LAST DRINKS: Robins bids Grafton farewell
Friends and former colleagues will raise a glass to Grafton community stalwart Bryan Robins on Saturday as he and wife Kerry bid farewell to the Clarence Valley.
The Robins will relocate to Wellington, NSW early next week following a dream job offer out west for Mrs Robins.
While Mrs Robins was born and raised in Ulmarra, Mr Robins first arrived to the Clarence Valley in 1982 as a young, up and coming officer with the NSW State Emergency Service.
"When I arrived, the town was just on fire; it was the best town. The economy was booming and we had so many businesses and industries," he said.
"I remember the first Friday night I was in town, the South Grafton Ex-Servicemen's Club had Men at Work playing for $5 a ticket. I just thought, 'wow what a great town!'"
That same week, Mr Robins' love of basketball quickly earned him a spot on the local basketball team.
"I played for them for nearly 40 years, even when they changed from the Imperial Hotel to the Village Green Hotel in 1990. I've loved every minute of it," he said.
But, of all the memories Mr Robins has of the Clarence Valley, none will ever compare to the moment he met his wife Kerry.
"I had been relocated to Grafton for work and moved into a flat in Oliver St, which happened to be above where two young nurses were living. I literally did the cup of sugar thing and that's when I met Kerry," he said.
"I used to make her a cup of coffee when she'd get home from working at Grafton Hospital and we'd get chatting. Eventually she came up to my flat one day and never left.
"When I look back over the years, meeting her and when our two kids were born in Grafton Base Hospital are my fondest moments in the Clarence Valley."
Over the years, Mr Robins made significant contributions to the Clarence Valley community including the establishment of Grafton's first road rescue unit in the mid-1980s.
"The Pacific Highway was just the killing fields and the 1980s, even into the 1990s were the killers," he said.
"As far as I'm aware, when a crash occurred, Tom Raven from Raven's Smash Repairs used to take a tool kit and stuff and would do the best he could until someone else turned up. It became apparent very early on that the state of the highway was in such a terrible condition and we really needed a road rescue unit in Grafton."
The road rescue unit improved the efficiency in responding to road collisions across the Clarence Valley region. However, no amount of training could prepare emergency responders for the 1989 Cowper Bus Disaster.
Mr Robins was one of many emergency services personnel who attended the crash that morning, a tragedy that has always stayed with him.
"When I got there our people (SES) and the fireys, and the cops and the ambos were there, and you know we didn't have the resources (to deal with this) … It was a scene from, well it was from hell. It was a scene of absolute carnage … the likes of which we had never seen before."
Mr Robins later took up the fight to have the 33 local SES volunteers formally acknowledged for their service and sacrifice that morning. It was a fight that took several years to win but well worth the effort.
In 1994, Bryan and Kerry Robins established the first Operation Bush Christmas, a fundraising campaign for drought-affected farming communities out west. Their efforts led to hundreds of cash cheques and wrapped Christmas gifts being sent over the mountains to farmers and their families. Its success inspired a second campaign in 2018 during another prolonged drought.
In 2015, Mr Robins tried his hand at politics and ran as an Independent for the seat of Clarence in the NSW State elections. Despite losing the election, Mr Robins was delighted to have experienced the political process.
While the Robins will miss friends and family back in the Clarence Valley, Mr Robins said he was excited for this new adventure.
"I simply loved my years living out west when I was stationed in places like Bourke," he said.
"Wellington is halfway to Sydney and the vast outback so I couldn't think of a better place."
A farewell for Mr Robins will take place Saturday afternoon (January 23) at the Village Green Hotel.