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From engineering to a world of theatre

The Age

Monday February 21, 2011

MARGARET COOK

Roderick Poole, 48, is the director of the Victorian Writers' Centre, based at the State Library. It has about 3000 members and runs courses and seminars and also offers fellowships and mentorships. Mr Poole previously worked in theatre, including founding and performing in the street theatre company Strange Fruit, which has travelled the world. Schools attended:Mentone Grammar and Melbourne Grammar. My parents were teachers and supportive of what they called "proper schools". I enjoyed them but if you weren't sporty or assertive, you got a hard time from your peers and the teachers.Favourite subject:Physics. It made sense to me and when I was taught a new concept, it felt like I was being reminded of something I already knew.Teacher who changed my life:Paul Aldred, my year 7 form teacher who specialised in history, Latin and English. He was "old school" and a man of the classics, but he had an infectious enjoyment of learning, which he passed on to us. He also had a fantastic sense of humour. Once we pinched the door handle from his room and no one in the next class could get out. He became angry with one boy and told him to leave. When the boy couldn't get out through the door, he told him to get out through the window.Sports/academic prizes won:I was always near the top of the class but didn't win any prizes. However, I enjoyed sport and was in the rugby First XV.When I was 12 I wanted to be:I didn't know.In grade 6 I sat next to:I probably sat by myself because I was always getting in trouble for talking.Why I took the educational journey I did:I did maths and sciences at school, then enrolled in engineering at Monash University. We started to specialise in second year and I chose mechanical engineering. We had to design a project and I suggested we "take a lateral approach". The professor replied: "My boy, that's being creative. Leave that to the architects and artists." I decided then to do something else. I completed second year, then enrolled in arts at the University of Melbourne. I loved it and became involved in extra-curricular activities, including acting, writing plays and writing music for them.After university I worked as an actor and writer in professional theatre for about five years. Then I started creating street theatre and founded Strange Fruit. It was based around the idea of performers being on high, flexible poles. My engineering study helped me develop it. We used virtually no language, which was part of its charm and why we appealed to different cultures. We performed in Europe, Asia, North America and Latin America.Travelling and working within the local culture was the most valuable education I've had. After about 12 years, I moved on to run Regional Arts Victoria's touring program, then came to the Victorian Writers' Centre. Our goal is to support our members' development. Some are dabbling in writing, some are determined to get published and some are established. They write across the genres, including plays, telemovies, fiction and non-fiction, as well as technical, travel and educational writing.Best lesson ever learnt:It's all right to say: "I don't know".What's right with schools today?Judging from my children's experiences, some are doing wonderful things. My eight-year-old son was itching to get back this term.What's wrong with schools today?Some are firing on all cylinders, while others, public and private, are struggling. Also, the way funding is divvied up between schools in inequitable.If I could change anything about my education:I would have continued with history, rather than dropping it in favour of geography. History fascinates me now but I didn't realise its importance when I was at school.

© 2011 The Age

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