We met at Monash

Friendships, marriages and business partnerships have been forged at Monash. By Larissa Dubecki

Monash Alumni

Matthew Vethecan and Dennis Jap

Matthew Vethecan and Dennis Jap

Matthew Vethecan and Dennis Jap met as first-year students at Monash in a legal reasoning class, but it’s the commerce half of their double degrees that has proven the catalyst for their business partnership. Earlier this year the pair cut their entrepreneurial teeth with the launch of tech startup Jarvis, a personal butler service controlled by a smartphone app. “The basic idea is that we use technology to link clients with ‘butlers’ to handle all their errands efficiently, from grocery shopping and cleaning to laundry and drycleaning,” says Vethecan. “We wanted something that brought together a whole lot of services, from doing a general tidy and washing the dishes in the sink, to out-of-house errands such as taking packages to the post office, but it wasn’t available on the market.”

The idea behind Jarvis crystallised when Vethecan and Jap were working long hours as, respectively, a management consultant and an investment banker. “We routinely ended past midnight and there were a whole lot of things we needed that weren’t available at that hour,” says Vethecan. “At one point it was easier for Dennis to buy new shirts because drycleaners were always closed when he could get to them. When you finish work on Friday you don’t want to be thinking about all the chores you have to do on Saturday morning.” Vethecan and Jap funded the startup themselves, and at this early stage count Vethecan’s kitchen table as their corporate headquarters. They launched Jarvis in South Yarra and Richmond in January. They’re happy with the results so far – at the time of writing they had about 100 clients, with hopes of 300-plus by year’s end, and expansion to Sydney in the pipeline.

They’re devoting their full-time energies to Jarvis. “I just decided to go for it,” says Jap, with a long-term eye on the kind of spectacular exit that commerce undergrads talk gleefully about. “In five years’ time, hopefully I’m still involved in the tech startup scene,” says Jap. “If Jarvis goes well we might have the opportunity to mentor others. I’m definitely interested in the innovation agenda in Australia and what it can bring.”

More information: getjarvis.com.au

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Holly Grace and Lisa Cahill

Holly Grace and Lisa Cahill

A love of glass forged a bond between Holly Grace and Lisa Cahill. The specialised nature of their art meant it was inevitable they would meet at Monash’s Caulfield campus when both were studying the medium – Grace as part of a Master of Fine Art after studying glass as part of a fine arts course at Perth’s Curtin University, and Cahill as part of a Bachelor of Ceramic Design. “I only ever wanted to do glass,” Cahill says. “I never actually got around to doing ceramics. “There were only around 10 people studying glass – maybe 12, tops,” she says. “But the two of us were really interested in the same things – landscapes, and light – although we weren’t rivals in that sense because we always interpreted them very differently.”

The shared subject matter also belies different approaches to the manipulation of glass. Cahill is a glass slumper, which is a kiln-forming technique using lower temperatures that allow the glass to soften and sink into a mould, enabling her to make large-scale wall installations. “I say they’re a lot like paintings, but in the medium of glass. There’s a lot of wall work, bold simplistic landscapes, while my more recent work is about the ocean, waves, ripples and the horizon.”

Grace, on the other hand, is a glass blower who creates ethereal-looking vessels etched with finely wrought bush landscapes in a technique borrowed from sandblasting. Both have gone on from Monash to become successful full-time artists, and within the close-knit glass artistic community have maintained their friendship over the past decade-and-a-half. A shared high point came last year with a joint exhibition at Denmark’s renowned Glasmuseet (Museum of Glass) Ebeltoft. The choice of country was no fluke. Many roads for the modern glass artist lead to Scandinavia, where glass art is commonly featured in people’s homes. Additionally, both women have spent plenty of time there – Cahill visiting relatives on her Danish mother’s side, while Grace studied at Bornholm.

Their exhibition, titled Light Translations, was a study of the landscape and the differing light of Denmark and Australia. “My first trip to Europe was so inspiring to me,” says Grace, who grew up accustomed to the harsh Western Australian light. “I started looking at the landscape and taking photographs, and it ended up translating into my work.” The exhibition earlier this year travelled back to Australia to Canberra Glassworks, which has become something of an epicentre for glass artists nationally. Cahill has lived in Canberra for the past five years, and Grace spends a week there every few months to use the Glassworks kilns.

Both are proud to have forged successful careers in an esoteric artistic medium: “So few people do it compared to painting and sculpture, and to make a living out of this medium is so hard,” says Cahill. “It’s expensive and you always have to be pushing ahead. You also really need to work as a community, and it is amazingly tight-knit. “A lot of us [from Monash] have now moved away to other cities, but our year was a particularly successful year. Everyone kept exhibiting and making work,” says Cahill.

More information: hollygrace.com and lisacahill.com

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Richard Scully and Natashia Biggs

Richard Scully and Natashia Biggs

MANY of the best things in life are owed to chance. Richard Scully never intended to become a historian, for instance. As a Monash arts/law student he was intending on a legal career, but he shocked both himself and his lawyer-centric family when he decided history was his calling. “My grandmother told me you can be a historian but you won’t make any money, so be a lawyer,” says Scully, now a senior lecturer in modern European history at the University of New England (UNE).

And then there’s the happenstance of two undergraduates meeting outside the Union bar at 11.45am on an otherwise typical midweek morning. Richard and Natashia Biggs (known to everyone as Tash) were waiting for the bar to open at midday. Their story ought to have ended this way: they were married, and had two beautiful baby boys. But in a terrible epilogue, Tash was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, and in February this year she died, aged 34.

A plaque to her memory now adorns the airport lounge, as the area outside Sir John’s Bar at the Clayton campus is known. It’s simply dedicated: ‘In memory of a true Monash girl … from her beloved husband Rich’. It refers to them as ‘Just one of countless couples lucky enough to find each other in this remarkable place’. It was unveiled on May 27, Tash’s birthday. The idea had come to Scully shortly after her death. “I was thinking a lot about how we met, and I had the idea that this is a space where so many other couples first met, yet it’s undocumented.” Scully didn’t include their surname on the plaque because he wanted to make it relatively anonymous. But for more on the true Monash girl, know this: that she blossomed at Monash. She worked at the pool, and sports and rec, and represented the University in high jump.

She completed a BA, graduating on the same day in 2004 that her future husband received his honours in history, and later went on to study nursing at ACU, becoming a lecturer at UNE as well as mother to Patrick, now 4, and Arthur, 2. “She always said if she hadn’t gone to Monash first she wouldn’t have achieved what she did,” says Scully.

“It was a wonderful place for both of us … in more ways than one.”

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