This week sad news came of the passing of Robert Dunlop. Robert was not just an outstanding maker, designer, employer, innovator and advocate for the crafting and potential of wood; he was a real giver to the communities he moved within. He founded and worked for his local Meals on Wheels in Brisbane, was involved with the Scouts and Rotary, was a founding member of the now defunct Woodcraftsmen’s Guild of Qld and doubtless much, much more. That’s the sort of man he was, never mind the fact his work is in the new Parliament House in Canberra, the Queensland Museum and other notable collections.
In 1995 I visited Robert Dunlop at his factory. He showed me around his set-up and also his considerable wood stash. We then sat in his office and he told me about his working life. He served an apprenticeship of the traditional hardline kind. The twelve apprentices before him didn’t last the distance but he took it all on board and even saw humour in his situation. His story amounted to an historical one as he recounted what things were like for cabinetmakers several decades ago in Brisbane. Robert went on to establish his own business, and create his own lines which he marketed and sold overseas. If you would like to read this story you can download it here (2.49mb).
After that I spoke with Robert several times on the phone and met him at wood shows and the like. His generosity of spirit was always apparent and he always seemed to have time for a chat. Although he and his team produced corporate and custom made work Robert still seemed to enjoy producing his own creative spec pieces. He was imaginative and a consummate craftsman.
In later years, like many others in the furniture manufacturing industry, Robert Dunlop faced his share of financial challenges. In recent years he also faced personal ones, notably the onset of Alzheimers.
My knowledge of Robert Dunlop is limited to what I have mentioned above but I know there are many whose lives he touched and who will be saddened by this news. Below the photo is a short bio Robert wrote, reprinted from www.brisbane-stories.webcentral.com.au and below that some words from a few of the people who knew him well. If you are also such a person and would like to add your thoughts please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Linda Nathan, AWR Editor
Robert Dunlop in the workshop, 2007. Photo: Peter Jendra
Born 1925 at Evelyn Street, The Grange, I was introduced to Kedron Brook in 1930 by my older brothers. They laid claim to swimming rights in the ‘little hole’ at the corner of the creek behind Stafford City and the ’big hole‘ at the end of Wolverhampton Street. The Brook and all that was in it was like a magnet to all of us. It contained eels, tortoise, mullet, prawns and ducks. All through droughts and floods Stafford had so much happening. Dairy farms, piggery, slaughter sheds, and gliders on the hill, small crop farms tannery and much more. We will never see it again like it was then and as I saw and enjoyed it. How fortunate for me my early life was part of Stafford and the Brook. I have had a furniture factory in Stafford since 1960 and we have supplied furniture to seven parliament houses and sold our range in 19 countries overseas.
Peter Jendra, Dayboro, Qld
Today I am attending the funeral of my friend Robert Dunlop. He lived for and contributed much in his 89 years, to mankind and the woodworking community. Examples of his work are held in private collections across the world as well as in Parliament House in Canberra. As an Industrial Tech / Manual Arts teacher, I did a mentorship with him for 6 months in 2007. As I worked alongside Robert, he gave me constant bits of advice as well as anecdotes. One that I remember clearly was ...‘You don't have to work a day in your life, if you thoroughly love what you do! If you can be creative and get paid for it, you’ve got the best job in the world.’
Don Powell, wood sculptor, Maleny, Qld
Robert Dunlop…an Australian icon in the world of wood craftsmen. A man of the most traditional background who was a master of innovation. I have enduring memories of the problem solving techniques he developed and demonstrated at the Woodcraftsmen’s Guild of Queensland.
Will Marx, furniture designer/maker, Brisbane
Woodworking is not an art for the fainthearted and Robert faced it with absolute determination and a lion’s heart. It was Robert’s work that initially inspired me to push my career further. He a played a pivotal role in the Australian craft scene and set the standards for creative craftsmanship.
In the two years that I worked with Robert, I was privileged to study his dedication and passion for woodcraft. He showed me that it was possible to follow your dreams and that woodworking can become more than just a career. His tenacity, strive for perfection and his generosity of spirit are the things I remember most about Robert. Robert Dunlop was more than a wonderful woodworker. He was my teacher and friend. Thank you for sharing your legacy with us, Robert. You will be missed.
Eulogy for Robert Dunlop, by David Swindells, Brisbane
A man of imagination Bob Dunlop had the gift to convert any idea into wood. A craftsman whose work lies in the halls, courts, churches and homes of the world his life was a joy, but not his only one. His King’s Table in the King’s Hall in Canberra is bugged, not by wires but by a small wooden beetle affixed out of sight by Kim and Bob. Lionel Murphy’s desk in the High Court was Bob’s work. The Speaker’s chair in the Manx Parliament was thought to have Swedish influences. It came from Bob’s factory in Stafford, crafted by his hand.
But his work was not just for parliaments. He worked to maintain posterity. The Beaufighter, Avron Avian and Southern Cross aeroplanes that he renewed, all were viable; the Avron flew to England and old gunners and pilots were recently applying to fly the Beaufighter from Caboolture. He worked with generosity. The kindy in Alderley, the reredos in the Gap and the furniture of the Little King’s Movement were all his creations.
He was called the Chippendale of Australia.
Bob’s life was not confined to woodcraft. He began Stafford’s Meals on Wheels and ran it for twenty years, a huge contribution to the elderly, infirm and lonely. To complement that he was involved in The Scouts for about seventy years from the age of eight; that passion began in the 1930s. What he would have given to the young men of Groveley is immeasurable. He helped the general community as a president of three Rotary clubs. He was a founding member of Windsor, Mitchelton and Stafford Rotary Clubs and I knew him at Stafford. In Rotary he again helped youth through leadership courses and as president of the three clubs gained Rotary’s highest award.He ensured that they gave to the community. The community into which he was born in Evelyn Street, The Grange; the community where he played in the Kedron Brook, steered clear of the teenagers from Lutwyche, and launched gliders off Eildon Hill by hauling on ropes; the community in which he worked with skill and giftedness; the community that recognized him as a Grandfather of the Year; the community that successfully nominated him for the Order of Australia Medal; the community to which he gave. He was still going out to teach woodwork in central Queensland until a few years ago.
Whilst Bob’s activities and church gave him happiness and joy, the love of his life was Portia whom he met through the Scouts. In New Guinea in the war, where he gladly accepted the Red Cross’s cups of tea when those volunteers beat the troops to the top of a hill, the troops were watching a screening involving the National Fitness Council. Portia appeared on the screen and all of the men yelled at Bob to sit down as he jumped up exclaiming that that was Portia. He trained soldiers at Canungra. To see Portia he would meet the paper truck and when it dropped him off on the way back he would have to run back to base. They were married for sixty-five years and had four children, Kim, Gai, Brad and Lee. To them, to life and to all whom he met he gave his heart, life and soul. People were lucky to know Bob. Take your best experience of Bob and apply it to your life and you will be enriched. May God rest his soul.