Matt Ainsaar, Class of 1973

Matt is a highly accomplished Town Planner, a career that has seen him work on significant projects at a local, state, national and international level including the redevelopment of Melbourne's Docklands and the Fishermen's Bend and Southbank Precincts. He has also become a leader in Destination Management Planning for the Australian tourism industry.

Matt recently attended his 50-year reunion at the college, complete with his wife and family in tow. He has been busily building a thriving career in town planning and living his best life. Here is Matt’s story in his own words.

I only spent three years at Luther College, from 1971 (Year 10) through to 1973 (Year 12), but they were some of the most formative years of my life spiritually, academically and emotionally. I loved my time as a weekday boarder (certainly not the meals!), mainly the camaraderie, friendships and opportunity to spend precious hours after school playing tennis, kicking a footy or running a cross-country with fellow boarders.

My teachers were great mentors for me. Mr Mau – a wonderful art teacher and the most compassionate man I have met, gave me great guidance and encouragement, and I was privileged to be invited to attend his retirement celebration at Luther. Mr Volk – a very calm and composed man was my English teacher who gave me great support and advice including in relation to my academic path. And I have Mr “Brick” Wall, the Bursar, to thank for the career path that I chose, having had ambitions to study architecture but without the required maths and physics subjects, he suggested I look into town planning as a possible alternative.

And so, I was accepted into the University of Melbourne to study Town and Regional Planning – a fledgling profession at the time with only a very small yearly intake of 20 students. Early in my career I was part of a small task force at the Department of Planning preparing the first ever planning scheme for the Central Business District of Melbourne and I realised that town planners were making critical decisions that fundamentally influenced the economics of development, so I obtained a Degree in Property at RMIT – one of the first town planners in Victoria with those skill sets. I was then asked to lecture in that course when I graduated.

Consequently, I was asked to advise the great Evan Walker, the Minister for Planning at the time, on whether a major property deal involving the Gas and Fuel towers (when they existed) and the redevelopment of land adjoining St Pauls Cathedral, was a good financial outcome for State Government. I advised that it wasn’t, and it didn’t proceed. In the mid-1980s I was asked to work directly to the Secretary for Planning, David Yencken, to project manage some of Victoria’s 150th Anniversary projects, including the development of Westgate Park and the Yarra River trail through Newport and Williamstown. Later, I was invited to join the newly formed Victorian Government Major Projects Unit to project manage the redevelopment of the Southbank Precinct.

After 10 years working in various roles for the public sector, I decided to start my own consultancy business – Urban Enterprise. For the first two years or so, it was just me but over time I gradually employed more staff and together with my wife Robyn, who took care of the office and administrative duties, we progressively grew the business. Robyn and I now have four business partners – two who started in the business as graduates. My second son Todd
obtained a Degree in Environments and a Masters in Planning and my youngest son Kurt, obtained a Degree in Environments and a Masters of Business Administration. They are also partners in the business having commenced employment with the firm whilst at University. My eldest son, Callan, is a Development Director with a large property development company having chosen a (slightly) different path.

My company specialises in strategic planning, urban economics and tourism planning. We have also established a software business developing applications for economic development and planning. We now employ 22 staff and 2 contractors and operate from an office in Brunswick. As a consultant, I was delighted to be contacted by my fellow boarder and room mate, Nigel Taylor (the now-retired CEO of Life Saving Victoria) to assist in his journey in merging the two life saving bodies in Victoria, developing new headquarters in Port Melbourne and modernising life saving club buildings throughout Victoria. It was incredibly satisfying to assist Nigel in achieving great outcomes for life saving in Victoria.

I have worked on many and varied projects throughout Victoria over the past 45 years including the redevelopment of Docklands, the Fishermans Bend Precinct, and the redevelopment of East Perth. I started the specialisation in tourism planning in our business and we have written the playbook for Destination Management Planning in Tourism, working all over Australia in helping to develop regional tourism product and infrastructure. Our company’s Mission Statement is to make a positive impact on people and places and I am proud that we have been able to achieve that over the last 34 years.

I owe much of my journey to those early days at Luther and the guidance and support that I received. In these times of social media and external
influences that can be manipulative and not necessarily helpful to you, the guidance and mentorship of people who know you and care for you is priceless and this was my experience from Luther College. I recently attended the 50th year reunion at Luther College. I am impressed with the way that the school celebrates its alumni. The event was very special and I was able to catch up with friends that I hadn’t seen since school. I honestly could not navigate my way around the school – it is so much larger and so different. The only recognisable buildings were the old boarding houses that have been re-purposed as administrative offices. The orchard out the back has been replaced by the tennis courts and basketball courts, and the paddocks at the side have been replaced with the junior school. But having attended the 50th reunion, I sense that the culture of the school has not changed over the years. My family attended my 50th reunion with me including my eldest grandson Teddy, and they were incredibly impressed with the school. Teddy, who is 4 years old loved the human scale chess set in the middle school atrium and is now on the journey to learn how to play chess. I am looking forward to spending more time with my wife and grandsons whilst continuing to mentor my sons in their journey in life.

For those current and future students at Luther, I would say to you to be always true to yourself, follow your heart and dreams and listen to those around you who have the experience and wisdom to set you on the right path.

And always remember the school motto –
“Unctio eius Docet”.