22 Jan

Matt of all trades

Words by
Lauren Mitchell
Pictures by
Leon Schoots

Twinnie the Tinker lays down tools in Bendigo, helping inspire a new generation of tech-savvy, trade-loving teens.

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Twinnie the Tinker lays down tools in Bendigo, helping inspire a new generation of tech-savvy, trade-loving teens.

Robot wrangler, blacksmith, tinker, gypsy; Matt Twin goes by many titles, including jack of all trades, master of none. “That seems a derogatory thing, but the full saying is actually, jack of all trades, master of none, better that than a master of one,” he says. Add to that list dyslexic, and Matt’s story becomes even more intriguing.

By day, Matt wrangles the robots at the Bendigo Tech School. “There’s an awful lot of programming and manufacturing of robots, and fixing them when they misbehave,” he says. Out of hours, he restores, designs, fixes and makes stuff, under the moniker Twinnie the Tinker.

“The tinkers traditionally were a group of travelling tinsmiths. They led a nomadic, gypsy lifestyle and they went around from door to door, house to house, offering to do things like sharpen knives and scissors or fix cooking pots. And the tinkers picked up lots of random little skills. They were never qualified in what they did but they were the original jacks of all trades.”

Prior to coming to Bendigo last year, Matt was on the road with Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, delivering tech programs to school students around the country.

Whenever he travelled he carried a tool kit and spent his downtime tinking… or should that be tinkering? Most probably both. He started a YouTube channel to share his creations. He says he loved the lifestyle the job afforded him, but the Bendigo opportunity was too good to ignore.

“I wasn’t really looking for a new job. I was reasonably happy where I was, but a couple of friends of mine were looking and one of them sent me the job ad for this one and said, look, someone wrote you a job. And they did. It could have been written just for me, and I thought, that’s nice.”

Matt says the list of skills required for his new role was long and broad, but he ticked all the boxes. He’s now stationed in the new Engineering building at La Trobe University.

“One thing I loved about Questacon was the huge and varied skill set and knowledge there,” Matt says. “The great thing about working at La Trobe is it’s really similar. If I need an expert in robotics, that’s okay, I just go onto staff directory, find that person and give them a phone call. There’s always an expert at hand, which is really good for designing educational programs.”

Matt says he wishes tech schools were available when he was at secondary college.

“I hated school,” he says. “I was dreadful. I went through all my schooling years as an undiagnosed dyslexic, and having a hand disability as well meant my spelling was dreadful and my handwriting was dreadful. In the mid-90s if your spelling and handwriting was bad, you got put in the ‘dumb kid’ classes. So I went through school with this identity as the ‘dumb kid’.”

Matt says it wasn’t until he’d been in the workforce for a while, and had tried a number of jobs, that he realised he loved learning, so maybe it was “time to give school another go”.

He studied an Advance Diploma in Building Design before starting a teaching degree, thinking his range of technical expertise could translate into teaching metalwork, woodwork or electrical studies.

“Just because you’re good with your hands doesn’t mean you’re not smart,” he says, adding he sees a lot of his younger self in the students who come through the tech school. “Particularly when the VCAL kids come through. I can see a lot of me in them. And I think, what if someone told them they were smart?”

Although Matt is now happily settled in Bendigo, he hasn’t lost his gypsy ways. He’s currently restoring a 1950s grey Ferguson tractor, and an ex Country Roads Authority caravan of the same era – which means he’ll soon be back touring the country in his downtime, albeit at 20km/h. The van will be kitted out with a workbench so he can demo what he makes as he goes.

“I’ve fallen in love with Bendigo,” he says, “because of the opportunities and the history, and because it’s a town that makes stuff.” Matt says anything he dreams up, he can get help with the manufacturing here. “Bendigo has got all the suppliers a big city would have, without the travel time.”

He’s also found an affinity with fellow makers across the region. “One of the first things I did when I got to Bendigo was have a bit of a look around and I found the Maldon Vintage Machinery Museum. I popped my head in for a look and they had a blacksmith’s forge there, sitting empty.”

He found a craftsman at the Port of Echuca forge to show him some skills, filled in the blanks via YouTube, and now demonstrates this almost-lost trade on weekends at the museum.

One of Matt’s latest acquisitions is a 100-year-old pedal-powered scroll saw, which he acquired after the Canberra Bike Museum closed down. Matt’s using it to make jigsaws from scrap plywood. It’s kept in the Maldon museum and also used for demos.

“It’s really cool seeing kids – who have access to screens everywhere – do a jigsaw puzzle, because some have never seen a jigsaw before, and these are 10-year-old kids, and they get to see one formed before their eyes.”