Poetry and passion in Carlton

A smiling person sitting inside a house.

Extraordinary older Melburnians have recited their favourite poems in a series of recordings made at Kathleen Syme Library and Community Centre.

Over two months, participants worked with poetry expert Chris Bantick to select and rehearse works by the likes of bush poet Banjo Patterson and French Romanticist Victor Hugo.

The final recordings – accompanied by original music composed by Enrico Altavilla – evoke the diversity of the readers themselves, who belong to a weekly social support group.

There’s Geoffrey, a former air force squadron leader, Velda, a former nurse who grew up in Barbados, her Nigerian husband Ikenna, who was a lawyer, and many more.

Ena, a former teacher librarian with a love of literature, selected the ‘mercy speech’ from William Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice for her recital.

‘When we first learnt about the plan to record the poems, we thought it would be a muck-up, for sure. But we kept practising, the leader encouraged us, and it grew from there,’ Ena joked.

‘I have a history with the speech I chose. At school, a teacher blamed me for chatting in class. I wasn’t, but I had to write out this speech and read it aloud.

‘I think the speech still has a very good message for people in power about what it is to be merciful.’

As a child in Rutherglen, Ena loved to play games, go on country excursions have contests against neighbourhood children. Once, she was even tucked into a tyre and bowled down a hill.

Ena also remembers reading Flash Gordon comics with her dad, who would tell her that people would get around in flying cars when she was older.

During the war years – with her father away in the Civil Construction Corp – Ena had the responsibility of trench digging, seed production and plane spotting.

She was later happily married for 40 years, and had two children of her own.

Ena now comes to Kathleen Syme each Thursday to enjoy lunch with friends and a range of activities.

‘The members of this group are all from different nationalities and backgrounds. It can sometimes be tricky to find something that interests everyone, but the poetry project worked really well,’ Ena said.

‘Being here is good for me. It makes me more tolerant and more aware of other people’s stories and problems, and everyone’s special little ways.

‘I have great admiration for the group coordinators who take care of us and always greet us with a smile.’

Did you know
We offer a range of programs and services to help you enjoy life as you age, including support groups, community meals programs, social events and workshops.

For more information, visit For older people.

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