A team of problem solvers

Bill Hallett

Story & photos by  Keith Platt

The members of the can-do Solve Disability Solutions Mornington Peninsula team have had years of experience in any number of skills: metalwork, woodwork, sewing and machinery.

In all probability, they could do almost anything on demand, from building a bridge to making a thimble. Their skills begin with problem solving and end with manufacturing.

Instead of putting their abilities on the market, this A-team of professionals and tradespeople works for free. Solve’s 11 Victorian branches are the state’s only not-for-profit NDIS provider.

The organisation designs and builds equipment that is not available commercially for disabled people. Often one-offs, the products quite often meet very specific needs. Requests made for Solve to fix a problem are assessed and coordinated by an occupational therapist.

Solve Disability Solutions is Victoria’s only not-for-profit NDIS provider. Bill Hallet, of Mornington, a former systems analyst, says most of the experts volunteering their skills through Solve are retired. They have ended their commercial working lives but want to continue using their accumulated knowledge.

A team of problem solvers: Chris Pyke (centre) enjoyed a surprise visit from Hey Hey It’s Saturday personality Plucka Duck with the volunteers from Solve involved in building the special exercise bike. From left, Stan Proctor, Alan Grimes, Louise Stewart, Melissa Thai, John Pratt, Peter Kay, Henry Van Ginkel, Bill Hallett and Jeremy Hallett.

As with many good ideas, some of the examples of the work of Solve seem simple. But someone had to come up with the solution to the problem. One Solve “client” could not successfully drink through a straw. It was hard to maintain the pressure needed for sucking. Solve put the problem to its members and one came up with the idea of placing a one-way valve in a plastic straw. Problem solved. Another client was able to use a computer keyboard but couldn’t pick up a CD. Simple. Make a pick-up stick. 

Chris Pyke peddaling for “Plucka”.

A man who loved to go kayaking posed another more involved problem. He was able to launch his craft from a trailer dragged behind his wheelchair but, as he had no legs, could not operate the foot controls necessary to adjust the rudder. “We made a mechanism which allowed him to control the rudder by sucking or blowing through a plastic straw, or tube,” Hallet says.

Hallett shows Essence a frame for a retractable set of steps he made for a side-opening van. Commercially available steps were too narrow and the man Solve set out to help could only use them by virtually crawling into the van. Like Hallett, most members of Solve are hands-on types; they can’t resist fiddling with anything and everything mechanical and want to do things themselves. They love a challenge. In 2013, Hallett and then Solve chairman Stan Proctor went to a beach event being held by the Disabled Surfers Association’s Mornington Peninsula branch, speaking with carers and the disabled about their special needs. Drumming up work for the Solve team. An active member of the DSAMP’s committee (and former president) Hallett sees synchronicity between his two main “retirement” occupations. The cross pollination has led to a beanbag styled seat which, once on a “soft” surfboard, enables a disabled person to surf sitting upright.

A Solve-designed soft seat provides a stable platform on a surfboard for Sam Bainbridge, under the watchful eyes of Phil Gorton (running) and Tim Rendall.

A further connection between the two organisations saw Solve modify a wheelchair for use on a flying fox at the YMCA’s Camp Manyung at Mt Eliza. The heady days and irreverence of the TV show Hey Hey It’s Saturday may seem poles apart from Solve, but the two have come together in Mornington. While it may not have been the entire program, one of the most bizarre segments of the acclaimed show was the regular appearance of Plucka Duck. In June, Plucka was back on centre stage as Chris Pyke pedalled the wheels of a bike in time with 24 spinning Plucka Duck dolls. The mini show marked the handing over to Mr Pyke of an exercise bike, complete with a scaled down working Plucka Duck carousel. Built by the members of Solve the bike and its solar powered Plucka Duck carousel, or merry go round, is now installed at Mr Pyke’s house. Mr Pyke told Solve he needed to be motivated to exercise to lose weight and improve his overall health. Members of Solve modified a road bike frame into a penny-farthing style bike to match the aesthetics of the original Plucka cycle.

As well as being one of the most enthusiastic of Hey Hey It’s Saturday’s legion of fans (a Facebook page has 500,000 followers), Mr Pyke is also something of an expert when it comes to the trivia and details of the show. Without much prompting he will reel off facts and figures about Hey Hey’s creators (Daryl Somers and Ernie Carroll), its stars (including Levinia Nixon, Jacki MacDonald, Russell Gilbert, John Blackman, Red Symons and Molly Meldrum) and its history (when it started, ended, its revival specials and a 2010 comeback). The biggest surprise part of the June handover came when Plucka Duck swept into the room. A delighted Mr Pyke warmly embraced his screen idol before “performing” a Plucka Duck sequence before the members of Solve. His collection of the mini Plucka Ducks is nearing 150: “I collect anything Hey Hey that’s for sale on eBay or Gumtree. I never miss a bargain as they’ll never be made again,” he says. He has met other Hey Hey “fanatics” through the official Facebook page and knows of people collecting videos of old episodes. The episodes can be watched online but it is illegal to download them. His Plucka Ducks (“genuine, not copies”) sit on shelves at home alongside a wheel that used to be spun by contestants in the show’s prize-awarding Plucka Duck segment.

While those Pluckas on the shelves sit out their sheltered lives, the 24 on the Solve-built merry-go-round are sure to get a daily work out as they provide an irresistible incentive for Mr Pyke to use his exercise bike. If you think you or someone you know can use these services, please get in contact.

Solve Disability Solutions’ Services
Ph: 1300 663 243


Peninsula Essence – August 2019