Member Alison Besselaar and her husband Walter (below, at Queenstown NZ in pre-Covid bliss) know South-East Asia like we know Southbank and Docklands. Of their careers in teaching they’ve spent 11 out of 37 years working the arc from Japan to Indonesia. 
Alison grew up on an 800ha sheep and cattle stud farm at Bessiebelle in western Victoria. It specialised in Herefords and Romney Marsh sheep (today better known as “Kent” sheep). Her schooling there was at the one to two teacher primary school – and as a teacher herself she taught later in similar country schools. 
She went on to nearby Heywood High but by third year she got an opportunity that changed her entire life-- she was awarded a Rotary Student Exchange slot to Japan. She took some Japanese lessons at Port Fairy and set off for Tokyo in 1970 able to count to ten and say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ [is that ‘sayonara’?]. It was not all family sweetness and light at home – her loved war-veteran grandfather nursed anger at all things Japanese and didn’t communicate once with her during her Japan stay. 
She was hosted by Tokyo Oiji Rotary based near Ueno Park, the iconic centre of the annual Cherry Blossom Festival. She went to school at Keio Girls High with three other Australian exchange kids from an Australia Rotary party of 11 that year. They got together for guided tours all over Japan – one of the bonuses from the exchange scheme. These experiences set the course of Alison’s career as an international worker.
The exchange year was marked by the minor scandal of one of Alison’s exchange friends Leslie falling in love at 17 with her Yokohama host’s brother aged 25. Any romances were a no-no for Rotary and Alison had to avoid mentioning it in any letters home. Leslie returned to Japan the following year to marry her pal (and lived happily ever after).
Alison on return wanted to become an interpreter and took up Japanese by correspondence at Heywood High. But a teacher’s scholarship intervened and she began teaching training at Ballarat where she itemised with husband-to-be Walter. Other posts followed at Natimuk (near the Arapiles massifs) and Tesbury, Talindert, and Tandarook. These were 1-2 teacher schools “and the best learning experience you can get as a teacher”, she says. “Plus you learn that everyone in a small town has to engage with the community. If you’re asked to play cricket, golf, netball, football, you just say yes and because you’re a teacher you’re immediately awarded the job of club secretary and president.” At Toolonda (where her husband taught) things were so informal that at 3.30pm on hot days he’d put a note on the school door, “We’ve Gone Swimming” and pick-up parents would drive their utes down to the lake and join the picnic.
She got a scholarship to retrain at Melbourne University on language teaching (LOTE) and helped to develop the LOTE program for Victoria. She taught Japanese at Jamieson St Primary, Warrnambool before getting back to Japan with a delegation from the Victorian Education Department. Her party fostered sister school relationships and set up exchange programs between schools. 
By that time their two kids were becoming independent and Alison and Walter decided to start working overseas. Their first contract was two years’ teaching expat kids in Singapore, where they wound up staying five years to 2005. Then they got an offer to start an expat school in Dubai, covering kindergarten to Year 9. They started with 300 kids, within a fortnight it grew to 600, and by end-year to 1200. That job was four years. “People gasp at the modernity and structures in Dubai but the truth is, they were built by imported labor suffering bad conditions,” she says.
Alison got a bit burned out with Dubai and switched to a part-time job with a British international school in Jakarta. This spun off to becoming director of a pre-school in Singapore while Walter continued in Jakarta. She and Walter got together at weekends for a two-year stretch. 
Finally they were both back in Victoria in 2012. Alison became Head of Primary at Marymede Catholic College at South Morang.
They retired in 2015 and began finally exploring the Australian continent. For each of the last six years they’ve done expeditions, often focused on horse racing: “We organised to meet with friends at country race days – last year’s was at Birdsville.”
Alison also enjoys cycling, walking, and reading – she loves Cate Thompson’s Bearbrass book group with its eclectic selections, and she especially enjoys our fortnightly club speakers. She’s also a volunteer at the Malthouse Theatre and Red Cross and does some short term contract jobs at Melbourne University.
Walter is horsey and part-owns a trotter, Morrison’s Dream, which is enjoying life currently in a paddock. A previous Walter trotter called Heavyweight belied its name by actually winning enough to pay for its hay with a bit left over. 
The Besselaar name is Dutch from Walter. They’re in a low-rise apartment with a balcony view of the backside of Victoria Barracks. Daughter Sian has provided two small grandsons and Alison has organised another grandchild via son Luke and wife Claire at Barwon Heads, due December . #