Alan Robson interview, 13 August 2014 and 15 August 2014

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Alan Robson interview, 13 August 2014 and 15 August 2014




Alan Robson talks of his involvement with UWA from his initial student days from 1966 to the experiences of his coming to work at the university in 1974. He reflects on the universities reputation and how it was considered in the 1970s while considering its current rankings on the academic world scale. Working in the faculty of agriculture he speaks of his memories of his colleagues like Reg Moir, Neville Stanley and David Lindsay among others. He talks of the development of his career from lecturer to Dean of Agriculture and Vice Chancellor of the university 2004. He looks at the work of former Vice Chancellors Fay Gayle and Derrick Shreuder.
With a distinguished career in his field of expertise Robson was foundation professor of CLIMA Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture. This body would help the university expand its connections on the world stage, a main aim of Alan’s internationalisation of the university in his work as Deputy Vice Chancellor and then Vice Chancellor. He recalls changes to the community of the University he has experienced and talks of his aims for the university’s development and future in taking up the position of Vice Chancellor in2004. He speaks of some of the many achievements of the University over his 48 years of association with the institution. He looks at its growth and its future in a changing academic world.


Robson, Alan


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


John Bannister


Alan Robson


Interview 1: 49 minutes, 5 seconds
Interview 2: 53 minutes, 38 seconds
Interview 3: 52 minutes, 10 seconds
Total: 2 hours, 34 minutes, 53 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Alan David Robson born in Melbourne 1945. Family background. Living in rural Victoria and Melbourne. University. Studying Agricultural Science. Scholarship to University of WA. Medic breeder. Reputation of WA. John Millington. A lot of people didn’t do a PhD.
Scholarship, Agricultural Science, Millington
Intensions for PhD. Memories of the school of agriculture. Comparisons with Melbourne. Vibrant undergraduate research. Underwood, Moir, Millington , Quirk and Lonergan.
Underwood, Moir, Millington , Quirk, Lonergan *
Memories of the arrival to Perth. Millington. Myer Street and the divide. Plots and paddocks in UWA. Zoology and Botany. The Munns Line. CSIRO on campus. Synergistic relationship and Agricultural department and WA Agricultural department and the university.
CSIRO, Millington
Memories of UWA tea room. Comparisons to Melbourne and UWA. First impressions. The Tuart club. Underwood and Moir and Lonergan interact with the undergraduates. Young families and social functions. Supportive environment.
Tuart Club, Moir, social functions
Huge laboratory of WA. Plots in Tammin* and other country locations. Camping and field work for PhD. Memories of Underwood was a giant. He could pick good people. Harry Wearing. Underwood was very interested.
Harry Wearing, Underwood, field work
Memories of Reg Moir. The legend and a perfectionist. Writes some significant reviews. Ruminant nutrition. Underwood, Summers* and Moir were the three most important people in animal science.
Underwood, Summers, Moir
Moir did not write much. Faculty was very coherent. Teaching while doing PhD. Playing squash with staff. Memories of David Lindsay. Head of reproductive program. Incredibly popular. Best after dinner speaker. Plays cricket.
Moir, Lindsay
The farm tour and interactions between staff and students. social interaction and an interesting time in the faculty history. Memories of Millington. Significant discoveries with Cliff Frances and Gladstone. Lonergan and Gladstone.
Farm Tour, Millington, Cliff Frances, Gladstone, Lonergan
Farming community appreciate the institute and Department of Agriculture. Trace elements a 20th century discovery. Receptive audience. Growers pay a levy on production. A farthing a bushel. Support of the government and farmers.
Support, government, Department of Agriculture
Agricultural research strong at UWA was fostered by Underwood Lindsey Quirk, Jack Lonergan *. Strong relationships with community and graduate students. co-operative environment. PhD, why wont medics grow on acid soil. Millington and sandy soils in the Mediterranean vs WA. Island of Sardinia. Discovery and research. Gladstone and Lupin Lindsay and Reproduction of sheep. Moir and sheep feed.
Underwood, Lindsey, Quirk, Jack Lonergan, Millington, Gladstone*
Cooperative research centre. Relationships and good will fostered by Underwood, Moir and Lindsay. Good conditions in 1966. Funding and buoyant agriculture. Downturn in 1969. Coming back in 1974. Geology was a popular faculty. Memories of Poseidon and Meckering earthquake.
Memories of Perth the city. Career could grow. Perth was an open community. Barriers to succeed. UWA and thoughts of career. Heavily connected to the agricultural community. Knowing farmers as a graduate student. Memories of Prescott. Arts festival and the summer school.
Eyes on the Agriculture Department. Strong schools at UWA. Agricultural was very important to the state. Best faculty of Australia in 89. Built up by good people. Things turn around when Underwood leaves.
Strong schools, Underwood
CLIM and other research dry land and future farms. Collective is a feature. Memories of the head of the school Quirk giant intellect. Posner*, Alemore,* Parker. Memories of fierce seminars. Soil science was a lot stronger than other faculties. Story of Jim Quirk. A good sportsman. Roger swift has a distinguished career.
Posner*, Alemore,* Parker, Jim Quirk, Roger swift
Everyone wears collar and ties. Interactions with one another. People would talk about work in the tea room. The Border Medal. Backward Push to Science award. People go to seminars. Social and intellectual interaction. Memories of the generalists at UWA. UWA and the generalist degrees. Cross pollination between departments.
Social and intellectual interaction, Backward Push to Science award
Every school had its own library. Libraries are social places. The place was a lot smaller. UWA was the place. Loving the grounds of UWA. Good sense of UWA. University residences and interactions that result. Kim Cavanagh*. Playing squash. Fiona Stanley and the interactions. Staff students cricket match. Neville Stanley.
Libraries are social places, Kim Cavanagh, Fiona Stanley, Neville Stanley
Wanting to make changes as Vice Chancellor. Reasons for building The Club. An interesting time.
Changes, Vice Chancellor

Interview 2

1969 leaving WA. Memories of the army. Benefits of the army. Hopeless soldier. Officer training. Leadership and keeping a balance.
Post army life and career. Horsham research. Victoria Wheat Research institute Advertised Professor in Plant Nutrition at UWA. Quirk and Lonergan foundation Prof at Murdoch*. Appointed with no interview. Arriving in Perth in 1974. Memories of the Tuart Club.
Professor in Plant Nutrition, Quirk, Lonergan
Buying a house in Scarborough. No training in lecturing. Putting a lot of work as a lecturer. Enjoying lecturing. Importance of knowing peoples names. Getting on well with students. The social life of the university. Thai students. The most junior lecturer.
Lecturing, students
Changes at the university. Not knowing too many people at the university. The Agricultural Department was isolated. Meeting Street VC . Don’t patronise me. Sub Dean of the faculty. Promotion disappointments. Prof Boyle refuses to see Robson. Talking to failed applicants. University support for lecturers. No one peer reviewed the teaching. Importance of research.
Agricultural Department, isolated, Promotion, Boyle, peer review, research
Memories of the quality of the students in the 1970s. Agriculture was a close knit faculty. An exciting time. Strong research group. state research and the support of rural industry research funds. State wheat research group. Teaching honours students. High quality students. Agriculture students weren’t the highest achieving students. the position of Agriculture at UWA. Pecking order in science at UWA. Discussions with Posner. Research not based on science. Large numbers of international students in Agriculture . Large numbers of students. A lot of time on research .
Quality, Posner, research
Grassland Research Institute in 1980. Promotion to Associate Professor 83 applying for the chair of soil science 1983. Public process of getting a chair. David Lindsay and Bob Linder and Robson to move the department forward. Fill Cox. Productive period to 1993. Foundation professor of CLIMA Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture. CRC projects in future farming.
Grassland Research Institute, Associate Professor, David Lindsay, Bob Linder, Fill Cox*, CLIMA
David Lindsay and sheep research. collaboration Department of Agriculture. In-service training in Muresk. Nutrient deficiency book. High science a valuable science. Looking at the reputation of UWA. Complacent in Perth. Isolation. Curtin and UWA. Comparisons with other universities in the east.
David Lindsay, collaboration, Muresk, isolation, Curtin
Complacency in agriculture. International links. Importance of international students and visitors. Series of conferences on trace elements in soil and plants. Attraction of people. International connections and publishing international journals. Pre computers. Writing and conferences. Encouraged to research and support of research funds. Expected to be strong in research. Assessment of research performance. Large numbers of students. Industry funds. Going to talk at conferences
Complacency, Industry funds, conferences, research
UWA and its place in the world. John Pate and Underwood and Fellow of the Royal Society. Chemistry was strong. Period of acting head of science and Agriculture. Dean of Agriculture. Promotions and tenure committee. Making decisions a minute. Fay Gayle. Management leaders. Whelen and Street.
Fay Gayle, Management leaders. Whelen and Street.
Theatrics at the academic board. Patty O’brien, Mal Sergeant, John Jory. The debating society . moving a motion on devolution of the university. Bob Street. UWA was run by powerful committee and formula. Politics. Grants and budget. Political system. University house and the politics.
Patty O’brien, Mal Sergeant, John Jory, Bob Street, Politics, Grants
Fierce place at agriculture. The academic board was a different game all together. Quirk would go to the uni house to talk to people. Working the system. Blakers, Boyle and Billings. The strong people early on. Underwood. Other people were good at working the system. Memories of Neville Stanley. The game of the professor. astute people could engineers support. Performance based budget. Politics change to designing the formulas.
Blakers, Boyle and Billings, Neville Stanley
CLIMA and the internationalisation of UWA. CSIRO, Ag Dep. Steering the committee. Harry Perkins. Independent experts. Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture CLIMA and finance. Survives today and has significant links. Dominated research. getting enough people together. The good will.
CLIMA, Harry Perkins, CLIMA, research
Sabbatical leave system. The system disappeared in the 1970s. Importance of study leave. UWA and employment of international people. Tendency of appointing people from outside is good for internationalisation. People felt isolated at UWA. Travel and the internet.
Sabbatical, internationalisation
Eyes focusing on UWA. Gayle changed the place. Adelaide was miles ahead of UWA. Thoughts of Fay Gayle. Derrick Schreuder. Deputy Vice Chancellor. Margaret Seares. UWA was inward looking. Running the budget. Becoming VC
Gayle, Gayle, Derrick Schreuder, Margaret Seares.

Interview 3

Shcreuder takes an external role. Robson running the budget and Providing leadership under shcreuder. Productive period. 2004 Vice Chancellor achieving international excellence. Rankings and quality audits of the 90s. local community and the wider world. UWA serving the community as a gateway to the world. Working at an international level. 88 in the world.
Schreuder, international excellence, rankings, gateway
An enormous leap in ranking with the Nobel Prize of Barry marshall and Robin Warren. Achievements and teaching and quality. Scores of student satisfaction. Introduction of gernalised degree. Professional post graduate degree. Incentives through the budget. The culture of the university.
Nobel Prize, Barry Marshall, budget
Memories of the building of the club. Doing a servey in 1998. Engaging with the city and business. A University centre in Albany. Getting more scholarships. Equity dimension. Collaboration and competition with other WA universities. Perceptions of the community. Stable executive. Margaret Seares. Peter Curtis. Cohesive group. Viewing the role of VC. Internationally competitive. Support from the university community.
The Club, Albany, Collaboration, Margaret Seares, Peter Curtis, Internationally competitive, university community
Robson didn’t leave UWA when Derrick Schreuder was Vice Chancellor. Memories of Michael Chaney and Ken Michael chancellors of UWA. UWA is performing the right way. Performing parts of the university. Attracting North American students. President of Gutenberg university comes to UWA.
Derrick Schreuder , Michael Chaney, Ken Michael,
Students must leave with more than a degree. Students engaging more at the university. More colleges at the university and building at UWA. The Bayliss building. The business school. The business school board. Tony Howarth, Tracey Houghton. Changing the feeling of the business community toward UWA.
The business school, Tony Howarth*, Tracey Houghton
Quality of student. The performers indicators. Worrying lack of students in mathematics and engineers. Wider range of ability and decline in standards. Holley Ransom. Political parties declined in the university. Concerns for the intellect leaving with international students. Alumni functions in London and elsewhere. Graduates go all around the world. Post graduate students and international students. Income for the university. Teaching in English.
International students, Holley Ransom, standards
Fees and a free university. Fraser government and Howard government - fees and HECs. Impact on equity. Deregulation reforms. Difficult decisions of the Vice Chancellor. Professional staff car park. Closing UWA Press.
Fees, HECs, equity
Staffing appointments. Choosing the right people. Chair of the group of 8 universities. Research universities. Universities Australia. research funding. Being involved in national affairs. Awards. Australia Medal for Agriculture and Science. Order and Officer of Australia Medal. Reputation of UWA.
group of 8, Research finding, reputation
Awards for work in the field of agriculture and as Vice Chancellor. The juggling match of family and career. Working 6 days a week and travelling a lot. Good experiences as student and academic at UWA.
Pride of work. Accomplishments of the university. Interactions with the students. publishing good papers. String protestant work ethic. Group effort standing on the shoulders of giants. Being challenged. Rooster and feather dusters.
Accomplishments, pride
Knowing people at the university. Leaving the position in 2011. Isolation. Looking at the university today. Chance to influence the university. Post university roles. Chairing Museum committee, Higher education standards body, CSIRO and doing interesting things. Quality of higher education and regulating standards. Excellent students at UWA today. UWA on a good trajectory. Paul Johnson doing a very good job.
Isolation, higher education, students
Universities and values. UWA will differentiate. Students must value going to University. Network of 20 world wide universities. Collaborations around the world. Global village and online university. Mature age and school leavers. The death of the university. Group learning in the library.
Global village, The death of the university
Growth online of university. Looking at personal experience. Great social and student life. Student cohesion and the strong guild and university. Summing up a fortunate life since UWA connections since 1966.



Robson, Alan, “Alan Robson interview, 13 August 2014 and 15 August 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,