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


Pam Caven

I have loved the experience of being part of U3APP, of being intellectually stimulated and physically stretched by very proficient and expert tutors. I have been impressed by the ongoing welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, the friendliness of fellow participants and the breadth of offerings. Indeed, I feel as though I have found my tribe.

How long have you been involved with U3APP?

I have been a member of U3A Port Phillip for 6 years. When I retired from full time work, I was very keen to throw myself into some activity, to give structure to my life. A neighbour mentioned U3A and how much she was enjoying studying Italian and the discussions in her book group.

I enrolled, paid my $40.00 and new worlds opened for me. In my first year I was a member of the Film Group, I learnt about The French in North America, I delved into what Shakespeare can tell us about the Human Condition and I studied Italian. And I discovered my tribe. I had not joined U3A to find new friends, but inevitably I did find many people with similar interests and passions and made some enduring friendships.

Since then, I have been Deputy President of the Committee of Management (CoM), Events Manager (while on the CoM), and the coordinator of the Saturday Seminars. I worked as a member of the Covid Working Group with Diane Boyle and Jim Pribble throughout the Covid lock down periods. Additionally, during that period, the Working Group oversaw the production of The story of U3A Port Phillip and its people 2003 to 2021. I have just relinquished the role of seminar coordinator after a period of four years and more than forty seminars.

What did you like about your seminar coordinator role?

I liked the role because it required me to bring all my skills and interests into play. I liked the fact that I had a chance to meet and speak to a wide range of people who agreed to speak, many of whom had national and international profiles, some have since made appearances on national and state TV programs. I liked the idea that Zoom made it possible to have people speak who were not able to attend the Mary Kehoe Centre. I liked the fact that the speakers saw U3APP as a worthy group to speak to and I also liked that many U3APP members who had not participated in the seminar series could now attend without leaving their home. What I particularly liked was the willingness of other U3APP volunteers to contribute to the success of the seminars, the IT Team, Margaret Byron with the design of the flyers, David Robinson with the Newsletter to name a few. In the vast majority of cases the facilitator was also a U3APP volunteer. We all learnt a lot about running, organising, and rehearsing the seminars.

What underpinned my thinking in planning the seminars was to achieve a variety of subjects and to maintain a level of topicality. This made me keep abreast of what would be of interest to U3APP members and what was occurring around us.

I also liked the idea of intellectual rigour in relation to the topics and the speakers. I designed a series of protocols for speakers which included not only being knowledgeable and qualified in their field but being recognised as such by way of publications or in academic terms peer review.

Saturday Seminars at U3APP, when did they commence?

The Saturday Seminars started in 2003, with the formation of U3APP. Heather Wheat, a founding member of U3APP whose role was critical to their development, decided that what was needed for the population of Port Phillip were seminars that would provide educational value and would thereby attract new members. The Saturday Seminars have been a continuous feature of U3APP since then. Pam inherited the Saturday Seminars from Mark Denniston. Mark was the last of a long line of people who had coordinated the seminar program.

Do you have a favourite presentation?

Pam hesitates, Jenny Hocking 10 October 2020 – The Palace Letters and the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government – Why are they important Today?

Jenny Hocking spoke from her home. There were 150 people online, although this is probably an underestimation, given that we know that often two or more people participate on the same connection.

Another special presentation was by Pat Dodson, Father of Reconciliation, who spoke to us from Broome, and of course I should not overlook Dr Andrew Prentice. He gave the first lecture in 2003, he then gave the 10-year celebration lecture and most recently the 20th anniversary of the founding of U3APP on November 18, 2023. (This was the final Saturday seminar organised by Pam).

So, do you think that Saturday Seminars should continue online?

Well, it will depend on what the next organiser would like to do. However, over time, I came to realise the advantages of continuing to run the seminars online. For instance, I was able to organise a presentation by Professor Richard Cullen, from the University of Hong Kong, also the actress Zoe Caldwell’s son who is a stage director speaking from New York, Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History at the ANU speaking from Canberra, Cameron Brown (son of U3APP member, Lois Best) speaking on the Metaverse from Seattle. The IT team could make all that happen, it was incredible. Certainly, on many occasions, the number of U3APP members who tuned in to the online webinars far exceeded the number of people able to fit into the Mary Kehoe Hall

How did you engage your contacts? How difficult was this, given that many would not be informed about U3A, let alone U3APP?

Yes, this is true I used to be constantly seeking possible speakers using, what I read, what I saw, what I heard, who I spoke to, all information into the mix. In other cases, I drew on personal contacts. Another source was to look at what other U3A’s were doing. A major connection I made was with the U3A Deepdene, which has a very solid programme. I became friends with their seminar coordinator, and it was through her that I obtained details of Bruce Wolpe, expert in American politics. U3APP members also gave me contacts, most recently James Walter, Lois Best, Heather Wheat, Mark Denniston and Bronwyn Bryant.

It was by getting to know people at U3APP that I was able to draw on those personal connections. Occasionally I used to ‘cold call’ potential speakers, but that is not easy, if they have no knowledge of the U3A portfolio.

It also helps however that I love history and politics, that I attend various seminars and speaking events and writers’ festivals and that I am a voracious reader,

Returning to everyday life, your family?

I grew up in Ascot Vale. I am the eldest of five children. I had a happy childhood; we were very close as a family and we still are.

My parents, my mother, was a very optimistic and relaxed type of person and had what now would be described as great emotional intelligence. My father always believed that education was totally significant, in terms of providing opportunities in life. Both had joined the workforce during the depression years.

My grandfather lived next door. He was very left wing in his views, also a bit anti Catholic and so he would provoke us, as children, although in a nice way. This contributed to an environment where my father and grandfather would converse openly about levels of social inequality. My family has always been interested in those issues and so from a young age I developed an interest in politics.

In what way did your education during your school years assist with your developing interests?

From an early age there was absolutely no doubt that I, as the eldest, would further my education. In fact, all five of us graduated with university degrees.

I went to a small Catholic School where I was fortunate to have an excellent history teacher. He encouraged me to study and to apply for History Honors at Melbourne University.

Reflecting on her time at Melbourne University, Pam recalls that it opened vistas for me. It was not only that some of the lecturers were fantastic, but the reading was so interesting.

Pam obtained an Honors Degree in History and subsequently a Diploma of Education under a Victorian Government Teaching Studentship, later on Pam completed a Masters of Education.

One of the conditions of Victorian Government Teaching Studentship was that you were bonded. On completion of your studies, you had to go to a school that the Education Department assigned to you.

So, my first teaching experience was at Mildura High School, teaching history. It was a bit of a culture shock for a girl that had grown up in the inner suburbs. I learnt the language of the ‘blockies’, the language of grape growers. There were unexpected delights, but (laughing) I see myself as being very urban, so I applied for and got a lecturing job at the Secondary Teachers College, which later merged into Melbourne University. I lectured in British history for three years.

How did your career progress from then?

While I was working at the Secondary Teachers College a friend went to work in London and suggested that I might like to work in Europe. My father thought this was a terrible idea as I had a good job, but I was 25 and decided to go to London. I have never regretted this.

Pam obtained a position at a Secondary Modern School, in Croydon. She taught British history, the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the workforce. During this time, Pam shared a house with 9 others. This was a bit crazy. We would sit on the stairs to watch television. I enjoyed the lively company, and I formed lifelong friendships with some of the occupants. One of them and his wife joined Rob and I in Florence and then in Norway earlier this year and we had zoom conversation with another last month.

I also did some waitressing in Scotland, I studied Italian in Perugia for 3 months which gave me an ongoing love of Italy.

Pam eventually decided to return to Australia via South America. She applied for and obtained a teaching position at Swinburne Technical College now known as Swinburne University Pam’s enthusiasm continued to facilitate her dedication to education. I loved working at Swinburne TAFE, the experience and knowledge that I gained of the TAFE sector while teaching at Swinburne gave me the basis for all of my future working roles.

While on maternity leave for the birth of James I was offered a curriculum writing role in the Victorian Education Department which led to promotion to the executive level as Senior Policy Analyst. From there I moved to the then recently formed Australian National Training Authority as a Project Director where I remained until the Authority was disbanded by the then Prime Minister John Howard. After a brief period working as a consultant for the Victorian Auditor General’s Office, I was offered a role as Director Policy and Stakeholder Engagement with TAFE Directors Australia where I remained for ten years and where I ended my paid working career. TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) is an association of all Directors of TAFE Institutes across Australia. My role included providing advice on matters of TAFE policy, representing the Association on peak educational groups, and organising the annual three-day national conference involving upwards of 100 keynote and session speakers. The conference was a major event involving senior politicians and industry and education spokespeople from Australia and overseas on topics that were of interest to TAFE directors as CEOs of major companies/organisations, intricately involved with the industries that they served with many thousands of employees and operations in Australia and overseas.

Along the way Pam was a voluntary member of a Regional ACFE Board, the Board of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, the Board of the Friends of the ABC, the Board of the Community Colleges Baccalaureate Association (America) and President of the Melbourne High School Council (our son James was an MHS student). Pam was only the second woman in the 100-year history of the school to hold this role.

Your other Interests?

History, Books, Films and Travel -probably in that order –

History has been my passion since I was at school. A teacher Vin D’Çruz – instilled in me a lifetime love of the subject. He convinced me that I should do History honours not just a normal history degree and for someone who had no family members with a university background I didn’t really understand what he meant but when I got to University I made sure that I enrolled in History honours. The fact that I only turned sixteen in my year 12 added to my youthful enthusiasm. I have never lost my passion for history – I taught history, co-authored a history text, read history books, watched history programs and visited historical sites and I’ve undertaken a number of U3APP History courses.

It resonates with me about the transformative power of a committed and interested teacher.

What about books?

As I said earlier, I am a voracious reader, I read all the time. Fiction, non-fiction, contemporary works. My favourite authors change over time.

Once it was Patrick White, now I have just finished reading Wifedom by Anna Funder. On the weekend I get several newspapers, sometimes I only have time to skim through them. I like the feel of newspapers. I also subscribe to magazines such as Quarterly Essay, the Monthly, The New Yorker, as well as online articles each day from the Guardian and New York Times and Pearls and Irritations. Richard Cullen still sends me daily readings from Hong Kong, and friends and colleagues regularly send me articles or references to books.

Each year a highlight for me is early March when Rob and I go to the Adelaide Writers Festival- a week of sheer intellectual and social pleasure.

Over my time as a teacher, I was also Co-author of a Year 12 textbook – Australian History: The Occupation of a Continent and a Year 11 textbook – Work in Australian Society. At that time, this was a compulsory subject for all Victorian year 11 VCE students.

What was the focus of this subject?

Jean Blackburn was the educationalist who proposed that this be a compulsory subject for Year 11 students. It used work as a prism to look at society. As in, what is the status of various jobs in society? Who gets paid for what kind of work? What is meant by the unemployment rate, and participation rate? How do women fare in the workplace? What does it mean for migrants who come to Australia? What does work mean for people with disabilities, but also at what kind of rules and regulations govern this work.

This compulsory subject was introduced during a period of Labor government. Our book was distributed by MacMillan Publishers and 30,000 copies were sold.

Returning to your interest in Film?

I have loved films forever. When I was teaching at Mildura High School, I gave a talk on The Servant (1963) with Dirk Bogarde. I joined the film group at the Lyceum Club where I am a member. I like the discussion and often give film reviews, just trying to get to the essence of a particular film.

I also love the U3APP Film group with David Robinson. You watch films you would not necessarily have seen or chosen to see. David chooses an enormous range of films and leads robust discussions.

Rob and I see at least one film a week in a cinema or via streaming.

And travel?

Like many U3APP members I have travelled extensively since my first overseas trip to Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia at the end of university. What a feast of sites, smells, cultural experiences! I love cities and urban areas with a cultural or historical aspect. I have been to South American jungles, African game parks, American deserts, Norwegian snow country and the Australian outback but my milieu is cities with their architecture and culture.

In 2023 I was in Florence for my sister’s birthday following a trip down the river from Amsterdam to Budapest. Next year Rob and I are going to Crete (for a friend’s birthday), Malta and Sicily. My history interest is winning out.

Your reasons for retiring from your role as U3APP Seminar Coordinator?

Well. I have met some fantastic people; it has been a joy and I have learnt a lot. But there is no doubt that it is time consuming. so, it just seems that it is time for someone else to pick up the baton. I have of course offered to assist with the transition.

I hope the seminars will continue to reflect the aspirations of the founding members.

Plans for the future?

I want to do more of what I enjoy. I want to have more history related learning experiences. I want to attend film festivals, improve my bridge playing, perhaps attend more activities (travel, art, history at the Lyceum Club), spend time with long term friends from university, undertake more U3APP courses and become more involved in some political causes close to my heart.

Pam believes that at U3APP education must be at the heart of things, inclusive of social interaction and social activities which are also invaluable.

Based on an interview by Felicity May of Pam Caven.

Lois Best

Clunk. Uh oh. That’s the sound of the back door locking behind me. I try the knob. Yep, it’s locked. This is not good. I am locked outside my daughter’s house, in her Fort Knox style backyard.

I’m staying here just to look after my teenage granddaughters’ rabbits during one of Port Phillip’s rare heatwaves. I’ve come outside first thing in the morning to give the rabbits some greens, cool water, and shade to keep them safe. Backyard bunnies don’t do well in the heat. My family are off looking after a house with a swimming pool and a dog. (I thought that gave me the easier job.)

My brain goes into overdrive. The back gate is locked and barricaded. The side gate is padlocked. (I’ve never seen a key for it.) I contemplate huddling in a heap and living on rabbit pellets and lemons until they come and rescue me. They would (eventually) notice my phone going unanswered because it is, of course, locked inside the house.

The heat is the problem, and the reason I shut the door in the first place – to keep the heat out of the house. (didn’t mean to keep myself out as well!)

So, what to do? Even if I could climb over the high fence, which is unlikely, it is hardly practical because I am clad only in my nightie. And add to that (and I realise this could be classified as way too much information) no glasses, no denture, no underwear.

I contemplate breaking into the house. But if I did smash a, multi framed, window there’s still the problem of clambering through it.

Instead, I will break out – through the side gate. I scour the shed for suitable tools. Armed with screwdriver and hammer, I attack the padlock. I break part of the gatepost (oops) but it means I can slide the bolt and open the gate.

My objective is the key-keep on the front porch. This, of course, brings on another dilemma. I don’t know the code. Thankfully my daughter knows her neighbours well, and they know me by sight. (But usually, I am more appropriately dressed and with all my teeth.)

I take a chance and bashfully creep through their front gate. Thankfully Amanda is up and to her credit she doesn’t laugh. She doesn’t know the code, so she texts my daughter. Awkward minutes pass then I say, “She’s sent the code to my phone, hasn’t she?”

Amanda’s next text produces the code. Then I need more help as, without my glasses, I can barely see the key-keep let alone its numbers!

Amanda’s boisterous new puppy is overjoyed by the early morning excitement and will not be left home. I happily carry him while she wrestles with the underused, awkwardly placed, key-keep. Eventually she calls her (grown up) son over to help. Oh, the embarrassment. Thankfully I have the puppy to hide behind. But it gets me the key.

Inside, reunited with my phone, and glasses, I find texts from my bewildered daughter:

Text 1: Hi, the pin is…

[and there is the magic number]

Text 2: Sorry the bike is in the way

[No answer from me, of course.]

Text 3: Everything ok?

[Well at that stage, no!]

I text back that the bike was the least of my worries and give a brief rundown of events. I’m able to reassure her that at least she knows that her house isn’t easy to break into.

Oddly, we continue to text instead of calling.

She texts:

Just got confused because:

(A) It was early

[I am notoriously not a morning person]

(B) you are always organised with keys


(C) you always have your phone!!

[Again, true and I briefly admire her ability to text in an orderly alpha style list]

She continues:

1st thought (literally) was that maybe you’d been up all-night partying and just got home! LOL! And lost your keys and phone in a bar or something.

[Who? Me?]

2nd thought was that you’d been out for a walk and didn’t take keys – that’s why I pinged your phone first – didn’t occur to me that that’s why Amanda was sending the message for you! Coffee not quite kicked in! What a drama.  I’m so sorry that happened to you! Thank goodness for amazing neighbours. I’m still trying to process it all. But glad you’re safe and sound. I think scout badge earned.

[I’ll accept that]

The flurry of texts eventually ends with her: Phew! Well played!!

[She’s right!]

It’s then that the adrenalin kicks in. I indulge in comfort food.

[I earned salted caramel ice-cream drowned in chocolate topping for breakfast].

When I feel brave enough, I prop the door open so I can check on the rabbits.

[At this point I no longer care if the heat gets into the house.]


There they are, oblivious to the drama. So cute, contentedly chomping kale.

There I am, completely exhausted before eight o’clock in the morning.


Lois Best

Having grown up in regional WA, I married young, as much because it was the norm as it was to escape the farm! Not the best basis for a marriage…

After divorce I discovered study and got myself into University as a forty something mature age student. It was one of the best times of my life. I found out how much I didn’t know.  My BA focussed on Asian Studies (with the language component learning Chinese Mandarin).  For one of my first year essays on Chinese Politics, the tutor, a young PhD candidate, was very critical and barely passed my effort. Fortunately we had a chance to talk about that at the Uni coffee shop.

The conversation went something like this:

Me: I feel you marked me quite harshly.

Tamara: Well, you left out the ruling class and Marxism and…

Me: Yes, I am finding out there are huge gaps in my education.

Tamara: Why? What did you study before this?

Me: I haven’t studied anything since I left high school. And I didn’t finish high school by the way.

Tamara: Well, when did you leave high school?

Me doing a quick calculation: Oh, about 1966. (The look on her face was priceless!)

Tamara: I wasn’t even born then!

Fortunately we both found that very funny and she became one of my biggest allies as I continued my adventure in education.

My original plan of a three year degree became a four year plan as I found I could spend a year in China, learning Chinese at the Hangzhou University. What a life changing experience. Long story short, I became a teacher, eventually specialising in teaching English as another language. A few years ago I tried retirement but it didn’t suit me, so I still teach part time.

The other day in a class my China adventure came up as a discussion topic. I told my students that I had made a good friend in Hangzhou and he taught me Ballroom dancing. Dance, especially Ballroom, was something I had longed to learn as I hadn’t had the opportunity to learn dance in regional WA.

I explained that our friendship had started as a pure exchange. He would teach me to dance as stylishly as he did from his childhood study of ballet, and I would help him to improve his English. They asked for photographic proof!

I thought you might also enjoy seeing how much, serious, fun we had.

July 1993 – Xi Hu (West Lake), Hangzhou


Bev & Lois

Our Office Coordinators

Once upon a time, a long, long while ago – I often used to visit a place in Albert Park known as “The U3APP Office”.  Perhaps you remember it too?  The Mary Kehoe Centre was then a bustling, sociable place crowded with smiling friends and neighbours intent on sharing their experiences and broadening intellectual horizons.  In daydreams I can imagine us back there, but then the vision fades …

Bev Fryer had been a member of U3A for only a short time when Renate Mattiske wrangled her into becoming an Office Coordinator early in 2016.  Very happily, her first job-sharing partner in this was Margo Anderson, and for almost two years they worked together.  When Margo stepped back, Meredith Mancini came on board for nearly a year.  Early in 2019 Pauline Amos was joint coordinator until she was enticed back to part-time work with an employer who had come to realise how much they were missing her.  But there are depths of talent at U3APP, and Lois Best very fortuitously agreed to share the job with Bev.  They have continued to collaborate through the COVID-19 lockdown.

The position description for Office Coordinator is pretty elastic.  Broadly it requires someone to keep a close eye on activities which are auspiced by U3APP at the Mary Kehoe Centre and other locations, with the aim of ensuring that tutors, members and volunteers all have a positive experience.  An understanding of policies and systems is also needed.  One day is never quite the same as the one that went before!  Is equipment and furniture ready in all class rooms?  Apologies recorded?  Photocopier on?  Fresh milk in the fridge?  Members’ queries answered?  Parking permits all accounted for?  Phone messages answered promptly?  Ceiling fans switched off?  Emails getting through?  Enough trained office volunteers for the roster?

The Coordinators delegate a lot, and rely a great deal on people with specific expertise, such as the IT wizards.  Happily, the team of 25 or so Office Volunteers – the people you meet at the reception desk – are resourceful, adaptable and generous, very much imbued with a ‘can do’ approach.  After the closure of Mary Kehoe Centre in mid-March, phone calls and emails to the office have been efficiently monitored by a roster of OVs from home.  In second term they made outreach phone calls to over 150 members who had not been participating in courses after Mary Kehoe Centre was closed.  Now here we are on the brink of Term 4, and whatever shape our program takes in weeks and months ahead, you can be sure that the OVs will be ready to help make it happen.  And when we put out a call for new people on the team, perhaps you will be ready to volunteer!

Bev’s working career was firstly as a secondary school teacher in English and languages, in Australia and UK.  With small children underfoot she freelanced as an editor with a number of publishers, then  – thanks to Gough Whitlam’s retraining initiative – studied for a post-graduate diploma in office management.  Administrative roles followed at Prahran College, the Victorian Institute of Colleges, Council of Adult Education, Caulfield Institute and Monash University involving student/faculty administration, fundraising & development, alumni liaison.  Along the way, more study in personnel administration.  In short, plenty of people contact in interesting settings.  She and her husband Colin are keen independent travellers who have visited 44 countries, and share a love of music, theatre, cryptic crosswords and the South Melbourne Market.

Lois started her working life in WA as a telephonist (remember when that was a thing?) receptionist, then left work to bring up children. She came to her second career, teaching, in her 40s and still teaches English as Another Language, Literacy, and teaches an ‘Intro to EAL Tutoring’ short course in the Learn Local sector.

Study took her to live in China to learn the language and later teaching took her to live in Japan to hone her teaching skills. The lure of expected grandchildren (both of whom are teenagers now) brought her back to Australia, eventually to Albert Park where she discovered U3APP. Our wonderful Member Liaison Officer, Jill Hearman, made sure she felt welcomed enough to become involved both in classes and volunteering. She will step down from the Committee of Management this year after serving for 3 years.

An ‘emerging writer’ she attends the Creative Writing Group at U3APP. She is addicted to entering writing competitions and has twice been awarded in the Port Phillip Seniors Writing Awards “Port Phillip Writes”.

By Bev Fryer

Sue Barnes

“Fashion brings out style qualities in others. It is changing the way we are looking at certain things and acceptance of norms that perhaps as you get older, you struggle with a bit.”

Sue Barnes working as a Makeup Artist

Sue Barnes is a photographer, and hair and makeup artist. She is the tutor of the current course, “For the Love of Fashion”.

Sue has also run a number of courses on iPhone photography. She joined U3APP in 2018 after returning from Bali where she had resided intermittently since 2014. Bali offered “a great escape” from Sue’s very busy career in Melbourne. She found the lifestyle relaxing and enjoyed documenting and involving herself in village life, where she made some very good friends, including her “Bali family.”

Once Sue made the decision to retire, she closed down her studios in the iconic Nicholas Building in Flinders Lane, intending to live more permanently in Bali. However, following a major volcano eruption and the Covid-19 pandemic, Sue decided to return to live in Melbourne. Having sold her property on the Mornington Peninsula, she had bought a small unit in St Kilda, “my bolt hole,” and began looking for new interests to pursue.

Sue’s neighbour who was involved with U3A, asked for some tips on using her iPhone camera. She then suggested that Sue run a course at U3APP. “So, I started a Basic iPhone photography course in 2018.” This led on to Sue running an Advanced course, and forming an iPhone Photography Group and subsequently, her current course “For The Love of Fashion.”

Where did you spend your childhood years? “I was born in Bayside, Melbourne where I grew up. My father was a part-time filmmaker, so I had photography and filmmaking as my background.” He was one of the TV cameramen for the 1956 Olympic Games, won many awards, in later years, for a number of video productions.

Sue has always lived “in the public eye,” and continues to feel energised in this way. “At the age of 4, my sister and I were taken to dance classes. So, by the age of 10, I was dancing professionally on television and in theatre. I learnt classical, tap, modern ballet, and on reflection I had a very ‘showbiz’ type of childhood… dancing in a children’s show on Channel 7, performing in productions at the Comedy Theatre.”

Looking back on those years, do you think you may have missed out on anything because of that? Sue responded emphatically, “no way, I had a fantastic time,” being directly involved and working with many famous and talented performers. Despite her mother’s preference that she attend university, Sue “wanted to remain a part of the entertainment industry.” However, in the late sixties, in Australia, “there was not a lot on offer, so I did the next best thing. I went behind the scenes and completed a hairdressing apprenticeship with one of Australia’s top hairdressers, John Morrey.” At 20 years old, after winning awards, Sue went to London to complete her studies with world renowned hairstylist, Vidal Sassoon.

Sue travelled between London and Australia over the next 10 years, establishing one of the first “punk hair studios” in South Yarra, aged just 25. She worked on John Morrey’s shows, and they toured Australia. “I was John’s creative director. Sue reflects that by the age of 30, “I decided to go out and freelance on my own… as a hair and makeup artist. I had a lot of experience, I loved fashion. Chadwick Models, one of Australia’s top agencies, took me on.”

By the age of 40, she “started to get a bit bored with standing on the sideline, doing hair and makeup.” She had grown up in a studio environment and decided to experiment with taking photos of models, “and all of a sudden I was booked out with doing photo shoots for models and actors…”

“I had a huge career really. I would do a lot of photographic work, with hair and makeup, for various agencies, including catwalk parades, music videos, tv commercials, big fashion events working with top models and celebrities.” She expanded her creative style by learning to use digital cameras, having a keen interest in advanced techniques and developments in photography. She opened Sue Barnes Studio, based for over 20 years in The Nicholas Building in Flinders Lane, Melbourne, also travelling on location and working with major designers and clients.

Sue has fond and nostalgic memories of working with John Farnham. “He would probably have been my most influential person at that time. I was very lucky to come into his world and work with him. His level of professionalism is “world stage”. He is just a gorgeous man. The whole experience really helped shape my career.” Sue won an award for one of John Farnham’s Album covers. Watching the movie John Farnham: Finding the Voice at the cinema recently, brought her to tears as she relived those precious memories.

For a change of pace, Sue moved to live in America for two years, travelling back and forth to Australia. She studied yoga and meditation at a meditation sanctuary in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia and became their resident photographer. Sue was involved in making videos for the sanctuary, working on a book… also going on tour with the teacher.

What attracted you to yoga at that time? “Working in the fashion and advertising industries, was very high pressure, a lot of stress.” It was suggested that she try meditation, “so I did, and I loved it… yoga came very easily to me because of my dance background, it just evolved from there.”

What are some of the special highlights in your career? “Well, at the age of 30, representing Australia on the world stage with John Morrey, at the London Hair and Fashion Week at the Barbican Centre. Also touring with John Farnham, basically styling him, getting him ready “for video clips, photo sessions, huge shows at the Rod Laver Arena.”

In 1999 Sue put together with the milliner and model, a hat and outfit that won the Best Hat at the Melbourne Cup Fashion on the Fields competition. “Directing hair and makeup with teams of up to 14 people for Melbourne Spring Fashion Week and Melbourne Fashion Festival since their inception in the mid 90’s also remains a highlight, as does working with various politicians especially a couple of Victorian Premiers during their political campaigns.” And realising her dream of exhibiting her fashion photography annually… “Myer Melbourne gave me an in-store retrospective of a black and white series titled ‘Backstage’ during one Fashion Week. That gave me a buzz!”

Over the years, in respect to fashion and models, have you observed changes in attitude towards body image, for instance? Sue has observed over recent years that some fashion models are not required to be exceptionally slender. “I think this is great, to break down those barriers of body image is fantastic. It’s not really about the outer, it’s about the inner beauty. We all have things about ourselves we don’t like. I think to be healthy and to understand your body is more important than the visual image.”

“These days artificial intelligence portrays big busts and narrow hips.” Sue is concerned that the younger generation believe these images are real and seek to emulate them.

What motivated you to commence your course, For the Love of Fashion? “I just felt that perhaps the curriculum lacked content that is modern with a fun twist. We have had great success with the fashion documentaries shown throughout this course. These range from haute couture designers such as Christian Dior to a 90-year-old New Yorker called Iris Apfel, who is a modern style icon.”

Sue explains that Iris Apfel is a fashion influencer for the older generation. “You don’t have to dress like her, but you can absorb her influence in how you view yourself.” She has noticed some changes in respect to the clothes or accessories that members may wear to the class.

Your thoughts on current fashion in relation to sustainability and other issues? Sue is aware of recent media focus in respect to Australia having the second highest rate of “trashing fashion” and believes this is due to the availability of cheap clothing made in third world countries. For instance, wages are low, poor working conditions enables companies to produce cheap clothing. Sue acknowledges fully that “we are all guilty of chasing a bargain most likely made in these countries.” In Term 4, she will be showing documentaries on fashion and sustainability. There are an increasing number of fashion companies which are introducing fabrics that have been recycled. But they are recycled synthetic fabrics, rather than sustainable cotton, wool and hemp.

“When we grew up, we only ever had cotton and wool clothing. We did not have polyester, this was introduced in the 50’s and 60’s.”

Sue believes that there needs to be “more education about sustaining your wardrobe, not buying fast fashion, which can then be easily thrown out and go into landfill,” as seems to be the case with the younger generation. If you have a loved jacket that you have had for 40 years, wear it, wear your pair of earrings that you have always adored, or your shoes, or your boots.” Sue has collected and saved much of her designer wardrobe of clothes, shoes and accessories since the 70’s!

There are members in the For the Love of Fashion class that really love fashion. We have classes where we “show and tell.” One brought in a negligee that she wore for her honeymoon, in the 50’s, it was beautiful.”

Maree Moscato and Gillian Kemp

Your other interests? “My two-year-old toy poodle Lacy keeps me very busy. Sue is single, and has enjoyed developing her prestigious career, without regrets. Sue’s current major interest, on a global level, relates to her active involvement with her mother’s Scottish clan… Clan Menzies. Sue is a member of their global council. Five years ago, she developed their website, she runs their social media content, and also makes videos and documentaries for the Clan Menzies Society. Sue travels to Scotland to attend the yearly clan gathering at Castle Menzies in the Scottish Highlands.

”It is a worldwide society, there is a lot of interest these days in all the different clans. It’s huge in my life and it’s very important.” Sue has just recently been appointed the Australian Representative, “which means, I suppose that I will be the official Australian representative for the Menzies Clan Chief.” Sue’s interest developed after inheriting many old family photographs and keepsakes passed down through the generations. She decided to delve into the genealogy of her family, “my roots, putting my family tree together.” Sue had the skills to contribute meaningfully bringing the Society into the digital age.

Pursuant to her “showbiz” childhood, Sue readily acknowledges that she enjoys ”being in the spotlight sometimes!” as it incorporates her love of people, travel, photography and also doing research. “I love travelling, learning new things, and meeting people.” Sue has a passion for visiting major fashion exhibitions … ‘Christian Dior’ in Paris, ‘Mary Quant’ in London, ‘Alexander McQueen’ in Melbourne, this year ‘Crown to Couture’ at Kensington Palace and ‘Tartan’ at the V&A in Dundee. She will also spend a week at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. “So much to see!”

Closer to home in St Kilda, Sue has become very involved with her street community. “We have a great community, just a little one-way street. It is fabulous.” She loves gardening and is proud of her roses. She also loves attending the U3A “Play Reading” group. “It’s like coming full circle!”

Sue has led a purposeful and vibrant career in the artistic fields of photography, hair and makeup. She has acquired high level skills, which members at U3APP are able to enjoy and benefit from. Sue’s enjoyment of coordinating all things “fashion” brings out style qualities in others.

“The group has a lot of enthusiasm and gains enjoyment from watching the documentaries, it is changing the way we look at ourselves and learning maybe not to accept the norms that perhaps as you get older, you struggle with a bit.”

Felicity May interviewed Sue Barnes

Fay Bock

Introducing Fay Bock: Fay is a Co-Tutor and longstanding member of Play Reading.

Fay’s family history can be traced right back to the Gold rush in the 1890s, when her grandfather, together with his brother, embarked on the long sea journey from England to Western Australia. Her grandfather in subsequent years moved to Melbourne where he opened a Pawn Shop and married a young bride sent out from England. Fay’s family continues to reside in Melbourne.

Fay refers candidly to her grandfather, making comment on alleged mistreatment towards his wife and children. She was told that he and his friends mistreated their wives and children including one who used a “cat of nine tails” on his family. Fay believes her Auntie “eloped to get away.”

In respect to her own upbringing and religious adherence, Fay recalls that her father, after his Bar Mitzvah, in his teenage years decided that religion was the major cause of conflict in the world and was not for him. He subsequently became an atheist. Her mother came from a more religious family so Fay and her brother participated in all of the various religious festivals and celebrations.

Referring back to her own teenage years, Fay was about 15 years old when she first became acquainted with her husband. She talks with some amusement about her final year at school, Year 12, when she would “skip classes” and go to visit her then boyfriend. Her mother would drive Fay to school and pick her up at the end of the day. However, Fay would often skip off from school to his home in Elwood. Consequently, she “performed badly” in the Year 12, October Tests. Her boyfriend then tutored her, “I got my best mark in Physics!” Looking back Fay finds this amusing, reiterating “it was not every day” that she skipped school. Intriguingly, at that time, Fay tells that she developed “a crush” on the boy who later became her husband. They started going out together just before the end of Year 12, “we became an item on December 13.” Her husband, known as Issy, “had a beautiful chin,” in this way outdoing her former boyfriend!

Fay went on to complete an Arts Degree at Melbourne University, obtaining a double major in History and Philosophy of Science. She has always been interested in Science. Fay later completed a Diploma in Education enabling her to teach Maths. However, it eventuated that she disliked teaching, “I wasn’t very good at it.” She subsequently obtained work as a trainee computer programmer with The Olympic Tyre Rubber Company in 1973. Why? “Because I could do it.”

Giving a glimpse of the early development of computers and industry in the 1970s, Fay described how they would write their programs on sheets of paper, these would then be punched onto punch-cards and taken from Swanston St (near RMIT) to the corner of Elizabeth and La Trobe Streets, where the computer operators would run the program and send the results the following day. A far cry from the immediacy of computing today.

Fay reflects however that she did not feel comfortable working in an office environment, finding that “people were petty, would talk about you in a negative way.” This presented a dilemma for her. She did not like working in an office, enjoyed working in a school, but not teaching Maths. Fay resolved this conflict for herself by obtaining a Graduate Diploma of Librarianship. This turned out to be a good decision. In 1995 Fay obtained the position of Teacher Librarian at MacRobertson Girls High School, where she spent “the bulk of my career.”

Fay got married in 1970 at the St Kilda Synagogue. Her husband, Issy, eventually obtained his Articles in Law and joined her father’s law firm in Melbourne. They had three daughters, initially purchasing a home in Richardson Street for $29,000, a reminder of how times have changed. Fay now lives in South Yarra.

Fay spoke about her husband‘s sudden collapse while having lunch with a work partner. He was diagnosed with having a brain tumour. Defying the initial predictions made in 2006 that he would live for only three months, Issy underwent a very risky but successful operation to remove the tumour. The tumour returned in 2013 after 5 years of remission and sadly he passed away in 2016. The last 12 months were very distressing for all. Fay became his 24 hour carer, supported by a team of carers from an agency. Fay spoke about this difficult period, showing courage and determination to care for her husband throughout those distressing last years. Fay reflected with feeling, “that’s why I joined U3A.”

Amongst other courses, including Spanish, Fay became involved in Play Reading “because I enjoyed it.” She had loved reading to her children but recalls feeling disappointed when attempting to read Enid Blyton out loud. As a child she had loved The Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton but when she tried to read it to her children, it “was awful to read aloud.” It would be interesting to hear the perspective of others on this intriguing observation. Dr Seuss’ books became a favourite for “putting on voices.”

U3APP Play Reading has been running for many years, initially run by Moira Fielding who would select the plays and allocate the parts. When Moira decided to leave, this left a gap which Fay decided to fill, in so far as she agreed to coordinate and to organise the course for the group. Currently Ruth Yaffe selects the plays and allocates the parts. Fay stresses that her contribution is the organisation, which others are more reluctant to do. She enjoys the process of getting into a character without pre-reading the play. “Hearing your voice, tragedies or comedies, I just enjoy it.”

Fay draws solace from nature, walking and in particular her love of trees. “I am absolutely smitten with trees,” saying with some humour, “when I die, I want to come back as a tree.” Fay enjoys reading about Tree Science, as in communication signalling between their roots, providing information for other trees on available water, for instance. Fay likes to walk through the nearby gardens, to touch and talk to the trees. A few years ago the City of Melbourne had a programme where you sent an email to a tree. Laughing, Fay recalled, “I did send an email, but I never heard back.”

Fay enjoys listening to the radio “all day” when at home. “I’ve always been a radio person.” She has been listening to The Science Show on Radio National since it first started, “it just keeps up your interest in science.” Like all of us, Fay hopes Covid-19 will be all over soon and has thoughts of travelling to the Kimberleys rather than returning to visit Europe at this time.

Fay continues to work as a Relief Teacher at a secondary school, assisting students with their computers or other tasks. It is demanding and she restricts herself to manageable hours.

What does the future hold? “After my husband died, attendance at various U3A activities became a part of my life.” As it is perhaps, for others in U3A who may have lost a close family member or friend, leaving a gap to be filled. Fay continues to meet with friends, her daughters and grandchildren, her oldest grandson being “very gifted on the piano.”

So, Fay concludes, “that’s me.” She wondered if her life story would be of interest to others. Fay’s story is what U3A is notable for. Obtaining new perspectives, the opportunity to acquire knowledge on subjects that perhaps past work and family commitments have hindered. Relaxing with Play Reading or Petanque, learning Spanish, and also enjoying Israeli Dancing at Glen Eira U3A, Fay reiterated with feeling, “I just find U3A wonderful.”

Felicity May interviewed Fay Bock

David Bourne

David’s fascination with various chemical compounds, with the potential to become explosive, set him off on a significant, and fascinating career in biochemistry.

David Bourne is a U3APP Tutor, currently for the online course ‘Why Insects Matter.” He is a PHD graduate and research scientist.

David joined U3APP about five years ago, after moving from Elwood to St Kilda West. David likes to keep fit, so enjoys the convenient walking distance to the MKC, “no parking permit needed.” David became a tutor subsequent to Jim Pribble, who “was on the ‘look out’ for new tutors, approached me about running a course on Evolution. I thought, “I could do that, it’s been a real pleasure.”

David was born in Brisbane, but following his father’s decision to set up an accountancy business, the family moved to Warwick in south east Queensland. David remembers vividly, “I was five years old, sitting in the back of my dad’s old Ford Prefect, watching the road through the holes in the floor, for 160 kms!” At that time the population in Warwick was 12,000 however following closures of the rail and maintenance yards, it decreased to about 10,000.

David referred to his family life as being, “ordinary, fairly boring so I played up a lot!” How so? “Umm … well, blowing up things.” With some amusement, David supplied the detail. In those days you could easily get hold of fireworks, as in “big bungers.”

Was he motivated by boredom? “No, being naughty was the thrill. In one incident my gang and another local one had organised to have a bit of a punch-up at the local park. Someone let on and we had a police car drive into the back yard in full view of our neighbours, my father was not so happy.”

Aged 13 years, David became avidly interested in chemistry specifically, rather than physics. “I think it was because you could do stuff yourself.” This was not possible with physics unless you had the relevant equipment. “But with chemistry, it was easy to do in the back shed.”

What were you doing in the back shed? (Asked with some trepidation.) “I started off making fireworks, of course.” Cautiously avoiding any specific instructions for making fireworks, “they are made from gunpowder.” David explains, “gunpowder is easy to make, then you wrap the gunpowder in cardboard and stick a wick in it!”

“I remember one ‘experiment’ with my older brother. We found a large balloon one day and were wondering what we’d do with it. Inflate it with air, no not interesting. Inflate it with hydrogen and let it drift upwards. Yep. That’s a bit boring, let’s tie a wick to it, light it and let it go. Excellent idea. The balloon made it to around 300 metres and exploded with a nice bit of flame. A day later there was a small paragraph in the Warwick Daily News about a mysterious explosion in the sky above Warwick.”

Fortunately, David had only one major accident. It was in the back shed, of course. He was engaged in a process whereby he needed to light magnesium powder to initiate a thermite process. It wasn’t going so well and needed some more magnesium powder to get going. It wasn’t a good idea to add more from the bottle. Of course it then caught fire. One thing you cannot do with magnesium fire is put it out with water, it just goes off. “Probably the most dangerous thing I did.” David assures, that his parents were not too concerned about his activities in the back shed but perhaps should have been.

Academic progress at school? “I breezed through chemistry, physics was my downfall.” David proceeded to the University of South Queensland in Toowoomba, partially completing a degree in applied science, essentially training to become an industrial chemist. Whilst still a student, aged 18 years, he was called up for conscription but put it off for as long as possible as was the norm then. However, he was required to complete 12 weeks of basic army training, at Singleton.

How did you find that? “Well, we got so fit, it was unbelievable, lots of route marches and circuit training. A friend and I used to play a round of squash flat out for an hour and usually extend to two because we were so fit we could easily do this.” When Gough Whitlam became Prime Minister, we were able to choose whether we wanted to leave or go into the armed forces. “The good thing about that was if you decided to leave the army you would get a scholarship to finish university. That scholarship was about three times the amount you could get on a commonwealth scholarship, that was fabulous.”

After qualifying as an industrial chemist, “my girlfriend and I hopped into a transit van, we travelled around Australia for about 2 years, getting jobs wherever we could, usually picking fruit, it was really a very good time but there were a few challenging times. Like when we arrived in Melbourne with no food and no money. We parked the van in Footscray and I went off to find a job. Found one at a wool baling place and the manager paid me some cash after the first day. Crisis over! ”

Aged 26 years, David obtained his first position as an industrial chemist with the Abbotts Pharmaceutical company at Kurnell in Sydney. However, this turned out to be “boring, you did the same thing every day. I left that company after two years and got a position as a part time research assistant at the University of NSW (UNSW)”

While doing a biochemistry degree, “I was trying to find a hormone that causes ripening and leaf drop in food plants.” When plants lose their leaves, this triggers reactions that cause hormonal changes, known as senescence. We call this hormone senescence factor.

David commenced his PhD, studying part time, researching further into the “senescence factor” as part of a collaboration between the University of New South Wales and Cambridge University in the UK. “Essentially, in the long run we found out a lot about the nature and properties of this hormone and we discovered a few novel molecules from bean and tomato plants. David subsequently obtained a post-doctoral position with John McLeod, a prominent mass spectroscopist at the Research School of Chemistry at ANU in Canberra. ”That started my interest in mass spectrometry”

Further discussion with David revealed that he has had a great many other interests. For instance, he was asked by the editor of Two Wheels (through a friend) to road test a motorcycle. “I was trying to do a good job because that would mean more motorcycles. It took two weeks to test and write the article. The editor was happy so I continued road testing motorcycles for about another nine years. It was a great experience with many highlights. One was the day Kawasaki Australia flew a group of journalists up to Bathurst and let us loose on the Mount Panorama race track on several Kawasaki motorcycles. I remember going down the mountain with 280 km/hr on the speedo.’’

What was the most interesting position you have held? “Probably, at the Australian Institute of Marine Science. We were researching the possibilities of developing medicinal drugs from marine life. Divers would collect sea creatures, corals, sponges etc., which were then extracted and tested to see if they had any activity in certain bioassays.” (‘Measurement of potency of a substance by its effect on certain medically important metabolic enzyme systems.’)

David was responsible for a successful submission to obtain an ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer. No mean achievement, “given the cost of around one million dollars.” This provided an “incredibly high resolution,” which is essential when an accurate mass and structural information was needed.

His next position of significance and interest was with the Defence Science Technology Organisation at Fisherman’s Bend. “During the 2000 Sydney Olympics DSTO provided the scientific input to the armed forces security effort and I was part of the scientific team. An important backup system was the new ultra-high resolution mass spectrometer which was commissioned a few months before the Olympics.” Due to David’s experience with mass spectrometry a “this mass spectrometer was purchased, costing about $1.5 million.”

David summarises, “we moved away from chemistry into biochemistry and one particular collaboration with the Swedish Defence Science would not have been possible without the high end mass spectrometer. This was a nice piece of work, we identified some unique marker compounds that would indicate exposure to a castor bean extract containing ricin.”

Liaising with domestic and overseas intelligence agencies was another area David became involved with for a time. “What we were trying to do was to design projects that were useful for Australian, US, UK and Canadian Intelligence Agencies.” Further discussion on this was, of course, out of bounds.

David has not married, he has had two long term partners. He has one daughter and two grandchildren aged 16 and 13 years who live in Queensland.

David and Barbara Coles, also a U3APP member, have travelled quite a bit. “We did quite a bit of Europe and the United Kingdom, the US and Canada, but we were more interested in wilder travels. Highlights were Cambodia, Kalimantan, Cuba (we wanted to visit Cuba while Fidel Castro was still alive) and Belize. Then there was a trip to the Gili Islands (off the northern coast of Lombok) which was “interesting, really wild, no cars.” A fairly big earthquake erupted just off the coast while they were there.

David reads science publications, he has good social connections with work colleagues. Does he think science has the same respect as in his working past? “No, definitely not. It is not as trusted as it used to be. It makes their (scientists’) opinions ‘less punchy’ when trying to negotiate with politicians, you are just not believed as much.” There is a huge amount of knowledge now, about insect sprays for instance, “that we did not have when I was younger.” But “people will continue to do science if they are interested, it’s just so bloody interesting, I don’t think they will be put off.”

David acknowledges that, “being a researcher, industrial chemist, is now in my past life.” He enjoys golf, has a large golf screen in his backyard and is also a member of the Middle Park Bowls Club. He enjoys walking, table tennis, being active but also watching foreign films. His favourite film is a Russian Sci-Fi movie, ‘Solaris’.

As for U3APP, “it is absolutely fantastic. It is a good organisation, with a bunch of really good people.” David enjoys his involvement with the various courses he has run and the interesting discussions the courses evoke.

David’s developing interest in chemistry during his early adolescence, his fascination with various chemical compounds with the potential to become explosive, set him off on a fascinating scientific career, leading to his expertise in obtaining significant data from high end mass spectrometers. He has come a long way from the thrill of “blowing up things.”

Felicity May interviewed David Bourne

Diane Boyle

My Third Age Adventure

Not long after my 60th birthday, I walked past a bright colourful sign which attracted me.  It said “Learn to Scuba Dive”.

Now, I had never before had the slightest inclination to scuba dive, but I have always been interested in the sea and, most importantly, I was going on a holiday to Lord Howe Island in a few months.  Thinking it might be fun to dive on the reef at LHI, I went into the shop to make some inquiries.  Laden with brochures, an appointment for a dive medical and a booking on the next Learn to Dive course, I had started my new journey.

Learning to dive in Melbourne is an adventure in itself.  Over a few weeks, there were textbooks to read, online tests to pass, theory lessons to attend, equipment to master and – finally into the water carrying about 20 kilograms of gear on my back. Firstly, at the local swimming pool, swimming along the bottom of the deep end, trying to remain neutrally buoyant in the water, stopping for group exercises such as removing and replacing your mask underwater.  It was way beyond my comfort zone.  Not one to give up, I went back to the next dives which were in Port Phillip Bay, off the shore at Black Rock – and, the big test, onto a dive boat at Portsea, out to Pope’s Eye and two dives down to 12 metres.  I got my certificate, I was qualified!

In the Water!

Thank goodness I had persisted as the journey in the underwater world has been amazing.  Together with my son, Mark, who learned to dive shortly after me and became my dive buddy, we have done numerous dives in Port Phillip Bay, outside the heads in Bass Strait, Westernport Bay and Phillip Island.  We have dived the coasts of Tasmania and New South Wales and Queensland and Western Australia, the fresh water lakes of South Australia, Kangaroo Island, Rottnest Island and New Zealand – and the Melbourne Aquarium with the sharks.  And dived in warm waters – the Great Barrier Reef on a liveaboard dive boat, Heron Island, Ningaloo Reef, Vanuatu and Thailand.  And dived in very cold waters – in Canada, in the Great Lakes.  Every holiday became a dive holiday.

On a dive boat after another dive

We took advanced dive courses, such as deep diving and navigation and rescue, becoming dive masters.  Mark went on to further technical diving and cave diving, but I am content with a maximum of 39 metres in depth.

Diving amongst the beautiful reefs or under piers, amongst amazing fish and marine animals and coral and sponges, the sights are always enthralling.  Did you know that Port Phillip Bay has more marine life than tropical waters?  Being able to float along in 3 dimensions is always magical – even the rituals of preparing for the dive and cleaning up afterwards are reassuring.  Meeting many other divers with many a good tale to tell is always good fun – and so is catching your own food, scallops and crayfish and abalone.

Diving with Sharks and Turtles

And then I became enthralled with shipwrecks – there are over 200 known wrecks in Port Phillip Bay alone, including wooden boats wrecked in the 1800’s and decommissioned naval boats.  This has led me into maritime archaeology, with study at Flinders University and Southampton University, attending maritime archeology conferences, archaeological research on shipwrecks in Port Phillip Bay, the acquisition of a whole new library of books, special trips to maritime museums around the world, training with the Nautical Archaeological Society and now maritime archaeology webinars – there is more than a lifetime of learning ahead of me.

On a whim, a spur of the moment decision, I had embarked on a whole new adventure.

Wooden boat shipwrecked over 150 years ago in Lake Huron, Canada

Julie Butcher


Spreading her toast with butter, sardines, lemon juice and black pepper, Julie recognised it was Saturday lunchtime.

She was one of four-children-born-within-six-years that on Saturday afternoons ate sardines on toast. Then they watched the B-grade movie while Mum, close by, tackled the ironing. Fifty years later, in lockdown with her husband, and sardine-toast crumbs spilling off onto the Saturday newspaper, Julie text-messaged a snapshot of her almost-empty plate to her brother Richard. She watched, and waited, for his response.

Ever the tease, two days later, his reply pinged in. “Looxury!”

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.