How did you find U3A?
I came across U3A when I went looking for a local ukulele group to join after a small group of friends I began learning the Ukulele with disbanded. I put out an enquiry to U3A and the leader of ‘Beaut Ukes’, Minuk Richards, responded and encouraged me to join.
It was a lovely welcoming, friendly group that was well organised with room for a bit of friendly banter between songs. At the time I joined we were in one of our lockdowns and the group was meeting via Zoom. This was challenging, as with Zoom only one person can be heard at a time, so people would volunteer to play a verse and chorus, with everyone else playing along ‘on mute’, so essentially playing a solo. This was quite intimidating being new to the group and self-taught! Most people were reticent to put up their hands, so after a couple of weeks I thought I’d give it a go and everyone was very kind and supportive. One benefit of Zoom was I could learn everyone’s names as they appeared below their videos.
When Covid restrictions lifted we were looking forward to meeting in person, but the council was using the Mary Kehoe Centre hall for immunisations, and we were scheduled to return to Zoom. As it is so much easier and fun playing in person I suggested we look at an alternate venue. My husband is the president of the local bowling club in Albert Park, and I knew it was trying to involve more community groups, so we arranged to use their clubhouse for free. I was the Covid marshal and the president checked that things ran smoothly. We used the clubrooms for subsequent venue conflicts and even had our Christmas concert/singalong there. We all brought a plate of nibbles and invited club members, family and friends to be our audience and to sing along to Christmas songs with us. A few uninitiated bowling club members rolled their eyes about the ‘noise’ we were making but we didn’t care.
Around this time Bunnings requested a choir to sing at their Christmas festival and contacted the community choir, With One Voice St Kilda, that I am a member of. With One Voice choirs are all about bringing people together from different walks of life to reduce isolation in the community and to share the joy and promote the benefits of singing together. I asked Bunnings if they would be interested in a ukulele group too. Some of Beaut Ukes players were keen, while others were a bit nervous. It is one thing to practice and play together but appearing in public is very different. U3A have performed at the Seniors Festival concert in the past but these were cancelled due to Covid in the last few years. In the end eight of us were brave enough to go off to Bunning’s wearing our red and green Christmas colours and played in a cabana in the outdoor furniture area. We brought our families, friends, neighbours, and grandchildren along who became our audience. It was a hoot and we were told we would be welcomed back any time!
There are now three Ukulele Groups at U3A Port Phillip – “Beginners”, “Fun Ukes” and “Beaut Ukes” for the more adventurous and accomplished musicians. So now Minuk runs three sessions back-to-back all in one day. She is an ex-teacher and her skill and enthusiasm for sharing her knowledge really shows. I have joined both the more relaxed Fun Ukes, with easier chords and chord changes so I can focus on learning new stumming patterns and techniques and just have fun; and Beaut Ukes for the challenge of new chords and trickier songs – and bang, you’re playing really fast! Both classes run for an hour and a half. It’s great for your brain with lots to coordinate – chord changes, strumming patterns, singing lyrics and holding a melody. There is a lot going on when you are playing a ukulele.
Minuk was sick last week and asked me to run the Fun Ukes class, which was challenging since I am such a new player. She makes it look much easier than it is, keeping everyone together in time and in tune. It was a team effort managing without her and we were very happy when she was back the next week. It gave us a new appreciation of how talented she is in pulling everyone together. I hadn’t chatted with many of them before, as we’d arrive, we’d play and then leave and with Covid there wasn’t much time for socialising. But going around the group I found we had a wealth of skills and experience: past lawyers, accountants, teachers, plumbers, administrators, scientists, engineers, and many more professions. It was amazing to hear of everyone’s backgrounds and realise the diversity in the room.
So, what is your background?
I started my professional life as an industrial chemist conducting research for six years. I then moved into technical sales, followed by product management, and finally strategy, marketing and development. I worked for ICI Australia for ten years and then we moved overseas. In America I joined ExxonMobil Chemicals for several years (ExxonMobil is the parent company of Esso Australia, a big multinational oil and gas company). When we moved to Perth I joined an engineering company, WorleyParsons, which is a true Australian multinational. It grew amazingly during my ten years with them from around 8,000 to 40,000 employees globally by the time I left. In Perth I was responsible for their Marketing and Communications for Australia, Asia Pacific and the Middle East. When we moved back to Houston they created a US Marketing role for me that grew to a regional Americas role including US, Canada and Latin America regions. Finally my husband retired and we returned to Melbourne after 15 years absence and I took on the global marketing director role for WorleyParsons with a team of 40 people reporting to me from around the world. My team would help prepare proposals for big capital investment projects, support investor relations, develop sales brochures, manage social media and the website, coordinate customer events and conferences. My team was also responsible for databases to track new opportunities and we rolled out a global customer relationship management database which was a massive task. It is funny where your life takes you, from bench chemist to global marketing director with no marketing qualifications to now here I am in U3A Port Phillip.
Did you have withdrawals when you retired?
Not at all! I’ve never looked back. There is so much to do. I had a bucket list of things I wanted to do when I retired and so dived right in. I joined a community choir, got back into watercolour painting and discovered new things like textile art. I have made an art quilt with a friend embroidered, appliqued and hand quilted. I discovered patchwork is a bit too rigid for me and required discipline and straight lines. I have dabbled with needle felting where you felt wool by stabbing raw wool with a barbed needle. I have painted a community mural in Dundas Lane and painted little people in amongst an ivy in Gatehouse Lane for people to discover on their many walks during Covid restrictions. It is wonderful just to do what you want, when you want to. I am on the board of Duldig Studio, a not-for-profit house museum in East Malvern and involved with their events, fundraising, website development, and social media. I volunteer with Australian Migrant Employment Services, helping new Australians get their first job in Australia. What else do I do? Oh, I play lawn bowls and I walk two sausage dogs twice a day. I like going to the theatre and museums and I host a weekly good-movie club with a bunch of friends. I also love gardening, listening to music and reading.
Do you ever have a day where you don’t do anything?
Those are the days I reluctantly do housework and sneak some time in my hammock listening to music. And I would like to join a book club …