Town’s Folk – Mr Colin Brick, OAM

As part of a new series within The Boolarra Link, is an editorial focus on one of our community members, so this month our President Mark Cooke interviewed Colin Brick about his life, times and what the Order of Australia Medal means to him.

Born in 1957 in Georgetown, Tasmania, Colin was the youngest of 6 siblings (four brothers and one sister) born to Tom and Jean Brick. The family had moved to Tasmania for his father to take up a job as Safety Officer at Bell Bay Oil Refinery.

When Colin was three years old his family returned to Victoria, living in Bayswater North, then quite open country. Happy memories included playing in the neighbour’s pool, and on their 1910 vintage Renault, and their blitz bus, or the boys going to another neighbour’s place to watch Mr Ed on TV. He enjoyed Sunday School, especially the time he found a matchbox with eight shillings on his way to school, and tried to persuade two of his mates to come along. Only many years later did he realise they must have been Catholic. Jean resumed work at Foys Dept store where she had first worked as a 14 yo girl, along with two of her sisters. Occasionally Tom’s job with the Country Roads Board enabled him to take the boys on jaunts around Victoria, and Colin especially remembers trips to Loch Ard Gorge, and to Tanjil Bren.

In 1966 his father began work at the Lurgi Gas Plant in Morwell, again working as a Safety Officer. This renewed a family connection with the Gas & Fuel Corporation, as many of the Brick family had worked at the gas works in North Melbourne. After four months living in Morwell the Brick family moved to Churchill as some of the first residents of this newly formed township.

Colin’s mum became Churchill’s first Post Mistress, initially operating from a table at the front door. They were the only family in the street to have a telephone, and would often have strangers come to the house asking to be able to use the phone. Colin recollects his role as runner of telegrams for just a few pence each, and the hope that the recipients of the telegrams weren’t at the far end of town.

Colin attended Churchill Primary School in its first year, 1968. He generally had a desk to himself, as the seat next to him would have a stack of books on it. I don’t know where Jinni gets it from? He was appointed and sacked as bell monitor several times, as the teachers realised how unreliable he was at ringing the end of lunch bell, and then realised he was more reliable than any of the other kids.

1968 was also significant for being the year he started playing footy. A mate suggested going down to training one Sunday afternoon, and though not particularly interested, he went along for something to do. Colin played for the next twenty years, and readily acknowledges football as one of his primary formative experiences, through the friendships made, the challenges faced and the commitment to striving for individual and collective excellence.

Colin attended Maryvale HS, an experimental school with a relaxed approach to curriculum; Colin recalls this is where he first encountered the works of his favourite author, PG Wodehouse. However Colin’s Mum and Dad didn’t approve Colin’s embracing of this relaxed approach and transferred him to Morwell High School, which was far more draconian in its approach. It obviously worked, because while he was never a committed studier, he was Dux of the school in his HSC year.

Aged 17, Colin graduated from school and enrolled straight into Melbourne University to study for his Degree in Commerce. In his first year he lived with his brother Ken, the second year in university residences, and in his third year in a house with friends in Peel St, Nth Melbourne, and a block from Victoria Market. Each vacation he worked; as a labourer, at Bulls Shipyard Metung, in an Insurance Company and as a driver of a Streets ice cream van. Colin quickly realised he was a country boy, and couldn’t get out of Melbourne quick enough at the end of each semester, and was glad to leave permanently when he graduated in 1977. He also decided that since he didn’t need to know how long till lectures started, he no longer needed a watch, and so he took his off and has never worn one since.

I thought that the taking of Gap Years was a modern phenomenon, but Colin took some time out before needing some money to fund a footy trip and found a position at Australian Paper Mills on Tramway Road, mostly working on the dry chain and rising to the dizzy heights of tally man, but this only lasted for around eight months.

In 1979 he commenced working at the State Electricity Company (SEC) as a Commercial and Administrative Officer. Colin recalls his first car was probably bought around this time and thinks it was a Vauxhall Viva, and says he’s never really been big on cars and sees them more as just a way to get from A to B. He liked Toyota Coronas because they were nice and reliable, and you could drive them in the bush and not worry if they got knocked around.

Colin has worked for the SECV, and its successor entities, Generation Victoria and Hazelwood Power for over thirty years. Having always had an interest and aptitude for economics and accounting, Colin found the SECV good because the wide variety of positions meant that new challenges and types of work could be taken on, while responsibilities and skills increased with experience. Colin’s aim was always to have a challenging and fulfilling position that enabled him to assist people and provide solutions to problems facing the business.

Various roles have included Project Accountant on a variety of the Plant Life Extension at Hazelwood, and the West Field Development (both $100m plus projects), development and delivery of tertiary training packages aimed at supervisory levels, Company Secretary for PowerWorks, and System Administrator for the state-wide financial programs employed by the SECV.

When Hazelwood Power was privatised, they needed to develop a Treasury function, and Colin and his friend and boss, Tony Barker, volunteered to take the role on. Hazelwood had debt of $1.4B and weekly revenues and expenses of around $5m which they had to coordinate. Fortunately they had a half day hand over with the SECV Treasury Group; this seemed to consist mainly of watching people hand sticky yellow notes from one to another saying transfer $2m in x account, move $3m to y account. That evening Tony and Colin sat together in a café in Lygon St, looked at each other and said, “What the hell have we let ourselves in for here?”. However they got by, and Hazelwood is still surviving, at least for now.

The Treasury role was one of Colin’s favourites, although he acknowledges it required him to be considerably more organised and systematic than came naturally to him. However after around six years he was keen for new challenges and transferred to the role of Project Accountant at West Field. This involved working closely with the Mine Planning group on evaluating options for future development of the Mine, and Colin’s current role as Mine Accountant has a very strong focus on enhancing the financial viability of the Mine. As such it requires a solid understanding of all aspects of the Mine’s operation including geology, stability, coal quality, operating configurations, rehabilitation, performance variability and statutory obligations, and the linkages between these aspects.

Colin’s interests and hobbies have included bushwalking, reading, gardening and horse riding up at Tallangatta, but his passions have always been tennis and football. Never a stylist at either game, he was nevertheless effective, captaining A Special tennis premierships, winning the Yinnar & District A grade singles and playing in two senior grand finals for Churchill in 1978 and 1979.

However by1982, despite playing the best football of his life, he wasn’t getting a senior opportunity at Churchill. He was awarded the League Best and Fairest in the reserves in 1982, but in 1983 decided to move to the Boolarra Football Club to get the opportunity to play seniors. In an eye opener to the club, as he got out of the car to go and sign the registration form, there was an altercation on the field. Colin was astounded to see the senior coach, Geoff Pollard, strike Snake Mathews, one of his own players. Notwithstanding that rough introduction, he found Boolarra FC to be a friendly and enjoyable club, and he really loved the people associated with the club. Sometimes at training he’d ponder that he, Jorma Takanen and Brian Davey were the only three without tatts, and Boolarra did have a better reputation for winning the fights than the footy.

In 1986 Colin met a girl, Sue Wright and they married in 1987. Looking for a house, the beautiful countryside around Boolarra, and the friendly community Colin had experienced at the Football Club led them to look in this area, and they found a suitable house on Darlimurla Road, a property built by Doug Black’s father. In 1988 Colin retired from playing football and took up umpiring between 1990 and 1995 with the Central Gippsland Panel.

After Sue and Colin separated in 1991, Colin took three months leave and flew out to Perth to join his mother and brother who were travelling around Australia in a caravan. The highlights of the trip for Colin were the wildflowers in WA, the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, and Litchfield National Park in NT.

In 1992 Colin was still enjoying horse riding weekends away up at Tallangatta and one of his fellow riders had a niece coming to Traralgon Hospital on a placement from Melbourne as an Occupational Therapist. Colin, living nearby, was asked if he could be a friend to Samantha Banfield, so he subsequently asked her if she’d be interested in a game of tennis and the rest becomes history.

Samantha went on a sixteen month trip to the UK, and Colin, missing his love, flew out to London to meet up and join her for a three month tour around Europe. Much to Samantha’s disgust Colin missed an opportunity to propose in Paris, however he didn’t miss the chance to propose when they were on holiday in Lakes Entrance and they were married at the end of 1995 at Old Gippstown, Moe.

Living now in Amy Court, Boolarra, Colin and Samantha have two lovely children; Daniel born in 1997 and Jinni, born 15 months later in 1998. Colin recalls that in September 1997 Samantha had gone to visit her Malaysian “family” for the wedding of two sisters, leaving him as Mister Mum for a week or two. Of course in 1997 Boolarra won the premiership, but the preliminary final at Trafalgar against arch rivals Yinnar was a nail biting match, decided by a missed shot on the siren by Yinnar. For the last twenty minutes of the match, Colin gave up any pretence of being a caring parent and just left Daniel with a copious supply of chips and ‘cheezels’ to keep him satisfied, while he barracked Boolarra home.

The Brick family moved to their current home on Monash Way in 2005 and are still very happy living within the Boolarra Community, with which Colin and family have such a strong affinity. Colin still enjoys his bushwalking, tennis, gardening, reading and listening to music either on the patio or in his mezzanine library. He cites P.G Woodhouse as his favourite author, and has over 90 of his books, and Bob Dylan as his favourite musician. Colin’s plans for the future include continuing work at Hazelwood, continued involvement in the Boolarra community and hopefully undertaking a few overseas trips. Colin’s father died in 1978 however his mother, who is 94, still lives in her house in Churchill.

I asked Colin what winning the Order of Australia medal meant to him, and what achievements he was most proud of. He said he was very proud to achieve this award and was also conscious that it reflects on Boolarra as a community, as through the efforts of many, many people in Boolarra, the community has developed a well deserved reputation of being self-reliant, innovative, able to get things done and generally having its act together.

Colin felt that because of his position, he gets some credit for these achievements that properly belong to the many active volunteers in the community. He is also very grateful to the people in the community who thought enough of his endeavours to take the time to prepare his nomination.

Colin nominated the establishment of the Boolarra Australia Day celebration as one of his proudest achievements; “The Australia Day celebration, which has been going from strength to strength for five years, arose from the concept that we should celebrate Boolarra as a strong and vibrant community, whose strength derives from the many wonderful volunteers who give with no thought of recognition. The associated Community Awards enable these valuable contributors to be acknowledged by their peers and friends, with anybody in the community able to nominate people they believe are worthy of recognition.

It’s a lovely relaxed, friendly day as people catch up for a chat, the kids play games and have sack races and gumboot throwing competitions. It encompasses all that is best about Boolarra.”

I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading this first in the series which focuses on the life and times of one of our town’s folk. I really enjoyed interviewing Colin for this piece and think we should all share Colin’s pride in his well deserved award of the Australia Medal for his efforts for our community over many years.  Next edition, an interview with another of our well known local people.

Mark Cooke,
The Boolarra Link.