Jenny Hunter

Interview April 2022

Jenny Hunter, how did you get involved with U3A?

Betty Knight introduced me to U3APP. I went down and found out about the classes and joined. I wanted to learn French. It might have been 2005 because I was still working then.

I volunteered for office work when it was still simple – work that I could manage. When Jose took over as president, and I was sort of organising the office girls, she decided I was going to be ‘office manager’. I had done that sort of thing for years at work, but it was a bit of a shock when she suddenly presented me with this manifesto of three pages of the rights and responsibilities of the (U3APP) office manager – a job description. When it all started to get a bit technical it was decided that I would become property manager.

John Wroe and I established a partnership because he understood mechanical things and we organised tables and chairs and equipment. Jacek (Przybylski) and I have a very close relationship. I could ring him up at any time and run things past him. He soon knew that I knew what I was talking about. I didn’t bother him for silly things. I understood that I couldn’t just call a plumber in for one little thing. It had to be worth his while.

I suppose because I was property manager, and I had designed some forms, I got involved with Brett Hedger who works in the sustainability department at the council. He believes in ‘no waste and a green planet’ and I still ring him up occasionally to ask about things. We started looking at how we could reduce some costs of running Mary Kehoe Centre (MKC) and other properties as well. We went everywhere, taking notes and talking to people, getting information and statistics. We’d get rid of things in council buildings that used an enormous amount of electricity. We worked out what we could do better with newer light globes, and draught reduction. We started out looking at our own homes and then translating that knowledge to MKC. We were the ‘Carbon Cops’.

Not many people knew about us. I don’t know how we did it, but our little group proved to the council that if we could get solar panels on the roof of MKC and it pay for its own electricity, which it still does, the excess would go into the council funds. We also recommended the changing over of the air conditioning heating unit, which is old and expensive to run – it would be a big job to pull it out and start again. We got rid of hot water services and old refrigerators and put in modern ones. This wasn’t just for MKC. We went everywhere. We poked into all sorts of places. That’s why I know so much about all these council properties. Brett was great; he just guided us to do the research and calculations. We organised better windows in the MKC toilets; we looked at paper towels versus hot air. Our plan was to make these places mostly self-sufficient, with heating, cooling and lighting and food facilities without too much expense. We have a very good council that cares for its elderly people and their needs. We met once a week for quite a while I think, in Room 1. And anything we could do to help and we thought was the right way to go. People got to know us as the Carbon Cops.

What was your job before all this?

At this stage I think I was working for a nursing agency. I was an operating theatre nurse. Age and experience. Some places asked for me because I knew what I was doing. Once when I went to Sandringham and was introduced to a surgeon, he said, “Oh good, an old nurse. She’ll know what to do.” He was in fact a guy I had helped train as a registrar many years before. I trained at Footscray and then I did midwifery and then I went overseas to live and work in London.

I got a wonderful job where they liked Australian nurses because we knew what we were doing. And we were willing. I worked with a surgeon whom I later discovered was the son of Lionel Logue, the king’s speech therapist. Valentine was the neurosurgeon and he was ‘god’ in this hilarious operating theatre in Maida Vale. I could live in, and there with three other Australian nurses and we got a wonderful neurosurgical nursing training. When I came home I got a job on the basis of that training at Prince Henry’s Hospital.

Then I went to the College of Nursing and got a theatre qualification, which taught you how to run theatres. I applied for a job at Royal Melbourne and was second in charge of their operating theatres. I went on to Footscray as supervisor and then I went to the Queen Vic.

Then I got married. And divorced. By then I was about 42 and was offered a good job in the Cabrini Theatre.

The Cabrini nuns are involved with refugees; you never had to advertise any jobs at Cabrini because everyone working there had a cousin just off the boat. We went through all the immigration phases – Middle East, Greeks, Vietnamese, Timorese, Africans. They are often studying university courses while they are getting a very good training and their standards are very high.

I worked there on and off for years and years. I worked at Masada for a while too. I also had a couple of jobs as secretary to surgeons. The first one I was also his theatre nurse. We used to go off to the country once a month, and also work in East Melbourne at the old St Andrews and Epworth. That was great.

Also I worked for Spotless Laundry looking after surgical linen for three years. But I was in Brunswick and because I had always worked in filtered air, I got terrible asthma. When the factory moved from Brunswick to Richmond I saw what industry could do to people. I think it was a dead heat between me deciding to retire and them telling me I wasn’t needed anymore. Because I had set up all these systems and it was absolutely foolproof, I was earning more there than I got in theatre. This was in the eighties around the time of the nurses’ strike. I felt terrible working and getting money while all my nursing friends were on strike. But we got things set up for nurses like a proper line of command, an ability to move up through the levels with a proper system of pay.

At this time I also got a place as a mature aged student at Chisholm Institute to do an Arts degree. That was also when I started traveling overseas and that was when I was diagnosed with a lymphoma attributed to Agent Orange. In 1967 I had spent nine months in Vietnam in Long Xuyen. And 18 months later (1969-70) I went back for six months to Bien Hoa. We were working in civilian hospitals. All the local doctors had been conscripted into the army so there were teams from all over the world running the provincial hospitals. They used to defoliate along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, in the mountains, and it drained down into the delta, and as we lived on a branch of Mekong that was where our water came from. Even though it was purified, obviously not enough. I still don’t like iced water or ice blocks. I used to clean my teeth from the tap and drink the water.

I travelled to China in the early eighties too, when it was opening up to tourists.

Bored again, I went off and did post graduate studies in Library and Information Studies at Melbourne University. I wanted a job as a medical librarian because that is what I knew. But I couldn’t get a job anywhere. They were always filled by friends and relatives.

What do you do with U3A now?

Mondays, I do Shakespeare with Helen Vorrath because I think it is good for me. (I did French for about 15 years or so but Claude moved to Castlemaine. I am not going to France anymore. I’m probably too old to do all that travel now. I used to set out and wander Paris everyday.) Thursdays I play petanque. There are two pistes over in Port Melbourne but they desperately need work. That is something I must get onto the council about. And I do the Friday film with David. I watch movies to be entertained, interested, informed. I like history, biographies, and archaeology. At one stage, I went off for a while and did painting, when I got bored.

I garden a lot, as I find it relaxing.

I think this U3A has been a tremendous service for the Port Phillip residents, and the area as a whole.

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