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86-year-old proves it’s never too late for a good idea

It’s never too late to become an inventor – just ask Hans Vandertouw.

The 86-year-old has spent the past two decades turning a “radical but simple” idea into a prototype technology he believes has the potential to revolutionise the building industry.

And while tight-lipped on the exact nature of the product – “it requires the utmost secrecy to ensure the opposition doesn’t get wind of it” – he’s more than happy to use National Science Week to talk about why he’s never given up on his vision.

When a lot of people retire they become complacent but if you slow down, you get older quicker and that’s not for me,

said Hans, who epitomises aged care provider Feros Care’s passion for people to lead bold lives.

“I spent many years in charge of maintenance and major refurbishing work for a major property group and kept seeing the same defects in a particular area. Since retiring, I’ve developed various prototypes and now found a solution that will benefit public buildings such as hospitals, places of learning and nursing and retirement homes.

“This is something I’ve been working on for 20 years and as well as keeping my mind active, I believe it will create a huge retrofit industry and dominate the market both in Australia and abroad.

“Not that it’s about money. Money won’t make a huge difference at my age. I’ve just got a passion and if you want to lead a long life, passions are very handy things to have.”

Passions have always played a large role in Hans’s life.

As a child growing up in Belgium and Holland, there was the passion for his family and the great outdoors, both of which were put at risk during World War II.

As a 19-year-old migrant to Australia, it was his passion for adventure, travel and music – most famously exhibited when he was part of a band that performed gigs across the country and on television variety shows such as Six O’Clock Rock and Bandstand.

Then, on the return boat leg from a visit to Holland in the early 1960s, he met the woman who would become his greatest passion.

“I noticed this pretty girl on board and we danced and romanced,” Hans recalled.

“I persuaded her not to go to Adelaide as she had planned but instead come to Sydney with me, which she did.

“Half a year later I married this ‘Pommy girl’ called Sylvia Holland. I told my parents that I was marrying a ‘Miss Holland’.”

More than half a century later the couple remains happily married, having raised two children in the Hornsby Heights home they built in the 1970s and continue to live in today.

“Still living here is important because it keeps us busy,” said Hans, who also has three grandchildren.

“I’m not one for exercising just for the sake of it but it’s a larger block than normal so it gives us lots of work. I prefer to stay healthy that way and while the time to move will come, I’m very pleased with how things are going at this stage.”

Befitting a couple who continue to attack life, Hans and Sylvia have created careers for themselves in retirement as actors in television commercials and magazine advertisements for high-profile clients such as KFC and Hyundai.

The late-blooming inventor is also pursuing another project based on wind-ocean-wave power that he says could provide enough electricity to power a decent-sized city on a micro grid.

I may be 86 but I am determined to continue to lead a busy life, Hans said.

“The truth is I never really think about getting older. The thing about ageing is that as long as you’re healthy and keep your mind active, it’s only a number.”

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