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What The Hills?!

Transcript - What is University of the Third Age?

May 28, 2022

Kimberley: U3A, or the University of the Third Age, sounds like something mysterious when you first hear about it, but it's really not that mysterious at all. In fact, it's something that thousands of people do every week. It's fun and social and a great way to learn and share skills for anyone over 50. I caught up with Geoff Edwards to hear all about what U3A is doing right here in the Adelaide Hills.

Kimberley: On what the Hills today I'm talking to Geoff Edwards from the University of the Third Age. And if you've never heard about that before, we're going to learn all about it today. Hi, Geoff.

Geoff: Hello.

Kimberley: How are you doing?

Geoff: I'm going well, thank you. Thanks for letting us talk.

Kimberley: Great to have you here. We better find out about you first. So tell us a little bit about U3A.

Geoff: Okay. I'm a Pommie immigrant, came here in 70s. I'm 72 years old, and when I retired about probably six years ago, I thought I'd try the U3A. My wife had been before me and, yeah, I'm on the committee now and I run a couple of the courses, so that's basically my outline in this game.

Kimberley: Sounds like you're definitely qualified to tell us all about it. So I guess my first question should be, what is U3A?

Geoff: Well, the initial start  for the University of the Third Age, it was started in the 70s in France at Toulouse's University, and they had a system that was linked up very much to universities. So they use the universities to help teach people. So it's fairly academic and by about, I think it was ‘82. It got over to the UK, but they changed the way it was done and we tend to do it in a similar fashion. So theirs was more about people who have retired and that's from 50 onwards, and it's about people helping each other. So people might run a class on something they know about or are keen about, and that's really where it all happens. So it's all volunteers. The University of Third Age may put some people off because they think, oh, well, I got to learn things and pass the test. There's nothing like that. It's basically the University of the Third Age.

Kimberley: What is the third age? I have to butt in…

Geoff: So the third age - when you're born is the first age. You have your middle part of life where you're working and when you retire is your third age.

Kimberley: Okay.

Geoff: I don't know if that's scientifically correct, but it's the way it sounds.

Kimberley:  it does.

Geoff: So that's really what the University of Third Age is. And it's been going… there are quite a few people in Australia. I'm trying to think how many there are. So in Australia we're about 100,000 members.

Kimberley: That's a lot.

Geoff: Yeah. And so it began in Melbourne, actually, and in South Australia we have 20, I believe, separate University of the Third Age groups. And the Adelaide Hills started in 2000. So we've been going virtually 22 years and we have about 300 members.

Kimberley: Okay. So who are the members? And what sort of people are they?

Geoff: People from all walks of life. So there are professionals, trades people, housewives, professional women, all sorts of people, people who've done or had all experiences in life and it's their time now. They've decided that they can do things and that's why some of the courses are really quite invigorating and they're good exercise, keep people's minds active, body's active. So there's a huge range of people. When you meet some fascinating people, people have had amazing experiences in life.

Kimberley: Sounds like there should be a minimum age limit.

Geoff: It tends to be around 52 years of age. I don't know that we've ever really held anyone to a particular age, but you've got to be retired. So that's important.

Kimberley: Local Adelaide Hills group. When did that one get started?

Geoff: 2000.

Kimberley: How did it get started?

Geoff: I don't know, really. I guess it would have just been interested. People would have seen it develop. There is an SA U3A, which is basically a group of people that get together every so often have a meeting and they actually look after our insurance. So we have to have insurance for people who come to the U3A. So every time you go to a meeting or a lecture, you have to sign so that you are covered. But the central body does the insurance for all of the people in the UCA. So that's a really good point. And they do have meetings. I don't know much about them. I'm the delegate from the Adelaide Hills U3A and I haven't been to a meeting yet.

Kimberley: Okay. So something for you to learn sometime very soon.

Geoff: But how it started, I don't know who started it, to be honest. It was before my time and I would just suggest it's retired people that have heard about it and decided they'd have a go.

Kimberley: And still going strong 20 years later.

Geoff: It is. Yeah. We've actually started to computerise. Now it always used to be hard copy, filling in forms to join and all this. And it left a lot of work for people who were doing all that paperwork. So now we have a program and two people in our group put a lot of hours in, I mean, a huge amount of hours into this. And this year was the first time that we actually enrolled online. So you pay online, you do everything online. And it's a beautiful program because the presenters can actually put a message out to all the people who come to a class and inform them what they may be doing.

Kimberley: Okay. So don't forget to bring your gear.

Geoff: Or bring your guitar or whatever. And also the people who are going into it can say if they're going to go on holiday, they don't have to make individual phone calls and everything. They can just put on it “I’m going to be away.” So that's good, because people of our age group go away sometimes.

Kimberley: Of course you do. So you've got all these people who want to go to a class or an activity, do something new. And you said that they come from all walks of life, generally older retired people.

Geoff: Yes.

Kimberley: As a rule. Who presents the courses? Who is out there doing the teaching?

Geoff: Yeah, the members do it. We have a financial group that go every week. I think it's every week. And the fellow that runs that is a member of the U3A, but he was in finances a lot of his life in some fairly high positions. So he runs a course like that. We have a geologist who used to be our President, Mark. He gives a lot of talks. He's always been fascinated by so many things. And Mark’s are sort of like that. If he goes overseas the first place, he visits the Museum, look at the rocks and he comes back. Not just the rocks. Interesting.

Kimberley: Oh, good.

Geoff: And he runs some really interesting historical talks.

Kimberley: Okay.

Geoff: So you've got people like that. You have people that have traveled a lot in their life, maybe overseas. And they'll talk about different countries that they've been to. And also in Australia, a lot of people who have traveled around Australia will talk about paths. So we have gardening um groups and they will go to lectures, visit gardens. We have dancing groups. There's a circle dancing group.

Kimberley: I've seen that one.

Geoff: Have you seen it? You actually watched it, have you?

Kimberley: I have.

Geoff: Okay, good. Because we have that online. And that's something my wife was doing before I retired. And it's wonderful. It's really good to see. I don't do it. She doesn't want me to.

Kimberley: You can be a student and a teacher at U3A. Yeah.

Geoff: Well, I run three courses. They're hardly teaching. I do a Ukulele thing where there are about 16 of us who get together and we play and sing and I might have more knowledge than some of them, but maybe I just talk louder than some of the others.

Kimberley: So it might be just leading rather than teaching.

Geoff: That's right. And we have two lunch groups. I run one of those and we organized to go somewhere every fortnight for lunch. I run a games uh thing where we use property to play board games or anything that people fancy. So we've had lectures by different people that are not necessarily in the U3A. We may have medical people come in and talk about fitness, physiotherapy for fitness beekeeping. We had someone come in, my brother in law, actually. We gave a talk on beekeeping, which was fascinating. And lots of people are interested in it.

Kimberley: Yeah.

Geoff: I had a journalist come in one time to talk about his experience of working in Brussels and Scotland. Fantastic stories. So there's always something of interest. And today, I'm sorry, yesterday, a lot of us, about 20 of us went and played Croquet here in Mount Barker.

Kimberley: Oh, very nice. Before the rain.

Geoff: Before the rain. Lovely. Yeah. There's plenty of things. I uh actually joined the Murray Bridge one and went pistol shooting. There was just an aside.

Kimberley: That's a lot of fun.

Geoff: There's lots of people in the community that will offer things to us and talk to people in conversation with anyone. As you know, you can find people who are really interested and have a great story.

Kimberley: Yes, I know a few people like that.

Geoff: This is the story of the U3A. There are so many people in the U3A that have such an amazing background that. Well, they'll introduce you to things. Lartinga. We had a walk around Laratinga, but a guided walk. And I've been to Laratinga loads of times.

Kimberley: You think you know it.

Geoff: Yeah. And you don't. You find out things that are quite amazing.

Kimberley: Tell us a secret about Laratinga.

Geoff: Well, just forgotten. But the fact that there are different levels and they all fill levels of the three different base lakes, whatever you want to call them. And talking about the different birds that come there and the condition of the place, I found it quite fascinating.

Kimberley: Okay. I might have to go on one of those. It sounds like it gets quite social as well. If you're meeting new people all the time and seeing the same people for lunch and that sort of thing.

Geoff: Well, it is a very social thing. We play ukulele and after ukulele we'll go to a coffee shop in Crafers and we'll have a coffee and talk. We have lunches. We had a lunch at the beginning of the year at the Bridgewater Hotel the end of last year, organized a lunch. There are about 60 odd people there in Auchendarroch so it is a good social thing. People have made really good friendships and some people think when they retire they've got nothing to do? Well, most of, I think, are struggling to find time.

Kimberley: It's the old story, always struggling to find time to do all those things that you are going to do when you have time. Where do the ideas come from for courses or classes or groups and get together? Is it always that someone says, I've got a thing that I want to share with everybody, or can people make requests and say, hey, there may be a photographer who could teach us some things?

Geoff: Yes, it's both of those things. What happens is we may have a committee meeting and ideas will come around. And someone says, well, I know someone who's pretty good at that. I'll talk to them. But you do get people who will offer to do things. They're already doing something there. And I went to a thing where a woman was talking about Kinesiology 20 years ago, was teaching this. She's a member of U3A. She's been in it for over 20 years, I think. But she was a speech therapist and she has a lot of knowledge about people with learning difficulties and ways of helping them. So that was a fascinating thing. And she was doing two of those. So not all of these are continued through the year. There are one off talks. We have a travel thing where people will come and speak and the travel thing will be one of our lectures. But there might be five or six different stories in the travel thing, so they'll come on at different times of the year.

Kimberley: Okay.

Geoff: All of that sort of thing goes on.

Kimberley: Always something new going on with all these people attending things at different places at different times. And you mentioned there's insurance and probably other costs as well. What does it cost to be involved?

Geoff: What it costs the Adelaide Hills, U3A would charge $50 a year, and that entitles you to go to everything. And sometimes because there'll be a break, you might have coffee and biscuits, tea and all that sort of thing. It'll be a gold coin donation if there have to be if you have to have books for doing certain things. Like we had an Italian course that I was doing. You need some exercise books.

Kimberley: Music books for the Ukulele group.

Geoff: Yeah. Music books. Yes. You can certainly buy a lot, but there's so much online that you can download. Lots uh of music. So you've got to pay for your own things there. But really, all of these things are free. So $50 is all your insurance, all of the courses. There's nothing else.

Kimberley: Okay.

Geoff: So it's not much. I mean, it's not at all a cup of coffee a month, roughly. It's not much.

Kimberley: Everyone can afford a coffee a month. Yes. I've got to ask, how does that go if you're hiring a venue, how do you work out?

Geoff: Friendly once this is part of it. So we do have to hire something new, but we're really lucky, like Mount Barker Council. We use the town hall. We don't get charged for that. The CFS in Aldgate let us use their place. So some places we don't pay for, obviously some we have to. So it's a constant thing where the person that organizes the properties we use has to do a lot of horse trading sometimes.

Kimberley: Okay.

Geoff: We try and make it reciprocal. We're using a venue in Hahndorf where we're saying that some of the people who live there can come into our courses as well without necessarily being, they don't have to be members.

Kimberley: Members. Okay. Well, that's good to know. What range of courses or groups and things do you have?

Geoff: I do have a list.

Kimberley: Oh, show me your list.

Geoff: So there's the start of it there.

Kimberley: All right. Oh, my goodness. You've got pages and pages. Let's just pick out a few good things. So we've got mentally, physically and socially. That's obviously something that comes up.

Geoff: Yeah. That's basically what we're helping with the people of our age.

Kimberley: All good things. I think so to be supportive. So we've got book groups, languages, mahjong. And I assume there's going to be a lot of other similar activities to that.

Geoff: Yeah. Book groups. There are a couple more than two of those. Maze. There are two courses in different places.

Kimberley: Writing group, more card games, Ukulele, as you mentioned, literature. I take it that's a reading group rather than a writing group?

Geoff: Yes, there is a… Right. There are writing groups.

Kimberley: As I go through the list, there's more writing groups, family history, circle dance, chicken, wetland walking, music for sharing. What's that one about?

Geoff: Well, that's where people go around someone's house and they take albums.

Kimberley: Cassettes, CDs, music listening party.

Geoff: Just listening.

Kimberley: Yeah, I like it.

Geoff: I did go around there once and I found it quite disappointing because they said, Bring some music you like.

Kimberley: Yeah.

Geoff: And I took this jazz saxophones round and they don't like jazz. I was pretty disappointed.

Kimberley: Well, they wouldn't like me either, because I'd be singing and I'll be music listening for me. And with your fingers in your ears for the rest of them, you got to sing.

Geoff: You have to sing. If you got a voice, everyone's got a voice, you got to sing.

Kimberley: And then it gets onto artistic and creative things. So we've got painting, drawing, card making, mosaics, and then getting out in the world with lunch groups, field trips, events and get togethers tours of the art Gallery, a car rally, scavenger Hunt. I love those. That are a lot of fun.

Geoff: Yeah, we've done one of those. Two of the women organized that and it was great.

Kimberley: There are a lot of work to organize, uh but there's so much fun doing them. You've been on a visit to the Wingfield Recycling Centre.

Geoff: I didn't go with this. There used to be a client of mine, so I didn't want to go there.

Kimberley: Okay. You've had enough of that. And more visits to the Mount Barker men's shed, beekeeping, Kangaroo Island fossil beds, travel, living well with arthritis, and lots of health and safety courses as well, finishing off with maximizing independence. So there's certainly a lot for everybody to choose from, whether you want to get out and about, whether you want to do something creative or something a little more, I guess, educational to suit everybody's interests and needs.

Geoff: Yeah. I mean, the art group we spoke of is really lovely. There are quite a few people that go there now. The lady that runs it, Margaret, is really good. It's not so much teaching because people walk around and advise each other or ask for help, but it's very good. I go there. I mainly just talk, but I enjoy it. It's good fun. It's a very social thing.

Kimberley: Sounds very social.

Geoff: Being in the U3A is quite an eye open because you just get to know a lot of people and you sometimes see people, you'll go to a meeting and you'll see people that you haven't seen for maybe two or three years because you don't do the same courses. But that's a nice thing as well.

Kimberley: It's good you can catch up with them again. What are you enrolled in at the moment?

Geoff: Well, what am I enrolled in? Ukulele, lunch, mindfulness. What I tend to do and everyone does is enroll in far too much. And the great thing about having a computer system now is that you can see what's clashing so often when it was all done on paper.

Kimberley: You get all excited and you sign up for everything. You can't be at Aldgate, Murray Bridge at the same time.

Geoff: No, it's not good. So I'm doing painting and drawing. I'm doing ukulele and song. I was doing Italian, but I've stopped doing that because I'm really good at swearing Italian, but not much health.

Kimberley: Oh, my godmother was good at swearing in Italian and I didn't realize that was what she was saying.

Geoff: Yeah. My grandmother used to have good fun.

Kimberley: Mostly it was gosh, I'm so frustrated with you.

Geoff: So Laratinga Wetlands, too, which we spoke of mental fitness, which on your brain, creating calm in daily life.

Kimberley: Need some of that?

Geoff: Yeah. Games. Games. Games, which is what I run Croquet. I've had a go of that and that's about all I'll come. Lunch with me is another one I do.

Kimberley: And that's all you're doing? How many was that? Like half a dozen?

Geoff: I don't know. Probably, yes.

Kimberley: And are they weekly?

Geoff: No, some are one offs. A couple of them are one offs or two offs. The weekly one is ukulele. Art is fortnightly. Games is fortnightly. Lunch is fortnightly. But of course, lunch is one week lunch, one week games. So it's basically every week.

Kimberley: You're a busy, busy man.

Geoff: I am busy, yes. My wife keeps telling me that.

Kimberley: Hang on. Whose idea was it to be a U3A? Start with it's her fault, obviously.

Geoff: We both do different things, so it's good. It keeps you both active.

Kimberley: It sounds great. And what's your favorite thing you've ever done through U3A?

Geoff: Oh, probably ukulele. I used to play saxophone band in concert bands. I first tried ukulele probably about three years ago, and it was around someone's house. There are probably five or six people there, and I hadn't played one before. I was a failed guitar player. I lived through my kids playing guitar Fuqua Lailey. And I thought, wow, this is really quite good. And I like singing. I can't say that I can sing, but it's good fun.

Kimberley: It's like me. I love singing and everyone around me will tell you that I can't, but that's okay. I'm enthusiastic.

Geoff: Enthusiastic is important.

Kimberley: Yes.

Geoff: And eventually I've sort of taken over the uke group. It's great. We have 2 hours. We have a break in between, but we play for a couple of hours or sing our lungs out. I usually go home with our voice.

Kimberley: Love it.

Geoff: I can sing loud, and that's about my skill level. But we sing a lot of popular songs. We'll do the Kinks, the Beatles, a lot of traditional songs, fairly new songs if we can. So we're all learning to play different chords, and some people are learning teaching themselves fingers playing. But there are other ukulele groups around, so I go to another one occasionally, which is separate from U3A. And some of the other members do as well. So a lot of people are not just in U3A. There are so many things going on in the Adelaide Hills. We're so lucky because Mount Barker are very generous with the town hall. You got the community center, which U3A use quite a lot. There are plenty of things to do, and I must admit, ukulele is the good fun one. For me.

Kimberley: That's your best one.

Geoff: Well, fun. When you say it was a high school level.

Kimberley: That's okay. There's always room for improvement. Got any stories about things that have happened at or through in your time?

Geoff: Well, I guess there are always stories. Some of them you really couldn't repeat.

Kimberley: Give us a nice one, then.

Geoff: Mahjong. Some of the people actually play the game came along with us and showed us how to play the people of the club, and that was really good.

Kimberley: Challenges and achievements. Every organization has them. Would have been U3A’s challenges and achievements recently?

Geoff: Well, the challenges have always been with Covid. In recent times, it's been really difficult. Every place had to have the QR code up on the wall. So whenever we go and we've got to do the code signing, ridiculous, the whole thing. And that's been quite difficult because it's changing all the time. And of course, with 300 odd people, everyone has a different viewpoint whether you should or shouldn't wear masks. Some people don't have vaccinations. So that's always a bit of a challenge for people. But then the next thing we had was really our computer system. We got a program. We looked at a couple of programs. One was a national program that was very expensive, but we found one that was the U3A, and it's designed very much for U3A.

Kimberley: So that manages your enrollments and classes and things?

Geoff: Yeah. So everything is put on there. And it's made it so much easier for those people, as I may have mentioned before, because before that we were getting lots of bits of paper. People fill forms out. They don't necessarily fill them out properly.

Kimberley: They never, ever fill them out properly.

Geoff: And lots of phone calls for those people that were doing uh enrollments, making lots and lots of phone calls back to people, people get angry because they thought they'd done everything properly, all that. But even with this system, some people um we had uh a couple of days at least where some of us help people. So we did one in the community center here, and we did one at the Hearts in Ballgame where we made ourselves available. We took a laptop, and people who couldn't or wouldn't use a computer came in and we did it for them.

Kimberley: Sometimes show them so they could possibly see how it's done and be brave next time.

Geoff: That's right.

Kimberley: But still be supported.

Geoff: Yeah, they were supported here. So we probably signed in maybe 20 people from three.

Kimberley: That's not huge, but it's important to them.

Geoff: Those 20 when you consider the age range up to 94 years of age, some of those people are never going to get really savvy with a computer.

Kimberley: By the time they've learned how to use one, there's a whole new thing out.

Geoff: That's right. It's very much like that. So we expect that. But it does really take a lot of pressure off because let's face it, it's a voluntary thing. People don't really want to go back to their old life of sitting in an office punching a computer.

Kimberley: No, thank you. Not at all.

Geoff: So, yeah, that's been one of uh the challenges. We kitted ourselves out with lots of hand cleaner and cleaning apparatus. I mean, we were washing down chairs, disinfectant all the time, tables and chairs, and you come out with your hands smelling like uh bleach.

Kimberley: This is far too much.

Geoff: And also we had restrictions where we'd always had tea and biscuits that stopped.

Kimberley: You had to stop the tea and biscuits when it's a social thing that's so important.

Geoff: It's really important that you stop. You have a chat. That's very good. So people were encouraged to take water. And now we've come to a stage where one person has to make the tea and coffee and hand biscuits out.

Kimberley: So back to tea and coffee, but no open board where people can help themselves.

Geoff: That's right. Yeah.

Kimberley: We're getting there.

Geoff: We're getting there. It will happen. And things might change very soon. Who knows?

Kimberley: We'll see how it goes. We've talked about U3A, how it got started, what's happening in it now, and it all sounds fantastic, but what does the future hold for it?

Geoff: I think the future will uh actually expand. I think that it's just the sort of thing that everyone is going to want to have a go at. We have issues, I think, with people not hearing about us, but that's fairly common. You'll speak to people and they'll say, what does that mean? What is that? Never heard of it. So getting it out there is hard, but it's word of mouth. And I do think that everybody, at least everybody I know is very keen. Once they're in the U3A, they're very keen. So they tell other people. And I do think we've kept our figures through covert at a pretty similar level. We haven't lost enrollments.

Kimberley: That's amazing.

Geoff: So I consider it to be going on really well.

Kimberley: Yeah. Congratulations on that. Well done. We'd better make sure that everybody has contact details, because I reckon anybody who is listening is going to be very interested in what you are doing. So how can people get in touch?

Geoff: Okay, there are a couple of ways. We use the Hut in Aldgate as our contact points, and you can phone them there on uh can email U3A, and that is And you can go to the website, which is, but we also have a Facebook site where you can view things we've done and lots of photographs.  

Kimberley: I'll put all of the contact details up with the episode notes, so anybody who didn't have their pen out and was listening will be able to still get in touch. But it's not just Adelaide Hills. How many around South Australia?

Geoff: 20.

Kimberley: So wherever you are in South Australia, or indeed the whole world, you'll probably find U3A somewhere very nearby and some amazing and fun things to do.

Geoff: You certainly will.

Kimberley: Thanks, Geoff, for coming in and having you talk to us. It's been really good to hear about U3A, and I might have to have a chat with you off air about what I could do at U3A.

Geoff: Okay. Thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Kimberley: That's all for what the Hills this week. Tune in next week for more local stories from the Adelaide Hills on Lofty 88.9 and au at midday on Monday and in your podcast app anytime. What the Hills is produced on Peramangk land in the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. Music is written and produced by Daniel Biggs. Voiceovers by Andrew Challen. What the Hills is produced and Edited By Studio 4. If you have a local story to share, get in touch with us on social media.