BILL Robbins, who died in Albury on Christmas Eve, was a pioneer historian of labour conditions in Australia and one of the most influential figures in the city’s artistic scene.
He retired this month as an associate professor and associate head of Charles Sturt University’s school of business and information technology after lecturing locally in industrial relations for 25 years.
Dr Robbins, 55, had fought a long battle with cancer and this year stepped down from the chairmanship of the HotHouse theatre board which he had held since 1996.
He is survived by his wife, Karen Donnelly, and their three daughters, Zoe, Odette and Madeleine and a son by a previous marriage, Tristan.
Dr Robbins’s mother, with whom he migrated from Scotland when aged about three, also survives him.
After a childhood in Melbourne, he obtained an economics degree from Monash University and worked for a time for the Australian Bank Employees Union.
In 1984, the Riverina-Murray Institute of Higher Education was expanding its business school in Albury and recruited Dr Robbins to teach management and industrial relations.
His broader interest in the arts and community led him to publish Codswallop, a creative writing magazine that ran from 1985 to 1989.
Dr Robbins continued lecturing and research when CSU was established in 1989 and worked with colleagues John Saw, Gerry Voll, Ian Harriss and others on many projects and publications.
He studied in depth Governor Macquarie’s methods of using convict labour and claimed the first industrial relations revolution began with the 1907 Harvester judgement leading to the world’s first significant minimum wage.
Dr Robbins obtained his doctorate after years of research into labour history, from the great strikes of the 1890s to the Howard government’s Work Choices reforms, as well as small business and regional employment issues.
He led several research projects into Albury-Wodonga labour and business issues, but few had as much impact on him as when the Murray River Performing Group commissioned him to undertake a planning review.
It proposed many changes, including the need for a permanent venue, and in turn led to the new name of HotHouse and to Dr Robbins taking the chairmanship of the board.
A funeral date is yet to be announced.
Editorial — page 18