Pam Caven

I have loved the experience of being part of U3APP, of being intellectually stimulated and physically stretched by very proficient and expert tutors. I have been impressed by the ongoing welcoming and inclusive atmosphere, the friendliness of fellow participants and the breadth of offerings. Indeed, I feel as though I have found my tribe.

How long have you been involved with U3APP?

I have been a member of U3A Port Phillip for 6 years. When I retired from full time work, I was very keen to throw myself into some activity, to give structure to my life. A neighbour mentioned U3A and how much she was enjoying studying Italian and the discussions in her book group.

I enrolled, paid my $40.00 and new worlds opened for me. In my first year I was a member of the Film Group, I learnt about The French in North America, I delved into what Shakespeare can tell us about the Human Condition and I studied Italian. And I discovered my tribe. I had not joined U3A to find new friends, but inevitably I did find many people with similar interests and passions and made some enduring friendships.

Since then, I have been Deputy President of the Committee of Management (CoM), Events Manager (while on the CoM), and the coordinator of the Saturday Seminars. I worked as a member of the Covid Working Group with Diane Boyle and Jim Pribble throughout the Covid lock down periods. Additionally, during that period, the Working Group oversaw the production of The story of U3A Port Phillip and its people 2003 to 2021. I have just relinquished the role of seminar coordinator after a period of four years and more than forty seminars.

What did you like about your seminar coordinator role?

I liked the role because it required me to bring all my skills and interests into play. I liked the fact that I had a chance to meet and speak to a wide range of people who agreed to speak, many of whom had national and international profiles, some have since made appearances on national and state TV programs. I liked the idea that Zoom made it possible to have people speak who were not able to attend the Mary Kehoe Centre. I liked the fact that the speakers saw U3APP as a worthy group to speak to and I also liked that many U3APP members who had not participated in the seminar series could now attend without leaving their home. What I particularly liked was the willingness of other U3APP volunteers to contribute to the success of the seminars, the IT Team, Margaret Byron with the design of the flyers, David Robinson with the Newsletter to name a few. In the vast majority of cases the facilitator was also a U3APP volunteer. We all learnt a lot about running, organising, and rehearsing the seminars.

What underpinned my thinking in planning the seminars was to achieve a variety of subjects and to maintain a level of topicality. This made me keep abreast of what would be of interest to U3APP members and what was occurring around us.

I also liked the idea of intellectual rigour in relation to the topics and the speakers. I designed a series of protocols for speakers which included not only being knowledgeable and qualified in their field but being recognised as such by way of publications or in academic terms peer review.

Saturday Seminars at U3APP, when did they commence?

The Saturday Seminars started in 2003, with the formation of U3APP. Heather Wheat, a founding member of U3APP whose role was critical to their development, decided that what was needed for the population of Port Phillip were seminars that would provide educational value and would thereby attract new members. The Saturday Seminars have been a continuous feature of U3APP since then. Pam inherited the Saturday Seminars from Mark Denniston. Mark was the last of a long line of people who had coordinated the seminar program.

Do you have a favourite presentation?

Pam hesitates, Jenny Hocking 10 October 2020 – The Palace Letters and the Dismissal of the Whitlam Government – Why are they important Today?

Jenny Hocking spoke from her home. There were 150 people online, although this is probably an underestimation, given that we know that often two or more people participate on the same connection.

Another special presentation was by Pat Dodson, Father of Reconciliation, who spoke to us from Broome, and of course I should not overlook Dr Andrew Prentice. He gave the first lecture in 2003, he then gave the 10-year celebration lecture and most recently the 20th anniversary of the founding of U3APP on November 18, 2023. (This was the final Saturday seminar organised by Pam).

So, do you think that Saturday Seminars should continue online?

Well, it will depend on what the next organiser would like to do. However, over time, I came to realise the advantages of continuing to run the seminars online. For instance, I was able to organise a presentation by Professor Richard Cullen, from the University of Hong Kong, also the actress Zoe Caldwell’s son who is a stage director speaking from New York, Frank Bongiorno, Professor of History at the ANU speaking from Canberra, Cameron Brown (son of U3APP member, Lois Best) speaking on the Metaverse from Seattle. The IT team could make all that happen, it was incredible. Certainly, on many occasions, the number of U3APP members who tuned in to the online webinars far exceeded the number of people able to fit into the Mary Kehoe Hall

How did you engage your contacts? How difficult was this, given that many would not be informed about U3A, let alone U3APP?

Yes, this is true I used to be constantly seeking possible speakers using, what I read, what I saw, what I heard, who I spoke to, all information into the mix. In other cases, I drew on personal contacts. Another source was to look at what other U3A’s were doing. A major connection I made was with the U3A Deepdene, which has a very solid programme. I became friends with their seminar coordinator, and it was through her that I obtained details of Bruce Wolpe, expert in American politics. U3APP members also gave me contacts, most recently James Walter, Lois Best, Heather Wheat, Mark Denniston and Bronwyn Bryant.

It was by getting to know people at U3APP that I was able to draw on those personal connections. Occasionally I used to ‘cold call’ potential speakers, but that is not easy, if they have no knowledge of the U3A portfolio.

It also helps however that I love history and politics, that I attend various seminars and speaking events and writers’ festivals and that I am a voracious reader,

Returning to everyday life, your family?

I grew up in Ascot Vale. I am the eldest of five children. I had a happy childhood; we were very close as a family and we still are.

My parents, my mother, was a very optimistic and relaxed type of person and had what now would be described as great emotional intelligence. My father always believed that education was totally significant, in terms of providing opportunities in life. Both had joined the workforce during the depression years.

My grandfather lived next door. He was very left wing in his views, also a bit anti Catholic and so he would provoke us, as children, although in a nice way. This contributed to an environment where my father and grandfather would converse openly about levels of social inequality. My family has always been interested in those issues and so from a young age I developed an interest in politics.

In what way did your education during your school years assist with your developing interests?

From an early age there was absolutely no doubt that I, as the eldest, would further my education. In fact, all five of us graduated with university degrees.

I went to a small Catholic School where I was fortunate to have an excellent history teacher. He encouraged me to study and to apply for History Honors at Melbourne University.

Reflecting on her time at Melbourne University, Pam recalls that it opened vistas for me. It was not only that some of the lecturers were fantastic, but the reading was so interesting.

Pam obtained an Honors Degree in History and subsequently a Diploma of Education under a Victorian Government Teaching Studentship, later on Pam completed a Masters of Education.

One of the conditions of Victorian Government Teaching Studentship was that you were bonded. On completion of your studies, you had to go to a school that the Education Department assigned to you.

So, my first teaching experience was at Mildura High School, teaching history. It was a bit of a culture shock for a girl that had grown up in the inner suburbs. I learnt the language of the ‘blockies’, the language of grape growers. There were unexpected delights, but (laughing) I see myself as being very urban, so I applied for and got a lecturing job at the Secondary Teachers College, which later merged into Melbourne University. I lectured in British history for three years.

How did your career progress from then?

While I was working at the Secondary Teachers College a friend went to work in London and suggested that I might like to work in Europe. My father thought this was a terrible idea as I had a good job, but I was 25 and decided to go to London. I have never regretted this.

Pam obtained a position at a Secondary Modern School, in Croydon. She taught British history, the Industrial Revolution and its impact on the workforce. During this time, Pam shared a house with 9 others. This was a bit crazy. We would sit on the stairs to watch television. I enjoyed the lively company, and I formed lifelong friendships with some of the occupants. One of them and his wife joined Rob and I in Florence and then in Norway earlier this year and we had zoom conversation with another last month.

I also did some waitressing in Scotland, I studied Italian in Perugia for 3 months which gave me an ongoing love of Italy.

Pam eventually decided to return to Australia via South America. She applied for and obtained a teaching position at Swinburne Technical College now known as Swinburne University Pam’s enthusiasm continued to facilitate her dedication to education. I loved working at Swinburne TAFE, the experience and knowledge that I gained of the TAFE sector while teaching at Swinburne gave me the basis for all of my future working roles.

While on maternity leave for the birth of James I was offered a curriculum writing role in the Victorian Education Department which led to promotion to the executive level as Senior Policy Analyst. From there I moved to the then recently formed Australian National Training Authority as a Project Director where I remained until the Authority was disbanded by the then Prime Minister John Howard. After a brief period working as a consultant for the Victorian Auditor General’s Office, I was offered a role as Director Policy and Stakeholder Engagement with TAFE Directors Australia where I remained for ten years and where I ended my paid working career. TAFE Directors Australia (TDA) is an association of all Directors of TAFE Institutes across Australia. My role included providing advice on matters of TAFE policy, representing the Association on peak educational groups, and organising the annual three-day national conference involving upwards of 100 keynote and session speakers. The conference was a major event involving senior politicians and industry and education spokespeople from Australia and overseas on topics that were of interest to TAFE directors as CEOs of major companies/organisations, intricately involved with the industries that they served with many thousands of employees and operations in Australia and overseas.

Along the way Pam was a voluntary member of a Regional ACFE Board, the Board of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, the Board of the Friends of the ABC, the Board of the Community Colleges Baccalaureate Association (America) and President of the Melbourne High School Council (our son James was an MHS student). Pam was only the second woman in the 100-year history of the school to hold this role.

Your other Interests?

History, Books, Films and Travel -probably in that order –

History has been my passion since I was at school. A teacher Vin D’Çruz – instilled in me a lifetime love of the subject. He convinced me that I should do History honours not just a normal history degree and for someone who had no family members with a university background I didn’t really understand what he meant but when I got to University I made sure that I enrolled in History honours. The fact that I only turned sixteen in my year 12 added to my youthful enthusiasm. I have never lost my passion for history – I taught history, co-authored a history text, read history books, watched history programs and visited historical sites and I’ve undertaken a number of U3APP History courses.

It resonates with me about the transformative power of a committed and interested teacher.

What about books?

As I said earlier, I am a voracious reader, I read all the time. Fiction, non-fiction, contemporary works. My favourite authors change over time.

Once it was Patrick White, now I have just finished reading Wifedom by Anna Funder. On the weekend I get several newspapers, sometimes I only have time to skim through them. I like the feel of newspapers. I also subscribe to magazines such as Quarterly Essay, the Monthly, The New Yorker, as well as online articles each day from the Guardian and New York Times and Pearls and Irritations. Richard Cullen still sends me daily readings from Hong Kong, and friends and colleagues regularly send me articles or references to books.

Each year a highlight for me is early March when Rob and I go to the Adelaide Writers Festival- a week of sheer intellectual and social pleasure.

Over my time as a teacher, I was also Co-author of a Year 12 textbook – Australian History: The Occupation of a Continent and a Year 11 textbook – Work in Australian Society. At that time, this was a compulsory subject for all Victorian year 11 VCE students.

What was the focus of this subject?

Jean Blackburn was the educationalist who proposed that this be a compulsory subject for Year 11 students. It used work as a prism to look at society. As in, what is the status of various jobs in society? Who gets paid for what kind of work? What is meant by the unemployment rate, and participation rate? How do women fare in the workplace? What does it mean for migrants who come to Australia? What does work mean for people with disabilities, but also at what kind of rules and regulations govern this work.

This compulsory subject was introduced during a period of Labor government. Our book was distributed by MacMillan Publishers and 30,000 copies were sold.

Returning to your interest in Film?

I have loved films forever. When I was teaching at Mildura High School, I gave a talk on The Servant (1963) with Dirk Bogarde. I joined the film group at the Lyceum Club where I am a member. I like the discussion and often give film reviews, just trying to get to the essence of a particular film.

I also love the U3APP Film group with David Robinson. You watch films you would not necessarily have seen or chosen to see. David chooses an enormous range of films and leads robust discussions.

Rob and I see at least one film a week in a cinema or via streaming.

And travel?

Like many U3APP members I have travelled extensively since my first overseas trip to Malaysia, Thailand, and Cambodia at the end of university. What a feast of sites, smells, cultural experiences! I love cities and urban areas with a cultural or historical aspect. I have been to South American jungles, African game parks, American deserts, Norwegian snow country and the Australian outback but my milieu is cities with their architecture and culture.

In 2023 I was in Florence for my sister’s birthday following a trip down the river from Amsterdam to Budapest. Next year Rob and I are going to Crete (for a friend’s birthday), Malta and Sicily. My history interest is winning out.

Your reasons for retiring from your role as U3APP Seminar Coordinator?

Well. I have met some fantastic people; it has been a joy and I have learnt a lot. But there is no doubt that it is time consuming. so, it just seems that it is time for someone else to pick up the baton. I have of course offered to assist with the transition.

I hope the seminars will continue to reflect the aspirations of the founding members.

Plans for the future?

I want to do more of what I enjoy. I want to have more history related learning experiences. I want to attend film festivals, improve my bridge playing, perhaps attend more activities (travel, art, history at the Lyceum Club), spend time with long term friends from university, undertake more U3APP courses and become more involved in some political causes close to my heart.

Pam believes that at U3APP education must be at the heart of things, inclusive of social interaction and social activities which are also invaluable.

Based on an interview by Felicity May of Pam Caven.

How to Enrol

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