House debates

Tuesday, 7 August 2007


Sir Robert Norman OBE

9:39 pm

Photo of Warren EntschWarren Entsch (Leichhardt, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to recognise the very special contribution of a very eminent Australian and a great benefactor of the people of Cairns and North Queensland. The person I refer to is Sir Robert Norman OBE, who sadly passed away in Cairns on 3 April 2007 at the age of 93. During his early years Sir Robert trained as a pilot with the RAAF as part of the Empire Training Scheme. After graduating he was posted to 459 Squadron of the RAAF, operating in the Mediterranean. He served in this squadron with distinction, rising to the rank of flight lieutenant.

On completion of his wartime service Sir Robert and his wife returned to Cairns, where, together with his two brothers and his wife, he established a dry-cleaning business, but aviation was forever in his blood. He helped to establish the North Queensland Aero Club and later founded the airline Bush Pilots Airways in 1952. In 1958 Sir Robert was awarded the OBE for his work in preventing loss of lives during and after Cyclone Agnes, which devastated much of Far North Queensland. In 1976 Sir Robert wrote Bush Pilot, recounting his early experiences and those of the airline. Bush Pilots Airways grew from humble beginnings to become a major regional carrier in Northern Australia until it was eventually absorbed into Australian Airlines, later becoming part of the Qantas group. With great pride, too, my uncle Ron Entsch was very much part of it. He was a manager of Bush Pilots in the early stages and in the transition to Australian Airlines.

After a very active aviation career, Sir Robert turned his attention to other commercial interests. As chairman of the family owned company, Norman Enterprises Pty Ltd, he guided the company to many years of commercial success in Far North Queensland. Sir Robert’s community involvement spanned many decades. He acted as the coordinator of the Cairns and district celebrations during 1976 and actively participated in many other community organisations. Sir Robert acted as the honorary pilot for the Cairns Aerial Ambulance for 25 years.

Sir Robert is perhaps best remembered for his tenacity and determination to have a campus of James Cook University established in Cairns. In spite of being told by bureaucrats that there would never be a stand-alone university campus in Cairns, Sir Robert persevered and eventually raised $1.25 million to purchase land for the Cairns campus of James Cook University. Sir Robert and Lady Betty Norman personally donated $250,000 towards the target of that $1.25 million.

Mr Speaker, you have seen the success of James Cook University since its inception. We now have a very successful medical school in Far North Queensland. We also have a veterinary school and an agricultural science school associated with the Cairns campus, and more recently we have been looking at establishing a dentistry school. All of this has come about because of the vision of people like Sir Robert all those years ago. He also played a very significant role in the establishment of the Cairns Regional Art Gallery. To this day, there stands in the gallery, in pride of place, a magnificent painting of Lady Betty Norman, painted by a very eminent artist in Cairns, Dorothy Gauvin.

Sir Robert was created a Knight Bachelor in 1989 in recognition of his outstanding community service. He also received an honorary Doctor of Letters from James Cook University.

Sir Robert will be certainly missed by his family, his surviving children, Robert, Wendy, Lindy and Julie, and their families, and the community of Cairns and Far North Queensland.