December 8, 2021

Old Places

Where we study the past to define our future

I’ve heard people ask that question.

Who was the R.B Robson and why is the Wallan stadium named after him?

Today I’d like to answer that question because he helped shape the place we live in.

R.B stands for Ronald Bernard, but he wasn’t a formal man and he was commonly known as Jim. He was the great-grandson of William Johnston, a Wallan pioneer.

After his marriage to Joan Laffan, he moved to Wallan and built a house on land next to the primary school. Unfortunately, this was compulsorily acquired by the education department around 1964, so he and his young family moved to their new home on Queen Street, next door to Vallence family.

Jim had a sporting background, playing with Brunswick and was recruited as captain/coach of the football club in 1961. He held this role until 1965. Wallan United had only made the finals once in the past six seasons, however, as the new coach, Jim took them to the grand final in 1961 where they were sadly defeated. This was Wallan’s first grand final since 1924. He then took the side to the preliminary final the following year and to the semis in 1964. He was the first Wallan coach of the newly renamed Wallan Football Club when they joined the RDFL in 1965.

Wallan Football Club est 1963

Jim wasn’t just a coach. He made a name for himself as a ruckman. Even when he was too old and unfit to play, nursing a knee injury, he’d limp out onto the ground for a game whenever the Wallan team was short of a man. The local papers said he had “more comebacks than Nellie Melba.” He was still filling in for the Wallan seconds during the mid to late 70s when he was well over 40 years old.

Jim was made a life member of the club in 1972 and in 1978 he helped the Club get funding from the council to build their new clubrooms – the Greenhill Cub of today.

Football wasn’t his only sporting love. He was active in the Wallan Bowling Club as a bowler and committee member since it began in 1963 and in 1973, convened a meeting to establish the Wallan Tennis Club. He was also a keen and able cricketer.

However, there was more to Jim Robson than sports. He was a firm believer in giving back to the community and he did that in a big way. He joined the local council and spent years as a member of various committees. With Wallan growing faster than the amount of money going into council funds, the infrastructure struggled to keep up. As Chair of the Wallan Water Trust, Jim worked to establish the sewerage, improve our water supply, and build the local reservoir. He cared about the shape and future of Wallan for the families coming to live there so he joined the council’s town planning committee. He fought to preserve the open space in Wallan that is Hadfield Park. Being a councillor was a full time voluntary and often thankless job in addition to his day job as a surveyor with the Board of Works.

Jim was part of the DisPlan committee (Disaster Planning) which was a major form of protection for Wallan and district, bringing together the CFA, police, and emergency services, and setting up a control centre in the Wallan Hall in preparation for possible emergencies. Some of you may remember the many phone sockets which used to line the wooden walls. They were there as part of disaster communication preparedness.

Possibly the group he most loved being part of was the Wallan Fire Brigade, of which he was captain for many years while his wife was the radio communications officer, manning the radio from home. He was with the brigade in the days when the first fire truck was little more than a farm truck with a tank on the back. It was a tough job, and the brigade members fought bush and building fires, cleaned up after floods, hosed down the spot fires ignited by trains through Wallan East and coped with horrific traffic accidents on the highway.

In later years, he joined the board of Mitchell Community Health, now known as Nexus. He and the family moved to Darraweit where he continued his contribution to the Wallan and district community.

R.B. Robson was a tall man with a genuine presence. He called a spade a spade, which didn’t always go down well, but he was known for his welcoming nature and his commitment to standing by his word. He wasn’t just a committeeman; he was a man of action, digging out blocked town drains, filling sandbags against floods to protect homes, and climbing into sewerage pits to fix problems.

Never one to seek recognition or reward, he was surprised and honoured to have the Wallan Stadium named after him. Before he died, was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s List and the Australia Day awards, receiving an Order of Australia award for his work in the community and his much-prized Australian Fire Service Medal.

He died in 1998 and is buried in the Wallan Cemetery. His wife, children and grandchildren are all still locals.