Our Elders profile series: Colin Slack

Colin Slack. Photo Bruce Jacups
Colin Slack. Photo Bruce Jacups

I arrived in Bellingen December 12, 1995 aged 63. I didn't stay then, I bought a property, and then went back to Sydney. I had a friend who lived in Toormina at the time and I told her what I was looking for and she suggested Bellingen.

I wanted a small piece of land in order to build a passive solar house. A passive solar house makes the best use of the elements with minimal interference. This is the best land in Australia for that. It's the best climate, fullstop. It's neither too hot or too cold or too wet or too dry. If you put a stick in the ground, it'll grow here.

The house does work but it all depends on what you expect of it. We need to stop trying to control everything. It's warm enough in winter, but sometimes you do have to throw an extra log on. And in summer, if it's too hot I do go out to air-conditioned buildings like the Golf Club.

I grew up in Kent, England. On the first day of the Second World War we were evacuated . I was seven when I was sent away and didn't return until 1944. My father was in the navy. I remember him bringing a friend home one time, and the next we heard he'd died at sea. Death was all around you, you never expected to be there the next day. You were only a kid, but you understood.

At 16 I joined the army and between June and September of 1953 I was sent to the Korean War as an engineer. Bloody cold in winter. Temperatures could plunge to -30°C. We were well-equipped, though - unfortunately the Americans were not.

Colin Slack. Photo Bruce Jacups

Colin Slack. Photo Bruce Jacups

I came to Australia to visit my parents in Sydney. I was 35. I had no intention of staying but Mrs Thatcher appeared and it was no longer appealing to be in the UK. I've never been back, not to visit, never. No point. My brother and sister were here. My sister was married to an Australian. I've been married, separated and divorced to an Australian as well. We stayed friends. I call her my friend and ex-wife.

These days I've a strong interest in science. But as a young person I was most interested in motorbikes. I raced in the UK and only stopped because I got injured. It was exciting, and, yes, dangerous - especially in those days. I saw four people die in the same race once. Slowed me down a little bit. But I still waited until I was 28 to give up, in 1960. Your brain is developing until you're 28. That's why people shouldn't drink until then - undeveloped brains.

I like to be around people who are aware of the situation that the world is in and that they're in.

Being retired gives you the time and space to think.

Colin Slack

Being retired gives you the time and space to think. For instance, will artificial intelligence be driving us? What are we setting up now for the future?

I tend to be pessimistic. Those in power are looking after their own interests and don't want to take care of others who are less fortunate. That attitude could lead to a revolution.

Another thing that interests me is that when babies are born they have more neurons than they're ever going to use, and if you don't use them, the neurons disappear.

So it's important to learn a second language and a musical instrument before the age of six and that'll set your brain up for life.

I was too busy doing things until I was, say, 40, to look at the wider picture. Then I began studying industrial relations at Sydney University under one of the most controversial professors, and I broadened my worldview.

Information spreads now. Not to all people, if their minds aren't open. But it is available. Most people have got their backs bent focusing on the day to day but when you slow down or retire you have more time to look at things more widely. Bellingen is a pleasant place like that - it's unhurried. Everything is done, but slowly.

At 86 I've got more past than future. I'm comfortable with death. The day we're conceived is the day we start to die. Having seen a lot of death I understand that it's a part of life.

See also