Marcel Colman

Every building and its setting is an expression of people’s decision making… and working back from that is fascinating.”

“The interesting outcome is that we all learn by sharing different perspectives.”

 Marcel Colman is the facilitator of the U3APP Current Affairs class.

His background includes design, urban planning, and government policy development.

Marcel’s ongoing commitment and interest in current affairs led to him facilitating a group at U3APP about 4 years ago. Having retired, he was seeking a further outlet to pursue his interests in respect to “what factors influence decision making leading to outcomes – which is what current affairs is all about.”

Where did you spend your childhood years? Marcel’s parents individually migrated to Australia prior to the Second World War. His father from Berlin, his mother from Vienna. They met in Sydney, where Marcel and his brother spent their childhood years. Subsequent to Marcel’s father moving to Melbourne for business reasons, Marcel attended high school in Melbourne.

Did your school years in some way shape your future career? Not the school particularly but rather “a close friend at school who was also interested in the ‘built environment.’ He got me interested in looking at buildings, looking at urban form.” (used to describe a city’s physical characteristics)

So, you developed an interest in wandering around looking at buildings? “Yes. Why people built things in a particular way. My friend was also skilled at making models, so we crafted models of various buildings. Together we made a model of the South Porch of the Erechtheion (Acropolis) with those wonderful caryatids holding up the roof.

What was your particular fascination? “My own fascination was crafting and problem solving. Linking disparate things together in order to arrive at an understanding or a range of options.” Marcel and his friend would take photographs of buildings. “My father helped me buy my first camera and we would go out for hours photographing things in the environment, people, and buildings. I became more and more fascinated by the actual environment and how it is occupied and used.”

What are you referring to when you talk about the environment? “Well landscapes and buildings in particular.”

Marcel expounded his views further. “Everything you see in the built environment is a reflection of a process of decision making, by either individuals or groups. And the interesting thing is working backwards from there and coming to understand and appreciate what factors influenced those outcomes.”

Was there any particular building type that you and your friend considered particularly interesting? “We were both fascinated by Gothic style churches that operate at multi levels of influence, religious, structural, allegorical in some ways. Actually, all buildings do at some level.” Marcel makes the point that some of the well-known Gothic buildings in Europe were built and completed over a period of 500 years. “I also recall the corporate style of all those rather quirky ES&A banks that once populated our suburbs.”

“How that happened, what influences and decision making processes went on over such a long period is most interesting. When I travel, I spend much time in cities, absorbing the different granular feeling of the various cities.”

Can you describe that a little more, what do you mean by granular? “Granular embraces all the elements of what you see, feel, hear, and experience. The whole thing is a kaleidoscope of information. It adds dimensions.”

Albert Park. A small piece of excellence in our neighbourhood.

Marcel studied architecture at Melbourne University. He then completed three years of postgraduate studies in town/urban planning. Later over a period of years, Marcel pursued studies in public policy, also completing a course at RMIT in welfare economics and urban finance.

Public Policy? “Public policy is about understanding change, what are the influences and factors that lead to organisational and operational outcomes and decisions.” Marcel makes an interesting point, “what is the difference between that process and architecture? Very little… and that is what Current Affairs is all about… the process of how decisions come about and are made.”

Welfare and economics? “This involves looking at economics from a broader perspective. Looking at how intangibles can be considered in formulating an outcome. Mostly when we look at economic benefit, we limit our scope to solely focus on the dollars. But there are external factors outside of just the dollars. To really add benefit, you need to also consider impacts that are difficult to quantify. Such as what is the value of losing social connectivity if forced to relocate.”

Marcel provided an example of the Nepalese Government adopting an economic model that values units of happiness. This encompassed “a broader sense of how to define economic benefit. Welfare economics, in the same way, looks at how you put value on these difficult to quantify intangibles.”

How is this achieved? “Well, you can do a planning balance sheet and apportion value or importance to particular factors. For instance, factors and importance can be derived from interviews, what is valued and what degree of ‘trade-off’ is acceptable in proposing a particular course of action. For instance, here in Port Phillip we value the extensive infrastructure, accessibility but the trade-off is public open space, private space, visual oversight, parking, noise, etc”.

What about Housing Commission apartments, how might they get valued in this area? “At a base level you can view it as a shelter, for people in urgent need. But this can create a ‘vertical social ghetto’. It is important to appreciate the diversity of an area and the range of infrastructure that services that setting, relies on social diversity. Gentrification can be boring, we should not relocate the disadvantaged to the urban fringe!”

“I think the City of Port Phillip has done a very good job in fostering diversity. For instance, a mix of private and public developments are being considered for some housing estates. Providing low rise social housing over car parks fosters diversity and opportunity.”

Which aspect of your career have you most enjoyed, or feel you have contributed to? Marcel responded, “Well, I think it’s important to finish your career on a ‘high’ if you can. The last 6 years of my working life were a highlight. I was a manager for policy for the Victorian Government procurement reform process.”

Can you explain what that entailed? “Procurement reform had as its objective, to change the business model. For example, over the past one hundred years, the government procurement process was made on the basis of dollar value. In other words, if you bought $1,000,000 worth of gravel or widgets, you would apply set processes based on value.”

Marcel explained further, “But that approach can lead to poor outcomes. You need to align processes to the level of risk and complexity. For example, The level of risk to the government in, say, buying computer software for $100,000 that manages all the government salaries, is a much higher risk than buying $1,000,000 of widgets.”

“You need to look at your capability to undertake the process and also the risk that goes with it. So, I worked on approaches to change the mindset of how government departments engage with the market and the different processes that should come into play.”

“It was fascinating developing that methodology and working with committed staff across many departments. The change would not have come to fruition without that contribution. In a way, as I said earlier, it is no different to architectural outcomes, in identifying interrelationships, their value, and how you go about arriving at an outcome by engaging with your client, your builder, the council officer, your electrician, your carpenter, etc. I enjoyed that period in government immensely.”

You retired after that? “Well, I thought it was time to stop and do something else, but I haven’t really retired. With a friend I met at university, I continue to provide some design input on various building projects.”

Your views on architecture, buildings, in terms of renewables and sustainability? “This is a very difficult question. The complexity of how to respond to climate change, what are the low hanging branches that people immediately go for, versus the longer term aspects. Related to that issue is what responsibility does society have to assist and fund that longer term transition? That is the tricky bit. It is both an environmental question, but also a social question.”

In further discussion over progress being made in some Scandinavian countries and the importance of informing and engaging with society, Marcel noted that Vietnam has a reported “amazing education system.” He provided a favourite quote by Ho Chi Minh. “For the sake of ten years’ benefit we must plant trees. For the sake of a hundred years’ benefit we must cultivate the people.”

Let’s talk about your Current Affairs group with U3APP. “Well, my opening line is that I have learnt so much from the participants in the course. We have a group of people who bring to the table different points of view and provide material which we circulate prior to and during the session.”

Marcel describes Current Affairs as follows: “We all scan different sources, we bring that information together, we ask ourselves to consider what are the factors that influence particular outcomes or decisions.”

Which information sources are used? “There are so many information sources used by members of the group. If you assume that every person in the group has four or five information sources, then there is a potential for 50 different information sources to be considered. There is no way that I, as an individual can facilitate that. We cover a range of topics, global, national, local, that leads to informative and interesting discussions.”

How do you deal with any controversies that may arise from the discussion? Marcel clarifies this: Everyone who commits to Current Affairs 1) agrees to listen. 2) to respect everyone else’s opinion. 3) what is said in the forum, stays in the forum, confidentiality is respected.

Marcel explains that “the reason we have these three principles is that it allows people to talk, it encourages discussion, and thereby brings disparate points of view to the table. If you don’t have those three operating principles, you limit what is discussed and shared.”

“We continue to learn by sharing different perspectives.”

What are some examples of topics the group has discussed? “We have discussed issues relating to China, Ukraine, Brexit, the Middle East, social justice, politics, the Voice, We recently looked at the factors that gave prominence to the five people who died in the submersible compared to the low coverage of news of the 500 children who drowned in a boat off the Greek coast. We look at the way things are reported and why they are not reported.”

The Australian Indigenous Voice Referendum? “Well, this should not be a difficult question. However, there is some divergence of views within the group which we all respect.”

Have you observed that people change their views as a result of the discussion? “Quite often, but interestingly not necessarily at the time of the discussion. But when topics arise again, as they do, like the Ukrainian situation, Taiwan, or the American election for instance, there is a longitudinal perspective. People do modify their views and I am part of that process as well.”

Your plans for the future? “We all have to think about health, about the next generation. We should leave a better environment for them, in all the various dimensions. Contributing as best I can, is important to me, talking with others, ‘pushing the envelope’. We should all have an ethical view of life, where everyone counts.”

Where did you go on your recent travels? “Julie (Julie Butcher, Marcel’s wife) and I travelled to Lyon in France then on to Madrid and Porto, also to fascinating places outside of these main centres. Segovia is a wonderful university town outside of Madrid. Salamanca, by the border of Portugal and Spain, is also a wonderful university town, with a real buzz about it.”

“One of the highlights was Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia. The scenery is wonderful, the town is very pedestrian interspersed by a number of art nouveau buildings. This is a country that has only been independent for 50+ years. One can feel how proud the locals are.”

“A travel tip; seek out the university city or district, whether it be in Berlin, Budapest or Ljubljana. It is there that the urban setting is enriched by the social texture.”

Your other interests? Marcel laughed as he noted, “I am married to a family that has golf in their genes! I also play golf badly, but one of the nice things about golf is that they have a system called Handicap, which allows one to continue playing and not having to sell one’s clubs on eBay!”

Your views on U3A, in general? “I think the U3A operates on two important levels. It is a social collective, which has an educational component to it. These two aspects work together very well.”

Marcel has also facilitated a number of recent U3APP Saturday Seminars.

Marcel is committed to facilitating discussion with others, and to examining the various processes which underpin final outcomes. His fascination with “working backwards” then forwards, with a longitudinal perspective is refreshing. In that it relates to, Current Affairs, urban planning and unequivocally, to the iconic beauty of Gothic Cathedrals, envisioned and completed over a period of 500 years.

Felicity May interviewed Marcel Colman

Rumi Commons

Thank you wonderful U3A IT team and dedicated Tutors for helping us ‘Zoom’ along during the lock down period. You have made the difficult time so much more bearable for me. I came to Japan intending to be with our son for some extra time prior to the Olympics, when my husband also planned to join us. They didn’t tell us that the Olympics were to be cancelled, did they?

Arriving just a day before Narita Airport imposed a stricter quarantine, I decided to live in a self-imposed quarantine for two weeks; during this time my son shopped and cooked for us. After two weeks, it was my turn to shop and cook, and I loved it. The ready-made Sashimi and seafood are all so cheap, because restaurants are not buying them. I also get out for the daily morning radio exercises with local residents at a nearby park, wearing a mask and being careful to be 2 metres away from the nearest participant.

Rumi’s selfie at Asakusa Thunder Gate wearing the notorious Abenomask and a face shield

Japanese law doesn’t allow a ‘penalty’ for disobeying the lock down. Rather, it seems to operate on the ‘name and shame’ basis. Some Pachinko pinball parlours were ‘named and shamed’ for being open, and others complained that the naming ‘advertised’ and attracted more customers.

Rumi and the five tiered pagoda at Asakusa in downtown Tokyo.

I could have got back to Melbourne if I tried, but I am happily ‘stuck’ here using the Corona virus as a once in a lifetime excuse. I’ll probably stay here till Melbourne’s spring time. I’d miss U3A meetings, but I don’t want to add an extra burden to the medical team in Melbourne. Thanks to Corona crisis, the air normally polluted here in Tokyo is fresh and lovely, especially after the rain. Restaurants and shops are opening gradually back to normal. We are supposed to be in the rainy season, but there’s enough sunshine and blue sky to dry clothes. And when we feel safe enough, I want to see my friends who I used to go to school with.

Keep well, everyone, and thank you again, IT team and tutors.

(Photo) The block of small apartments disallow playing musical instruments, so I cheated and locked myself in this Japanese bath cubicle to ‘Zoom’ with the Ukulele and Choir classes. Thankfully, no one has complained to date.

Cheers – Rumi

Linda Condon

Linda Condon thought she would never be old enough to join U3A when she first heard about it ten or fifteen years ago.

But Linda was very impressed when Jan Harper set up a program called ‘Carbon Cops’, which, with access to the local council, helped the Mary Kehoe Centre become more environmentally sustainable. Linda thought of Jan as an extraordinary woman, and decided to think again about U3A. Also, through life drawing with Di Gameson, and another group of really competent artists at Gasworks, Linda heard more of U3A Port Phillip. “I was really pleased (to join) in the end because it was a really good way of connecting with people, particularly through COVID. And I was helping with another program by then working with Hannah Len running the climate change program.” Linda admitted that Hannah did most of the work, “but I was supporting her, giving her some climate knowledge as a result of my past work.”

When Linda first joined, five or six years ago, she was asked, “What can you do for U3A?” She thought WHAT! Then jokingly, she said, “I could teach watercolour… and U3A said ‘Could you?’”  She hadn’t taught it anywhere else at that stage, and started off with one class, which was full from the beginning. There are still people who started with Linda five years ago, still painting with her. “It’s been lovely, just the nicest group of people you could ever meet. Supportive, kind, convivial, social, and I have made some good friends as a result of that class, and other courses I did as well.”

When someone at U3A suggested Linda give her classes by Zoom, she happily agreed to give it a go. But it was not really the same – “you can’t really critique other people’s work over Zoom – that’s a bit harsh,” she said. So she would do a demonstration and the class would talk about what they might do with it. Some people painted along with her while others recorded the lesson with notes and then they would do their painting later. Suddenly Linda had about 45 students.

Earlier this year they decided to return to face-to-face classes after two years of Zoom. “We had such a great camaraderie, which is a hard thing to maintain through Zoom. We had people living in Brighton, a young woman from Taylors Lakes, Malvern, Northcote.” These people had all joined the class and they preferred to do it on Zoom. So Linda now combines Zoom with face-to-face sessions and sends the link for anyone wanting to prepare for the next week’s work or see the last week’s work.

Linda plans a whole program covering two semesters (four terms) depending upon what people want. “And we are having a show on 18th November for three weeks this year, a sale, a proper art exhibition at the South Melbourne Community Centre.”

Linda was very thrilled with her recent exhibition at the Gasworks. “It was astonishing,” she said. “I didn’t want to come home with work – and most of it sold. 30 out of 34 paintings! But because so much of it sold – and I have talked to other artists about this – I felt as though I had lost a bit of myself. I love the fact that people liked the work and they actually wanted to buy it, but this then created a feeling of elation and joy mixed with a strange sense of loss. I think maybe it’s to do with my cancer as well, having shed something of myself. Is that crazy? I put 18 months of work into it. It was a good way to focus on other things. Yes, I was tired, but the hardest part is getting your work ready and framed, and then I discovered at the last minute, when the work was hanging up, that one work had two signatures on it! Fortunately it was an oil painting and the next day I was able to paint it out.”

Linda says that a lot of energy goes into painting and thinking about what you want to paint, what appeals to you. In the end it has to appeal to the artist. If it doesn’t appeal it is not going to come down onto the paper or canvas in the right way. It’s a form of meditation. It’s absolutely a mindfulness exercise. Totally. You are just in that space and it’s wonderful. “I have a little studio and I disappear for hours on end. You always worry when somebody asks you to paint something that is not going to be quite what they expected. But sometimes there is tremendous joy in seeing someone’s face when you produce something they like.”

Linda was born in Holland and she still has a little booklet her parents gave her when she was six years old. It is all in Dutch – how to draw a child – and quite a sophisticated little book. Even at the age of five or six she was drawing a lot with her parents’ encouragement. Her father was an industrial chemist and Linda had done all the sciences up to year 12, or Matriculation as it was in those days. Linda recalls her father saying, “You are not going to be a photographer; you are going to be a scientist.” In those days you did what your father wanted you to do, she surmises. “But, by this age we have pretty much chosen our own path. My confidence has grown through a group of artists I work with in Port Melbourne, under the stewardship of Anne Esposito, called The Artist Group Port Melbourne. I don’t have any qualifications in art – but I have always drawn.” She has now exhibited in the Camberwell Art Show, Kuringai Art Society (Sydney), Bayside Art Show, Gasworks Art Park and a few other smaller galleries.

Linda did a degree in Applied Science, majoring in biochemistry at RMIT and University of Melbourne, “sort of a combination of the two” and her first job was at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research – Australia’s oldest medical research institute – working with Gus Nossal and others. “He was an extraordinary man, really, you could hear him coming down the corridor hours before he arrived, he was so loud, a wonderful man, heart as big as gold, really an extraordinary person.” Linda suggested that was a good start for a young woman, especially as she left school when just 17. She started off in the “mouse room”. It sounds ridiculous, she mentioned, but anyone who started off as a research assistant at the Walter and Eliza Hall was cleaning out the mouse cages. And washing up bottles up and sterilising; really starting from the ground up. After that she worked at the Royal Women’s Hospital in the biochemistry department. Then she headed up the biochemistry department at Dr Dorevitch for seven or eight years in the late 70s.

Around that time Linda, with her husband and two daughters, went overseas before returning to work in Sydney, to the forefront of DNA. She was headhunted to help design the technique for DNA finger printing, forensics and paternity testing. “We were the first people to bring it to Australia.” But by then she didn’t really want to work in a laboratory anymore. “The hours were becoming terrible for people in laboratories – working 24/7 to get the results out. I didn’t want to do that.”

Fortunately, when the family moved back to Melbourne in 1995, a woman living across the road from Linda informed her that Swinburne University was looking for staff. And soon she was offered a part-time, three-days a week position, lecturing in biotechnology, bio-chemistry, zoology, anatomy, and physiology – “anything they could throw at you.” Linda had undertaken a Post Graduate Diploma in teaching at Macquarie University in Sydney. Then RMIT set up a global sustainable institute, and knowing the woman who had set it up, Linda became interested. “I thought it was a brilliant idea to set up something around sustainability.” The year was 2000, and Linda was just back from being overseas, when one of the directors at Swinburne suggested she write a two-page business plan and “we’ll see if we can set something up.” Two pages, literally, to seek funding for two years, and they agreed. “It was not because my business plan was particularly good,” said Linda, “but there was a growing interest in sustainability and the university was very keen to be at the forefront of issues – a great university for innovation.”

The two-page business plan was approved, Linda got two years of funding and a wonderful young woman, Kathryn, came to help set up the centre, and within three or so years they had thirty staff and were thriving. So it was the right time. It was called the National Centre for Sustainability and they had other partners around Victoria and eventually partners in Perth and Cairns and in Mildura as well. “It was terrific and the nicest thing about working in sustainability and climate change,” Linda reflected, “was working with people who were passionate and caring. An extraordinary group of young people, all in their thirties; terrific people to work with. I have never had a better work environment.”

She left that when she had a strong sense that if you are the innovator, after five or six years, you have got to let it go and give it over to someone else. She handed it across to a doctor who was known as a great researcher. She knew that with thirty staff you had to have a turnover of two or three million dollars and that was what they were managing with projects and grants and working with industry and communities and councils. “We did some great work.”

After that Linda worked with TAFE Directors Australia, with Pam Caven. Pam was the director for stakeholder engagement and policy development and Linda was the director for green skills network. “It was great working with Pam for a couple of years, and then I went out as a consultant and did some research work for various projects.”

Three years ago Linda decided she had had enough of all that and she would paint, fulltime. She had been painting all through her career although when she set up the centre at Swinburne she was working twelve hours a day. “I had no time for anything. I was at Swinburne for 17 years – the longest in one job. I started in 1995.”

“My father had said I would never ever make enough money to live as a photographer. I think I was logical enough to realise that it would have been a problem, but look, I liked science as well. There is a logical side to the brain and a more creative side and maybe I was lucky that I had the capacity to think logically – although I must say when I first really started painting and trying to be creative it was almost like my brain was hurting! Trying to get the right side of my brain activated after so many years of very logical thinking and writing research papers and doing the other things that we were doing, to suddenly being creative in art – I did struggle with the transition.” “But finally, I am doing what I have always wanted to do.”

“My time at U3A has been so rewarding and I recommend that anyone who is able to join should do so for the learning experience and the joy of being with interesting and caring people.”

Interviewed by Julie Butcher

Nancy Corbett

“Poetry is being performed more than ever … poetry is alive … poetry is just evidence of life”.

Nancy Corbett is a U3APP Tutor of the Appreciating Poetry Class.

Nancy Corbett’s ‘story’ begins in a beautiful rural area of south-eastern Ontario, between Toronto and Kingston. Her love of nature and interest in storytelling began even before she went to school. Her mother read bedtime stories and poems from Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses. “From those early times, I wanted to be able to tell stories and to make up rhymes like that. When my older sister started school, I would pester her to teach me how to read.”

Nancy wrote her first poem at the age of 5, about a rabbit. Whenever she read or heard a poem a few times, she never forgot it and she still automatically memorises many of the poems she loves today.

Nancy’s teachers at her primary and secondary schools encouraged her love of reading and writing. After some years of significant and distressing personal events, Nancy was granted a scholarship enabling her to complete her education. “My first success was winning first prize in a national essay contest in my final high school year, titled ‘Why Canada needs a Peace Research Institute.’ The second was being offered scholarships to three different Canadian universities.”

How did this come about? “The concept of the essay competition was how to maximize chances for peace, instead of war.” Nancy accepted one of the offered scholarships, enabling her to go to university. At that time, post-World War II, “there was a feeling of growth, of possibilities, of the need for educated people, so there was a lot of support for education in Canada.”

And so began not only Nancy’s fascination with words, rhymes, and stories but a committed interest in social and political inequities and the preservation of our environment. She attended the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, in the far west of Canada, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains.

The 1960s “was a very interesting time for music, politics, and social change. When the Canadian Government refused to send soldiers to Vietnam, it infuriated the American authorities. The Canadian Government passed a law protecting any draft dodger or deserter who could get across the border; they would not be sent back.” While a student in Vancouver, Nancy was involved in a group that assisted these American soldiers. “We found places for them to live, helped them settle. It was traumatic for them. Their families often did not support their stand; they were leaving everything behind that was familiar to them. Their country considered them criminals.”

Nancy obtained an Arts degree, then a Masters in English Literature. “There were some brilliant poets who were teaching at the university, including poet and Booker prizewinning novelist Margaret Atwood. I was privileged to meet Canada’s beloved poet Leonard Cohen then too, and hear him read. It was an exciting time.”

By the age of 30, married, with a child, Nancy wanted to travel and see the world. Her husband had previously lived in Australia and wanted to return, so they took a ship from Montreal to Rotterdam, then travelled for a year across Europe and Asia, ending up in Nepal. From there, they flew to Darwin, “arriving on New Year’s Day, 1974.” They lived in Sydney for a number of years.

Changing family circumstances required Nancy, now a single parent, to obtain a number of interesting positions. She worked for several years at the Djigay Centre in Kempsey, NSW, an Aboriginal college. “My role was to prepare students to enable them to do tertiary studies. I loved doing that and I learned a great deal.”

While living in the Blue Mountains in NSW, Nancy worked for a few years at a Women’s Health Center where she provided support courses for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

Nancy then moved to Melbourne, where she worked for the Foundation for Young Australians which assisted young people to obtain the skills needed to obtain the necessary backing and finance for projects they initiated themselves.

Nancy’s final full-time position prior to her retirement involved designing and delivering courses for groups working with survivors of family violence, including legal students, social workers and the police. These courses were delivered in Melbourne and many parts of regional Victoria.

Can you give an example of a course you designed? “I wrote a course titled, Why Doesn’t She Leave? It dealt with the many different factors involved in family violence, and why it is so difficult for some women to escape and why it could be so dangerous when they did.”

Let’s talk about your writing, your poems. Nancy reflects that for long periods of her working career, she did not write creatively, occupied with earning a living and preparing a diverse range of courses.

In the 1980s Nancy wrote her first full length novel, which today she is glad was not published. Her second novel Floating was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award, “which was a great honour.”

Nancy’s third novel Heartland, “is set in the future, about two separate societies. One is exclusively populated by men, the other by women. Whilst they have some connection in order to have children, they kept quite separate social orders.” Nancy reflects humorously, “well, after that was published, I went to Paris and lived there for a year.”

Nancy and her partner Howard moved to Tasmania in 2010. “We were living in Launceston. It’s a very creative place. There are so many writers and opportunities for workshops and performance. The annual Tasmanian Poetry Festival, held in Launceston, is the longest-running dedicated poetry festival in Australia. Its highlight is always the hotly contested Poetry Cup competition. I am immensely proud of having won it twice (in 2016 and 2019).

“I found my voice as a poet there. I had always written poetry, but sporadically and secretly; suddenly, people wanted to hear what I was writing! My first book of poetry, The Longest Conversation, was published in 2021. I was 77 years old!”

This book of selected poems reflects Nancy’s profound love of the natural world and her grasp of the complexities of human experience… (Publisher’s quote.)

Amazing! Do you write every day? “Yes,  I now write every day. I start first thing in the morning. I get up, go to my study, have a cup of coffee, and write at least 3 pages, just free writing. And out of that come things that I can work on sometimes. Not always, but sometimes.”

Do you consider that sort of discipline is vital to writing? “No, I think there are as many different ways to write as there are to do anything. Some people may write intensely from time to time, others write every day. Not everything is good, not everything becomes anything … but for me, it’s essential now to keep my hand in, and my mind.”

Nancy continues, smiling, “You can’t wait for inspiration to strike you. I mean, you have to turn the light on! But what inspires me is reading other poets and teaching classes, like this one at U3APP. I enjoy putting the classes together so much. I learn more each time. We go very deep sometimes but I always try to end with something funny.”

Do you have a favourite poet? “Well, if you turn over that book of mine, The Longest Conversation, you will see a quote by Mary Oliver: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. I love Mary Oliver’s poetry; she has a unique talent for expressing appreciation for the wonder of life.”

Nancy also participated in a project with poet Kristen Lang who is “a dedicated environmentalist. She approached a few poets to work on a project together. The theme was to write from the viewpoint of a non-human being. One poem I wrote was in the voice of a tree standing in one place for centuries, living through so many storms, so many seasons, unable to move, but full of life. So different from the way we see ourselves. And of course, providing a home for so many other creatures, who lived their life because of that tree. It was just an amazing, imaginative exercise. We presented the finished work in Hobart and Launceston. It was a wonderfully creative project.”

Nancy has published a memoir, Firsthand. Written in two major sections, the first, North Star, refers to the guiding star of the Northern Hemisphere while the second section, Southern Cross, deals with her life in Australia since 1974.

“I wrote it over a period of about 5 years. I’ve kept journals and diaries all my life and I needed to select and keep what seemed to me to be worth keeping. The result was Firsthand, which was published by The People’s Library in 2018.”

You have been so inspired by the landscape in Tasmania, and now you are living in Melbourne. What inspires you here? “We live in Port Melbourne, so we can go down and stand at the edge of Port Phillip Bay anytime we like. I walk most days, and take photos, which reminds me to pay attention to things.”

Nancy has two adult grandchildren, and her partner Howard has three young grandchildren who live in Melbourne.

Are you currently writing about any particular themes? “I am at a new stage of my life. I found my voice as a poet in Launceston, in Tasmania. I went to so many workshops and sessions with other poets, thinking I will do something with all this, sometime. Well, this sometime has come; this is a time of harvest, rather than planting seeds, for me.”

“So, I am going through a lot of material from the past 15 or so years, using that as a basis for creating new work. I have a wealth of material, and this is the time for me to work with that material.”

So, no slowing down at all? “No,” Nancy responded, with a smile.

On a slightly different tangent, you have an interest in politics, inequities, our environment, and this is reflected in your writing. What are your thoughts on the world today? 

“Well, you would think we would have learned by now a better way of dealing with people’s different objectives than by going to war. And yet we seem to be building up toward another major war. However, I do also see some advances in human rights. Women have more freedom, in our part of the world at least. Also, we are starting to take children’s rights a little more seriously. There are real efforts to combat racism, so I do see progress in some ways.

“Human beings are contradictory, and we often act against our own best interests. But I think there are sincere efforts to make changes … we can change, and shape and influence. One of the best-known lines from the Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley is that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. Poets care deeply about what is happening in the world, and they express it through their poetry.”

So, we need to get people to read more poetry? Nancy laughs: “I’m doing my bit – I have a waiting list for my class. Poetry is much more popular than it was even 10 years ago. At President Biden’s inauguration he had a young black woman reading her own poem.

“Poetry is being performed more than ever. Back in time, it was only the educated elite who read poems whereas now we have pop songs and rap artists who are cutting through to sections of the population who otherwise do not have a voice or don’t read poetry. Poetry is alive.”

Nancy’s wealth of personal experiences has shaped her creative writing skills and her awareness of the needs of others, culminating in “a very rich life”. The popularity of her U3APP Appreciating Poetry Class is a testament to Nancy’s lifelong, imaginative immersion into the world of words.

Nancy Corbett was interviewed by Felicity May

Dr John Craven

Dr John Craven became an Officer (AO) in the General Division of the Order of Australia on 26 January 2023.

Details of his academic and professional background and portfolios can be read in the U3APP Newsletter – 29 January 2023.


John has been a member of U3APP for eight years. He was on the Committee of Management for several years.

John grew up on a farm in Terip Terip with his parents and two brothers. His “forebears” arrived in Australia in 1835 or thereabouts and established a farm in the 1880’s. Initially a sheep farm, then cows, then beef cattle. John attended Primary School in Terip Terip and subsequently completed five years at Euroa Higher Elementary School. After working for a year on the farm he felt an urge – to explore other career options. “Veterinary science seemed a fairly respectable alternative to a long term commitment to the vagaries of farming.” His father accepted this decision although he ”lost a labour unit.” John moved to Middle Park, obtained work with a Wool Brokers firm whilst studying at night at Taylors Coaching College, as “country kids did in those days.”

In later years, John inherited the farm and he and Lu Craven lived there for about 15 years. They raised Aberdeen Angus cattle at that time. The farm was sold about ten years ago. John laughs as he recalls, “we found that we were getting slower and weaker, but the cows were getting healthier, it was a bit much! So, the time came when we needed to return to Middle Park,” where they had lived previously.

“Back in the day,” John’s specific interest was looking into diseases that caused diarrhea in young animals, and as it turned out, in children. This work morphed into studies on ways to reduce the prevalence of food poisoning and diseases transmitted from animals to people. “That became a large part of my research career.” John reflects modestly, that he has been “pretty lucky” in respect to acceptance of his work, he published “a reasonable swag of papers” in respected journals.

The presence of salmonella in chickens was also an area of interest. “Despite all our good work I suspect there is still as much, these days.” John acknowledges that currently the general public are much more aware of the risks from raw chicken. He laughed, whilst affirming that he and others may have contributed to this awareness.

In the 1990’s the agricultural industries started to invest much more in research. “I was heavily involved in helping the dairy industry develop research programs to improve productivity on dairy farms.” He worked in the dairy industry for about 20 years, part of the time as an employee, later becoming “a consultant, as you do.”

In respect to various changes in the dairy industry, John acknowledges that the impact of disease has diminished but the threat of exotic disease being introduced to Australia is ever present.

When asked about the achievements he is proudest of, John referred to his position as Chair of the Committee evaluating the performance of Veterinary Schools in Australia and New Zealand. He was involved in developing protocols for accreditation in Veterinary Schools, “to see whether they were up to scratch and to assess whether their students were trained adequately to be registered when they graduated.” During this time there was also a tortuous process of getting alignment of Australian processes with those in the UK, USA, and the EU.

John recalls a “few nice little diversions.” He attended a conference in Jordan when the Arab countries were looking to develop an accreditation program for Veterinary Schools. “It was a huge adventure.“ John laughs as he recounts the experience of his luggage being lost in transit. “I am at the airport in Aman at 5am, no case, and nobody to meet me.” Another interesting diversion was a period of work looking at veterinary school accreditation in Indonesia this work being “probably one of the most, I’m guessing, useful things I have done.”

The Order of Australia Award, was that a surprise or did he know it was coming? “Umm, I sort of heard whispers some years ago but there was nothing affirmative and I thought it had died a death. Last year Lu (Lulita) got a bit of a heads up and she managed to keep that from me completely!” In September 2022, he received an email, “but I thought it was spam until Lu said no, it’s not.” Then another letter arrived “to say it was all go, but to keep it under your hat, so we did.”

The Award will be formally presented on 3 April 2023 at Government House in Victoria. “I have no idea of the protocol but guess that I will have to suit up, don a tie and, in due course, they hand over the award, you get your hand shaken and are served a delicious arvo tea.” John admits that he had wondered if it was all “a bit old school,” but, “I have found that I get a great buzz out of it.” “It” is the recognition of your peers that is special, and it is very rewarding. The other “fun thing” is that “you get back in contact with people you haven’t seen for “donkeys’ years, so that’s been pretty good.”

Reflecting further on his achievements, John acknowledges that he was lucky to have worked in an era when science was seen as valuable and to have been part of a group of incredibly gifted individuals pursuing common goals. It was a time when there was enormous growth in agricultural research, and it was “a great feeling that we were pushing back the boundaries a bit.”

In further discussion, John reflects that at that time, the agricultural industries had faith in science, and saw it as an investment in their future.

John is of the view that the level of investment is “now greatly diminished.” Food production is under considerable pressure with deteriorating soils, competition for water, pressure from consumers for reduced use of agricultural chemicals and the threat of animal and plant diseases being introduced into the country. However, funding for research has “got chopped,” and investment has been run down over past decades. ”I think there has never been a greater need for research in agriculture.”

One of the problems seems to be that social media gives the impression that everyone is now an expert on everything, and more community members do not see a need for hard evidence to support their views. Scientists must bear some of the blame as their communication skills have not kept pace with the media revolution.

Talking about his family and other interests, John and Lu Craven share seven children and seventeen grandchildren. They are a ‘blended family,’ John’s first wife died many years ago. He comments, ”so you see why I am concerned about the future of the earth”.

John sought to develop his writing skills, as distinct from scientific publications and some years back joined Pat Ryan’s creative writing class. He has an ongoing interest in story writing and is working with his grandchildren, as to how best to write stories about climate change, “that engage and inform them about the problems but also do not scare them.”

John is an active member of Vets for Climate Action who are committed to reducing the footprint of veterinary practice and working with clients, particularly in rural areas, to assist in changes to farming practice aimed at reducing production of greenhouse gasses and improving biodiversity.

Currently John enjoys participating in Petanque, Current Affairs, Films on Fridays, and David Bourne’s “Why Insects Matter”. He enjoys these classes as “my background is in science, but there are so many interesting subjects that I don’t really know about. ”

“I think U3APP is brilliant, an organisation of this size run by volunteers, is incredible. It provides physical and mental stimulation for members to engage in, it gives you a sense of purpose, of belonging, and opportunity to meet others, to learn. It’s incredible.” This view would resonate with many U3APP members.

John is remarkedly modest in respect to his achievements and dedication to research, which has brought about significant changes in Veterinary Science and Agriculture, benefitting us all.

Dr John Craven was interviewed by Felicity May.

Lois Daley

Vegemite – Aroma and History in Port Melbourne to Preserve

In the early 1970s my father, the late Albert Edward Daley, a boilermaker, often walked across Murphy’s Reserve in Port Melbourne from our home in garden City to the Vegemite factory to work on the boilers.*

My brother John, who died just recently, worked for Hewlett Packard and travelled overseas for the company.  Taking along with him his wife Wendy and four young children, he was away for nearly five years, setting up new branches in Germany, California and Singapore.

While overseas, they contacted us by phone to tell us they could not buy Vegemite in Mexico, so our dad bought tins of it from the factory to send to them, much to the delight of the children.

I remember sitting at the kitchen table writing letters to go inside the parcels; there was no internet or mobile phones in these times or places.

Listening to today’s stories of preserving the aroma still coming from the factory on Vegemite Way, we are reminded that one can often smell it as we alight from Westgate Bridge.

Going overseas in those days, to places so far away, was a big adventure.  Our parents were a little horrified that they needed this adventure with such a young family, but in the years to come, as Hewlett Packard expanded into many countries around the globe, their travels took them to many parts of the world.  Memories, memories and more memories.

* Postscript: In 1976 dad died from working on those boilers in factories around Port Melbourne, having contracted Mesothelioma from asbestos the boilers were lined with.  The disease was in his body for some twenty to thirty years before it took the toll of a condition not able to be cured – and not a death one would wish on any family, or any enemy either, as most died within eighteen months.

It was fortunate I was a nurse at the time, so came home to help mum nurse him for the fourteen months after diagnosis until his death, here in the home he bought as a 26 year old single man in 1928 when he was an apprentice boilermaker.

Lois Daley

My Mother
(written for International Women’s Day 2021)

Jessie Georgina Craske was born 1904, the eldest of five girls, to John and Sophia who lived in a small rented cottage in Ross St Port Melbourne.

Jessie was a pupil at Nott St State school till the age of 14.

She found work at Johnson and Johnson Talc Powder Manufactures, working five and a half days a week, becoming an expert at Box Powders with beautiful ribbon silk bows.

Jessie and her Sister Hilda loved dancing, live theatre, train trips to Belgrave, and best of all outings along the Bay on the ship Hygea to Portsea at weekends; and of course their local Port Theatre was a favourite Saturday night outing.

Jessie’s Mother Sophia died in her fifties leaving Jessie and her Father Sidney to care for their family.  Kathy, the youngest, was born disabled so Jessie became a surrogate Mother for many years.

Jessie met Albert Daley in 1930 and they married in 1935 after they put a deposit on a new Garden City Bank Home of English design facing a beautiful reserve and with a large backyard to grow veggies and fruit trees; such a large block compared with most homes in the Borough.

Jessie made pickles, jams, chutneys and bottled fruit, and cared for her well tended garden.  She upholstered furniture, painted, mended shoes, cut our hair, made all our clothes; there was nothing she didn’t have a go at – she often said she loved her life in Garden City.

Her memory and presence is with me every day as this where I have made my home.  My life growing  up here moulded me to whom I am today and as her Daughter I am truly blessed.

Darling Mum I miss you.

Jessie died peacefully in her sleep in her home in July 1991 Age 87 years.

Written by her Daughter Lois Hilda Daley of Port Melbourne.

(Pictures shown are for effect only and are not connected to Lois or her mother)

Jane Denniston

Jane has been a member of U3APP for about eight years, (prior to this she was a member of Brighton U3A) she is a tutor and organiser of the Pétanque classes.

Jane grew up in Elwood. Her mother was a War Widow. “My dad was in Changi POW camp, in Singapore, then he was made to work on the Burma Railway, it must have been horrendous and something he never talked about after his release and return to Australia.” He survived for about seven years, Jane was six years old when he died.

Jane recalls how she and her mother were looked after for many years by Legacy Australia. They also provided services for children. “So, I started doing various activities when I was six years old, Legacy is an incredible Organisation.” Jane found that she especially loved the gym and ballet classes. At the end of the year there was always a big concert at the Melbourne Town Hall. One year they performed, The Nutcracker. They had to “fit in all the kids, so instead of having six mice, they had thirty of us!” Attending ballet and gym classes became a focal part of Jane’s life. Whilst she did not pursue a career in ballet, “the fitness side of it just stayed with me forever.”After her father died, Jane, her mother, grandma, and her mother’s youngest brother lived together. She reflects, “it was a bit crowded … we lived in this little one bedroom flat in Elwood.” Her uncle lived in a “sleep out” at the back. “ However, I was lucky, my grandma insisted that my uncle look after me on weekends, this was to be his mission, to look after Janie and take her wherever she wanted to go.”

Jane was very fond of her uncle whom she described as a “frustrated academic.” None of the family had the opportunity to attend university. He was self-taught, embracing his love of music, ballet, art, literature and languages.” So, on weekends they would go to the art gallery, the Botanical Gardens, museum as well as the opera, musical theatre and also to performances by the Borovansky Ballet Company, which later became “The Australian Ballet.” Jane is most appreciative of her uncle’s and her family’s commitment to providing her with a “well rounded” childhood experience and her love of all these pursuits has never left her. They also managed to find time to attend AFL footy matches. (Jane is a passionate Melbourne supporter, hardly ever missing a game.)

Jane was about 13 years old when she and her mother learnt yoga, “before anyone even knew what the word really meant.” The teacher had trained in India, there was a group of about six people in the nearby church hall, “and so I have practised yoga regularly ever since.” She has also been involved in fitness programmes for “pretty much all my life, as I really believe in fitness and exercise.”

However, it was very difficult in the early days to find a gym, “that wasn’t just a macho body building, male oriented gym. I was really thrilled when the whole fitness industry took off.” This was about 40 years ago. Gyms came replete with exercise classes, fitness instructors, not just “body building men.” Women embraced the gyms, many were looking after the home at that time, “but they could go there, do workouts, aerobics, have coffee after with friends, it was a sort of Jane Fonda era.” Some provided creches for the kids, “it became a huge expanding industry.”

Jane wanted to work in this growing fitness industry but lacked the formal qualifications required to study Physical Education, not having completed math or science during her school years. She left school at fifteen, “to support my mum … so I was always a bit of a frustrated Phys Ed teacher, until I later qualified as a Fitness Instructor and eventually ran my own aerobics centre.”

Jane started her working life in Advertising, initially as a PA and working her way up to a position as Account Director and Television/Radio commercial producer until taking time out to raise her family. Whilst still working in the fitness industry, she acquired her Real Estate Agents’ Licence and went on to work as a property manager then office manager until her retirement 8 years ago.

Prior to that, aged 21 years, Jane had saved up enough money to fulfill her “passion” to go overseas. She worked in advertising in the UK , then went on a trip around Europe with a small travel company that took only 12 passengers on a camping trip. “And that’s where I met my husband!” He was the driver, “after two weeks we got engaged, everyone thought this would not last, it’s just a holiday romance… but we have been together ever since then.” Mark Denniston is Jane’s husband, he was on the U3APP Management Committee a few years ago. They have two children and two grandchildren aged 11 and 13 years. Jane has had great pleasure in taking her granddaughter to the ballet from the age of 5, and both grandchildren, to as many Demon matches at the MCG as possible.

Pétanque (repeatedly mispronounced by this interviewer!)

Why is this so popular, not only at U3APP but everywhere, it seems? Pétanque, also called Boules, a la “the ball you use,” originated in Provence, France. “In France, it is played in almost every village, they will have a “piste.” (“A marked patch of ground on which one plays pétanque.”) Jane describes with some humour: “It’s mostly played by men, wearing a little cap, a striped shirt and a Gauloises cigarette hanging out of their mouth. It’s an after work type of thing, they have a glass of wine, play pétanque, chat, socialise, while their wives are at home cooking dinner.” Jane laughed as she added, “typically French!”

In Australia however, “Aussies turn most things into a competition.” U3APP has resisted invitations to compete with other clubs, preferring to keep its vitality as a social event, as in France. Jane took over from Helen Donnellan about two years ago. The history of this group being, Helen and Jane’s husband, Mark, attended a French class together. One day, over coffee, they discussed the possibility of introducing a new course of activity to U3APP. Sounding like a good idea they found an unused Petanque piste alongside the light rail in Port Melbourne and shortly after Petanque was on the list of courses offered to U3APP members. They started with about six members, then everyone found out about it and “the rest is history.”

Due to the growing number of interested members, they have needed to split into two groups. Richard Saleeba, who was a tutor prior to Jane joining, “is more experienced, knows the rules.” He now takes charge of the Early Birds/Beginners, “I’m more of a bossy organising person, I oversee the two groups, send out emails and so forth.” I jokingly refer to it as “herding cats!”

The game itself? “You have two teams, the way you hold the ball is crucial, an overhang over the ball, and a sort of subtle flick, (not as in lawn bowls.) So, the rules are, you have a little cochonnet, which translates as ‘little pig’. You throw that onto the piste, then the pétanque boule is thrown as close as possible to the cochonnet. Whichever team gets the closest number of throws, wins the game.”

Is it seriously competitive? Jane laughs when responding, “the guys are a bit more competitive, the girls are a bit chattier. But yes, we want to win, we get quite serious and excited, especially when it’s close.”

Following the game, some of the later group go to Rubira’s pub, conveniently located across the road, for drinks and dinner. Jane books a table each week. “For me it is my night off cooking, some just stay for a drink.” Jane surmises that part of the attraction of pétanque is that it “plays a dual role.” You don’t have to be fit, you do not need to be skilled. Perhaps dodgy knees or a wrist disorder would be an impediment, but it’s not physical. It also provides a social outlet, a ‘get together.’ It’s a lovely way of not only getting out, getting fresh air, and having a bit of fitness activity but also, getting to meet other people doing the same thing.”

Jane’s passion for ballet, theatre and opera has continued to consume her interest, as well as the footy, of course. Jane has been a member of various U3A groups, including choir, French songs, book group and art classes and has just started learning lawn bowls, very much as a beginner. In recent years, Jane needed to manage a serious illness, however she took great pride in completing a rather challenging Kumano Kodo trek through the mountains of Japan to celebrate her positive post chemo outcome.

Jane has dedicated herself over the years to, “teaching other people about my love of fitness.” The enthusiasm of members of the U3APP Pétanque group is an affirmation of this. Through Jane, together with Richard Saleeba, Pétanque has become a social and outdoor activity that would rival any village in France, perhaps? The wait list is growing!

Felicity May interviewed Jane Denniston

Helen Devereux

I have always been a problem solver…that was always in me… that sense of wanting to solve the problem.”

Helen Devereux is a U3APP Tutor and has run a number of courses:  Japan from Your Armchair, Grand Ridge from Your Armchair, Trivia (in the holidays), Japanese for Travellers and Memory for Fun, with a new Memory course commencing July 2023.

Helen was born and raised in North Balwyn. Her father was a Senior Victorian Police Officer. This provided an interesting background during her formative years. Her father was involved in a number of projects. “He was one of the first to go to the FBI Academy, spending 3 months in the USA. He introduced bulletproof glass into banks amongst other reforms. He headed up homicide for a number of years. Everyone loves a good murder mystery TV show, well I had the real thing at home over dinner most nights. I loved it.”

As a child Helen would visit the stables of the police horses. She recalls fondly the well-known horse Gendarme. “He was a big drummer horse, he would lead the parade through the city, back in the seventies.” She had horses of her own, stabled in Templestowe.

“I suppose the biggest heartbreak was not joining the police force. All I ever wanted to do was to become a police officer in the mounted division. But unfortunately, I was too short! Back in the seventies, there was a height restriction of 5ft 4inches, and I didn’t make it.”

In the late 1980s, Helen had an opportunity to join the police force when they changed the height restrictions. Other restrictions were also removed, such as “being flatfooted, certain eyesight issues, a whole range of things, which looking back now, were quite ridiculous.” But by that time, Helen’s work life had evolved in new directions along with caring for three young children, “so I just let it all go and focused on memory and the other things that I found fascinating.”

How did this evolve?  “I did various things. I started off initially working for some QCs in Melbourne. I then shifted to Industrial Relations with Coles. I was given the task of computerising the national wage increase for every type of employee. Computers were very new then. I was thrown in at the deep end with no formal training and ended up writing code for the formula using a program called Datatrieve and Basic.”

Helen elaborates further, “I think it was a bit like learning a foreign language. You just had to understand the syntax and structure. This led me to writing a program to analyse theft and fraud for Myer.”

Do you have any comments about fraud today? “Fraud as we all know is prevalent in society. It is important to follow advice, such as, if you don’t recognise the number and you answer the phone, don’t speak. Your voice may be recorded, transposed, and used to imitate you. Never give any information about your bank or personal details to anyone who phones YOU.”

How did it come about, your interest in learning a foreign language? “That’s a long story, it goes back to the 1980s. I was doing some community radio work with 96.5 Inner FM. We would interview people from Meals on Wheels and other community groups. Another program at the station introduced a topic on the human mind. It was then I became aware of memory techniques.”

Helen taught herself memory techniques from a simple library book as at that time there were limited resources and no specific courses. “After learning the techniques, I wanted to put them to use and learn something new. So, I decided to study a foreign language.” Helen considered Japanese would be more challenging than French. She attended Japan Seminar House in Burwood where one of her fellow students, a secondary school teacher asked her, “how come you appear to be doing better than the rest of us?” Helen responded, “It’s because I am using memory techniques.” She was then invited to do a presentation to Year 11 students and teachers. This led to her running a series of courses with Holmesglen, CAE, Casey, community houses, schools, and a number of private businesses. The most memorable course was perhaps teaching memory skills and techniques at Barwon Prison.

Barwon Prison?  “It was part of their education program. It was a two-day course on consecutive Thursdays. There were 15 in the group.” Helen was advised she would not be told about the criminal history of the group until after lunch on the first day. It turned out most of the group had committed murder and were long term prisoners. Some were in prison for well-publicised murders she had read about. “It was kind of strange, kind of scary, but they were probably one of the best groups I have ever taught. They were very, very polite. I guess you could say they were a ‘captive’ audience.”

Why do you think you have developed this interest in mnemonics and memory techniques?  “I have always been a problem solver. As a child, if my mother couldn’t find something, I made it my job, I had to find it. That was always in me, that sense of solving the problem. And I just love learning.”

“Memory skills are not for everybody, but I find it personally challenging and satisfying to be able to reel off say, every state of America, every capital city in the world, or every oscar winning film by year.”

Helen explains further, “It’s like taking your brain from guessing, to a very deliberate structure, where you can control it. I am in control of what I am doing when it comes to specific memory.  I can of course still forget things.”

“Children and young adults can have a tip-of-the-tongue, (TOT) experience, but it does increase in frequency as we get older. I just say to people, if you experience a TOT, stop immediately. Your neural pathways have just sent you down the wrong track. Just let it ease back on itself and it will find it for you…the brain is so incredible.”

Tell me more about mnemonics. “This is just another word for anything that aids memory. Like tying a piece of string around your finger, for instance.”

(Mnemonic devices are techniques that were developed by the ancient Greeks thousands of years ago to help them memorise lengthy speeches. Quote from The Learning Scientists.)

“Converting numbers into words. Words are more tangible than numbers, they conjure up an image. Then there is Loci, a very old system where you are setting up locations in your brain that follow a particular order.”

“With names, you look for some way of tying in something about the person’s appearance with their name. If you do something extra, for example, form an association, you have a much better chance of recalling the information. I call it two second memory. Just do something.”

Together with Carolyn Angelin, Helen will run Memory for Fun and General Knowledge classes, commencing in July 2023.

Helen is firmly of the view that “it is really important for people to know that you can keep growing your brain. Neuroplasticity is part of what we look at in this course.”

“The U3APP is a fabulous environment to keep our minds stimulated, to meet interesting people and make lifelong friends.”

NAOSHIMA ART ISLAND, Japan Pumpkin Art Installation
Christine & Mike Perkal, Helen Devereux, Glyn Wilson

Your trip to Japan? Helen took a small group of U3APP members to Japan in March of this year. This group (Japanese for Travellers) would meet on zoom or at Helen’s apartment every week. “We really had a lovely group and developed our own pathway towards learning Japanese.”

Tell me a little about this “pathway.” Helen explained they commenced learning particular key sentences, using a couple of memory skills to aid them. These included words and phrases they might need on a visit to Japan. “It was probably after we were 12 months into the course that we started to talk seriously about going to Japan.”

KYOTO, Japan Bar overlooking the Kamo River
Christine Perkal, Helen Devereux, Glyn Wilson, Mike Perkal

They would meet up and go out for Japanese meals. “A Japanese friend would do cooking demonstrations. We became very close and decided to go to Japan once Covid restrictions permitted this.” Helen notes with much sadness Sheila Quairney was a member of this group although she did not accompany them to Japan due to personal commitments. “While we were in Japan, we sent Sheila photos and messages, so she was part of the experience.”

Helen spent a week with family members before meeting up with the U3APP group in Kyoto. “We couldn’t believe we were at last actually meeting up in Japan.” They went to Naoshima, an island of contemporary art and sculpture (the famous Pumpkin installation), Okayama (one of the three famous gardens), Uji (green tea area), Hozugawa (river cruise) and Kurashiki (the Venice of Japan).

“We did some interesting things. We would find a bar and have a drink, enjoy a meal together, then walk the streets at night, taking it all in. Karaoke was a highlight. The whole experience was very bonding. Japan is so incredibly clean, polite, and so safe. I think these are huge factors for older travellers.  Kyoto is probably my favourite place.”

Helen has plans to form another travel group, in a year or so.

Other interests?  “Well, probably just driving in the countryside, doing things with my grandchildren, walking my dog, riding my bike, computers and writing.”

Creative writing. Helen received an Award from the 2022 Port Phillip Writes Festival. She enjoys writing short stories “with a twist.” Her last year’s entry is titled, ‘Captain Google’.

Helen has been fascinated throughout her life with the challenges inherent to problem solving.  She developed a specific interest in memory techniques, applying their usefulness to learning a foreign language, expanding her general knowledge, amongst other skills.

She enjoys the personal challenge of furthering her studies, particularly those relating to brain development and neuroplasticity.

U3APP members are fortunate to have the opportunity provided by Helen to expand their knowledge and awareness of the different techniques used in learning a foreign language, practising memory techniques, encouraging confidence when a tip of the tongue pushes you down the wrong pathway.

We are now living longer. Acquisition of memory techniques, assisting confidence and a sense of wellbeing, is being actively sought by both the older and also younger generations.

Felicity May interviewed Helen Devereux

Jean Dunn

I was a former Australian Ambassador. I worked in a number of countries including as Ambassador to Turkey, Lebanon and Poland where I was also accredited to Ukraine.

I thought you might be interested in one of the major crises I dealt with during my career.

On 17 July 2014 Malaysian Airlines 17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine. Together with Sir Angus Houston, we led Australia’s response to the disaster.

All 298 passengers were killed in the downing of the aircraft. The plane originated in the Netherlands, and most of the passengers were Dutch nationals. Those killed included 28 Australians and nine permanent residents. The international media quickly speculated that the plane had been shot down by a missile. At the time, Russian-backed rebels were conducting a war against the Ukrainian government in the region of the disaster.

I arrived in Kyiv around 11pm on the evening of the shooting down of MH17. I had just flown back into Warsaw from Australia earlier that afternoon and immediately caught the next flight to Kyiv.

On behalf of the Australian government, my objectives were: to support the families of the Australian passengers; to do whatever it took to collect the human remains from the crash site with dignity; to repatriate the remains to the Hague for identification; and to assist in finding out how the crash had happened, with a view to the international community eventually holding those responsible to account.

For five weeks I worked in Kyiv on the disaster, with a large crisis management team from a range of Australian federal agencies. For the duration of this time, the team leadership had no more than four hours sleep a night and usually less.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting down, the primary focus of the team was to gain access to the crash site to recover the remains.

Our problem was that the territory of the crash site was under the control of the Russian-backed rebels. It was a dangerous location in which to operate.

With the assistance of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which was coincidentally in Ukraine at the time to try to resolve the war in the east of the country, we gained access to the crash site for the Australian Federal Police (AFP). Some of the remains had been collected by local emergency authorities under the command of the rebels and were held in train wagons at a nearby station.

We eventually secured permission for the AFP to enter the crash site, but it was risky work as they often had to withdraw because of gunfire.

We also gained access to the train wagons holding some of the remains. I met the train on arrival at a location near the city of Kharkiv in the northeast of Ukraine, and farewelled the plane carrying the remains from Kharkiv to the Hague.

The Dutch accident investigation found that the cause of the crash was a BUK missile. A subsequent Joint Investigation Team including Australian, Dutch and Malaysian investigators found that the BUK missile belonged to a Russian anti-aircraft missile brigade. Australia and the Netherlands asserted Russia’s responsibility under international law for the downing of MH17. Russia has rejected any responsibility.

The Dutch Public Prosecution Service prosecuted four suspects with murder: three Russians and one Ukrainian. The Dutch have commenced a trial of the four in absentia.

I completed my assignment in Poland and Ukraine in early 2016. The crisis remains etched on my mind, and not least the tragic loss of lives. This was a terrible tragedy with a geostrategic overlay which made the management of the crisis especially difficult.

Ukraine is a vast and beautiful country, with grand cities like its capital, Kyiv, and Lviv in the west. If you have a chance to visit Ukraine, you will marvel at the magnificent churches of Kyiv.

St Andrew’s Church, Kyiv

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.