The Executive Committee is sad to advise members of the passing of Robert Durbridge our founding Executive Director.

A giant of a man in every way, Rob epitomised the values of AIER. He spent a life committed to working to improve the rights and living standards of working people and arguing tirelessly about the importance of access to quality public education for all. Together with our founding President His Honour Justice Mordy Bromberg, Rob envisaged and gave life to AIER in 2005 in the midst of the political and industrial maelstrom of Workchoices.

Rob was actively involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement and as a teacher was an activist in his union in South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria. He was employed in numerous roles, by various Branches of the AEU, over a number of years, before becoming the Federal Industrial Officer and then finally the Federal Secretary of the AEU.

Rob was a key person engaged in designing, in the 1990s, the Advanced Skills Teacher concept that flowed significant benefits to experienced teachers around the country in recognition of the skills related to their work in the class room.

Rob was an internationalist. He was actively involved in the AEU’s overseas aid program designed to raise the living and working standards of teachers in developing countries, along with increasing access to public education for students there too. He was highly engaged in Education International arguing for substantial reforms in that body to ensure equal representative rights for teacher union members from less developed nations. On a number of occasions he participated in overseas aid projects for APHEDA.

Rob’s biggest contributions however, went largely unsung. His quietest, and perhaps greatest achievements, were carried out behind the scenes as an active mentor of future activists and trade union leaders. In recognition of the decades that Rob devoted to this task Rob was asked in retirement to become a figure head/ mentor of the ACTU’s Organising Works program along with other historical union movement giants such as MUA’s Tas Bull and BWIU’s Tom McDonald.

AIER former Executive Director, Lisa Heap, attributes much of her initial success in the trade union movement to the support and mentoring of Rob and his wife Wendy. Lisa notes:

I had newly arrived in the early 1990s in Melbourne from Perth without work and yet opportunities in the movement kept opening up for me. It was only years later that I found out that Rob (and with him Wendy) was behind many of those opportunities. It felt serendipitous when many years later I followed Rob into the role as Executive Director of AIER”.

Most recently Rob was engaged in supporting students at risk of failing in the traditional education system, continuing his life-long commitment to public education.

All of those who have met Rob will remember his booming voice, infectious laugh, passion for music and politics and generosity of spirit.

It is a sad day that he is no longer with us.