Illustrious Students

Robin Gregory - Author

Robin Gregory is a Melbourne crime author. She studied Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT and after being shortlisted for a short story in the Scarlet Stiletto Awards, published Traffic, the first Sandi Kent Mystery. She is now working on the second in the series.

Robin has been studying Spanish on and off for a number of years at El Patio and loves the informal yet dedicated vibe. Her interest in all things Spanish was ignited when she spent six months travelling around Central and South America, starting off as a brigadista in a coffee-picking brigade in revolutionary Nicaragua. She introduced some Spanish-speaking characters into Traffic, so she could include the beauty of the language in the novel and practise what she’d been learning.

Robin has worked as a social worker, counsellor and in the area of family violence, which helps to inform her crime writing. She lives with her long-term partner and an unpredictable black cat in Northcote, close enough to ride her bike to El Patio.



Yvette Turner - Actor and Performance Maker

Yvette is an actor and performance maker based in Melbourne. She is a graduate from the Victorian College of the Arts and has a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema from the University of Melbourne. She has been lucky enough to perform with wonderful artists such as David Williamson for his world premiere 'Credentials', Alex Menglet and Rosemary Johns for 'Tchekov in the House of Special Purpose' (now on the VCE syllabus) and Georgia Symons for 'RUR2020' (a futuristic fable about synthetic organs, which was performed live in a biotech lab).

She has appeared on Channel ten's 'Offspring' and has acted in numerous short films, most recently 'Home Safe' which was awarded both Best Overall Picture and the Wellness award at JMC. Yvette is the recipient of the Patricia Kennedy award from VCA and the Hannah Barry Memorial award from Melbourne University. She is currently working with renowned actor Charlie Cousins in his Mike Alfred's course Different Every Night and rehearsing 'Marriage' by Gogol.

Yvette studied Spanish at Melbourne uni, though left it alone for just long enough for all the rules and vocabulary to dribble out of her person. It has been a pleasure to come back and study at such a school as El Patio where the community is loving and supportive and has reignited her passion for the language. 

Andrew McDonald - children's book author

Andrew McDonald is a children’s book author. Or as he likes to say in Spanish class – un escritor de libros de niños.

His first novel for kids is called The Greatest Blogger in the World. He is currently writing his second book.

Andrew studied journalism at La Trobe University and creative writing at RMIT. He lives in Melbourne where he has worked for Readings bookshop, judged some literary awards and spilt wine on himself.

He decided to learn Spanish so he had another hobby to list on his résumé, next to ‘horse-riding’ and ‘wind-surfing’. Also, he was interested in learning the second-most spoken language in the world and travelling in South America. But mostly it was the résumé thing.

Thanks to the nice people at El Patio, Andrew’s greatest life achievement so far was when he successfully bought shoes in español at a Rebel Sports-type establishment in Buenos Aires. If you ever meet him, he will gladly recount the experience line by line. ¡Zapatos rojos, por favour! ¡Zapatos menos grandes! ¡Zapatos más rojos!


Nel Quispel - artist

Nel Quispel is a Melbourne based artist, travelling a lot to get inspiration especially from landscapes. She takes lots of photos and works with them in oil paintings and photo collages.

The last 2 years she has been walking through Spain and working as an Artist in Residency. This year she will go to Spain to find a place to give courses in drawing and painting, maybe in combination with walking the cultural parts of the Camino de Santiago. That is also why she has to speak Spanish!


Sheila Jeffreys - university professor

Sheila Jeffreys is a Professor of feminist politics at the University of Melbourne.

She came to Melbourne from London in 1991 after 20 years involvement in feminism. She is the author of many books on the construction of heterosexuality, lesbian and gay politics, beauty practices, the problem of queer theory and the global sex industry.

She is involved in the Coalition against Trafficking in Women which seeks to bring this practice of violence to an end. She decided to learn Spanish after being invited to Madrid to speak on legalized prostitution in Melbourne by feminists there who have an anti-prostitution campaign.

She enjoys being being able to read about the very progressive ideas and practices from the Spanish speaking world against the sex industry. One day she would like to be able to speak to Spanish activists about all this without being tongue tied.

She is also learning Spanish because it is such an important world language and gives access to a world of radical ideas that those restricted to reading English may be very surprised by. She has been studying at El Patio for 3 ½ years and continues to enjoy the delightful mental exercise, because she loves words (how lovely to learn more of them) and the workings of language.



Sally Muirden - poet and novelist

Sallie Muirden is a Melbourne poet and novelist who has resumed learning Spanish at El Patio this year. She has been interested in Spanish art and culture for twenty years and she is learning Spanish to have a more intimate understanding of historical Spain and its people. She has been to Spain twice and she hopes to travel there again in the future.

Sallie has written two novels that feature the Sevillian born artist Diego Velázquez (1599-1660). Her first novel 'Revelations of a Spanish Infanta' won the Harpercollins fiction prize. Her new novel 'A Woman of Seville' is set in 1616 and will be published in December 09. It tells the story of Paula Sanchez, an artist's model and courtesan. Paula gets into a scrape with the Inquisition over a radical painting she features in. She takes on a mothering role with some Moorish boys who were left behind in Spain at the time of the great expulsion of Moors in 1610. Paula shares the narration with the young painter Diego Velazquez. He too becomes entangled with the Moorish boys and Paula's affairs.

Of her El Patio language classes, Sallie says, 'the talented and gentle teachers at this School get us conversing in Spanish very quickly. We have fun in these well organised, small classes. The atmosphere is always warm and friendly.'

Christos Tsiolkas - novelist, playwright, scriptwriter

Christos Tsiolkas is a novelist, playwright and scriptwriter. His novels include Loaded (filmed as Head On), The Jesus Man, Dead Europe and The Slap.

One of my oldest and dearest friends is now living in Barcelona and when I went to visit, along with my partner Wayne, I fell in love with Spain, particularly Andulusia (I still fantastise about living in Grenada and am fascinated by the period before the Reconquista, the Jewish and Muslim history of Iberia). That trip made me determined to learn Spanish (or Castilian as my Catalan friends keep reprimanding me - "Christos, the Spanish people speak a variety of languages!").

Wayne and I travelled to Mexico and Cuba in 2008 and I took along a Spanish traveller's guide book, trying desperately to learn as many useful phrases as I could. I became confident that I could learn Spanish while being in Mexico (another city that I adore), even became a little cocky about it, until we landed in La Habana, where the accent completely gobsmacked me.

Returning to Mexico City I went to an English language bookshop and asked for contemporary Latin American fiction. The young man pointed me towards Marquez, Allende and Fuentes (all writers I love) and I explained that I could find their work in translation in Australia but wanted to read works by younger contemporary writers. He laughed and said, "You'll have to learn Spanish, amigo." That's when I made the decision that, yes, I would learn Spanish.

Friends had recommended El Patio and coming back to Australia one of the first things we did was to enrol. It will take a long time but I hope to one day get to the point where I can be in Mexico City, Grenada, Buenos Aires, Caracas or La Habana and pick up a book and read it.

Angela Cavalieri - artist

Angela Cavalieri was born in Melbourne and studied printmaking at the Victorian College of the Arts from 1981-1983. Since 1984, she has exhibited in solo exhibitions at various venues including Gallery 101, Christine Abrahams and Artspace Mackay. Angela has participated in many group exhibitions most recently, Surveying the Field, Counihan Gallery, PROOF, The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia; Meeting Place, Keeping Place, George Adams Gallery, The Victorian Arts Centre.

Angela has been awarded several prizes including The Geelong Prize, 2009, the Silk Cut Print Award, 2000 and the Shell Fremantle Print Award, 1999. She has undertaken a number of artist residencies and most recently she has been awarded an Australia Council Studio Grant for Barcelona in 2010. She was invited to take up an artist residency at Piramidon Contemporary Art Centre in Barcelona, Spain, in 2008, and has also completed an Australia Council Residency at the British School at Rome in 2003.

Angela Cavalieri’s work is held in many public and private collections including the Australian National Gallery, The National Gallery of Victoria, State Library of Victoria, Art Bank, Deakin University, State Library of Queensland, University of Melbourne, Artspace Mackay Regional Gallery and Musees D’art et d’histoire, Geneva.

I am studying Spanish in the hope to be able to communicate and be part of the local life in Barcelona while l am on a 3 month residency in 2010.

Sam Wilson - musician

Sam Wilson (rock’n’roll alias: Suzy Watusi) is singer and guitarist for local all-girl 60s garage-punk band the Shimmys. The Shimmys have released two albums, an EP and have appeared on a couple of compilations. They’re known for their shambolic live shows and matching mini-dresses.

Sam’s been studying at El Patio on and off since 2006, and originally began learning Spanish so she could go to Mexico and write telenovelas like Cuna de Lobos. She likes to practice her Spanish by listening and singing along to rock en español… Some of her favourite ‘study aids’ are: Los Explosivos (Mexico City), Los Peyotes (Buenos Aires), Wau y los Arrrghs (Valencia) and Los Straitjackets (LA).

The Shimmys latest album, Brunettes on the Rocks can be bought at Off the Hip Records, 381 Flinders Lane (basement level), Melbourne.

Sam Wilson (apodo rock’n’roll: Suzy Watusi) es cantante y guitarrista para un grupo estilo 60s punk-garajero, the Shimmys. The Shimmys tienen dos albums, un EP y han salido en algunos recopilaciones. Son conocidas por su shows caóticos y sus mini-vestidos a juego. Sam estudia en El Patio desde hace 2006, y comenzó a aprender el español porque quería ir a Mexico para escribir telenovelas como Cuna de Lobos. Le gusta practicar su español escuchando y cantando con discos de rock en español…Entre sus favoritas ‘ayudas de aprendizaje’ son: Los Explosivos (Mexico), Los Peyotes (Buenos Aires), Wau y los Arrrrgggghs (Valencia) y Los Straitjackets (LA).

Se puede comprar el album más reciente de the Shimmys, Brunettes on the Rocks, en Off the Hip Records, 381 Flinders Lane, Melbourne.

John O'Hagan - musician

John O'Hagan was supposed to be an astrophysicist, but instead became a musician and has been playing double bass, and a couple of other things, around Melbourne (90% in Fitzroy if the truth be told) since around 1985.

In 1998 he was lucky enough to get a gig with Circus Oz, and spent a decade touring the globe with them, most of that time as bandleader. As is expected in the circus, he had his own specialty aerial act with his bass.

During a 2007 tour John met Laura Hernández Lopez, an actress, in Monterrey, Mexico. At the end of that tour he quit the circus, and went back to Mexico to find her. I think you will have guessed by now his reason for studying Spanish. Two years later, they are married, and she plans to move to Australia in January. While looking for a house and jobs for both, John now lives amongst the ruins of Melbourne's live music scene in Northcote, so El Patio couldn't be handier.



Laura Lattuada - actress, teacher

Laura Lattuada has been working as a professional actress and teacher both in Australia and overseas since graduating from The University of Melbourne.  She enrolled at El Patio for Spanish classes at the beginning of this year. Laura has always wanted to learn Spanish, from a very early age. When recently asked to do a play reading in Spanish of Lorca’s Blood Wedding for The Malthouse Theatre, Laura decided to ‘bite the bull by the horns’ and officially learn this passionate language! 

Laura has a Masters in Drama in Education and over the years has also worked as a drama Lecturer, theatre director and co-writer, devising her own work for The Melbourne Comedy Festival and the Women’s Fringe Season. Laura has worked for all the major theatre companies in Australia including MTC, STC and The Malthouse Theatre. She began her humble acting career devising political works with Melbourne Workers Theatre and has done numerous productions for La Mama, Theatreworks,  Areana, Doppio Teatro and Belvoir St. Theatres.  Her T.V. work includes; Neighbours, Winners & Loosers, Stingers, Good Guys/Bad Guys and Halifax, as well as a few short films SBS. Laura is also a professional singer and has song for Jazz bands and at numerous folk festivals

"I love learning Spanish, especially at El Patio in Northcote. The ambiance is very relaxed and all the teachers are wonderful.  Being Italian does make it a little easier as much of the vocabulary is very similar, needless to say! At times, however, it can become quite tricky as the differences are very subtle and in a way, you have to unlearn what you already know and start all over again! I find learning a new language a bit like learning lines as an actor. You need to go over and over and over it again, write the lines out without looking (vocabulary and verbs in this case) and of course,  throw yourself in the deep end – talk as much as possible with others, make mistakes, be corrected, laugh together and then move on! I hope to be fluent one day. In the past when travelling to Spain and Cuba, I have simply relied on my Italian and broken Spanish to get by, but I am determined to sound like a local one day, if not score a great role in one of  Almodova’s films! Dream on…."

Laura has her own personal website and you can see highlights of all her work at (not to be confused with another, much older, Laura Lattuada, also from Italy!)

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