The University of the Third Age originated at the University of Toulouse, France in 1973. By 1975 the idea had spread to other French universities as well as to universities in Belgium, Switzerland, Poland, Italy, and Spain and across the Atlantic to Sherbrooke in Quebec and San Diego in California
In 1981 a new model was set up by academics from Cambridge University, England. This was to be a university in the original sense of the word, a community of scholars. Members would be both teachers and learners. This would bring autonomy to each group who would conduct courses according to the needs and interests of the members themselves.
There would be no academic requirements and no degrees delivered. Hence, it would be possible for people of a wide range of academic and socio-economic backgrounds to meet together to learn and enjoy one another’s company.
The first U3A in Australia started in Melbourne in 1985 and NSW began its first in 1987.
But, what about U3A Southern Highlands?
A rainy evening just prior to Christmas 1994 saw a dozen or more people attend the inaugural get-together of the proposed Southern Highlands University of the Third Age, at what was then Penders’ Cafe in Bowral, NSW.
They had gathered in response to a free advertisement in the Community Events section of the Highland News. Rosemary Kornfeld, inspired by the success of other U3As on the NSW South Coast, had placed the notice hoping that there might be sufficient interest in the Southern Highlands to commence its own group. Louise Rose, the proprietor of the Penders, kindly kept the café open after normal trading hours just for those who answered the advertisement.
The response was enthusiastic and a decision was made to progress the idea. Furthermore, both Betty and David Neumann offered their assistance as the group’s first voluntary course leaders: Betty with Gilbert & Sullivan Opera and David with French language instruction.
The first formal meeting took place a few weeks later, in January 1995. Roger Ware offered himself as our first President but subsequently gave the role over to Joan Ford.
At this first meeting in January 1995, Richard Aspinall volunteered to start and run a Newsletter, a post he continued to maintain for many years. Richard continued to be active in leading courses until his health failed in the first decade of the 21st Century.
A further notice in the Southern Highland news appeared in February 1995. It stated that U3A would be running four courses: Current Affairs (still running under the name Talking Points), Museums, Gilbert & Sullivan and French Conversation. By June 1995 membership had grown to 74 and the number of courses had risen to 15.
Twenty years later, in January 2015, our membership was over 1,000 and more than 70 courses were offered during the first term of that year. The members are extremely grateful to that initial group and all the committees who set the foundation of what is one of the largest regional U3As in NSW.