Mentone Grammar

Gennie McNair

English Teacher & House Coordinator

B.Ed (Secondary), M.Ed (Leadership)

The daughter of a prolific comic actor and a theatrical dancer, Gennie was raised at the heart of Australia’s entertainment industry. She inherited a passion for theatre, film and television which she entwined with a deep personal ambition to work supporting young people, resulting in a fascinating career path.

Gennie’s childhood was defined by the tragic passing of her father, Keith Petersen, when she was just a one-year-old. Gennie was enveloped by the love and support of a large extended family and a tight-knit performing arts community. “Bizarrely, my babysitters were the celebrities of the time, people like Roland Rocchiccioli, Fred Parslow and Joan Harris. And Robyn Archer is my godmother.”

Suddenly faced with a new reality, Gennie’s mother ended her career as a dancer and courageously moved her family to Melbourne to undertake her HSC at 31-years-old. “My mother is an inspiring woman. She worked hard at her goals and eventually became a teacher.” During this time, Gennie became fiercely independent and ambitious. She also developed a deeply nurturing and compassionate side to her personality. “Living through that adversity as a young person, I became very empathetic. I was acutely aware of how people around me were feeling and I felt compelled to support them and lift them up.”

Her mother eventually remarried, and the family shared their time between Elsternwick and a newly purchased farm in a small town in Loch. She rode horses, tagged cattle, herded sheep and fixed fences. In her final year of school, Gennie transferred from MLC to Highett High for its outstanding reputation in performing arts. “There, I met inspirational group of teachers who would ultimately change my life. There was one drama teacher particularly, Mr Charles Sluki, who said to me, ‘Keep pursuing your career in performance, but know that you would make a beautiful teacher one day – and that is the most important career in the world.’ And that was it, I enrolled to study teaching at the University of Melbourne.”

Gennie secured her first teaching roles at Camberwell Grammar and Sienna College in Glen Iris. “I loved teaching, but I also had this burning desire to work in the entertainment industry that I hadn’t gratified yet.” Gennie found the best of both worlds in a role teaching a variety of child actors on the set of The Man from Snowy River. “That became my world for a time, and it was a delightful and rewarding involvement. I was experiencing the world that my parents had existed in, working closely with an extraordinary array of cast and crew.”

Gennie moved further into television production working on Halifax, Good Guys, Bad Guys, Raw FM and Simone de Beauvoir’s Babies, before moving to Sydney to work on the Australian film, Looking for Alibrandi. She then side-stepped into the corporate world to take on a different challenge. “I joined Maura Fay Casting as an international communications trainer and travelled to Malaysia, India, Singapore and the United States running workshops on leadership, communication, and presentation skills. This role was fast-paced and exciting, but the true value of this experience is coming through now, being able to share practical insights about the corporate world with my VCE students as they consider their post-school pathways.”

Gennie’s focus shifted to parenthood, and she stepped away from her fast-paced career to raise three children with her actor husband. She returned to the entertainment industry as a Child Manager and Coordinator for hit shows such as Little Lunch, Nowhere Boys and House Husbands, as well as the critically acclaimed film, The Dressmaker. In this multifaceted role, Gennie was responsible for supporting the children’s welfare, drama coaching them on set and teaching all levels of schoolwork in collaboration with their various schools to complete their curriculum.

Gennie joined Mentone Grammar in 2014 as a Year 8 English & Drama Teacher. For five years she was employed as the Year 8 Coordinator and now, a VCE English Teacher and Head of White House. “I feel so fortunate to have been able to pursue my dreams, and then bring those experiences with me to work with these incredible young people and make an impact on their lives.” Gennie’s teaching is characterised by her own experiences as a teenager. “At both MLC and Highett High, I was treated like a person who was seen and respected by my teachers. There was no power dynamic, just genuine, caring relationships – and that has been so powerful.”

Gennie is also Creative Director of the School’s senior musicals working closely with Director, Jamie McCarney, and remains a staunch advocate of the performing arts. “It offers students a sense of belonging and safety. It is an incredibly supportive and inclusive community that embraces students for being themselves and leads to lifelong friendships.” Two of Gennie’s three children also went to Mentone Grammar. Her daughter Ella is following in her grandmother’s footsteps as a dancer and has returned to work at the School as a choreographer and S.M.A.R.T. Dance program instructor, whilst also studying teaching at Deakin University.

Instinctively kind-hearted, Gennie concludes the interview with a glowing tribute to her colleagues. “How lucky I am to work alongside this amazing group of people. They are not only incredibly talented but also wonderful friends.”

To the students, Gennie says, “Pursue your passions. You can blend all the things you love into a wonderful and prosperous career of your own.”

Written by Deborah Callahan