When Michael met Eamon

Q&A with Michael Whalley, Harry Potter actor and Vinnies education volunteer, with Eamon, aged 8

Michael, who plays Ron Wesley in the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage show in Melbourne, became a learning assistant with one of Vinnies Victoria’s education programs when the show was suspended due to COVID-19 early in 2020. He was teamed up with Eamon, who had joined the program to get help with reading. 

The programs were adapted to online during the pandemic, during which the pair met for weekly reading sessions for almost a year – but they have never met in person. The programs have now returned to in-person, after school meetings, and Michael is busy with the show again, but he is hoping to continue volunteering.

There are six education programs running throughout Victoria, with more opening shortly. The programs will help hundreds of students this year increase their reading, writing and homework skills – as well as the all-important social and emotional development that underpins all learning.

Michael on volunteering

How did a Harry Potter theatre star become a Vinnies volunteer?
After the Harry Potter show had to shut down, I began thinking of what else I could do with my time and skills that were useful. Myself and many of my peers began wondering if we would ever go back to work the way it was. There came a point where I had done enough soul-searching, and needed to find something meaningful to do.

So you answered a volunteer recruitment advert for one our Vinnies’ education programs? 
Yes, in April. I was accepted and started training. It was fortunate that the programs moved online because I had returned to Sydney before the second Melbourne lockdown, so I was able to continue volunteering from there. 

How do your online sessions with Eamon work?
Social interaction is a big part of learning too and our trainer talked about getting the ‘bounce’ between two humans in a conversation going in our sessions. I think that's a cool way to put it, so Eamon and I start with warm-up games, then have a chat about what he got up to that day. It was important to figure out where Eamon’s passions lie. We realised that we both love animals, and he has a strong affinity with science and understanding how things work. So that's where we were able to focus our work. 

What games did you play?
One of our regular games is Heads Up. We write the name of an animal on a piece of paper on our foreheads, and the other person has to describe its characteristics. If there is an animal that Eamon isn’t familiar with, say a porcupine, we’ll put that on our list. When we finish, we‘ll do research about its habitat and behaviour. So those games appeal to Eamon’s interest in animals and science, but also help his reading skills improve.

Eamon on working with Michael

Hi Eamon, how are you?
Hi! I'm good.

What do you like about your time with Michael online?
I like how we have lots of fun with books. He's funny too.

I bet he can do great accents and voices since he's an actor?
Yeah, he does!

What sort of stuff do you talk about with him?
Most of the time we are looking up animals when we play Heads Up. 

What’s your favourite animal?
My favorite animal is an owl.

An owl? Very Harry Potter!

Michael on education
Why do you think education is important?
Education is empowering. Variation in education is important, too. Vinnies’ education programs gives the students a perspective that's different from the teaching style at school. Many young people struggle with the pace at school, and we aim to meet them ‘where they are’, so they can develop at their own speed. 

Telling stories is something you do for a living. Has that been helpful?
Yes, I thought those skills would be transferable and could help the young people in the program. Once I got back to Sydney, I began working again in theatre, so I have been able to share aspects of my job with Eamon. I was in rehearsals once for a show when it was time for our session, so I gave him a tour of the set and theatre space on the computer, which he really enjoyed.

Eamon on stories

Has anything changed since you started working with Michael? 
Yeah, definitely my reading. 

Do you enjoy reading more now?

What are you reading now?
We’re working on our own book.

Your own book?
Yeah. Me and Michael are working on making our own book.

Wow. So writing a story together?
Yeah. We’re planning the story, we haven't got to the writing bit yet.

Well, that sounds exciting. 
Yeah, it is.

What do you think it would be like to meet him in person?
I think he would be really funny. 

Is there anything else you would like to say about working with Michael?
He's a really good guy.

Michael on learning

How have you found the volunteering?
I really enjoy working with Eamon and being part of the volunteering community. I’m learning a lot. Eamon knows more about science and maths than me at the moment! I love the social interaction and getting a small person's view on the world is very healthy and humbling.

Do you read Harry Potter together?
We’ve talked about Harry Potter a lot, but haven’t started reading it yet. 

Vinnies - We are always here. 

When COVID-19 struck Australia early in 2020 and the Government enforced restrictions on schools and business alike, our Vinnies Education Programs quickly adapted. Our education support programs moved to an online platform because Vinnies is committed to always being there for struggling students. 

Today our programs have returned to after school face-to-face meetings whilst ensuring that we are COVID safe. Thank you for supporting students like Eamon through tough times.

If you would like to help a student's education, donate to our Back to School Appeal today.  


Photos from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage show in Melbourne featuring Michael Whalley as Ron Weasley.