Susan Johnson

Dave and the Blow In (a true story)

(Photo: 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.

Warwick Lloyd – 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.

Warwick Lloyd – Money

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.

Barry McIntosh

“Barry epitomizes the life-long learning ethos we seek to encourage.” (Jose Simsa, March 2012)

Barry McIntosh became a member of U3APP 15 years ago. He has served on the Committee of Management, facilitating various projects, including providing photographs for the U3APP publication; “Movers and Shapers – People Who Inspire Us.” Lindsay Doig was President at this time.

Barry has become well known over the years, for his photographic skills. He can be seen at U3APP functions, unobtrusively moving through the room, capturing portraits of members.

Where did you live as a child? “I was born in Romsey, Hampshire in England. I was brought up by my paternal grandmother. My mother died when I was 3 months old. I spent my first few months in hospital due to a skin problem (Atopic Eczema) which persists today, although it is now managed much better than was possible in those days.”

His mother died from septicemia. Barry responded pensively, “she would have lived today, (with current advanced medications) my life would have been radically different had she lived.” Barry’s mother had managed the village Post office / newsagency.

Barry’s grandmother’s pub in Fareham

How was that experience for you, growing up with your grandmother? “Without her, I wouldn’t have had a home.” Barry reflected further, “she was a dominant presence, she became blind, losing her retina midlife, but she still managed the day to day running of the pub. “I grew up in the pub, it was a very nurturing atmosphere, I am forever grateful that she was there.

“My grandmother took on the license of a century’s old pub, in the market town of Fareham in Hampshire. France was roughly 25 miles across the water.”

In respect to his mother, Barry recalls, ”I wanted to know what sort of person she was. Did she have a sense of humour, a belief system, I was curious to know all those things. One of the problems was that people would sanitize their answers. The end result is that I didn’t really discover much at all.”

Barry was 14 years old when he left his private school, the expense became too much for his grandmother. He was told “you gotta go to work, which I did.” This turned out well. The father of one of his good friends, noting that he lacked parental guidance, took Barry and his son to an interview for trial apprentices. The company took on only 12 apprentices each year.

“I was fortunate to be one of them, without that my life would have been very different. I think that began my lifelong learning journey. I realised how backward I was as I was mixing with some very impressive people; it goaded me to knuckle down and to work hard.”

It also shows that you had potential. “Well, I am not sure, but I did win the Vickers Armstrong metallurgy prize when I was 19 years old.”

This achievement gave Barry a much needed boost to his confidence. He later spent time studying vibration measurement and control in jet engines. “But bear in mind I was just a junior technician,” he adds modestly, whilst acknowledging that “taking an interest,” was perhaps the key to his advancement over future years.

How do you measure vibrations? With some amusement Barry described, “well, something can be vibrating right here (pointing to the table in the room) and it vibrates in sympathy with the other end of the table, and you need to work out how it gets there … sympathetic vibrations are very complicated.”

Barry was aged 21 when he made the decision to migrate to Australia, having completed his apprenticeship. “I had this fantasy; I wanted to travel to Canada or Australia. I didn’t intend to stay for long, but I was offered a job as a vibration control sales engineer. With typical modesty, Barry reflects, “they took a huge risk, I was green as grass. They would send me to Dandenong, and I’d go to Footscray, I didn’t know Melbourne at all.”

Barry obtained employment with Mackay Rubber, which made vibration control components. “So that was the interest I had and the reason why they were interested in me, to sell their equipment.” But “I had no commercial experience at all, so I grabbed the opportunity they offered me.”

Barry recalls humorously that at his interview he was told, ‘we’ll give you a go’. “I was too shy to ask what that meant. Several days later I got the letter confirming the appointment, then I knew what it meant!” Two years later Barry was promoted to become a senior sales engineer, there followed “a very happy 4 years, by then I was committed.”

What about your social life, given you had no family in Australia? “Well, I grew up in a pub and I learned not to drink.“ He recalled his grandmother saying to him, “you are 18, you can drink anything you want. So, I tried everything in the bar, and then went back to lime juice! That’s still very much the case today, I rarely drink alcohol now.”

Barry formed local friendships, also with various workmates. He was often teased, given his ‘Pommie’ accent. “Have you had a bath this week Mac? It was relentless,” but he took it all with good humour.

Barry went on to study Rubber Science Technology at RMIT. He was approached by one of the tutors who was also a chief plastics chemist. Barry described how he “pulled me to one side and said, look there’s a job coming up, to represent Nylex plastics with a new Swiss product. We have a product we need to promote, I think you should apply. What I didn’t know was that the job was mine, it had already been decided.” Barry subsequently worked with this company for a further 6 years and became their general products sales manager, with a staff of 35.

Looking back on this experience, as Nylex plastics’ chief technical salesman, Barry reflects, ”I have always taken a fairly positive view. Sometimes you score, sometimes you don’t, but either way the challenge was interesting.”

Barry had always wanted to start up his own business, “but I didn’t know how to do that.” An opportunity arose when Scope Laboratories, a company that made electric tools, located in Airport West, needed a sales engineer. He was recommended for the job and subsequently over a 3 year period, “I bought into the business and became a part owner. Together with my partner, we ran that business for 25 years. We were able to sell our tools to various customers e.g. London underground, Marconi Aerospace, Phillips in France as well as local and NZ companies.”

Barry and his partner initiated a scheme whereby the profit was shared with the other 12 staff members. When the business was eventually up for sale, “we determined that if the staff were properly looked after, we would accept the offer. Some of the staff retired, others remained with the new business.”

What did you do after that? “I was 60 years old, I didn’t want to retire.” It eventuated that a Swiss colleague suggested that Barry give him a hand with his aluminum business. “I said, I don’t know anything about aluminum, you’ve got the wrong guy.” Barry was persuaded to give it a try. This turned into a 7 year period, requiring travel to Europe several times a year. The connection with my Swiss colleague proved a happy and productive one.

It was at this time that Barry became involved with a local nursing home.

This notable project is referenced in the book, By the Community, For the Community’ – the story of Napier Street Aged Care Servicesby Adair Bunnett.

“Barry McIntosh, the son-in-law of another resident, worked tirelessly to secure funding from various philanthropic trusts. Thanks to his hard work and the generosity of the trusts, Barry secured enough to cover the target of the 179 Dementia Appeal and most of the hostel’s budgeted contribution.”

How did that come about? “Well, they needed money for the dementia unit. Despite having no experience in raising money for big projects, Barry would source out the key people in a particular business and say to them, ”look I am new, can you give me some advice?” This genuine approach seemed to work. Over a 2 year period Barry raised enough to cover the cost of the dementia facility, basically by “not taking ‘no’, for an answer…although you do get a lot of knockbacks.”

When did you take up photography? Barry’s first photo was of his grandmother. “I also processed the print, in those days it was all chemicals. I developed the photo in a cupboard in the pub and printed it. That was a happy association, my first photo of my grandmother, it took me into lots of new areas, christenings, weddings.”

What camera did you start off with? “The cheapest one you can imagine, I didn’t graduate to anything sexy for a long time, they were very expensive… photography has always interested me, and that’s what launched me, at U3APP.”

How did that come about? “Well, I take most of the photographs here. I would just do what I could do and didn’t think too much of it. But then they awarded me a Lifetime Member, along with a citation.”

Dr Heather Wheat and Jose Simsa were the initiators of this publication.

Barry took many of the photos in the U3APP publication, ‘Movers and Shapers, People Who Inspire Us.”(2012). He is referenced as: “The beautiful photo portraits of our guests are the work of, and were donated by, Barry McIntosh. Barry was also the researcher for the historical photos and archival material …he took on another role, becoming the indispensable liaison person between the featured guests and the production team. He made countless trips at short notice to borrow old photos and to have work-in-progress reviewed and approved. Both a teacher (IT) and a student(Italian) at U3A, Barry epitomizes the life-long learning ethos we seek to encourage.”

Barry likes to keep physically active. “There is a philosophy of trying to keep you moving, to keep your muscles toned, so I walk whenever I can.” He attends a program run by Better Health Network, in South Melbourne where their aim is to keep you active and in good shape.

Barry recalls that he and Gwen (Barry’s wife), together with a walking group, trekked over the Milford Track in New Zealand, “through the most stunning country you have ever seen.”

Currently Barry attends an Apple Friendship class run by Dennis Mouy and iPhones/iPads – basics tutored by Jude Hatton, “both classes are welcoming and helpful.”

“U3APP describes a significant chapter in my life. That chapter exudes talent and enthusiasm in abundance. The people that walk the corridors at Mary Kehoe are an attractive group and I’m pleased to be part of it.”

Barry tells an interesting life story, as he shaped his life from difficult beginnings, into a fulfilling career, and ongoing generosity to others. With his down to earth insight, and humour, Barry continues to develop new perspectives which enrich his life. His camera is ever rolling, snapping photo portraits at all our U3APP events.

Felicity May interviewed Barry McIntosh.
Wal Moser took the photo of Barry McIntosh.

Janine Mifsud

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

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.

Elizabeth Ng

“The beauty of yoga is knowing that it is there to suit you, to work for you. You modify yoga to suit the student, not to suit the yoga.”

Elizabeth Ng is the tutor of the YOGA F2F class.

I am interested in hearing your views, as to why you consider yoga, in its many different forms, to be so popular.

“I suppose what you are asking me is the difference between the respective ways of teaching yoga. I teach under the tradition of the family of Krishnamacharya. I have done two types of training. One under Vivekananda School of Bangalore and then under Krishnamacharya which is based in Chennai. “Whilst I don’t know in depth about the other many forms of yoga, all traditions have asanas which relate to the exercises and particular postures. The asana is the movement of the body, which we would translate quite simply into, ‘the exercise.’ Most likely, all the various yoga traditions work with asanas, but it is how you do them that makes the difference.”

Can you explain this further? “So, one of the main principles of the how, is for instance the particular style of yoga where asanas are more physical, which many people in the west can relate to. The tradition of Krishnamacharya follows a different line even though the asanas are principally the same. Everything we do in our tradition always employs the sense of consciousness of your breath, as you move. The consciousness of your breath as you sit, the consciousness of your breath when lying down. Then there is a point at which you let all that consciousness go. In some traditions, you need to master the first stages of asanas before you can go onto the next and so on. In the tradition I teach, you don’t have to master all the particular postures.”

In this tradition, it is all about the body, together with the movement and the breath, “so you can really feel your breath, feel the experience of the movement. When I teach, I teach and watch the students. It is my job to see that people are safe and to watch if they may be doing something that may disturb their body or even their mind.”

Your career in social work? Elizabeth spent 25 years working as a Social Worker with various agencies supporting the homeless in Melbourne, in the western and northern suburbs. She was involved with running programs to support mostly single adults and families. Later on, Elizabeth assisted workers who were responsible for young people and adolescents who had been impacted by troubling family issues.

Some of Elizabeth’s most memorable but also disturbing experiences occurred when she worked with Melbourne City Mission. Reflecting further, “single adults and families could be homeless for many different reasons and should not be wrongly judged or misperceived because of their situation.” Elizabeth would provide support to staff, who in turn were endeavouring to support these young people, such as in finding them accommodation in private rental or public housing. The waiting list for public housing “was enormous.”

The team at Melbourne City Mission were responsible for 50 transitional housing properties, however there was rarely a vacancy, so the team found that they worked with clients for longer than was technically allowed by the funding bodies. The benefit however was that working with those in need assisted them to become “housing ready, as well as working through their own traumas and getting things settled.”

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect was “the impact on the children. When they are homeless, they often don’t go to school, or they have to change schools multiple times.” They may not have a uniform, the required books, or their food intake may be deficient, depending on the family circumstances.

Elizabeth instigated a project aimed at evaluating the impact of homelessness on children. However, funding was very limited. The obtained statistics “were brushed aside … sadly not a lot has changed.” At the time this was not a big political issue, but “it has become more so. People are more aware of the issues relating to housing and homelessness. It is problematic for the next generation.”

Elizabeth observed firsthand, the impact of housing inadequacies on young people, “I saw some of those ultimate results … of broken families, of kids having to move from one place to another. You get, of course, very angry kids. Very angry. For the workers, dealing with this, it was extraordinarily hard, which is where we came in to assist them. “

Is there a particular memory that you would like to share? “They used to call me the ‘Somali worker’ when I was involved with the West Heidelberg Community Health Centre.” At that time there were many refugees from Somalia. “They are beautiful people, I got to know and understand them,” and to be able to work cooperatively, respecting their ethnicity, their strength and confidence within their own family environment.

One 25-year-old pregnant woman was “quite articulate, but she looked haggard, years beyond her age due to her traumatic experiences.” Two years later Elizabeth met up with her again, she had been rehoused with her child. “She looked wonderful, superb, like a 25-year-old.” This is the difference that can be made, “by being there supporting, and obtaining stable housing. It was a beautiful moment.”

Let’s talk a little about your own background. “I was born in Tunisia, the family spoke French. However, when Tunisia fought for and gained their independence from the French, we left.” Elizabeth recalls the voyage by ship to Australia in 1956, disembarking at the Port of Melbourne and of being collected by her father who had migrated a year earlier. She was about four years old.

Speaking only French, Elizabeth’s first years at school, “were quite terrifying, initially.” She first attended a Catholic school, then was moved to Malvern Primary School near their home. “I didn’t have a clue what to do, you are left to find your own classroom, to go your own way.” Her elder sister would tell her what to do but language difficulties isolated her from the other students.

Elizabeth described a personally traumatic and neglectful childhood, she left home at the age of 17 years. “It’s a long story.” At 19 years old she became pregnant, caring for her child alone, then 12 months later married the father and had another child. Elizabeth ensured that she was home caring for the children when they were young, She then worked in administration and bookkeeping, before commencing her career in social work.

What led you into taking up yoga? Elizabeth commenced yoga prior to commencing her career in social work. During her traumatic childhood years, she would spend much time in the local library, reading books on topics related to the sense of self and psychology. Later, searching for personal relief, she attended yoga classes, “there was something for me that just clicked.” There was support, “a lack of judgment, I would walk away feeling so much better.” This led Elizabeth into teacher training, “going deeper and understanding more about, what is it about yoga that can make you feel good, if I can feel better, can I impart this onto others?”

There was also a social connection, “but in a really gentle way, in ways that I hadn’t experienced before. So over time, and as I got into social work later on, I felt that I could utilise this in life, really utilise the whole principle of yoga, which I also incorporated into my work.”

Elizabeth commenced tutoring yoga with U3APP in October 2022. Prior to this she was teaching classes at Christ Church Community Centre and is currently teaching on Zoom.

At U3APP, there are several types of yoga being taught, and from the waiting lists, it is clearly very popular. Is yoga for older people a more recent development? “ I think there are a few things. As a generation, we are more conscious of keeping healthy. We can’t just eat or ‘slob’ around. People are seeking ways to be healthy, to be stronger.” Interestingly, the proportion of men in classes is “much lower. Men have a tendency to think that yoga is too slow, that to be fit you need to keep moving. However, yoga can in fact be quite physical.”

How do you manage getting some older members to sit on the floor for instance? “If that becomes a problem, there are ways to manage this.” Elizabeth referred to a woman in another class, aged 89 years. She wanted to be part of the group, so she did some exercises from a chair. “When lying down on the floor, there are ways to help you get first onto your knees and then to slowly stand up.”

What do you think U3A, in general, has to offer the older generation, in respect to enabling classes such as yoga? “I think it is a fabulous opportunity, yoga is important within a social context as well. To meet with others, to share the space.”

Referring to her class at U3APP, “there will be some who are unable to move as freely as others.” However, Elizabeth is able to provide them with alternative postures or modifications, for instance. “The beauty of yoga is knowing that it is there to suit you, to work for you. You modify yoga to suit the student, not to suit the yoga.”

That same principle may differ somewhat in other yoga traditions. However, Elizabeth takes the view that, “if you walk away in pain, then I haven’t done my job. Sure, muscles may be a bit sore, but where there is pain, something has happened that shouldn’t happen. I want people to be conscious of this and to be responsible and provide feedback as they know better than me how they feel.”

In her classes Elizabeth uses a small lamp, “a diffuser powered by electricity, with coloured lights that flash very gently whilst diffusing aromatic essential oils, as candles are not permitted.” One of the best-known asanas is the salute to the sun. “The whole principal of the salute to the sun, is the sense of bringing light, vitality and joy into yourself.” The candle is a symbol of that.

Other interests? Elizabeth enjoys spending time with her two adult grandchildren. Walking the family’s mini schnauzer. Her French background inspired her to attend French language classes, and has revived her interest in various cultures, including exotic foods. Elizabeth’s ex-husband is a Malaysian born Chinese, their daughters share her interest in the wider aspects of French and Asian cultures. “My Australian husband now enjoys the benefit of those culinary experiences.”

Tragically in 2008, Elizabeth’s youngest daughter, aged just 35 years died. She was eventually diagnosed to have cardiomyopathy.

Elizabeth enjoyed the U3APP French singing class with David Sharples, while this was running. She likes to draw, “comic figures.” Elizabeth is also contemplating doing voluntary work with migrants and working with other cultural groups.” She has plans to travel with her husband to Vietnam. They have a property in East Gippsland, on the northern arm of Lake Tyers. “It is a long way to go but it is beautiful when you get there, I especially like to go kayaking on the lake.” She also has a small number of clients, for counselling.

Elizabeth has worked for 25 years with a very needy section of the population, the homeless. With those who may be subjected to public misconceptions as to why they have become homeless or find themselves in dire need. She has observed firsthand how childhood trauma, distressing experiences in teenage or adult years, impacted on their ability to cope with the adversities of everyday life.

Elizabeth has a ‘lived experience’ of growing up as a migrant child in Melbourne and has used this experience to help others. She continues to do so, through her dedication to teaching yoga, which promotes strength for the mind, body, and soul. This, she imparts to members of her class, at U3APP. Elizabeth is emphatic, “yoga is my passion.”

Elizabeth Ng was interviewed by Felicity May.


Janine Passlow

“It’s fascinating to experience a culture that sees the world differently. I think that really opens your mind.”

Janine Passlow is a registered nurse. She has recently retired, completing 50 years working in various areas of nursing. She became a member of U3APP 2 years ago, after relocating to South Melbourne.

Janine was born in Tasmania, she is one of six children. Her father was a vet, “so we would travel around Tasmania, visiting farms. I was 8 years old when we moved to Melbourne. I grew up in Blackburn, went to a Catholic Primary School, then Sienna College in Camberwell.”

Janine recalls that she had always wanted to be a nurse but does not consider that her father being a vet was a major influence on this choice. “But I certainly learnt a lot, I would help him in the surgery. My mother trained to be a nurse after all six children left home.”

She described an occasion when her father was called to treat a sick elephant in a nearby circus. However, the elephant died, it was very old. Her father knew little about elephants, “the circus people probably knew more, but it was a significant event for us all.”

What was your experience of training to be a nurse, perhaps compared to nowadays? Janine commenced her nursing training at St Vincent’s Hospital, Melbourne. “We had to live at the hospital for the first two years. There were curfews. But we were just 17 years old, we needed to support each other. We were put straight onto the wards, facing life and death situations. We became very close and to this day we have our 10 year reunions.”

Having completed her training, Janine made the decision to work for a year in Papua New Guinea. A chaplain at St Vincent’s had connections with a particular village in the Highlands and assisted her to go there.

“I was 20 years old, I had my 21st birthday there, we drank altar wine to celebrate! I was young and naïve, but it was an amazing experience. There were just the two of us, fortunately for me, the other nurse was also a midwife.”

This was “fortunate” as the small village was very remote, one of several scattered villages. “People would come in from the hills, from far and wide when they were sick. So mostly we would only get to see people when they were very sick, because they tended to look after themselves. The people were a delight. They in turn would look after us when we travelled.”

Women would give birth without medical assistance, “however if their labour became obstructed, they would come to us, which was always an issue.” Janine explained, “in every village of course there are premature births, they had no access to hospitals, so we developed a way of looking after the babies in a carboard box, with a hot water bottle, that is all we had. Just the two of us were there, we would set the alarm and get up and feed the baby every few hours. Eventually we were able to move them to better facilities, but this took time.”

More generally, they would give advice on nutrition, administer vaccinations, and attend to other health related issues.

What was this experience like for you personally? “Well, it was an eye opener, I was very young and naive. You think you are going to save the world, but no, it’s just like you are just putting a band aid on. I had a deep interest in other cultures, the people were very special. It was a fantastic experience.”

Following her return from New Guinea, Janine completed a course in midwifery, “it was such a deficit in my experience in New Guinea.”

Later on, during the 70’s, Janine held Childbirth Education classes at her home. She was married with children to care for and obtained employment with a childbirth education group at that time. Pregnant mothers and their partners would be able to attend in the evening after work. “We would hold a six week course, this was very new approach at that time, it was very enjoyable.”

The family, with their 4 children then moved to live in Traralgon. Janine commenced work in a regional hospital, where she was required to work in medical, surgical, oncology, paediatrics, also the emergency department. “If it was busy somewhere, you just went and helped. If the oncology nurse was going on leave, you would replace them. So, I had a lot of generalist experience in different areas, which gave me much needed background knowledge, for remote area nursing.” They returned to Melbourne 20 years later, the children were adults, and Janine felt it was time to consider doing remote area nursing.

What motivated you to work in remote areas? “Well, I was interested in Indigenous culture. Our travels through Australia led me to develop an appreciation of their rich and deep and culture. I just felt this was for me.”

Janine completed a remote area nursing course in Alice Springs. “We learnt more about health screening, suturing, plastering, chronic diseases and also emergency work. It was excellent to learn those skills.”

Initially Janine worked for one month in Derby, Western Australia, where there was support from the regional hospital. “So, I learnt how to become more aware of the local culture, to get the feel of how to communicate with the Indigenous community.”

Over the next few years, Janine spent short term periods, nursing in various outreach communities.

Medical Clinic, APY Lands (North West SA)

In 2007 Janine commenced working with an Aboriginal health service in the north west of South Australia, part of the Anangu Pitjantjara Yankunytjara lands, known also as APY lands. The APY lands connect with the Western Australia, Northern Territory and South Australian borders. “These were the communities affected by the Maralinga nuclear testing site in the late ‘50’s.”

Over the next 10 years, Janine worked 8 week periods in a remote health service, a 1 hour flight on a mail plane from Alice Springs. She did this 3 or 4 times a year, providing relief to the permanent nurses when they were on leave. “So, I went to all the six communities in the APY lands, managed by the regional health services. We relied on the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) to evacuate sick people … sometimes the wait was long.”

Ready to visit the Homeland’s families and hoping for no flat tyres.

What were some of the major health issues there? “Well, the problems I encountered in these areas were very different. A lot of the health problems are related to poor socioeconomic conditions, overcrowded housing. No water for proper hygiene, washing clothes, so many skin conditions, ear infections. Many kids had lost their hearing, affecting their education. The Aboriginal view of health, is quite different from our own.”

Can you talk a bit about that? “Well, say for me and for most people I know, if you have a health problem, it’s important to go to a doctor, specialist etc. In the Indigenous community, this is down the list, it is not a high priority, depending what’s going on in the family or community.”

Janine explains further, “for instance, young men would not come to the clinic unless they were extremely ill, we always had a male nurse available. Also, when the health service first started up, there were some who feared white people, feared being given tablets, that they might be poisoned for instance. They were very suspicious, taking medication was very difficult for them”.

“We worked closely with the Ngangkari (traditional healers). These special Elders helped us a lot, especially in stressful situations”.

Feet check at the clinic in the APY Lands.

“With diabetes, you may not feel unwell, but it is doing damage to your heart and kidneys. If you don’t feel unwell, why keep taking tablets? You may not feel you have high blood pressure, so why take tablets? A slow, gentle approach was the most effective.”

Did the health services obtain some good outcomes over the years? “I think so. Our vaccination programme was a very high priority for many mothers. The vaccination rate was higher there, than it would be in Melbourne.”

Janine explains that “when the Rotavirus vaccine was introduced, babies stopped dying from ‘gastro’. With the pneumococcal vaccine less children died from pneumonia, they could see for themselves, that these vaccines worked.”

Learning to be a doctor/nurse

On a slightly different perspective, what did you learn about their culture? “Communication, and other benefits they obtained from their culture. For instance, someone you may know, but who is very shy may want to come to the clinic. They may pace up and down outside, then they might come inside and sit on a bench at the back of the clinic. So, you would go and sit beside them and wait. You might have a yarn about something else. Eventually they would tell you why they came to the clinic and what their problem was. It taught me to be patient and not to ask lots of questions.”

Did the health profile of the communities lift over the 10 years? “Yes, slowly. It is a dry community. Family violence was a problem. The young men had no employment, not much purpose, they were bored, some have mental health issues.”

Janine explained that sometimes women would approach them for protection. They would keep them in the clinic, but it may take a few hours for the police to arrive. She witnessed some very challenging incidents.

What aspects of their connection to country impressed you? “I used to go out bush together with the elders. It was so special. We would be driving down the road, as we passed beautiful rock formations, they would start singing to their ancestors, letting them know we were coming and that they had visitors coming through their land. They would tell me stories about the rock formations.”

“One time, they went out bush, they cooked up the kangaroo tail purchased from the store, made damper and billy tea. After, I started to clean up but was told not to. The elder explained, ‘this is where we‘ve met today. So, it is important to remember this outing.’ This is a different way of thinking.”

Janine referred to a number of frustrating issues relating to some very ill people in the community, also on-call work at night, which led her to finally complete her 10 years of work in remote community settings.

On reflection, what do you think may improve these difficult situations? “Well, I am very much pro an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The local people in these communities have very good ideas. When a new policy comes in, it is made by bureaucrats in Canberra. They are told, this is where your money will be spent, for your own good.”

Janine has observed that this is frustrating for the community, as they know what does and does not work for them. As an example, “the government spent millions of dollars on an alcohol rehab centre, in one of the communities.”

“The people knew it would not work as no one local, will go to a rehab centre in their own community. Too much shame. It was built, politicians arrived to open it, but it was never used for that purpose. In the end they turned it into a TAFE.”

What suggestions did the local community make? “Well, they were pretty keen on getting the youth occupied, to give them a focus, activities. A place where they could meet, play music and dance. They needed funding for that. More housing was needed, also a maintenance program.”

“Also, they look after their old people very well. They had a kitchen, would cook meals, and take them to the old people in the community. Their family, also the younger generation, grandchildren would be very supportive, they would look after them if they were dying, it was impressive. They had great skills looking after a family with mental health issues.”

What about language? “Language is very strong, the older people mostly spoke language (Pitjantjatjara). Children spoke language until they went to school, where they were also taught language, their culture was very strong.”

Campaigning for the Voice

I understand that you are involved in campaigning for the Voice to Parliament. Janine is a member of Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation. “This is a fantastic group of people, we are very busy at the moment. I am handing out leaflets, the reception has been mostly positive. Others are door knocking, making phone calls. The membership is mostly not Indigenous, “there are some, we have an Elder, our inspiring Auntie Jacko (Judith Jackson).”

Having completed 10 years working intermittently in AYP lands, Janine intended to retire, however “Covid came along,” so she administered vaccinations, “doing 100’s a day at the Convention Centre and Royal Melbourne Hospital.”

Janine described how they had to “put up with protesters. We were advised not to wear our scrubs home on public transport because we might get abused. People standing in the queues were also abused by protesters.”

Janine finally retired and joined U3APP. She is enjoying the various classes she attends. The First Nations Authors Reading Group, with Sue Taffe. “I am learning things that I did not have the time to learn when I was working and am increasing my knowledge.” She does a number of other classes including folk dancing with Hoppa Hey and Memory for Fun.

Janine has recently joined Southport Day Links, where she assists with gardening.

Janine and her husband are volunteers, for Tasmania National Parks.

”Each summer, Parks put two additional caretakers into their national parks as they do not have enough staff. We may go for a month, or 8 weeks and stay in beautiful places, as well as looking after the parks, we have done this for the past 6 years. We ‘meet and greet’, provide information, pick up rubbish, occasionally clean toilets. ”

“Elsewhere in Tassie, we also love weeding and clearing land for the shorebirds.”

Janine and her husband also like bush walking, kayaking, and cycling. Their next trip is to East Timor. One of their children lives in Canberra, others more locally. They have 7 grandchildren.

What do you feel you have gained personally from your extensive experience with our Indigenous communities, also Papua New Guinea? “It’s fascinating to experience a culture that sees the world differently. I think that really opens your mind.

“The Indigenous connection to the land, when out bush walking, I think it alters the way I look at nature now. I am awestruck when in a place where there are middens or fish farms that date back 1,000’s of years.”

Are you hopeful that the referendum for the Voice, will have a majority ‘YES’ vote? “Yes, I am very hopeful.”

Janine has an immeasurable depth of ‘hands on’ experience working in remote areas of Australia with our Indigenous communities. She has been enriched by this experience, whilst providing invaluable medical care, to those in need.

Janine’s experience is yet another example of the diversity of U3APP members, some of whom we know so little about.

Felicity May interviewed Janine Passlow.

Michael Perkal

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.

Mary Chetwin Powell

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:

If you read it I’d love to know your thoughts.”

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.