Bill Robinson

Bill's interest in photography began at an early age and from 1941 to 1945 he served as a photographer with the RAAF

Bill Robinson

Interview with: William (Bill) Robinson

Date of Interview: 6 August 1985

Interviewer: Caroline Foxon

Transcriber: Heidi Scott

William (Bill) Herbert Robinson and his wife Phyllis (nee Breadman) had opened the Nambour studio in 1950 and settled in the township in 1957. In 1961 they purchased Owen Studios in the Chadwick building, Currie Street and in 1973 they opened another photographic studio and camera shop at Caloundra. They expanded their business enterprise with the establishment of a retail camera shop in the 'old Vogue Theatre' Nambour in 1976.The plate camera(pictured) was mounted on a timber tripod for studio use. The photographic negatives (plates) were made of glass on which photographs were taken. Production of the cameras continued from the earliest days and into the 1940s. The camera was bulky and heavy to use and with the introduction of the roll film camera and the 35mm negative film, the plate camera was increasingly used mainly for profession use.

Image: Bill Robinson with his studio camera, Nambour, ca 1978.


Bill Robinson oral history - part one [MP3 58MB]

Bill Robinson oral history - part two [MP3 29MB]


Begin Tape 1/Side A

CF: Bill, you’ve been a prominent photographer in Nambour for over thirty years, perhaps you could tell me how you first developed your interest in photography and where you got your training.

ROBINSON: Well actually I didn’t get much training as such, and my story is that the, when we lived on a farm some thirty odd miles out in Monto. One evening we went over to our near neighbours about twelve miles away and the daughter of the house, who was a little bit older than me, took me into her bedroom and closed the door and then showed me how to develop films. So that was the, I could see there was a great future in photography. So that was the start. From then photography became a hobby with me.

CF: Right. When did you actually get some sort of formal training in it?

ROBINSON: Well I followed it up as a hobby, and then we sold the property, shifted to Tewantin, and I was still a very keen amateur photographer. And I followed it up sufficiently that when the airforce suddenly advertised in, early in 1941, that they needed photographers, I knew enough about it that I passed the trade test and went into the airforce as a photographer and they gave me the experience that I lacked, I knew the theory but they gave me the experience.

CF: And after the War then, did you come directly to Nambour?

ROBINSON: No, we started off, people lived at Tewantin and we started off, set up business in Tewantin. And lived there for a few years, gradually extending around the district and eventually started coming to Nambour one day a week, I think that would be about in the early 1950’s. Over the next few years it got to two days a week, three days a week, etc. Finally we shifted to Nambour, permanently, full-time, and made Nambour our home and the centre of the business.

CF: When you set up your studios in Nambour then, what sort of photography were you mainly doing?

ROBINSON: Well it was a little bit like a GP. It was family photography, portraits, weddings, child photography, family groups, not much commercial work, functions and things like that. There was no passport photos, because no one travelled over seas after the War anyway. It was mainly the things that happened around the place, the photographer is expected to go and take some photos of it. Try and sell them afterwards, if there was a surf carnival or the local show or the opening of something, they’d be the sort of things that you’d go and take some photos of.

CF: Right. You mentioned that you got involved in a lot of photography work for Council, how did that come about?

ROBINSON: Mainly I think because the Chairman of the Shire, and local member, Dave Low, was conscious of the fact that photography was a good tool to use in promoting the place and in putting forward various arguments. There was such things as the time that he had me go out one Sunday morning and photograph all the derelict school buildings, Nambour School, and then he took them off and waved them in Parliament, and eventually got some new classrooms out of it.

CF: Right. Was that the primary school?

ROBINSON: Secondary school, secondary school.

CF: Oh the high school.

ROBINSON: High school. Another one was the, I remember photographing the old railway station for him, and I think the old police station were other things that were photographed in the early years as propaganda to get new…

CF: Right. What sort of issues was the Council at that stage and the people of Nambour most concerned with?

ROBINSON: Well they were the basics really, we had no town water supply, no septic, and roads were, well minimal. When we first came to Nambour the only bitumen road was from Brisbane to Nambour, there was no bitumen beyond Nambour. That was Wartime. And so there was a terrific amount of roadwork needed to be upgraded, Curie Street only had a little strip of bitumen down the centre. It was basic things that the community was worrying about. Better schools and these things that are taken as standard nowadays, the water supply, extension of electricity, all those things were things that occupied the people.

CF: Yes, I heard the water supply issue was quite critical, was Low very involved in that?

ROBINSON: He was. I can remember going out and trailing up the upper Maroochy River with a party, and I think I photographed the Shire Engineer on his hands and knees scooping up water and drinking it, which we said was the Engineer testing the first water supplies. Then they got the water supply plan and there was a lot of photos that I took of the actual progress, the building of the dams the building mains etc. And of course culminating with the turning on of water into Nambour.

CF: Right. Tell me something about D.A. Low, he was obviously very, very important person in the formation of Nambour from the fifties on. Did you have a lot of dealings with him?

ROBINSON: Oh I did because of my involvement with taking photos of all these various projects, and it was in the fifties that all these things seemed to be starting. And I think that Dave Lows drive and his dual position as Shire Chairman and Member of Parliament put him in a position where he could really push for these various amenities that we needed.

CF: Which were the most important ones that you think that he achieved?

ROBINSON: Well the water and roads were basic, I think the most important one would be the coast road. It was Dave Low’s idea to connect up the coast or strip from Noosa through to Caloundra, with a road, remembering that up to that time every resort was at the end of a road running in from the railway.

CF: So effectively they were all dead-ends?

ROBINSON: Dead-end. If you wanted to go from Noosa to Coolum, about ten miles away, you had to go to Cooroy, down to Yandina and into Coolum. And if you wanted to go to Maroochydore, you had to come back and then go in from Nambour. You could see Caloundra from Mooloolaba but you had to come back to Nambour and go down to Landsborough and then from there. And it was Dave Low’s initiative which opened, that started or actually put forward the theory of the giving of Crown Land in return of developers building certain sections of the road. And eventually the whole road from Noosa to Caloundra was built by developers in return for various parcels of Crown Land. Which they…

CF: Presumably the State Government would have had to approve this use of Crown Land.

ROBINSON: Oh yes. And the Government was winning out of it, I think the thing still goes on that the, for every allotment sold the Government gets a percentage and the developer get a percentage. But that was the, I think one of the major things which brought the whole of the Sunshine Coast together as one unit, and started the development of the area as a single unit.

CF: Yeah. Was there very much a feeling of the sort of inland country part as opposed to the coastal towns; was there much cohesion?

ROBINSON: Well there was always a country verses the coast, and I think it was there and it was just one of the facts of life that. The farmers at Kenilworth were certainly more concerned with the roads out to their place than they were with the provision of sewerage at Coolum and things like that.

CF: Right. Did Low have, you know, did he have to deal with very much friction between the two areas?

ROBINSON: He did, but he was a very strong Chairman. And I think he sort of, he was the ruler of the Council, and he certainly took, not only took the initiative but he put forward things that eventually everyone seemed to fall in with. One of the things that did cause quite an argument was the building of the town hall in Nambour that went up in two different referendums before it was approved.

CF: Yes, I gather the town was split on how much everybody should have to pay for it.

ROBINSON: Yes, right.

CF: Did he find it, or from your experience, Low was combining being State Member plus Chairman of Council, this would have been a fairly heavy load, wouldn’t it?

ROBINSON: It was. But his, of course, his position in Parliament and his contacts there meant that he, as Shire Chairman he had contacts with the various Government departments and the various departmental heads that he could go to, straight to as a Member of Parliament. It meant, that he could sort of facilitate his ideas and get them moving quickly.

CF: And he was obviously the most prominent person in town, what do you recall of his relationships say with the local businesses in town.

ROBINSON: Reasonable. There was some friction over the by-pass road.

CF: What was the story there?

ROBINSON: Well I wasn’t really in on it, but there was a move for a by-pass road and a lot of local businesses felt that it would be the death of Nambour as a business centre if all the traffic went around it. And eventually the compromises reached on getting a good road into town and out of town with the idea that the town wouldn’t press for a by-pass road. Of course after a few years, and everyone found that with all the traffic going through that they did need the by-pass anyway.

CF: Right. Essentially what were the prominent businesses in Nambour then, in the mid-fifties?

ROBINSON: They had the Nambour Agencies, Jimmy Carrell, was the principal there, he was very prominent in pretty well every civic affair. Jim Grimes, of Day & Grimes, they would be two of the main businessmen connected with that were involved with the growth of the town.

CF: And what would their relationships have been with Council and with D. A. Low?

ROBINSON: Varied form time to time, concerning various issues. Well that’s a bit of a hard one in one way they were both men that were dedicated to the progress of the place, as Dave Low was. But they sort of saw different paths as the means of getting there. And they didn’t always see eye to eye together.

CF: What sort, did they think that a different priority system should have existed?

ROBINSON: In some things and other things that they wanted, were supporting, were ones which Dave Low sort of felt should have a lower priority.

CF: Can you think of any particular issues?

ROBINSON: Well there was things over the town car parks was one, I think the town was pretty well behind the Civic Hall. There was the taking over of the Showgrounds by the Council was another on that stirred up quite a lot of controversy.

CF: What was the reason for that?

ROBINSON: Well the Show Society with limited funds couldn’t do much to develop the showgrounds, and it was felt that if Council took over the grounds as trustees, they could then spend money, which meant that the whole of the community was contributing and the community would benefit because of the better facilities. A few who were interested in the actual showgrounds felt that they would lose their control of it.

CF: And eventually the Council took it over?

ROBINSON: Eventually the Council took it over, and I think has done a pretty good job.

CF: Tell me during this time, were you, yourself, very involved in any of these issues?

ROBINSON: Not involved so much as being there. If there was a function I was there, if there was a meeting I was there to take photos. I knew everything that was going on to a big extent, but with my own business to run I didn’t have time to become really involved in actively taking part in a lot of the projects.

CF: I understand at the same time you were also the police photographer for the area.

ROBINSON: Well that came a little bit later, and sort of creeped on gradually. Around about the same time that the newspaper developed from a one day a week newspaper to twice a week.

CF: This was the Nambour Chronicle?

ROBINSON: The Nambour Chronicle, yes. And originally I used to supply one photograph a week to the paper, which was about the only photograph in the paper. And then they started using photographs more, so I used to have to attend more functions and things on their behalf to get photographs. And somewhere about the same time the police started using me as a photographer in things like smashes and various other incidents, because they were starting to use photography more as a means of recording and for evidence.

CF: Was this pretty grim sort of work?

ROBINSON: It was at times, particularly smashes, things, it was very interesting. And it did get me a great appreciation of the work of the police and a terrific admiration for them, as individuals and for the work they do.

CF: How did you sort of adapt to doing this, obviously it could have been a rather emotional sort of situation.

ROBINSON: Well you just have to look on, try and be detached. A body was not somebody you knew it was just an inanimate object you were photographing; it wasn’t a, you tried to keep it non-personal.

CF: And in your time in Nambour, I know you’ve been involved in a lot of community service organisations as well as your work, perhaps you could tell me something about them. I gather when you first came to Nambour you got involved with the Dutch community, what was that all about?

ROBINSON: That was a funny one really. It started off that somehow we got very friendly with a Dutch migrant and his family, and I think that was before we shifted to Nambour, I think it was Tewantin. He came to Nambour too, and there weren’t many migrants or ethnic groups in the town, I think the Dutch were about one of the few ethnic groups in the town. But somehow or other because of my friendship with this Dutchman, when the Dutch decided to have a St Nicholas celebration, which sort of comes before Christmas, because they weren’t very conversant with local organisation and things, and contacts, this Dutch friend of mine got me involved in it, and I finished up somehow as Chairman of the Dutch St Nicholas Day Celebration Committee. Which were marvellous meetings to Chair because everyone talked away in Dutch, I didn’t know a word about it, and I didn’t know what was going on. At the end they would assure me everything was, ‘Yah’, it was right.

CF: Right. What did their festivities actually involve?

ROBINSON: It involved the arrival of St Nicholas, by train, complete with his, because St Nicholas is the Dutch equivalent of Father Christmas, and he’s actually a Bishop. So he arrives complete with mitre and crown and all the accoutrements of a Bishop, he has his slaves and pageboys etc. There had to be a white horse provided for him to ride on, there was a procession through the town, I think we had the town band involved. And the procession went through the town with the slaves throwing sweet mints to the children, and it was quite a function and certainly livened up the town that day.

CF: How did the town react to it, did they get involved in the actual day?

ROBINSON: Everyone seemed very interested, but no there wasn’t a lot of involvement.

CF: How big was the Dutch community approximately?

ROBINSON: It wasn’t big, I suppose a dozen or so family groups would be the core of it.

CF: And had they arrived in the fifties?

ROBINSON: Yes, they were all post-war migrants.

CF: Right. And did they mix in with the town people?

ROBINSON: They did, they took their part in the place, and I think, and there are still some well, descendants of families here now that were here in those days.

CF: Yeah. Were they the only ethnic community, or the only sizeable one that really set up in Nambour?

ROBINSON: They were, yes. Further south you had Italian community down around Glasshouse in that Range, growing tobacco mainly but Nambour had very little ethnic population.

CF: Right. And you were also involved I gather in the Masonic Lodge, in Roslyn Lodge. Had that commenced before you came to Nambour?

ROBINSON: Yes, I was a member in Tewantin, from just after the War and carried on in Nambour, eventually reached a stage where I was in charge of the district for some four years. Which did involve a little going out at night.

CF: Yeah, I noticed, you know round the whole Sunshine Coast area the Masonic movement appeared to be and probably still is, very strong. What do you think made it so, out in the country areas? Was it a social sort of thing?

ROBINSON: Well in the earlier times of course, there was not so many organisations or social things. Without stirring the feminist angle, it was one of the few things that men only could join. There were no service clubs in those days, and pretty well every town in the country had its own Masonic Lodge, and usually they were thriving.

CF: Right.

ROBINSON: There were quite a number in this district, and I think they did suffer membership drop when the time came that service clubs started to boom in the area. And a lot of young men found their need for social activities and things fulfilled by a service club, which also I think catered more for families and social activities. Masonic Lodges did suffer for quite a few years, a drop in membership, which I think is altered now and is consolidated and they are still thriving in most places where the towns are thriving.

CF: Right. Is that because they’ve changed now, and they’re perhaps more a community-orientated sort of thing?

ROBINSON: That’s one, yes, I think that’s helped and we’ve had to adapt to the times.

CF: Right. So essentially in those days it was very much a men’s club, and a social sort of function.


CF: I understand too, you were involved in the Rostrum Club.

ROBINSON: Yes, well that really started at the time when I was very much involved in the Masonic Lodge and having to make speeches and things, and I was getting involved in Rotary and various offices, and I felt the need for a little bit of training in Chairmanship and public speaking. And so for a few years I was involved in Rostrum, and they used to have a lunchtime meeting once a week, tea sandwiches and a different person as Chairman and a few speeches for an hour, and a criticism.

CF: So it was the sort of thing where you had to stand up and give a speech, and be criticised.


CF: Was that very hard to take, when you started?

ROBINSON: Well in some cases it was, but you knew that the criticism was constructive and you accepted it in the spirit it was given because probably the chap who was criticising you this Tuesday, you’d be criticising him next Tuesday.

CF: Right. Were these mixed groups?

ROBINSON: No, they were a men’s group too, but there was a ladies group, the Forum Club, which was quite active at the time too. We used to have combined functions occasionally, and they were quite a part of the social life, for a lot of people.

CF: Right. Why do you think they were set up as different groups? It would seem like something that would be a fairly common interest.

ROBINSON: Well I think that most people who joined them, joined with a specific purpose in mind, they were heading for some office in some other organisation. And they wanted that training to handle the position better, and I think that, well men, were probably heading for, in some community thing, which was probably a men’s organisation, and probably the conditions of a mans Rostrum Club was closer to the conditions that they eventually be meeting in the other, so they joined that and the women sort of did the same. They’d be women who were probably involved in C.W.A. and other activities.

CF: Right. So it was a case of people following a certain established interest.


CF: Your involvement with NATS, with the Nambour Amateur Theatrical Society, how did you get in to that?

ROBINSON: Well that was mainly through the photography, because from the time I’d come to Nambour I’d always photographed the various NATS productions. Got to know the members and I think I was on the Executive Committee, but I’m not quite sure how I got on it, or what I did on it, except the fact that I just went on as usual and took photos of their productions.

CF: The Sow society, you got involved with judging and that was it?

ROBINSON: Yes, I wasn’t on the committee, but for many years, I’m not quite sure how many, probably about twenty. Well the three of us, Nambour businessmen who seemed to be involved with the judging of the, part of the judging, of the district exhibits.

CF: Right. And who were you doing it with?

ROBINSON: Ned Edminston, the chemist, and Harold Whittle, who started out as a commercial artist in the town and eventually had a newspaper at Maroochydore. The district exhibits for many years were big features of the Nambour Show. There were several different exhibits from different parts of the district.

CF: These were essentially your big fruit and vegetables, your produce exhibits.

ROBINSON: Yes, the fruit and produce was usually, pretty much of equal quality, and the winners used to win or lose basically on the standard of the display. So the judging of the display site seemed to be very important, and it was a nerve racking experience judging the display because the judges weren’t allowed to talk to each other, the various organisers were standing around the corners peering, and watching that you didn’t stand too long in front of one, and not long enough in front of another. It was a very interesting sort of a set up.

CF: What basis were the three of you selected as judges?

ROBINSON: Possibly in theory of it, artistic ability, Harrold Whittle as a commercial artist, and Ned Edmenson as a businessman with promotion and display, sort knowing how to do his shop windows and display thing and things like that.

CF: Would you establish a sort of criteria? Something that you were all looking for?


CF: What were you looking for?

ROBINSON: Well I think it boiled down to, were they getting the message over. Each display usually had a theme, and when you got right down to the nitty gritty, it was whether they got their message over or not. We must have been fairly effective or they must have been reasonably happy with us, because they used to keep asking us to do it, year after year.

CF: Tell me then, one of your big interests in the town has been your involvement in Rotary, how early did you get involved in that?

ROBINSON: I think it was, we shifted to Nambour in 1955, I think, and of course in early 1956 I was invited to be a member of the Rotary Club.

CF: Rotary isn't something you just nominated to join is it?

ROBINSON: No, no. Because of their membership set-up, well they only have one or two from any particular profession or calling or trade.

CF: Why is this, I mean obviously you can't have a very large club that way.

ROBINSON: Well you get a, the theory is to get a cross section of the community. You have some professional people; you have some trades people. The main qualification is that you either own your own business or you’re the executive head of the business.

CF: Right. And what sort of work does Rotary get involved in?

ROBINSON: In the early days it was more community involvement. Some of our early projects were bus shelters around the town; we did a lot of work in helping form the original, Sub-Normal Association. There was, I can remember one year we painted the Guide huts, and we did work in the Show Grounds, and we'd sort of look around and see some sort of thing the town needed that we could possibly provide, partly by money or partly by physical effort. I think the year I joined the main project was providing two-way radio for the ambulances, which was a great need at that time and the club ran an appeal and raised, I think it was a couple of thousand pound, quite a big amount in that day to set up the ambulance.

CF: Yeah. Was it, I mean obviously the people in Rotary were the prominent businessmen and so on in town, was it ever a pressure group as such?

ROBINSON: No, I don't think it was, the philosophy was more that you’re a group of people enjoying each others company, and because all the other members were a different trade or profession to you, it meant searching for things to do in the community to make the community a better place. Possibly some of the public concept was due to the fact that the different people were usually ones who were involved in other organisations. And certainly when you went to a Rotary meeting you'd probably be associating with some of the leaders in the other community things, and there could be a lot of informal discussion but no actual organised pressure group existed. But it would be informal knowledge of what others were doing.

CF: And the fact that you were meeting each other there.


CF: Right. You were also, and had been for a long time, involved with the Fire Brigade Board, how did you first get on to that?

ROBINSON: That was somewhere about the same time as the Rotary Club I think when the Chairman of the Shire, David Low asked me if I’d become a government nominee on the Board. Up till then one of the Government nominees was usually the local Magistrate. And Magistrates come and go with monotonous regularity. So that meant that to fill the position fairly often, and Dave Low sad he would like the position held more by somebody who was more permanent in town, and asked me if I would become a member of the Board. At that time I didn't know anything about fire brigades at all.

CF: How big was the Nambour Fire brigade then?

ROBINSON: We had one permanent employee, a chief officer, the rest were volunteers. Over the years, I think when I joined they had just built the Nambour Fire Station, so I wasn’t involved in the actual building of that.

CF: You mentioned the town didn’t have an established water supply then, how did the Fire Brigade handle this?

ROBINSON: Well they had a fire engine that had a tank on it, with a few hundred gallons in it. And when they arrived at the fire that was used first, and at the same time they’d be looking for tanks or creeks or anything where they could pump water from to help put out the fire.

CF: I know in earlier times Nambour seemed to be a never ending succession of fires and the streets burning down. Was this still bad in the fifties?

ROBINSON: I think it was, there was a big fire, Whalley’s and the Town Hall just after the War.

CF: So about ’48?

ROBINSON: Which precipitated the forming of the Nambour Fire Brigade.

CF: Oh right.

ROBINSON: Which at the start was entirely a volunteer affair. But it was those fires, which really started the town. Well, convinced the town they needed a brigade.

CF: And what did you actually have to do? What was your function on the Board?

ROBINSON: Well a Board budgets for what you feel you need for the year. And sort of acts as general … looks after the business side. You have a chief officer who does the worker fire fighting, training and organising, and he’s the General Manager answerable to the Board. It’s a Board of Directors, and their job is to supply the Chief Officer with what he needs.

CF: And how was the fire brigade funded?

ROBINSON: It was in those days funded by three sevenths by insurance companies, two sevenths by the Government, and two sevenths by Local Authority. And that actually was the basis on representation on the board. The insurance company with three sevenths funding had three representatives on the Board, the Government had two nominees on the board and then Local Authority had two nominees on the Board.

CF: Right. And you were the Local Government…

ROBINSON: No, I was the Government nominee, not the Local Authority.

CF: Right. And who would have been the Local Authority's rep, would that have been someone off Council?

ROBINSON: That would be two of the local sitting Councillors for that period.

CF: Right. And what was the biggest changes in the brigade over the years you were in it?

ROBINSON: With the development of the area, our main job was to sort of try and keep pace with the development of facilities for the risks that were coming. Maroochydore was a place where we had to build a new station and eventually get permanent staff there. And over the years we developed a permanent staff as a core, I think we had thirty-three all together. We also had auxiliary stations at Kenilworth, Maleny, Buderim and Coolum. But it was our job, to sort of try and keep pace with it. And with the funds that were available we'd put in a budget to Government, and it would approve it, chop it back, trim it down and say you've got so much, and then we'd have to make do with that. But over the years we were building up, and we felt we were building up a pretty efficient brigade which could handle - you can't cover every eventuality - but we felt we had a brigade which was consistent with the needs of the place.

CF: Did it always continue to be prominently a volunteer brigade?

ROBINSON: No, well in the outlying areas yes, Kenilworth, Maleny, etc. But our policy was in Nambour and Maroochydore that because of the increased risks, speed was essential, and it was essential to get - when a fire started - was to get men there as quickly as possible. And if you depended on getting men who were working at a job somewhere else, and they've got to leave that job, go and get changed, come to the station, find where the fire is, and then go to the fire you can be the critical part. And our policy was to provide that immediate strike force, at our two main centres, Nambour and Maroochydore, that when there was a fire we had men on the way within thirty seconds.

CF: Right, very impressive.

ROBINSON: Of course to the public, seeing men sitting around, or apparently sitting around doing nothing, they don't think firemen do much, but to keep one man on duty twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year demands just on five men, because of your shifts and holidays and so forth. So actually although we had a total of thirty-three, at any time there would only be two men on at Nambour and two at Maroochydore. Then of course we got the other obligation that the Telecom brought in the 000 system. And out of the blue we were responsible for receiving every 000 call from north of Gympie, down to Bribie Island.

CF: Why was that?

ROBINSON: It was the way the Telecom had their equipment set up. That where ever you dialed 000, it came to the Nambour exchange, and the Nambour exchange sent it to the nearest fire brigade, which was us. So then we had to find out where the fire was, contact the brigade in that area, and say you better get cracking and go put out a fire, you’ve got such and such a place. Which gave us an extra responsibility. And we had to put in a permanently maned watch-room, staffed twenty-four hours a day, purely to handle these alarms and calls.

CF: Yeah. Has that system been changed?

ROBINSON: No, when we took the step, I think the first in Queensland to put girls on that job too, and they proved very efficient, done a wonderful job. But it was troubles over the rosters that they worked that was one of the causes of our friction with the powers that be in Brisbane.

CF: Oh I see. Right. And you yourself though, are now no longer on the Fire Brigade Board are you?


CF: Do you still have a very personal attachment to it?

ROBINSON: Well it was a part of life for nearly thirty years, and I’m still very interested in it, but I’ve got absolutely no connection with it at all now. And I feel that in fairness to those who are, I should keep right away from it.

CF: Yeah that seems very sensible. So tell me then in your dealings with so many associations in town – and I know there’s another big project you were involved in which we’ll come to later – your dealings with Council, did you find that Council itself was very involved in town activities? Did it get involved much in welfare work, cultural activities?

ROBINSON: Not to a big extent, I think Council policy was, well it had enough to do with the nuts and bolts, the roads, there’s over a thousand mile of road in the Shire for a start. Providing the basics was certainly a major job for the Council, and I think their policy was to involve, if there was a need, they’d try and involve another group into catering for that need. Now one of these for an instances, would be, well this is back to the sixties, when the Rotary Club had a visit form an organiser who said what we need was a senior citizens club in the town. We didn’t know much about senior citizen clubs, we didn’t know if we needed a club or not. I was involved as, Community Service Director in the Club at the time, so the Club said right, that's your pigeon, you go and find out about it. So after various discussions, particularly with council, and David Low as Chairman, and various other organisations, the Shire Chairman, or the Council called a public meeting. And a Senior Citizens Club was formed. So sort of the Council was achieving its object in one way, it was organising an amenity but it didn't have the responsibility or running of it. Because I was the one who was sort of organising it, I became president, which position I held for about eight years. We got the Council, the Council contributed, became involved in the provision of a restroom there beside the railway station, they provided that. And the Senior Citizens Club had gone on from year to year running itself, and I think doing a pretty good job in catering for that particular segment of the community where there was that need. But the Council itself, apart from providing the amenity when the need was shown to it, sort of, it had nothing to do with running it.

CF: Right. I've noticed just in, you know, reading the papers of the period that very often if something became an issue, public meeting would be held in Nambour and things would be thrashed out. Was this very much a method of the time?

ROBINSON: Yes I think so. It gave those who ere steamed up about something a chance to air their views, it also gave a chance to gauge public support and it also gave a chance to organise a club, or organisation, or association to cater for that particular need.

CF: Right. Would they normally be organised by a group or a service group or would they be spontaneous, say you know a citizen organising them?

ROBINSON: The ones that were successful were usually organised by somebody - it wouldn’t be by a club or that - usually an individual was probably at the start of it, but if they did their homework properly and they got some support and got the Council on side, on hand, their support, then you had a fair chance of getting what you wanted, or getting the show on the road.

CF: Would you get much of a roll up at these public meetings?

ROBINSON: No, not a big lot. I’m just trying to think of that first one for the Senior Citizen Club, I think there was abut forty people there, probably.

CF: Would they tend perhaps to be the sort of people in town who’d get involved in things anyway?

ROBINSON: A lot of them would be the representatives of various organisations who’d feel that if it was something to do with something that was close to their interest, then they should at least find out what was going on.

CF: Tell me with State Politics in the town, I read over one particular issue, over the Civic Hall issue, D.A. Low and Ralph Smith, well D.A. Low as the Country Party representative, and Ralph Smith as the Labor Party man, they got together and co-operated on this. Did this happen much in town, or was there a down the middle sort of split?

ROBINSON: I don't think that there was a really, what's the word, polarised political set-up here. For one it was such a blue ribbon Country Party seat that it was I think a feeling that, that was an excepted sort of fact, one of the facts of life you had to live with. But I think that generally things never generally polarised on a political basis. Most people would work together in most cases irrespective of what their private political views were.

CF: Was there a tolerance of other political views in the town? I mean you say it was very obviously very strong Country Party seat, what was the feeling say of the Labor Party or even was there a Communist Party in the area?

ROBINSON: Labour Party I think was tolerated, but I think in one or two instances where there was a feeling of, a couple of people were Communists and there was, they certainly didn't get any co-operation from, you might call the Council or the powers of the town. But no, there wasn't a lot of big political issues, or polarised things.

CF: Right. So you feel that in Nambour in those times, people weren't really concerned with big issues beyond the town?

ROBINSON: No, I think with the growth of the place, with the state of the place and the post-war lull that had to be taken up, and with the development that was happening there was that many things needed here, to keep everyone busy who wanted to be involved in anything, there was plenty to do around the place.

CF: Right. When you talk about the tolerance of other political views and so on, what was it like in the church sphere? Was there a strong church group, or groups in the town?

ROBINSON: Possibly the biggest church group was the Methodist Church group. They had some of the town leaders, quite a few of the town leaders as members. I think they were the first ones who built a modern church in the town. There wasn't churches, I think. They kept fairly well to themselves as church groups, but they didn't involve themselves in community things a lot, they kept more to their own activities.

CF: Yes, I'd heard that the Methodist Church was a very strong, a very large church group in Nambour itself, did this show itself in the business area or anything like that?

ROBINSON: Well it meant that some of the Methodist Church supporters were very much involved in the town, in various activities, but they were not there as representatives of the Methodist Church. That was because of their business interest and obvious organising abilities, that they were prominent in other things.

CF: And was there any inter-church friction at all in those early days, in the fifties and sixties?

ROBINSON: Not a lot to my knowledge. I can remember attending a Catholic Ball, Catholics had Balls, in the place, Church of England had a Ball, no I don't think there was friction, I think there was more keeping to their own…

CF: Separation.

ROBINSON: Own backyard. I think some of the early, it was possibly one of the earliest efforts you might say at co-operation, was when the Ladies Guilds started the Chelsea Committee.

CF: Is this the Chelsea Flower Committee was it?

ROBINSON: Yes that was started by representatives of Ladies Guilds from the different churches.

CF: Who was most prominent in that, in setting it up?

ROBINSON: I wouldn't…

CF: But there were representatives from both groups?

ROBINSON: Yes, it was the representatives of Ladies Guilds of all the churches formed the initial Chelsea Committee.

CF: And was that an annual show then?

ROBINSON: Yes, yes.

CF: Was that quite a social event in Nambour?

ROBINSON: Well it developed, yes, it was always seemed to be a success right from the start. I think I can remember back to, almost about the time when we shifted to Nambour or just after. There was a May Glasgow was one of the … I think, Alan Glasgow was a jeweller here, and I think his wife May, was one of the very early prime movers.

CF: You mentioned well, that as a social aspect and also the different balls that were run by the churches, what was the social, the recreation scene like in those days, were the balls very big social functions in the town?

ROBINSON: They were. I think the major ones used to be held out at the Show Pavilion, with the liquor licensing laws at the time, there were quite a lot of funny ways of trying to circumvent them.

CF: What was the problem then?

ROBINSON: You weren't allowed to have liquor within so many hundred yards of a public function. So if you had a seat or a bit of an alcove at the ball, near a window where you could lower a rope down to somebody outside, then pull up something, that sort of made that a better alcove to have…

CF: So effectively all these social functions were dry in those days?

ROBINSON: In theory they were.

CF: Oh right, right. That's very interesting. And what sort of different balls would they have around town?

ROBINSON: There was the RSL, the Show Society had a ball for the Shire, I can remember a couple of Caledonian Balls.

CF: This was the Scottish Community was it?

ROBINSON: Church of England, and the Catholics. They'd be the major ones for the year.

CF: And this of course was the period of the Debutants Balls wasn't it?


CF: Yeah, I suppose you would have been very busy work wise.

ROBINSON: Well that was an important part of a professional photographers business, was the Debutant Balls.

CF: Right. And what else was there around town then, you know, in the way of entertainment and so on?

ROBINSON: Picture show.

CF: Was there just the one theatre then?

ROBINSON: One theatre.

CF: That would have been the Vogue was it?

ROBINSON: Well before, there was the old Vogue before the Vogue on the site about where the SGIO building is now. There was a theatre there which replaced the one that was behind the Town Hall, which burnt down. No social activities where more of the personal involvement, if you wanted social activities you had to organise them.

CF: Oh right. So there really wasn't the sort of thing where you'd go out and pay money and something would be provided for you.


CF: And how about things like sporting activities, were they very important around town?

ROBINSON: Well I wasn't much of a sportsman, but there was the bowls club I think was going on before I came here. It was a very active club, the golf club, tennis clubs, be probably three of the major - yeah, they'd be about the major ones.

CF: Were they still at that time going through the debate over having sport and entertainment and so on on Sundays?

ROBINSON: I don't think that was a big issue here.

CF: I mean they did have it, or they didn't?

ROBINSON: I think the criteria was paid sport.

CF: Oh I see, right. So really cultural activities around town, were they also organised through various groups and so on?

ROBINSON: Yes, we had the NATS society, which started in the early fifties. They were just a group of people who wanted to have fun and put on things themselves. They eventually got their own hall, which burnt down. There was dancing classes for young ones, which they used to put on concerts. No I think the general principal was if you had wanted to do something, you more or less got organised into organising it - involved in organising it.

CF: In the social groupings in the town itself, were there class differences in Nambour, was there a society set up?

ROBINSON: Not to my knowledge.

CF: You saw it as a fairly egalitarian arrangement?

ROBINSON: Yes. Course I wasn't, a photographers in a funny position. I read somewhere once that social status a photographer rated between a village blacksmith and a circus juggler. (laughs)

CF: Hard to know how to take that isn't it. So it wasn't something that you noticed around the area?


CF: How about groups like, or say business groups and so on, say the Moreton Mill, J D Grimes and so on, were these - we mentioned before things being pressure groups - where these pressure groups around the town?

ROBINSON: Not formal pressure groups.

CF: I mean obviously the Mill would have been - I presume - would have been the largest employer in the town.


CF: Did this have an effect on relationships with the Mill, say the Council relationships and so on?

ROBINSON: Well that’s a bit out of my sphere. I wouldn’t know the underground things.

CF: Whether there was a community feeling about it, whether people felt its importance or not?

ROBINSON: Possibly the Mill did have an influence, but I don’t think it had, it was not big brother to the extent that it ruled the town.

CF: Right. And how about people like Grimes, J D Grimes, I’d heard there was a joke or something that went round town that perhaps it should be called Grimesville, was he really that important?

ROBINSON: He was very much involved in business, and he was very much involved in community affairs, the Show Society, he was president of, and then he was one of the original founders of Sundale. His business ability was such that he had the ability, that if he joined something he automatically was up near the top, he wouldn’t be a backseat member. And he has a sincerity and a drive that anything he got involved in he really gave it everything he had. So you might say that he was one of the ones who ran the town, but he certainly was running it for the good of the town, not for him personally.

CF: Well obviously the man who was running the town was Dave Low, as you mentioned. How did his term end, he was defeated for Chairmanship of the Council, was this a very difficult change?

ROBINSON: It was at a time when Dave had been Chairman for many years, his health was failing, and there was a feeling that Dave should, for his own health sake, not stand for Council but he insisted on standing. And I think it was just a general feeling for Dave, for the good of Dave Low’s good he should be retired, not that they were against him or anything else. But he was a sick man and certainly couldn’t handle the duties.

CF: Right. And who actually took over from him then as Chairman?

ROBINSON: Well Eddie De vere who had been on the Council for quite a few years was the one who stood against him and won the election. I think Dave did take it, very as a personal thing, but I think the attitude generally was that it wasn’t a vote against Dave Low, it was a vote for Dave Low’s good. For his own good.

CF: So you feel that the people of Nambour really did appreciate what he’d done for the town?

ROBINSON: I think they did, and I certainly believe that in his years here, he was the main architect of the post-war development.

CF: Right. Yes you’d mentioned in our earlier talk that he was very much responsible for bringing personalities and so on to the area, was this a deliberate policy on his behalf?

ROBINSON: I think it was. He was getting the area known by other people, I mean if you’ve got visitors coming from overseas, ambassadors’ and things and you spend the day showing them the area, it’s obviously good public relations. We did seem to have for a few years a succession of quite important VIP’s around the place from time to time.

CF: What sort of people did he invite up?

ROBINSON: There was ambassadors, there was I think the Crown Prince of Laos was another one, we had Prime Minister McMillan and he was Prime Minister of England, of course, we had Princess Alexandra. There seem to be, well, and then there was other smaller won’t call them smaller dignitaries, but parliamentary delegations from overseas that were sort of in Brisbane, had a spare day, he'd invite them up here for the day.

CF: I suppose this of course was through his parliamentary connection himself?


CF: So in that time, I mean obviously between the time you came here in the fifties and right up to the present day, there were big changes in Nambour. Were the biggest changes during the Dave Low period do you think?

ROBINSON: I think they were. We changed from, Nambour changed from a small country town. The Sunshine Coast came in to being, it was only a collection of five small seaside resorts. Fishing villages. We sort of, well grew up, when you think that when, the days I’m thinking of was one doctor at the General Hospital, Doctor Moffat, and there were two other doctors in practice in Nambour, and they were the only doctors I think between Cooroy and Brisbane, and probably Caboolture. That was the medical scene. We just got electricity, the roads were practically non-existent, we certainly had no airport. All these things I think came together and started to consolidate in the fifties to seventies, and then of course we had a bit of a financial bust then, which was good in one way, it gave a consolidation. But I think it was a very exciting period I think, from the fifties through the sixties.

CF: Sounds it. Did Eddie De Vere, when he took over as Chairman, did he carry through this sort of impetus that Dave Low had started?

ROBINSON: Yes, and he was very much supportive of bringing in big business and trying to do what he could to support them. I think his policies generally followed Dave Low’s development policies.

CF: Have you yourself seen a big change in the business aspect of the area since the early fifties?

ROBINSON: Oh yes. I think all your businesses in those days were just small individual businesses, you’ve got your chains now, you’ve got your shopping centres, you’ve got all these things which, the facilities that we never had in those days.

CF: And we’ve mentioned some of the people like J D Grimes and so on that were prominent people then in the fifties. Were there other people that were memorable, that were noteworthy from that period in the town?

ROBINSON: In Nambour, well you'd probably had a group of people who none of them sort of outshone, but all were solid, dedicated for the place, and people, well you had Dave Glasgow, you had Fergus Scott the dentist, Ian Hayne the chemist, you had a whole lot of people who were dedicated and working for the place.

CF: A lot of what you've said, the community groups, the service groups and so on in Nambour the way the Council would let the community do it's own thing. Is this the sort of thing that's led very much to the establishment of Sundale, do you see this as the background to it?

ROBINSON: I think it’s another aspect of the same policy.

CF: Perhaps you might tell me something about how Sundale came about.

ROBINSON: Well the original and I believe the true story, I’ve researched this, that it was a Apex Club meeting. And the Apex Club which was only a young club them and all with young members, was having a meeting one night and they were deciding what sort of a project they could do in the town. And they talked about various things, and Ian Hayne, the one who’s attributed to having said “I wonder if Nambour needs an old peoples home?” That was discussed a bit and sort of went up and down for I believe some months. A few people from that did talk about it, and made a few enquiries and then eventually J D Grimes came into the discussions evidently with the Apex Club. And the first recorded minutes we have is a meeting between some members of the Apex Club, J D Grimes, Roy Charlton who was a solicitor, and a business associate of J D’s and Clem Renouf, who was also an accountant and a business associate. And from that meeting developed an idea of the aged peoples home, and it was eventually then that J D Grimes, Roy Charlton and Clem Renouf offered to pay for the ground that the present Sundale sits on. Then the Apex Club took up the financing, to finance to build the first homes, and so the thing went from there.

CF: Right. Has it always been controlled then by a particular service group?

ROBINSON: The management of Sundale is very carefully set up that no one can get, no organisation can get control of it. Apex have four nominees on the committee, the public have three nominees on the committee, and now with our new development of Rotary Village, the Rotary Clubs have four nominees on the committee. So no one has a majority.

CF: And you’re effectively the Chairman of the committee?

ROBINSON: Manager.

CF: What does that involve? What sort of work?

ROBINSON: My main duty seems to be to make speeches and thank people. (Laughs)

CF: A lot of time spent in, or has it in the past, been in fund raising and so on?

ROBINSON: In the early stages it was very much a lot of fund raising to get the thing off the ground. But it’s all with the community support, because it is such a community venture. When you suggest fund raising, or want something, you do get public support, not just from individuals but from organisations.

CF: So you feel Nambour really sees Sundale as its own place?

ROBINSON: Yes. You see we’ve reached a stage now that I’m sure that not only if most people in Nambour made some sort of a contribution somewhere but, most people have either had a relative or know of somebody who’s a resident there.

CF: Right. Does priority go to residents of Nambour?

ROBINSON: To some extent. Our basis for admission is need, physical condition and local, having lived locally. The person who lives locally certainly takes priority. Other things being equal over somebody…

CF: And is this a decision that the committee has to make, do you have to make these individual admission decisions?

ROBINSON: Well you have a system of screening and I’ve got an administrator and staff who sort of sort things out, and in the event of them not being able to make a decision, then it comes to the committee for the final decision. Some cases its heart threatening.

CF: Oh very difficult. Yeah. And the Sundale village itself now, is it essentially self-supporting? Where does most of your funding come from?

ROBINSON: Our running expenses, we’ll split it up into two things, running expenses and development. Running expenses come from tariffs from residents and the hostel section, residents pay what is based on eighty-five percent of the pension. In the nursing home I think the Government sets the amount, I think it’s closer to ninety percent of the pension. In the nursing home the Government funds the deficit and makes up our, we put in a budget and they make up the difference between tariffs and what it costs. So all our running expenses, providing we run economically and reasonably, all our running expenses are met either by Government subsidy or residents contributions.

CF: So its future is quite assured.

ROBINSON: All our development comes from donations and well investments other things, we do not use donations for running expenses.

CF: I see. I’d heard that it was quite a big fund raising operation to establish the nursing home section, how was that organised?

ROBINSON: That was in the early seventies, and we realised at that time we had somewhere about a hundred odd residents. We realised the need for a nursing home, so we decided to take the plunge and we had some funds and we did need twenty-five thousand, and they would have been dollars in those days. So the committee agreed to run an appeal and I got involved in it. We brought together a representative of every community in the three Shires, gave them a good dinner one night, and brainwashed them verbally, sent each one back to their own community, and asked them to do the same thing in their community with all their local organisations. And we gave them all a target, and I think we ranged from about five or six thousand from Nambour, down to a thousand in Kenilworth, Maleny, and various other amounts for all the little towns. And so each organisation went back and they got on, called together all their clubs and that in the town, split up their quota amongst them, and in thirteen weeks we had our twenty-five thousand dollars.

CF: So in other words using the grass roots sort of level.

ROBINSON: Yes. The newspaper co-operated beautifully and they used to have a graph in every week, showing how we were going, they listed all the donations, the activities, it was a wonderful, it was a full community effort. And it was impossible to get an exact figure, but I know that it was over a hundred and thirty district organisations, held some sort of a function or did have some activity towards the appeal. So you can’t get much more community than that.

CF: No, it’s really quite amazing. And you still find, I mean obviously it’s been years and years of fundraising for the village, do you find you can still go in to the community and get a reaction?

ROBINSON: Yeah. A couple of years ago I had the idea that the nursing home was looking too much like a hospital, and it would look better if it had a few paintings and things around the wall. Well you can go one way and you can buy prints, get them painted. But I wanted to local interest in the thing, and I made an appeal through the paper for local artists to donate, would they donate a painting to be hung on Sundale. We were absolutely over-whelmed; we’ve got some very valuable paintings by a very noted artist. We’ve got paintings in various wards and rooms and passages, to get away from the clinical atmosphere. We did get some wonderful paintings, and we got some that weren’t so good which haven’t been hung. But it was just an example of response, of public response.

CF: Perhaps just to wind up I guess, perhaps you might using your dispassionate photographers eye, just give me what you feel is your opinion of Nambour now you know the impetus that D A Low had started. Do you feel it’s gone on, or do you feel Nambour has settled somewhat as a town?

ROBINSON: I think Nambour is still the centre of the Sunshine Coast, I think it’s the core. I think it will continue to be that, when we’ve got such things as the General Hospital, we’ve got the Local Authority here. I think it will be the main core of the area, I think it’s advantages are that it’s one of the most wonderful places to live in, close enough to Brisbane, you can go down to a function in an hour, hour and a half if you want to, and come home after. It’s got everything from seasides to Mountains, I think if we get the by-pass to the town we’ll then have a chance to develop the town as it should develop.

End of interview

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