At 97, retired station master Samuel ‘Micky’ Mullins is something of a technical whiz.
In the corner of the living room is a big Smart TV (a recent acquisition), and on the table is more evidence of Micky’s love of all things digital. The iPad is his favourite, especially for online banking and Skyping friends - around the world in Paris or just a couple of suburbs away in Wynnum West.
At the ready is a Bluetooth keyboard he can use with both the iPad and his Notebook, and an iPhone (used mostly for emergency calls or when he needs a taxi).
Micky’s love affair with things technical began when he was just a lad. He’d started work with Queensland Railways at age 14 and began helping a friend who built and repaired radios for a living.
“In 1939, I got a diploma in construction and repair of radios from the Australian Radio College,” Micky recalled. “In my spare time I’d ride my bike from Ascot to Ballymore, where my friend’s workshop was, and help him do radio repairs. We’d also build new radios from scratch. I loved it.”
Fast forward to the 1960s, when Micky was married and living on Brisbane’s southside with his late wife Georgina and daughter Bev. By this stage he’d been promoted to station master, but at weekends and during the holidays he’d work at the tote at Eagle Farm Racecourse to earn extra money.
It was pre-computers and Micky calculated all the dividends for the TAB. “They’d send us their figures a few minutes before the race started and we’d combine them with ours and work out the dividends. We had to work fast but I enjoyed it.”
Then his interest in photography prompted him to build a dark room in the garden, which came in handy when he and son-in-law Wally wanted to know more about integrated circuits and miniaturization.
“Wally and I prised the top off an integrated circuit and there was a tiny chip about 2mm square and we blew it up to A4 size in the darkroom after taking a photo of it,” Micky said. “It was great – we learned so much.”
To say Micky was something of an ‘early adopter’ is an understatement. When he and his wife went off on holidays during the 1970s, they took with them one of the earliest mobile phones available, thanks to son-in-law Wally who worked at Telecom (the forerunner of Telstra).
“It was the size of two house bricks and had a normal landline handset on the top,” Micky laughed. “But it worked.”
Micky bought his first computer, a Vic20, in the early 1980s to ensure he could keep up with his grandchildren. Soon, he was their go-to person for technical questions. He even taught himself to write programs, by reading the instruction manual.
Micky credits his lifelong interest in problem-solving for his ability to stay across the latest technology.
“Some people haven’t had the opportunity to learn technical skills and it can be hard to change the habits of older people,” Micky said. “But people who have had an active life of solving problems will usually pick it up.”