BRIGHT SPARKS: Shirley Beaver and Coralie Gardiner rally support at the U3A open day at the LismoreWorker’s Club on Monday.
BRIGHT SPARKS: Shirley Beaver and Coralie Gardiner rally support at the U3A open day at the LismoreWorker’s Club on Monday.

Who says you can’t teach old dogs new tricks?

A UNION of mature, bright minds gathered at the Lismore Workers Club last Monday to renew acquaintances and sign up for another round of stimulating courses hosted by the University of the Third Age Northern Rivers Lismore branch.

President Pat MacLaren-Smith said the greatest need now for the 20 year old organisation was an influx of tutors.

"You don't have to have qualifications to teach what you are passionate about," she said. "It can be a lifetime interest."

Shirley Beaver, the leader of the popular Friday Forum, which meets at the Hilltop Hotel on (you guessed it) Fridays from 10am, does have qualifications - as a primary school teacher at Lismore Public School.

Mrs Beaver is an enthusiastic supporter of the U3A, having led her forum for the past 14 years.

"It really is an amazing way of keeping people connected when they think life is over," she said.

"There are a number of men, in particular, who don't survive after retirement and I believe it is from lack of interest … They don't have the stuff to keep the mind going."

Mrs Beaver said the U3A had provided herself with a stimulating outlet and when she looked back on the situation her own grandmother experienced in older age - isolation, physical handicap and nothing to read; she never learned how - Mrs Beaver's own third age is a wonderfully intoxicating time.

The forum is frequented by a range of interesting people, from the coast to the hinterland, aged 50 to 90 plus, some of whom used to be doctors and engineers, others much less noble but all of them interested in discussing the forbidden topics of politics, religion and sex.

Mrs Beaver also teaches a variety of other topics for U3A, such as language myths, the history of the English language and the alphabet, as well as comparative religion.

"When you compare how my grandmother spent her last years, literally sitting in a corner, life for retired people today has changed tremendously," she said.

"I've had people say to me, 'U3A has saved my life'."

For Robert Dingle, co-conductor of the organisation's recorder orchestra, La Fontanella, U3A has helped return some sense of purpose to his life.

The former Lismore schoolboy who spent 35 years in England teaching music returned home when his eyesight began to fail him and today finds his U3A orchestra a critical part of his retired life.

"It showed me that I can still do it," he said.

For more information on classes and courses visit

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