Margaret Halford – Third Wednesday in the Month Book Club


An interview by Judy Vizzari in July 2020. Margaret is the organiser of our The Third Wednesday in the Month Book Club.

Margaret ‘getting into the party spirit’ at her grand-daughter’s birthday celebration last year.

U3A members come to this organisation in many ways. A chance meeting at Wattle Glen railway station five years ago was Margaret Halford’s introduction to Nillumbik U3A. Whilst waiting for the Melbourne train, she struck up a conversation with a commuter (“as you do“) and they discovered that they had a common interest – bush walking. The woman (Judy Redfern) told Margaret about Nillumbik U3A’s Walking Group and invited her to join.

Margaret is still a member of that Bush Walking Group, as is Judy, and she has also participated in several other classes as well as having become a group facilitator.

So what’s Margaret’s background?

Margaret, like many other members of our U3A, started life far from Australian shores. She was born in Birmingham in the Midlands of the United Kingdom and completed her schooling and university studies there. She says that she had a congenital heart condition that caused her to be “over protected” during her youth – so much so that her concerned family did not allow her participation in sport or ballet and prevented her (out of fear for her well-being) from having the necessary surgery to correct the condition.

In her 21st year, when contemplating marriage and motherhood, Margaret decided to “take her life in her own hands” and chose to have a major operation. Thankfully it was successful but by then, she says, it was too late for her to study ballet, something she would have loved to have done. She has, however, led an active life.

Margaret studied Science at tertiary level and obtained a Bachelor of Science and a PhD in Chemistry, at Birmingham University in England. Upon graduating, she and her husband Maurice, who was also a scientist, travelled to the United States where he had accepted a job with the US government in their Space Program. Margaret then commenced research work at Harvard Medical School but, she says, she “didn’t like research work that much, I found it very impersonal“.

An Australian home

She and her husband came to Australia in 1970 following a chance meeting with contemporaries from the UK who had lived and worked in Sydney and “raved” about Australia. Margaret and Maurice were in their late twenties at that time and had been considering their work and travel options. Based on their friends’ enthusiasm, they decided to give ‘down-under’ a try. They first lived in South Yarra, Greensborough and Eltham. In the early 1980s, they moved to Kangaroo Ground where they still live on a one-acre property in our lush green hills, on land which was formerly owned by Alan Marshall. Her two sons have since moved on, one to become a research scientist and the other a tennis coach.

A new career

When they settled in Australia Margaret, by now the mother of two young sons, decided on a career change which, she says, she “could do part-time”. She undertook further studies at Latrobe University although, she laughs, “the last thing I ever wanted to do in my life was to teach“, but she did qualify as a Secondary Science Teacher. Her first posting was to Lalor Tech where she discovered that she loved both the students and the work. Later she went on to teach in a variety of public and private schools including Preshil Alternative School, Ruyton Girls School, and Tintern Grammar (where she was Head of Science for 15 years). Later, at La Trobe University, she taught 3rd year Bachelor Degree Agricultural Science students and Masters Degree students in Oenology with former Nillumbik U3A President, Karen Coulston! Margaret says that she amused her students greatly as, while her knowledge of wine chemistry was detailed, she didn’t actually drink wine. She enjoyed working with Karen, who is an expert in viticulture wine making.

[Editor: per Wikipedia, oenology is the science and study of wine and winemaking.]

The inclination to travel

As so often seems to happen those who set down roots in an adopted country, Margaret and Maurice also enjoy travel. Theirs is the will to discover new places. Together they have travelled extensively during the last 50 years and visited the Canada, France, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, UK, USA and several other European countries, as well exploring many parts of Australia. Margaret’s husband is an artist and his interest was fuelled by their travels in Europe with a group of like-minded artistic friends.

Their current travel plans have for them, as well as for so many others, been curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Margaret’s choice of studies at Nillumbik U3A has been broad

As well as being a long-term member of the Walking Group, Margaret has, for some time, built on her O-level French studies by attending Lucille Sadler’s class. She says that she enjoys learning conversational French as it is most useful when travelling but, with her analytical mind, she also enjoys French grammar!

Margaret has attended Guy Palmer’s Art History course, his Physics course, Jane Davies’ History courses and Robert Scopes Sceptics group. She is also a regular member of the Thursday Tennis sessions at Wattle Glen.

When she first came to Australia, Margaret says that she “wanted to learn about this country through its literature“. When she joined U3A, her interest in reading led her to join the Last Wednesday Book Club which met once monthly in Eltham Library. Three years ago she was offered the role of facilitator of the Last Wednesday Book Club by retiring group leader Leon Hall. She willingly accepted that role as, she says, she enjoys facilitating. The group of ten are issued each month with a different book supplied by Eltham Library, then on the last Wednesday of each month, they meet to discuss them. Have they been deterred by the pandemic? No (isolation is a great time to catch up on reading) and Margaret says that the group have maintained contact via email. She relishes lively discussion and enjoys the differing viewpoints of the group members.

Margaret is just one of our illustrious group of 75 tutors who contribute so much to our diversity and skill base.