Walter
      Deputy President: Kevin Devers
      Secretary: Branko Colavizza
      Treasurer: Gaye Mason
Hannah also extended the Committees gratitude to the City of Port Phillip for their continuing support.

The Committee wishes you and your family a Merry Christmas and very best for the New Year.

Branko Colavizza, Secretary

How to Enrol

On-line: after bookings have opened

On-line enrolments are preferred as this significantly reduces the amount of back-office work for our volunteers.

  • Login to the website.
  • Go to the Courses & Enrolling page.
  • Scroll down to find the course that you are interested in.
  • Does the course have spaces available?
    • Click on the course name to go to the booking page.
    • Click on “Book for this course or event”.
    • You will receive a confirmation email.  Please check your Junk/Spam folders as these automatically-generated emails often finish up there.
  • OR is the course shown as FULL?
    • Click on WAITLIST.

Paper Enrolment Form: before bookings open for First Semester

  • Obtain a paper Enrolment Form either from the Office or by printing an online copy available here.
  • Complete the paper Enrolment Form and submit it to the Office.

The start date for acceptance of paper Enrolment Forms for first semester is published on the U3APP website and in the e-Bulletin. Enrolment Forms received before this date are treated as though they had been received on the start date (ie there is no advantage to be gained by submitting early). On the start date and thereafter, paper Enrolment Forms are numbered in order of receipt.  Paper Enrolment forms are processed by U3APP volunteers on the same day as on-line bookings.

If your enrolment is successful, you will receive a confirmation email.  Please check your Junk/Spam folders as these automatically-generated emails often finish up there.

If your enrolment is unsuccessful,  you will receive an email telling you that you have been waitlisted.

Via the Office: after bookings have opened

  • Contact the office in person, or by email or phone.