Author Archives: Isabella Milevski

Mahmood Khwaja

I joined La Trobe in December 1968, and was the first Asian to get his Ph.D. in Chemistry in 1973. During my Ph.D. years, what I liked, and was most convenient, was access to laboratory facilities to work late hours and even over the weekend (provided the University guard on duty was informed about working late/over weekend).

At La Trobe, I also had the opportunities to do volunteer work, both for the University, university groups, as well as outside. My first experience of volunteer work with the University fellow students, at a home for children with intellectual disabilities. That spirit continued after my Ph.D., in West Africa, also in underdeveloped and very poor areas of Pakistan and now, more so, at regional and global levels, as President of the International Society of Doctors for Environment (ISDE), with a focus on children, environment, health (CEH) and hazardous chemicals/waste.

Mahmood with the La Trobe cricket team

Our research at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) on mercury issues earned an “Excellence in Research” award in 2014. It was pleasure to be in Australia, where people, though reserved (and at time cautious) in the beginning, were sincere and friendly, with some of whom even now after all these years, I am in touch with.

Watching and playing sports was great fun in Melbourne and being a member of one of La Trobe’s cricket teams’, I learnt the fierce but friendly competitiveness in sports. “Just focus on your own performance, never ever give up and a match is not over until the last ball is bowled,” would continue in my life’s ongoing inning, inshallah.

I cherish and most fondly remember my Eid celebrations with invited Australian friends and research colleagues, bush walking (about 10-12 days) in Lake Saint Clair and Cradle Mountain Park, Tasmania. There were so many enjoyable beach sides, short pleasure visits, events, evening with families at my friends’ homes and two friendly cricket matches of our Chemistry Department team (research students and staff), with the sister department team of Monash University and with the team of Welfare Association.

Mahmood can be contacted by email if you are a past classmate who wants to get in touch.

Merrie Steventon

My name is Merrie. I’m 13 and I have left school. My mother and myself and two sisters have run away. We rent a house in Hurstbridge with no electricity, no toilet; just a dunny that we have to empty every week. We have painted the seat pink, I think it helps. It is 1959. This house is at least 3km from the station. I light the tilly lamp every morning and run down to the station in my thongs. It takes me until Eltham station to tidy up. I get a full time job copying out electricity invoices at the town hall in Melbourne. I start very early and while I wait for my sister and mother after work, I teach myself to type. I meet my husband, much older than me. At 15, I conceived my first child, followed by another conceived at 16. At 21, I had my third child.

My little brother walked up my drive with a duck he had shanghaied from a dam. It took all night to pluck it, being winter, it had lots of feathers. He wanted to go to school and I talked to the Principal at Eltham High School who agreed to let him attend. My husband left me. I gathered if I could get Mick into Eltham High, I could try too. I was the second mature aged student to be allowed full-time study. Marie Louise was the other mature student and we are still in touch, both of us then single mothers with three children each. She drove her brother’s Porsche, in full racing harness and smoked flat out, as I did, we sat out the front of the school with the older boys knocking on the windows for a fag.

I worked, at times, full time and managed to finish two years of study (wonderfully flexible and understanding teachers) and after sitting HSC obtained university entrance. I met an old school friend who later moved in with me. His wife had left him for a university professor and he was not kindly towards my university study. I had started a Law/Arts degree at Monash, after a lot of pressure, I left and we managed and lived in a Milk Bar for 18 months. Sheer drudgery and very long hours. We moved to Yarrambat, cheap rent, he moved out and I asked to be allowed to study at La Trobe. An Arts degree with majors in English and Philosophy.

La Trobe University became my lifeline. It took me 9 years to complete my degree. At times hitching to La Trobe (no car). Living in a mudbrick shed with a dirt floor, no electricity, tank water. Hard on the children. On 23 acres. Every year I would start out applying for every unit, so optimistic but life very quickly intervened, kids got sick, the money ran out, I needed to work. I gathered another partner who was very supportive, as were friends. My partner and my children and mother were at my graduation in 1981. They were all so proud, they said they deserved the degree as well!

As you can gather, I have left out far more than I have written. It is very hard to convey just how beaten down I felt, having children so young, others did not hold back on criticism I was considered pretty but dumb, very “lower class”. So ignorant, I spoke well but learned to keep my mouth shut at an early age, in case I was found out…not educated!

Studying gave me the confidence to apply a different form of thinking to raising my children, who have all done well. I became a teacher, taught overseas. Was a professional actress for 10 years…did lots of different things, travelled extensively. I could not have achieved without that piece of paper, sad isn’t it!

I am confident, very happy and still very curious about life, still studying. So grateful for Gough Whitlam and La Trobe for making all things possible. Thank you La Trobe!

Sophie Daley

I started my undergraduate studies within the La Trobe Business School in 2014.

La Trobe has allowed me to increase my personal and professional attributes in the forms of international studies and scholarships, and has now allowed me to contribute to the community in the form of a board director.

Now, I am completing a Master of Management to further develop myself.

Marita Quaglio

I started my university studies at La Trobe University’s Bundoora campus in 1971.

One of only a few students to be accepted into university from my class at Broadmeadows High, I was a recent child migrant and the first in my family to study at university. They were exciting days, being amongst the political activists, demonstrating about important social issues, sit-ins in the VC’s office.

By the time the Albury-Wodonga campus was opened, I was living in Wodonga and enrolled to study further. After a long association with La Trobe, I now work as Senior Disability and Equity Advisor at the Albury-Wodonga campus and, thoroughly enjoy my role.

Adam Mitchell

I’m in my last year of my degree and have only just started to get involved with the campus activities and I am kicking myself about not joining this amazing community earlier.

Studying here has expanded my view of the world and has positively changed my thinking.

I cannot imagine not having been a part of this amazing community.

Damian Cullen

I am a 42 year old male going into the social work field.  A little unusual but more so when you consider I come from a brief military background and a 20 year building career.

I guess, the catalyst and motivation for me, is that I went through a divorce three years ago. It was very unexpected and painful. I went from a fully functioning member of the community to a man in need of a lot of community services.

It inspired me that not only there were services available when I was at my lowest, but that the service providers shared my innate desire to help, they also shared my empathy and good nature.

Below all the pain I was feeling, I knew that would end and that when it did, I needed to be a part of this service. So here I am: three and a half years to go, bring it on!

Ishaq Bhatti

As a Muslim academic at La Trobe, I’ve enjoyed working here in a friendly community.

I’ve worked closely with the Office of the Vice Chancellor to organise Muslim events like Ramadan Iftar and Eid festival, and created Islamic finance products such as an interest free loan, an Islamic finance course, Zakat, and other good work for the communities around La Trobe University.

I organised one of the biggest Islamic finance conferences in the Australasian region, held at Rialto Tower and I received threats. La Trobe University helped me to hire security to protect the event and staff working for that event.

Sean Arbuthnot

Well, I’m a country kid who came to the city to study zoology.

I came here knowing only one person, but she dropped out and so I knew no one.

The clubs here are great. I have so far been in ten(ish) including Quidditch, Botany Club, and the Community Gardens to name a few.

Right now, I’m a third year, the last year in my course and I’m volunteering at La Trobe helping out research.

It’s been great and I hope this greatness will continue.

Jaroslav Vydra

How can an ordinary boy from a backward communist country wind up as a student of psychology at La Trobe during the wild ’70s? Cherchez la femme!

My favourite story – how I ended up at La Trobe due to several unbelievable coincidences! In the ’60s, living in a small town in Czechoslovakia was really boring so it was an unbelievable event when a girl from Prague was interested in being a pen friend – an opportunity not to be missed, so a great love story had begun… I even got to hold her hand, once, during my next Prague summer holidays.

No wonder that Prague and girlfriends and the whole love tragicomedy got burned into my brain forever. During the high school one naughty Prague girl got transferred to our class and I threw away my first proper local girlfriend, and went into this exciting love adventure! We stayed together for the next two years until graduation, and (of course) I went on to study in Prague. And, of course, it ended as it had to… she found a good looking real city boy, and I ran away to see the world. There, of course, was also a small matter of a Russian occupation, an expulsion from the university, forged letters for the visas, etc…

In Austria, as an illegal émigré I was doing the rounds of embassies to get to some English speaking country, to live adventurously and get rich quick. Originally the dream was the wilds of British Columbia, but during an interview I was told that a high school graduate is not useful for the Canadian nation… and was saved by a woman translator, who told me the famous sentence: “Go to Australia, they take anybody!”

After a month’s wait I was on a jumbo jet to Sydney, and then relocated to Melbourne, in semi-circular corrugated sheds serving as individual rooms for many ‘New Australians’ in Altona. I was there only a week that a Czech adventurer came looking for a silly boy to help him get rich with a great scheme of getting silver from a photographical fixer! I got from it an employment in Reservoir, in a factory making fans. So I moved to a place in Gilbert Road, when after a year or so one Saturday I went to a shop and heard two girls playing guitar in a church hall. Being an old bass player in a school band (and not having a girlfriend for two years, of course) I stopped, got talking and even started to date one of the girls.

As a total atheist from a ‘commie’ land I began to go to youth meetings in the church hall, and there I met a church chaplain from La Trobe University, one Ian, and since I am also a compulsive talker, he gained the impression, that I am intelligent and started to persuade me to study! In English! “Choose religion, medicine, law or psychology,” he said! Psychology won, Ian organised some La Trobe stipend and I lived with my landlady Mrs Appleton for the next three years in Macleod. That is how I wound up at La Trobe!

And for the first time in my life I studied and it was interesting! “Foolishly” I chose a Bachelor of Science structure of four, three, and two subjects in the next three years, forgetting, that I had to learn six new types of English in one year! (Listening, reading, writing, history, sociology, psychology, biology, statistics, law.) I had the sense at least to start running every day to relax a bit, and so I somehow managed to survive the first year, thanks also to some friends I made and the great staff of the Department of Sociology and History, who adopted more interesting approaches to teaching and tutorials, than was usual at that time at universities. And a young lecturer Dr. Bob Montgomery was a great psychology lecturer and also great support during my years at La Trobe.

The years at La Trobe changed my life forever. During my fourth Honours year I met my future first wife, who went crazy during my Master of Arts studies, and we had a child to fix it, it worked and I became a practical psychologist but that’s another (long) story.

I hope that many more interesting people get their real education at La Trobe, and we all celebrate every year as a good year, thanks to La Trobe a real good people we are lucky to meet!

Yen Hsiang Snow Perkoulidis

I came to Australia to get a degree. I ended up with two degrees from La Trobe University. One in chemistry and a degree in nursing.

I found my true love when I was studying nursing and we married. We have lived happily ever since.

I have had innumerable positive experiences and happy times at my favourite university. My wishes all came true at La Trobe University.