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.

Kerrie Cross

“Social work practice is very much about how to bring about change at an individual level in people’s lives and also in respect to social and community development.”

Kerrie Cross joined U3APP six years ago. She had a desire to further develop her creative writing skills and joined a Writers group, at that time run by Pat Ryan.

Kerrie’s CV outlines her extensive experience as a senior executive and management board director. And her involvement in community health and welfare, education, planning and development.

Kerrie currently attends the Creative Writing group, tutor Jennifer Angwin; The Memoir – Continuing Your Story, tutor Nancy Corbett; Appreciating Poetry, tutor Nancy Corbett.

Kerrie was born in Devonport, Tasmania. At the age of just 14 years old, Kerrie resolved that she wanted to become a social worker. She found a book in the local library about a hospital almoner and recalls, “I just immediately thought this was all about helping people make a difference in their lives.”

What influenced you to make this decision? “I grew up in a family where the church was the centre of our lives. My mother was a Congregationalist, now part of the Uniting Church. Her ancestors lived in Norfolk, in the UK.” Kerrie explains that Norfolk was the hotbed of Congregationalism. The Mayflower Pilgrims sailed from England to America (1620).

Kerrie’s mother’s family descended from the Norfolk pioneers who farmed at Don and Forth in Tasmania and built the Congregational churches there.

“So that was the centrepiece of my life as a child, the centre of our social life. My mother and father were the pillars of the church. I grew up with a value base that one lived for others in one’s life.”

To further this ambition, Kerrie attended Adelaide University. However, the temptations of a vibrant social life interfered with her studies. She failed her first year and returned to Tasmania, where she completed an Arts degree.

The family then moved to live in Victoria and Kerrie successfully completed a degree in Social Work at Melbourne University.

How did your career develop from that point? Kerrie referred to her early experiences as a social worker with first, the education department and then the Department of Community Welfare Services in Shepparton.

Whilst not so usual for social workers at that time, Kerrie soon moved into a management role. Her husband, a Uniting Church minister, developed cancer and she sensed that it might become necessary to further develop her career.

This career development required a move to Ballarat as Regional Manager. Kerrie assumed responsibilities for a wide portfolio that included child and family support, childcare services, disability, youth corrections, disaster support and recovery.

Also, community development that required engagement and partnering with local government authorities and the many community groups in the central Highlands-Wimmera Region.

After 3 years, Kerrie took a position with the Department of Health in Ballarat. In this role her focus shifted to reviewing the role and function of small country hospitals and developing the capacity of the larger base hospitals in Ballarat and Horsham.

A year after her husband Robert died, Kerrie took on a new challenge. Her children were by then, studying in Melbourne.

The new challenge was to move from policy, strategy, and funding to direct management. The task was to amalgamate 2 large, generously funded aged care hospitals. Mt Royal and Greenvale, and to undertake their modernisation, close to one of the campuses, making significant reductions in the operating cost.

Kerrie described surprising complications when the transition from the large 20 bed ‘Florence Nightingale’ wards, to small 30 bed community nursing homes was resisted by many of the resident’s families. “Interestingly the families of relatives who were in the so called ‘Florence Nightingale wards’ rebelled.

“They did not want their family members to be moved into small community nursing homes. They had become used to the quality and familiarity of the relationship between the nurses, carers and patients. Despite having 20 beds in one ward, the quality of interpersonal care was very high, and they found the change difficult.”

Kerrie and other managers were required to have “many community meetings to promote the idea that a small community nursing home model would be better for their family members. We were surprised at how difficult that proved to be, to bring about that change.”

This occurred during the Premiership of Jeff Kennet during the 1990’s. “Mr Kennett’s government restructured the health services, recombining hospitals and putting them into networks. The western suburbs became one big health network amalgamating Sunshine, Footscray and the Royal Melbourne and the Children’s Hospital and North West Hospital (formerly Mt Royal and Greenvale) into one big network.”

As the Director of Clinical Programmes: rehabilitation services, palliative care, mental health and aged care, Kerrie worked with The Cato Professor of Psychiatry at Melbourne University, Professor Bruce Singh, to build the Western Mental Health service for a population of more than 1 million people at that time (1996).

What skills did you bring to this rather massive task? “I was probably the first social worker in Victoria to become a hospital administrator, it was not so usual then.”

Kerrie elaborates further, “interpersonal skills when dealing with senior management are very important. Social work practice is very much about how to bring about change at an individual level in people’s lives and in respect to social and community development.”

“Managing people can be very difficult.” Kerrie reflects, “it’s not so different from working with families, as people continue throughout their lives to act out roles and perceptions, thoughts and feelings, that they developed in childhood.”

Is there a particular achievement that you value, in respect to bringing about beneficial changes through your management? “I think perhaps that what I am most proud of, is the Broadmeadows Health Service; the initial development of the concept, then the actual planning and construction, albeit greatly assisted by many wonderful people, fellow managers. A visionary architect who understood cost constraints and politicians, both Liberal and Labor who were willing to focus on the greater good.

“The Broadmeadows community had been running ‘chook’ raffles and ‘lamington drives’ for 20 years. They had purchased a piece of land in the heart of Broadmeadows. They wanted a hospital with full surgical services. However, the new freeway had enabled a 10-minute drive by ambulance to the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

“Shifting this mindset was a mammoth consultation challenge. In these consultations, we had to explain that health services had become dependent on increasingly expensive technology, e.g. MRIs and PET scanners, equipment for laser surgery.

“All required scarce skills. It was wasteful to replicate the technology or expect highly trained, scarce staff to travel from place to place within an urban area.

“We needed a hospital which could deal with a range of less acute services, such as, rehabilitation services, palliative care, mental health services, that do need to be provided closer to where people live and that are accessible to those who no longer needed acute care.

“We joined services with Northwest Hospital, Mount Royal and Greenvale Aged Care, and also with the local Broadmeadows Community Health Centre and formed service delivery partnerships with the Eye and Ear Hospital and the Women’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital.

“There was much opposition to this. Quite miraculously, we came up with an idea whereby we could obtain sufficient funding to build an innovative service.

“A brilliant young Turkish architect worked with us to come up with a cost-effective design that could be built within the budget the government was prepared to set aside. It was probably one of the most innovative health services in Australia at that time. Yes, I think that is what I am most proud of.”

What then followed this achievement? Kerrie became the Chief Executor for The Sisters of Charity Health Service in Melbourne: St Vincent’s public and private hospitals, Caritas Christi Hospice and Prague House.

Despite Kerrie’s Protestant background, they shared a “values base”. Up until this time, a religious Sister of Charity had held this role, but as the sisters were ageing and the Order effectively closed to new recruits, Kerrie became the first secular appointment.

Archbishop George Pell, with whom Kerrie had to work closely on a number of complex moral issues, including the formation of Eastern Palliative Care, confided, “I would rather have you than a lapsed Catholic.”

“One such issue was forming a joint venture partnership with the Mercy Private Hospital. The two religious orders and their hospitals had competitive elements and it was proving wasteful to duplicate services that were so closely related. Now the two religious orders have negotiated a role delineation and ownership structure for services they deliver in Melbourne and the Religious Sisters of Charity now own the Private Hospital.”

When did you retire? “I was young, only 58 years old. Unknowingly, I had developed Type 2 Diabetes. I was tired. Also, my daughter who lived in England with her English husband became pregnant. I wanted to be a grandmother almost more than anything else.”

Kerrie was asked by the government of the day, “to accept a short-term position as Advocate for Responsible Gambling. It was a part-time role with a focus on harm minimisation. Also, at that time (2003), I was appointed as Chair of the Royal Women’s Hospital and the Children’s Hospital.”

However, “very soon after my appointment, there was a political scandal that caused me to resign from that position.” This also involved her husband, who was Chief of Staff to the Health Minister.

This proved to be a very distressing time for them both. Rather than providing the various media outlets with opportunity to continually debase their denials of any impropriety, Kerrie decided to resign from her positions as Chair of the Children’s and Royal Women’s Hospital.

This was a very difficult period for Kerrie and her husband. Kerrie has since written a response to the allegations. “We were innocent of any wrongdoing, although matters of conflict of interest would have been debated in the media.”

But “there was a silver lining.” Her husband was offered a position to lead a health consultancy and to develop a health plan in Doha for the State of Qatar. Kerrie later joined him on the team as a health consultant. “We wrote the health plan for the State of Qatar.” They both enjoyed and benefited from living in Qatar and stayed for a further 7 years, assisting with implementing the health plan.

Kerrie spoke of her appreciation for the respective managers in Qatar at that time. “My job was more that of a mentor and supporter. They wanted to develop the skills to build and run their own health service. They purchased necessary and expensive equipment, built new hospitals. It was a complex job, they had high ambitions, including wanting to develop a paperless patient medical record. It was a fascinating time.”

Kerrie has written an (unpublished) article in respect to her view of the criticisms levelled at Qatar in relation to building stadiums for the FIFA World Cup and consequent labour issues.

But, back to the “silver lining”? “The silver lining for me was that I was able to visit my daughter in the UK. She had two children, the youngest child Charlotte, then aged just 11 months old, had cancer, Wilms tumour, a kidney cancer.” Kerrie’s daughter is a doctor, a paediatrician and fortunately found this tumour very early on, it was successfully treated.

As Kerrie was living in Qatar at that time, not Australia, “I could get on a plane in Doha at midnight and be knocking on their front door in Sevenoaks, Kent, in time for breakfast, with my little grandson leaping into my arms.

“If I had stayed on as Chair at the Royal Women’s, and the Children’s Hospital, I would not have been able to do this. You cannot miss more than one board meeting a year, you must be there. I would never have had the freedom to have a vital role in the lives of my grandchildren, which was more important to me than my career.” Charlotte is now a healthy 16-year-old tennis player, Oscar is 18 years old. Kerrie’s son lives in Darwin.

Let’s talk about your passion for writing. “I love writing, responding to a topic. Perhaps because I was a public service sort of person and an administrator for so long, I now actually enjoy having a word limit of say 1000 words.

“I enjoy the craft of writing. I will sit at my laptop and craft my piece until I have just 1000 words and no more.” Kerrie laughed as she referred to this stringent form of self-discipline.

“I think that I have always enjoyed the craft of writing, it is like an art form for me, and perhaps it is my road that I have not yet travelled on.

“Another road I have not yet travelled on, would be history, or the study of history.”

Kerrie has, however, self-published a biography, “Les.” During the Covid-19 lockdown, Kerrie would chat to the local gardener Les, at the St Vincent Gardens, in Albert Park.

“I discovered that he had led a most intriguing life. So, I said to him one day, “Les, someone should write a book about you.” Kerrie adds, while laughing,” “So, I did!”

“It was in a way, bringing together my love of writing, with my love of interesting people. Les is a veteran professional runner but his main claim to fame is that he was a childhood friend of the notorious gangster Alphonse Gangitano.

Over the course of a year, Kerrie conversed with Les and others connected with him. “It was a lot of fun; it took me a year. I interviewed Les for one hour, every week over a nine-month period.”

“Les” was published through a local printer and sold through the Avenue Bookstore. “But with that small print run of 200 copies now sold, it is available through Amazon as a print and eBook. It was launched at the Bowling Club, St Vincent’s Gardens in 2023.”

You can buy the book from the AMAZON website: “The author draws on her early training as a social worker, her interest in social history and her experiences in health and social services”

Book Launch of “Les” at the Albert Park Bowling Club. Kerrie with Les and his wife Debbie.

What are your views on political issues and their impact on developing health services? Reflecting on her significant contribution and achievements in community health, aged care services and more, Kerrie recalls the continual political arguments about, “finances, health, nursing homes. We had innovative ideas, people of my generation had wonderful ideas that could not however be implemented. Respective governments have subsequently not made provision for the aging population.”

Kerrie’s husband, a senior health bureaucrat, amongst other significant government positions, worked on a document that was produced in 1992 titled “Everyone’s Future”.

“Well now, both he and I are in this future.” He receives an aged care package for his various ongoing health concerns. “Back then, this explosion of ‘baby boomers’ and the demand for aged care to be delivered in the home, was very well known.”

“Currently in the media, this issue is being discussed as if it is a new development that needs to be addressed. It has been known for years. The failures are all due to lack of money, not lack of knowledge. It is simply unaffordable, including dental care services. Also, available resources are misspent, at times.”

Where to from here? “My plan is to continue with my writing. I would also like to assist one of the local primary schools by helping children with their reading.”

In what way has U3APP assisted you to further develop your various interests following your retirement? “I have met some wonderful new friends. As older people, we are told that the most important thing in late life to keep us happy, is friendship, communication with other people.”

“U3APP has provided this for me and I am very grateful for that. It can be very difficult to reintegrate into one’s community after a long time working in an overseas position.”

Active participation in the various writers’ groups has motivated Kerrie, perhaps, to embark on one further road to travel along. She has not disclosed what this may be.

This will be a very different road to that of Kerrie’s past working life. She will be relieved of the responsibilities of social and political pressures.

Kerrie and others in crucial managerial positions, have brought about significant changes in respect to people’s individual personal needs, and major social and community developments.

Kerrie Cross was interviewed by Felicity May

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

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

Bev Fryer & Lois Best

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

Colin Fryer

How lucky I am to have joined U3A Port Phillip.  Among all the other benefits, it has brought me many new friends.  A few years ago, a friend in the petanque group heard me talking about cryptic crosswords and said that she had always wanted to understand these puzzling beasts.  So for nearly three years, I’ve been running cryptic crossword courses.

Recently, a friend in one of those classes said to me: “You were an engineer.  How do you come to have such a love of words?”  I refrained from expressing my dismay at her implied view of engineers, but it did get me thinking.  Why?  Not only why do I enjoy playing with words but why do I see them as so important?  It made me think back over my life, both personal and professional, from just that point of view.

The story starts with my mother – a highly intelligent woman whose family situation prevented her from having a tertiary education.  She read a great deal (and did a cryptic crossword every day in the later years of her life).  In my early boyhood in Adelaide, she encouraged me to read and took me to the local library every week.  I have fond memories of hunting for the latest adventures of Biggles, Gimlet or Worrals.  (As I often say in my cryptic classes – if you don’t know about these people, look them up).  I’ve enjoyed reading ever since that time.  I must note also that later, when I enrolled in engineering, Mum took great delight in learning with me how to do calculations on a slide rule.

At secondary school, I had several science teachers who were men of broad intellect and insisted on precise expression in every report.  And my Latin teacher made a great impact on me – his love of the written word was infectious.  At university, again I was lucky to have lecturers with wide interests who gave credit for clear accurate written work as well as accurate calculations.

And so to my major influence.  At university, I met Bev Hill, an Arts student who took several languages and majored in Old and Middle English.  She’s been my companion in words ever since.  Together we have always delighted in exploring the origins of words and expressions, laughed at quirky use of words, weird spellings and odd punctuations that one sees every day, and supported each other in making the best use of words in whatever we write.  And somewhere along the way, we started doing cryptic crosswords.  Neither of us can remember just when, but for many years we have each had a book of puzzles at our bedside and, when we are away from home, in our travel bags.

David Astle’s super hard Cryptics are no match for word-wise Colin & Bev

Immediately after we married, Bev and I spent nearly three years in the north-east of England.  My first professional work there was in chemical plant design, with great emphasis on calculations and little on words.  But soon I moved to an operations role, where getting the words exactly right in daily instructions was of paramount importance, not least for safety reasons.  That emphasis continued when we returned to Australia, where I worked for a year in Sydney on the start-up of a new petrochemical plant.

Our next move was to Melbourne, when I took a lecturing position at Monash.  In parallel with teaching, I completed a doctorate thesis.  There were many many words in that, and I knew that they had to impress the examiners.  In classes at Monash, I tried to pass on to students my respect for the written word, urging them to present clear reports with precise grammar and correct spelling.  I remember well one design class that brought struggles and laughs as I dealt with students’ attempts to spell “phthalic anhydride”!

With three school-age children in tow, Bev and I enjoyed six months in Connecticut and six weeks in Texas.  I was lecturing at universities there and assisting a colleague to complete a text book.  Once again, words had to be well-chosen and well-presented.

My mid-life crisis took the form of recognition that I was in danger of becoming a life-long academic, so I left Monash to do some real engineering with a major design and construction company.  Clearly written procedures for our staff and well-argued proposals to clients were critical for business success.  During my last six working years, I was responsible for teams in up to seventeen locations around Australia and New Zealand.  Memories of those years are of travel, travel, travel – almost every week.  Books and crossword puzzles were my constant companions, providing great respite from business pressures, especially on the flights home.

At retirement, some eighteen years ago, I decided that forty years of engineering was enough – there are too many other interesting areas to pursue.  Bev and I have been lucky to travel overseas quite often, sharing the challenge and enjoyment of foreign languages.   I’ve spent a lot of time on boards and committees of several mental health charities and our local residents’ association.  The filing cabinets and cupboards at home are testament to the volume of words that have been produced over that time.

This ex-engineer has had a life full of words.  Just as well I love them!

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

Jenni Eaton

Jenni is motivated by “being outdoors, being involved in things pertaining to the environment.”

Jennifer (Jenni) Eaton joined U3APP 15 years ago. She is a landscape designer, having run her own design business for several years whilst lecturing at various Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. (Now Northern Melbourne Polytech)

Jenni has put her knowledge and skills to good use at U3APP, more recently devoting much of her time, in a voluntary capacity, in the local community.

Jenni was born in Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia. Her parents were in the British Colonial Service at that time. She was 4 years old when her parents returned to England. They migrated to Australia, subsequent to her father being seconded to work on the Snowy Mountain Scheme. They then moved to Tasmania, where her father worked with the Tasmanian Hydro Electric Scheme, then to Melbourne, where she completed her education and obtained a Diploma in Horticultural Science and Graduate Diploma in Landscape Design. Later in Canberra, she completed a Bachelor of Arts (TAFE).

What made you want to study Horticultural Science? With some amusement, Jenni explains that she wanted to do horticultural studies, “as I always had a real love of the outdoors.” Having obtained a scholarship to Burnley Horticultural College, the Headmistress of her “all girl’s school”, rang my mother as she did not think it was an appropriate thing for a girl to do. So, I immediately decided to go to this College!”

Why didn’t she think it was appropriate? “There were not many girls doing that sort of thing, also it was a bit of snobbery, I think.”

Jenni went on to study botany, zoology, horticultural science, and landscape design. “The ratio of men to women was 10 to 1.” She was the first female to be employed at the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne, under the oversight of the well-known TV gardener Kevin Heinze. “Basically, I was propagating plants in the nursery and training apprentices. It was a fantastic experience.”

As was common at that time, Jenni enjoyed travelling overseas. “My father gave me a trip overseas for my 21st birthday.” She had contemplated living in England where many of her relatives resided but returned to Australia to continue her studies. Jenni travelled intermittently to Europe, Asia and also to Zambia, which held an affectionate resonance for her.

Jenni worked for a number of private landscape designers, architects, town planners and eventually obtained a position with the Ministry of Housing.

What did this entail? “This was very interesting work. Apart from designing the planting on housing estates I was designing and helping build playgrounds, often with recycled materials. We worked together with families, children, who lived in Housing Commission flats. Mostly at the high rise flats in Carlton and in the West Heidelberg Olympic Village, also in Richmond.”

“There was a lot of vandalism, so we decided that if we could get the kids to plant a tree,” this might give them something more constructive to do. “We would also get their families involved, we had so many people planting trees…parents, brothers, sisters, they took ownership, it was wonderful. I think it did work. In Carlton, we built a playground out of rubber tyres and other reusable objects.”

Jenni was 30 years old when she married Richard Gough. When Richard obtained work in Canberra, they decided to purchase a small house on 50 acres of land in Burra Creek, a rural area on the border of New South Wales. We didn’t really want to live in Canberra. “It was a great little community where everybody was building their houses, including mud brick homes.” They decided to rebuild their small “shack”, out of mud bricks.

Jenni recalls with some amusement that she gave birth to two daughters, “quite quickly within 14 months. This was initially very hard as it was also for other young mothers. I was a very independent soul.”

What factors led you to building a mud brick home? “Well, energy wise, we just knew it was the way to go. I had always wanted to build a mud brick home; they are great solar insulators.”

Friends in the community made the bricks for them, “out of our own clay.” Mud bricks are stronger than concrete, and very heavy which makes them good insulators. “We finally built a place, with north facing windows, made from our own mud bricks. Our visitors would ask what we are using for heating? I would say, we haven’t got any heating, it’s the sun! Of course, we had a stove which would heat our water as well as providing heat to the house.” This is quite an achievement given the cold winters in that area.

You were very environmentally conscious? “Yes, always, also it was a time when people did not have much money.” However, in 1984 their mudbrick and timber home was severely damaged by fire.

What was that experience like? “It was a horrific experience, terrible, we lost everything. But the community was fantastic. The local MP found us a place to stay. We managed, people gave us clothes, and told us how to survive.“ Their two daughters were aged 3 years and 1 year old at the time.

Our dreams all gone- the mud brick house burnt down.

They decided to rebuild their home. “We did a bit of a ‘phoenix’ thing. We thought it would probably be good for our health if we rebuilt.” They did not rebuild in mud brick, instead bought a “Fasham Johnson Home”, popular at that time and environmentally sound. The house was delivered to them on a truck and together with a local builder, they built their new home.

Was it a good decision in retrospect, to rebuild? “I think so. These houses were environmentally sound. We did not have much money. We had hoped to grow things on our 50 acres, but I realised we did not have enough money to grow anything. We had a goat and chooks.” They continued to live in this community for 10 years.

Jenni described with some amusement that, “everyone in the community, helped one another. During a bad drought, our children’s nappies were washed by a neighbour in return for our eggs. We had very little water as our creek ran dry. I love that it was very much a ‘barter’ community. People would look after each other’s children.” This was helpful as Jenni lectured at a TAFE College in Canberra, several days a week. Richard also worked in Canberra.

During this 10-year period, Jenni worked for 3 years at the American Embassy. The Ambassador’s wife was very keen on improving parts of the garden. They had gardeners, but she wanted assistance with the roses and landscaping, as the garden was surrounded by double brick walls for security.

Jenni and Richard then relocated to Melbourne. They had friends in Elwood and at that time “Elwood Primary was a good school. It was a diverse community with a number of refugees and the school received extra funding to cater for this.” (In the early ‘90’s.)

“I really liked the fact that our children would not go to a school where there were only English children. We wanted them to appreciate other cultures.”

At that time, Jenni obtained work with Hanover, which ran courses to assist people who were homeless for various reasons, to return to work. She ran several gardening courses, also supporting individuals by starting up a gardening business. However, a couple of violent incidents such as “a knife being pulled on me,” motivated Jenni to resume lecturing at a TAFE College. She feels proud of her students’ achievements. Many were involved in various design competitions, “we won lots of prizes, Australia wide.”

What are the main tenets of landscape design? “It’s a design of the outdoors. You meet the client and find out what they would like and then, as you know the various plant options, you make suggestions. I didn’t ever work for someone who just wanted a pretty garden.”

Flemings Nursery in the Dandenongs, imports plants from overseas, “a lot of these plants were on trial, they grew well in Canada and America, such as dogwoods.” Jenni liked putting imported plants together with Australian plants. “When planning a landscape, there is no point if you have to water the plant all the time, even if you love it to death, you have to move on, and let that garden grow.”

What are the current trends in gardening? “I think you will find that most people are quite happy with Australian and imported plants. Recent bushfires have shown that some Australian plants, close to the house, are terrible, as they encourage fires. Eucalypts burn very quickly, also the wattles.”

Your thoughts on the planting of plane trees across Melbourne? “Yes, we took these from London. They require a lot of water; their roots are as big as the span of the top of the tree. They also block drains, but they provide beautiful shade in Summer with their large canopies. Councils are now having to remove some of them mainly due to age.”

Following a partial retirement from lecturing, Jenni accompanied Richard on a 3 month sabbatical to Germany. On her return, she continued part time lecturing but due to her concern over the manner in which Australia treated asylum seekers, Jenni decided to volunteer at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. (ASRC). Over a period of 5 years, Jenni made lunches for 50 or 60 people on Mondays. “Monday is a terrible day as you don’t get many people giving away food on the weekend.” Despite not being a person “who cooks a lot, we made dahl, rice, roast potatoes, curries, depending on what vegetables were available.”

Your current volunteering activities? Jenni was past President of the Poet’s Garden, Elwood, a community garden, basically a vegetable garden. She is currently on the committee. “There are not enough bees in the world now, so we need to encourage pollinators, such as native grasses and Indigenous flowering plants. Some South African grasses are exceptional. There is a plan to plant grass verges from Melbourne through to the old Elwood wetlands, now Yalukit Willam Nature Reserve, providing a green space right down to Frankston.”

Jenni has worked in a voluntary capacity for the past 11 years at the Children’s Garden in the Melbourne Botanic Gardens. “I could have been a guide, or a garden ambassador, but I chose instead to work in the Children’s Garden.”

Exploring a Flinders garden with Botanic Garden volunteers ( dressed in our smart red uniform)

“There are in Melbourne quite a few children who come from deprived backgrounds, who may have been previously in camps. They have real problems. They may attend a 6 week educational program if the grants are available. There are also a variety of other programs, which include holiday activities. The volunteers also just enjoy gardening together.”

Your various roles at U3APP? Jenni became a member about 15 years ago and served on the committee for 3 years when Jose Simsa was President. “I helped put out the magazine, including the very first online magazine, I learnt a lot about U3A, being on the committee.”

“U3APP is a wonderful place.” Jenni has run several short courses featuring landscape design, “basically visiting various gardens around Melbourne.” In 2022, “I wanted to try city gardens, so that we wouldn’t have problems with transport.” Previous groups have visited gardens on the Mornington Peninsula and other areas.

Jenni is active in several U3APP groups. She participated in Lorna Wyatt’s exercise class for 5 years, and is currently doing yoga. She has joined Nancy Corbett’s Poetry Class, does Life Drawing, online Films and also plays Pétanque.

Do you have a favourite plant or tree? “I have a lemon myrtle tree on my balcony which I really love. It is a beautiful tree and used in indigenous cooking. It is tough. I use it in cooking.”

Jenni summarises that she is motivated by, “being outdoors, being involved in things pertaining to the environment. I think people should have woken up 10 to 20 years ago. We were teaching about climate change 20 to 30 years ago, at my horticultural college.”

“I really do worry about the future, for children, for the next generation and the generation afterwards. One daughter lives in Canada, we have visited areas where glaciers are disappearing.”

Future plans? Jennifer is travelling with a group to Machu Picchu and then to the Galapagos Islands, fulfilling a lifetime dream, “I have always wanted to go to the Galapagos Islands because of my interest in Darwin, the historical background, the animals and plants.”

Jenni developed her love for the outdoors and the environment from an early age. She has pursued a career in horticultural science and landscape design and has used her knowledge and energy to assist in many worthwhile projects. She continues to be fully involved with current concerns about our environment and shows no sign of slowing down. U3APP in turn, provides an outlet for members’ skills to be utilised, and an avenue to pursue alternate relaxing, and enjoyable activities.

Felicity May interviewed Jenni Eaton


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