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Retirement is a dirty word for 80 year old volunteer

From adapting walkers and wheelchairs, building portable lifting devices and even making car parts to playing the saxophone and turning wood, 80-year-old Bill Black says retirement is a dirty word.

Bill Black in his workshop
Bill Black in his workshop

The former engineer says he’s always lived by the principle of keeping himself busy and learning something new. Born Newcastle, in the North of England in 1936, he showed his engineering skills from an early age. “I built a shed when I was 12 but I dread to think of what the electrics were like. It was still standing when I was over 10 years ago,” he says.

Mr Black’s National Service saw him working on an RAF base servicing missiles and he also took a fitter and turner apprenticeship. However it was when he was working as a junior engineer in a ship yard, he took what he describes as ‘his pier-head jump’ when a colleague suggested he went to sea.

“Paddy told me to go and see one of the docked ships to have a look around,” he recalls. “So I did. I saw a second engineer who asked me what I did.”

Thinking he hadn’t enough experience, Mr Black explained he’d only just finished his apprenticeship. “He then asked me if I could polish brass,” says Mr Black. “I asked what about the rest of the work? He said I’ll teach you the rest, but we’re catching the 4pm tide!”

“So I went back home, packed and was away for the next 12 months - I was 21 and two days,” he says.

For the next few years, Mr Black sailed the world, before suggesting to his wife they lived in New Zealand. After a couple of years they flew to Australia eventually settling in South Australia. Here he worked at the cotton mill and Arnott biscuit factory before another change in direction when he got a building licence aged 55.

Now Mr Black voluntarily modifies, designs and builds equipment for Technical Aid for the Disabled (SA). “One size does not fit all; I just see what the person needs and make it,” he says, highlighting one gadget he made which, when strapped to the person’s arm, helped them to continue playing bowls. “I had to have two goes at that one as I hadn’t accounted for the person not been able to twist their arm to bowl,” he says.

When looking at his wood turning, Mr Black makes a variety of items from toys with wooden moving parts to intricate clocks. “I’ve no idea where I get the ideas from!” he says.

Then there’s his music. “I’ve always sung and do play the clarinet. I was around 60, my friend Ron suggested I try playing the saxophone,” says Mr Black. Now he and Ron, who is also in his 80s, regularly entertain residents in living retirement villages or residential homes. “We play anything from the 40s, 50s, or 60s,” he says – jokingly adding they didn’t make any music after these eras!

In between times, Mr Black is the volunteer supervisor at his local men’s shed and an avid reader. “I love history,” he says.

Mr Black believes in keeping both your mind and body active and while he admits to having a few ‘aches and pains’ and having a cataract implant, he still says anything is possible. “There are only two things I can’t do - I can’t work a computer and I can’t make babies!” Although having fathered two sons, he has even played a part in the latter.

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