The new editor of the U3APP E‑Bulletin is David Robinson. Here is an interview with him conducted in May 2022.
How did you become involved in U3A?
Years ago I joined U3A Melbourne because I heard they had a very good film group and they utilised a small theatre at The Docks Library. The tutor who ran it had 2,500 DVDs. He wouldn’t tell you what the film was in advance; you’d come in, tick your name off and sit down, and then you’d see the film of the day. I really enjoyed the first few – older films, but the fact that he never told you what they were going to be sometimes came unstuck. We had to score them at the end, out of ten. And we were all itching to say something about the film; our insight into what the story was about, the cinematography, that sort of thing. After a few years I started borrowing DVDs from libraries and learning how to assess them. There is an international movie database (IMDb.com), which gives insights, and there’s Rotten Tomatoes (RottenTomatoes.com), which gives you thousands of people’s opinions and scores.
I soon got the feel for what was a good film for the participating demographic, and started my own group here at U3APP – probably eight years ago. Just a face-to-face class to show the film, but I did send out an email naming the film and I’d teach people about the International Movie Data Base and Rotten Tomatoes. Yes it was about more than the film. A lot of people go just to be entertained and that is good, nothing wrong with that, but others go for some sort of enlightenment. I used to run two streams, one on a Monday, a documentary, and the one on Friday, a movie-film. It’s harder to find a good documentary because the documentaries always seem to be about something that has gone wrong in the world. A filmmaker sees that thing and tries to expose that wrong to the world. Port Phillip Library and the Melbourne City Library have as many documentaries as they have films. Between the two libraries there are like 10,000 DVDs, always lined up on the shelves. You type the name into IMDb and if it gets a seven-point-five it might be okay. Anything above eight is usually really good. Occasionally there will be a nine or ten where the filmmaker has probably encouraged his friends to vote for it! The trouble is, if it is a genuine nine everyone will have already seen it. Genuine eights, even. If they’re good and haven’t been around for 20 years, people don’t mind seeing them again. You have to pick ones that haven’t had a release in Australia or are in a foreign language. That’s what got me into films.
I went to other classes at U3A Melbourne and U3A Port Phillip, such as Current Affairs and Economics. I try to keep my activities to one thing a day. As soon as I am doing two things a day it gets a bit much. Once you are looking after grandchildren for two days a week it gets busy. You have to pace yourself.
You are obviously full-time retired now…
Yes I have been fully retired since I was 60. I spent my career in IT; so just about every day since 1968 I have been using a computer for something. Initially it was mainframes and then it became PCs in the 80’s. Now, when my wife asks how many hours I spend on my computer, I reply I’m reading things. I don’t read books. I tend to read articles, news feeds, and things like that. You can spend a whole day doing that. You get onto YouTube and you spend the whole day looking at videos of all sorts and all the ones I look at tend to be interesting. But that also depends on the weather and other things that need to be done around the house. I am fairly skilled at using a computer and I enjoy it. That’s one reason why I volunteered in this area at U3A. It’s like a little work group in a company. I am editor and a member of the IT team and there are seven of us headed by Helen Vorrath. The IT system here at Port Phillip with its website is quite mind boggling, you know.
I bet any company would kill to have an IT team like U3APP!
Yes, yes, exactly. There are a lot of skills and it’s all done gratis, but it’s good fun. You are here with people who, when you go ‘blah blah blah’ about something really technical, they understand it – LOL. You are working with a group of people who have had a similar work life, just maybe a different emphasis.
I was interested in the E-Bulletin and when the opportunity came up (to edit it) I thought I had better not tell my wife, but when she found out she said oh, good on you! Lots of men like to fiddle around with engines. I don’t like getting my hands dirty, but I like to tinker around with computer application packages. In the case of the E-Bulletin newsletter we use a package called Mailchimp. I started my career in 1970 supporting technical applications big companies would use in a computer service bureau.
The usual thing I experienced at work was you’re now the support person for structural engineering. Now, what did I know about structural engineering? Nothing! But there was the manual – about an inch thick. I remember once having a questionnaire analysis package that advertising companies used. There was a course on it in Sydney and I thought I might go and learn something. But then the boss said well you had better get up to speed because the guy that was going to give the course has left and you’re giving the course now. I was to be the teacher! So I had four days to get to grips with this application package. I just had to get my head around subjects like structural engineering, transport planning, questionnaire analysis and mine planning. I was working for a company called Control Data that dealt with a variety of technical applications and I really loved that.
Back in the late 1960s I applied to BHP to be in their intake of new graduates. They gave a programming aptitude test and I wasn’t in the top 10%. So I was not offered a job by BHP. However, within a month of working for Control Data there I was, teaching the BHP graduate intake about linear programming – one of the programs they use for cutting up steel. I always thought that was great: I was standing out in front of all the ones who had been selected, and there I was teaching them something. So I started developing teaching skills and I enjoyed that.
That’s one reason why I applied for this (editing role) – it has revived the challenge I enjoyed in my early working life. I am starting to get interested in virtual reality at the moment. I like to learn new things. One day in the not too distant future virtual reality will be how a lot of people “travel”. Ideas like this are discussed after the two film groups I now tutor.
And I’m in the climate change course, which I know a bit about, having been an activist since 2007. I think. I went to see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and you walk out and think oh my god, we’re done for, and you’d better do something about it. So then with a friend I started a climate change action group called “LIVE.org.au” It’s still going, and now I am involved in another local climate change group called “PECAN.org.au” (Port Phillip Emergency Climate Action Network). We recently had a live-streamed forum with the Liberals, Labor and Greens in St Kilda Town Hall. In the past I would have been organising the video streaming. But now I believe it’s best if the younger people in their thirties and forties look after the group, rather than me doing everything, which I tend to do when I start out. Younger people – even some in their twenties – are quite active. You need to give young people responsibilities.
I like my new role as the E-Bulletin editor I feel useful. A lot of things in my life are interesting to me but not very useful to anyone else. At U3APP I work with colleagues and an audience. I have control over what the E-Bulletin looks like and I have presented it, as I like to see it. And I do appreciate any feedback coming in from the bottom of the newsletter. Every newsletter I will try something new.
I like to hit the refresh button whenever I can.