Irene Robins OBE

Irene Robins dedicated her life to the community and scouting - feeding, clothing and educating thousands of young people.

Honour Roll

During her 84 years, Irene Robins was a shining example to others and a great inspiration to all who came in contact with her. She was Cub Leader for ten years of 11th Melbourne Scout Group, which was initially attached to the St Mary's Mission and later to St Peter's Anglican Church at Eastern Hill. She later became District Cub Leader of Melbourne District and then in 1959, Assistant District Commissioner for Cubs, which was a rare honour for a woman at that time.

Irene was born in 1916 and was raised by nuns as a foundling orphan at Travancore in Flemington. From the age of eleven, she was strongly influenced by priests associated with St Peter's. With only a basic education, Irene was determined to 'better herself'. She took night classes to improve her skills and become a clerk with ICI in East Melbourne.

It was here that she remained until her retirement, decades later. The children in the Melbourne area around Eastern Hill mostly came from broken homes and therefore could not afford subscriptions to join the Scouts or cost of the uniform required. Somehow Irene found the resources to ensure that each boy had a uniform and was able to enjoy fully the programmes provided by The Scout Association. Irene knew all her boys and became part of their families, providing support in many roles, including just being there to provide a pair of sympathetic ears for all who would confide in her.

To provide additional training for her Cubs from low income families, now extending to Fitzroy and Carlton, Irene wrote and produced scripts for Melbourne District Cubby Capers, a variety concert with a cast of over one hundred boys, all willing to take part in the show and thus learn self-confidence and self-esteem. Irene also had a number of migrant children in her Cub Pack, including Russian, Greek, Italian and, at one stage, ten Aboriginal boys.

Her magic as a leader included all, regardless of their colour or race, and she was able to have the boys' respect and teach them to learn from each other. She joined the Melbourne Gang Show, a variety show performed by the Scout Movement, in 1953 and was their prompter for 15 years, encouraging all the young performers. For her outstanding service to Scouting, Irene was awarded the Medal of Merit in 1957, Bar to the Medal of Merit in 1970 and the Silver Acorn in 1978.

Her service to both scouting and the community was further recognised by Her Majesty, the Queen, being appointed to the Order of the British Empire Medal in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 1971. Irene was deeply committed to her chosen church, St Peter's at Eastern Hill. As part of the parish hospitality centred in the guild room after mass, catering was her forte. It was Irene who could 'feed the masses' so apparently effortlessly.

She was a wizard. For some 70 years, Irene made a huge contribution as a parishioner of St Peter's. At Scout Jamborees, Irene was always in demand for her catering and cooking skills. One particular incident was in 1955 at Clifford Park in very wet circumstances - it rained for ten days solid. The New South Wales contingent of Scouts and Leaders arrived and because of the weather, were without any opportunity to cook for themselves. Irene stepped into the breach and performed what one could have considered a modern day culinary miracle.

The interstate Scouts were soon fed and could then return to the task of settling in and coping for themselves in the unseasonal weather and challenging conditions. Illness in some form was constantly with Irene and it was an enormous frustration for her to face head on the trauma associated with what finally meant double amputation of her legs. However, she never lost her sense of humour - the right false leg was Albert and the left was Elizabeth. She never became downhearted, but saw life as a series of challenges.

During the Depression, Irene spent an enormous amount of time visiting families and providing money to purchase food or providing clothes, supplied by the Sisters of the Holy Name. To walk the streets of Fitzroy, at this time, took courage and Irene never lacked that, either when there was work to be done or in her own illness.

To all in scouting and the community, Irene was the example of 'never give up', always conduct good programmes for youngsters to keep them busy, challenged and happy and to believe in Baden Powell's Promise and Law, which are the foundations of scouting. A generous and compassionate woman, the late Irene is well deserving of consideration for inclusion in 'Women Shaping the Nation'.