U3A Box Hill's 20th Anniversary Celebrations

Twenty Years of Learning and Laughing at Strabane
~ a history of the first twenty years of Box Hill U3A.
by Valerie Bourke

From Toulouse France to Box Hill the U3A has come a long way.

Acquiring the Strabane Hall, and the selfless work of volunteers are the two major strands of the Box Hill U3A story.

The early pioneers, lead by Rev. Tom Timpson, Gwendda Mckay and Elsie Smelt, were of course all volunteers. In 1991 they managed to convince the then Box Hill Council, to support them to form a Box Hill branch of the University of the Third Age. Over 100 seniors attended the meeting set up to gauge interest in the formation of a local branch of this worldwide movement. From this meeting sixteen people volunteered to be involved in a steering committee. (The present committee would be happy with such interest!).

Armed with a grant of $500 and money from their own pockets, this group created the Box Hill U3a. Using one of their homes as an office and a variety of surrounding venues for classes, the Box Hill U3A was born. The most pressing task was to find a site for the campus. Initially St Theodore's Anglican Hall in Broughton Rd Surrey Hills was used. But this venue provided only a temporary home and the search for a more suitable venue started. A number of sites were investigated but all these venues proved unsuitable with insufficient parking, restricted hours of access, or the lack of an office area cited as drawbacks.

Then fortune smiled on the pioneers. In May of 1992 the newly formed Committee of Management was advised that the Council was looking for groups interested in using the Strabane Chapel, the old St Joseph's, a stylish Art deco former Catholic Church. The committee hurriedly wrote a submission. This site provided parking and had space for an office and two classrooms. Council, keen to encourage groups that supported its senior citizens, let them and a couple of other organisations, have it rent-free. Notwithstanding the fact that the office area had reputedly, in St Joseph's times, been the confessional space, this has proven to be a suitable home!

Bruce Wadeson was the first in a long line of hard working and visionary presidents that has continued through to 2012. Committees of tireless workers have supported all these presidents. It is these volunteers, who from its inception, have enabled the U3A to operate.

The story of the first decade is one of establishing a home campus and gathering basic teaching equipment to support the volunteer tutors.

During the second decade the committee, among other matters, was involved with finding a suitable home for the computer classes that have now finally been accommodated in the Town Hall Hub. Strabane Hall was renovated so that it would better suit the member's needs. In particular the search for a kitchen and attempts to soundproof the front room doors and thus enable less main-hall-class interruptions.

Recently a group of volunteers has worked hard to restore the drought-ravaged grounds back to a more verdant bird-friendly state. In 2010 we returned to using one of the venues in which the inaugural classes had run, then the Box Hill Community Arts Centre, now the YorallaSteppinOut centre.

The lists of classes available tell the story of the vibrant learning environment that has been created here. The dedication of hundreds of volunteers down through the years has enabled and sustained this mileau.

The title of this brief history says it all, Learning and Laughing at Strabane. May we continue for the next twenty years to enjoy ourselves as part of this exciting learning community.

Thankyou to all who give and all who have given their time, who created and sustain this learning community, and ensure that this campus operates successfully.

They have been, are, and will continue to be, the lifeblood of this organisation.

On Friday 30 March, 2012, festivities started at 12:30 p.m.
  • Pre-lunch music by local musicians
  • BH U3A Choral Group leads singing between mains and dessert
  • Observance - dignitaries speak (briefly)
  • Opening of Strabane Hall new landscaping
  • Launch of the Writing Group's latest anthology
  • Many of our early and original members attended
Many, many comments confirmed that this event was a great success - the special atmosphere was added to by the wonderful U3A Nunawading Swing Band who played outside while guests arrived, the tasty buffet meals provided by a rather understated bikie gang, presentations, thank-yous, and unveilings. The surprises of the Distinguished Service Awards presented to Colin Mayfield and Helen Elliott were enjoyed by all at the lunch. Special gloss was added by Federal representative Anna Burke who opened proceedings, Network President Elsie Mutton, and our two Ward Councillors Helen Harris and Robert Chong, who congratulated us on our 20 years of service.

Other highlights - the fantastic quilt prepared by our craft tutors and crafters Judith Horman, Merrilyn Brann, and Judith Steinicke, the 20-year history prepared by Valerie Bourke and given to all attendees, and the moving photo file prepared by Clare Hopkins.

Our retiring 2011 president Alister MacLeod very ably acted as master of ceremonies for the day.

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