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