Backward Glance - Bill Robinson, a snapshot
  • Wednesday 06 March 2019

Unusually, Bill Robinson started his photography career by telling the story of how he found his love for photography.

It began when he was living on the family farm outside Monto.

Bill’s family went to visit their neighbours who had a daughter that was a little bit older than Bill.

She took him into her bedroom, closed the door and showed him how to develop films.

From that moment, Bill knew there was a great future in photography and took it up as a hobby.

After Bill’s family sold the Monto farm and moved to Tewantin, he continued his keen interest as an amateur photographer.

He gained enough photography experience that when the Royal Australian Air Force advertised in early 1941, he knew enough to pass the trade test and went into the Air Force as a photographer. 

During his five years of service, Bill was posted in Australia and overseas.

Whilst based in Newcastle, he took the first aerial flashlight photographs at night. 

At the end of the war, he married Phyllis Breadman, a Women’s Royal Australian Air Force photographer, and together they established a photographic studio in Tewantin.

Living in Tewantin, they gradually extended their business throughout the district, eventually visiting Nambour one day per week.

In 1950, the Robinson’s moved to Nambour and started a branch studio. 

In 1961, they purchased Owen Studios in the Chadwick building, Currie Street, Nambour.

Then in 1973, opened another photographic studio in Caloundra, managed by their son Ted Robinson.

In 1976, Bill and Phyllis established a retail camera shop in the foyer of the Old Vogue Theatre in Nambour. 

In addition to his studio business Bill also worked as a freelance photographer taking photos for the Nambour Chronicle and the Nambour Police Force. 

In 1981, the Robinson’s pioneered Pacific Film Services on the Sunshine Coast.

Bill supplied one photograph per week to the Nambour Chronicle and it was regularly the only photograph in the paper. 

As the Nambour Chronicle evolved, photographs were used more often, so Bill attended functions and gatherings to take photographs on the paper’s behalf.

At that time, the police were also employing Bill as a photographer to record vehicular crashes and various other incidents.

The police were also beginning to use photography as a way of recording and for evidence. 

In his oral history, Bill mentioned his great appreciation of the work police do and his admiration for them as individuals. You can listen to Bill’s oral history via Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage website.

Bill was involved in many community service organisations. A unique role he played was Chairman of the Dutch St Nicholas Day Celebration committee. 

It began as a friendship with a Dutch migrant and when the Dutch community decided to have a St Nicholas celebration, which falls before Christmas, Bill somehow ended up being the chairman. 

He recalled that the meetings were marvellous to chair because everyone chatted away in Dutch, he didn’t understand a word of it and had no idea what was going on. 

At the end of the meeting they would assure him that everything was “Yah”.

The celebration involved the arrival of St Nicholas, who is the Dutch equivalent of Father Christmas, and he is actually a Bishop. 

St Nicholas arrived by train, complete with mitre and crown, and all the accoutrements of a Bishop. 

A white horse was provided for him to ride and there was a procession through the town with the town band playing.

Bill was also actively involved as a member and supporter of numerous community organisations including the Noosa Heads Surf Lifesaving Club, Nambour Rotary Club, Maroochy Fire Brigade, Nambour and District Senior Citizens Club and the Sundale Gardens Management committee.

For more than 20 years Bill was associated with the Queensland Professional Photographers Association and the Institute of Australian Photographers.

In his years as a professional photographer, Bill also photographed many visiting VIPs to the region – ambassadors, the Crown Prince of Laos, Prime Minister of England, Harold McMillan, Princess Alexandra and of course Prince Charles and Princess Diana.

He recorded on film the changing face of the Sunshine Coast – his photographs portrayed cultural and social history, as well as illustrated important aspects of the natural and built environment.

Bill retired from his photographic business in 1984. 

After the sale of Robinson Studios in 1985, Bill’s vast collection of negatives was stored in poor conditions until purchased by the Nambour Apex Club in 1990. 

In late 1990, the collection was donated to the Nambour Library by the Nambour Apex Club.

Bill had kept a register of the negatives, which was with the collection of approximately 50,000 negatives, stored in envelopes in wooden and cardboard boxes.

Council’s Heritage Library staff continue to catalogue, preserve, house and digitise as much of the collection as possible before it degrades.

Bill’s collection lives on as a significant part of the Heritage Library photographic database, Picture Sunshine Coast.

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.


Image details

Hero: Bill Robinson taking photographs with his studio camera, Nambour, 1952 [picture] 

Image 1: Saint Nicholas procession, Currie Street, Nambour, December 1956 [picture]

Image 2: Robinson Studios Camera Shop and Casket Agency, Currie Street, Nambour, September 1976 [picture]

Image 3: Robinson Studios photographic display at the annual Nambour Show, Nambour, 1954 [picture]

Image 4: Bill Robinson (far right) with Rod Voller (Architect) and Daisy Bowder at the unveiling a plaque to commemorate the laying of the foundation stone for Bowder Lodge at Sundale Garden Village,  Nambour, 11 July 1982.  Bill was the President of Sundale from 1978 to 1985.

Image 5: Interior of Robinson Studios in the Chadwick Chambers building, Currie Street, Nambour, 1966

Image 6: Interior of Robinson Studios Camera Shop and Casket Agency, Currie Street, Nambour, March 1981