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New president Col Hennessy (left) and Ian Warlters are both members of teh bushwalking group.

Twenty years of enlightenment and social interaction

Geoff Helisma

Clarence River University of the Third Age’s (CRU3A) outgoing president, Laura O’Brien, sums up her time at the group’s 20-year celebration at Yamba Bowling Club on Tuesday May 4.

“I’ve met so many people who have astounded me with their generosity.

“I only joined U3A six years ago, but I’ve been a group leader, publicity officer, president and many other things.

“I’m really grateful for the time I’ve spent with them.”

Her words point towards, perhaps, the most notable aspect of the Lower Clarence-based organisation: people meeting people while sharing a common interest.

Speaking with various group members and leaders, it became apparent that social interaction was, indeed, a defining benefit of CRU3A membership.

Alan Woods, who has managed the men’s shed (it’s a shed for women once a week, too) since 2006, says that 50 to 60 men and a similar number of women attend the shed groups.

He says it has provided many of its members “with something to do because most of them came from outside of the area”.

“They’ve found friends and somewhere to do some work,” he says.

Occasionally, the group does specific projects, too; such as refurbishing the Yamba Lions Club’s caravan and merry-go-round.

“And we’ve made Indian myna bird-catching cages for Tweed, Bryon and Ballina shires; and that eventually paid for our electricity and a lot of work at the … shed in Townsend.”

Gaille Blackwell, from the Iluka art group, says it’s “mainly the people” that make her group special.

“We have a lot of fun. Everybody’s up for a day out and a visit to the galleries: at the end of last year we went to the gallery in Murwillumbah, then to Tumbulgum pub for lunch.”

The bushwalking group’s Ian Warlters says he’s always up for some exploring.

“I’ve been up into the Gibraltar Ranges and walked around the Evans Head area; we’re off to the New Italy area to do a forest walk on Friday week,” he says, “and we’ve walked along the beaches; all the way from down at Red Cliff, back up to Angourie.

“It’s been a fantastic way of meeting people; we have wonderful group get-togethers all around the place … we often walk from Woody Head back to Iluka and have lunch at the pub.”

Ian’s sense of humour is well intact, too; when asked about his most memorable bush walk, he recalls the one he missed: “We were going to the Gibraltar Range and I decided I knew where I was going, but I went north instead of south and got almost to Woodburn and went, ‘Whoops, I know what I’ve done wrong here!’ – they were just coming back from their walk as I pulled into the car park.”

Thinking back over her 20 years at CRU3A, Laura remembers “going for a twilight cruise”.

“There was a little local band, it was pouring rain and everybody was crowded onto the ferry, but everybody had a wonderful time making friends,” she says.

She first sang with the ‘Let’s All Sing’ group at Mareeba nursing home in Maclean and says she “was absolutely humbled by watching the joy on many of the residents’ faces as they listened to the music and sang along”.

“Every time we sing at a retirement village or nursing home, I know we are sharing something special,” she says.

New president Col Hennessy and his wife Annie met 15 years ago at a CRU3A committee meeting.

“At the last NSW conference I attended in Wagga, one of the speakers said, ‘I have not met anyone involved in U3a who is lonely and depressed’, and I agree,” Col says.

“It is a bit of a misnomer to talk about it as a university, as such.

“When it began in France last century there may have been an academic flavour but, largely, that’s not the case here in the valley.

“Whilst we have had some language and maths classes, and even archaeology, most groups are very social.

“While we talk about the third age, anything we can do now is better than the fourth age – that is, the Ds: dependence, decrepitude and death. It’s your choice!” For people interested in learning more about CRU3A, visit: