The early years of Nillumbik U3A


As written by Sabi Buehler.

It all started in Hurstbridge. I was on the management committee of the Community Centre there and we were floating ideas on how to boost our user base at the Centre. My suggestion to establish a U3A was met with approval and, although I had hoped somebody else would take this on, I ended up calling a public meeting in June 2008 to explore the idea further. About 45 people attended which suggested an interest in a local U3A, and a small group of volunteers got together to form a steering committee.

In Term 4 of that year, under the auspices of Whittlesea U3A, we ran four courses at the Hurstbridge Community Centre — Understanding Economics, Play Reading, Current Affairs Discussion and a Writers group.

Urged on by the U3A Network to become an independent organisation, and with valuable support and advice from Whittlesea U3A, the committee put in an enormous amount of work — writing a constitution, becoming incorporated, liaising with other U3As, applying for grants, organising a bank account and PO box, planning courses, equipping an office, recruiting members and publicising our venture.

Nillumbik U3A was officially launched in November 2008. I became member No.1 and its inaugural president ably supported by a committee of six other members — Laraine Hussey (Secretary), Suzanne Hay (Treasurer), Colleen Gardner (Catering), Jill Holmes (Film Society), Donna Kilgour (Public officer and Grants) and John O’Connor (Cosmology Tutor). Brian Mclean and Doug Rutherford also came on board soon after our inauguration.

Right from the beginning our vision was for a U3A which included the entire Shire, so we decided on the name — Nillumbik U3A. Our plan was also to liaise with as many community groups and organ-isations, including the Local Council, as possible.

I was on a mission! None of my friends, acquaintances or even total strangers was exempt from my determined arm-twisting as I encouraged them to become a tutor or speaker and join as a member.

By the beginning of Term 1, 2009, under our own banner, we were ready to roll with 16 courses and activities in place. These included Astronomy Cosmology (John O’Connor), Understanding Economics (John Besley), Art History (Frank Hekes), Share a Short Story (Barbara Canterford), Spanish (Vincent Schultz), French (Bill Naim). Jenneke Bateman ran a writing Group and Frances Meikeljohn had us tootling away on recorders. I set up Mind Games and Brain Gym, Discovering the District, Be a Tourist in our Town, and, in conjunction with Jill Holmes, started Soapbox — Issues and Current Affairs. Some of these courses are still running under the direction of new and enthusiastic tutors.

Then a devastating event occurred which truly tested the mettle of our newly formed U3A, making us one of a few, if not the only, U3A that began with a ‘trial by fire’. On Saturday, 7 February 2009, the Black Saturday bushfires ravaged areas of our community. Just about everyone was affected – directly or indirectly. One potential tutor lost his life and two others their homes, many members also lost property and friends and family.

Nevertheless, on Monday morning, February 9th, we ran our programme as planned. Where tutors were unable to run their classes during the first week or two, I and others initially ran them as best we could. Although the fires and their aftermath were never far from our minds, we offered the opportunity to focus on other matters for a while. This was a brief but necessary respite for many of our members.

Not only did the fires create the need for support and solace to our members but required extra meetings and communications with bushfire recovery organisations to pass on information. Some committee members and tutors helped with bushfire relief work. Some other U3As wanted to show their solidarity and support – Dandenong U3A knitted beanies and scarves for distribution to our members, U3A Online, based in Queensland, offered us four courses free to our members and Foster Toncurry U3A in NSW offered free accommodation to our members who might want to get away for a while. This all required a lot of extra time and work.

At a ceremony to acknowledge the efforts by various individuals and groups in providing bushfire relief and support, the State Member, Danielle Green, presented Nillumbik U3A a framed Certificate of Appreciation.

Nillumbik U3A, in its first year, managed to offer 25 courses and activities – some were one-offs, others continuing. We held monthly film nights and an Open House at the end of each term and invited non-members to attend – partly to spread the word about U3A but also to recruit new members.

Thanks to the support of the Hurstbridge Community Centre management committee, who offered us very reasonable rental fee and office space, we ran the majority of our activities at the Hurstbridge Community Centre (now called The Hub). However we also ran as many courses as possible in other locations throughout the Shire including Eltham (French), Kangaroo Ground and Diamond Creek although usually the rent was considerably higher.

Despite, or maybe because of, our traumatic beginnings, by the end of the year our membership had reached 132. The majority of our membership came mainly from within the Shire of Nillumbik but, to access our courses, a few came from as far afield as Healesville, Kinglake, Mill Park, Greensborough and Watsonia.

Due to illness and burnout I stepped down from the presidency at the AGM in April 2011 and Doug Rutherford, our vice–president, took over. By that time we had a vibrant, active U3A which, to my mind, has provided a very solid basis for the continuing growth and development of Nillumbik U3A.