Voice of CQ news calls time after 40 years on the airways
FOR the last time in more than two decades, the words "Paul Robinson, ABC news Central Queensland" were heard across the airways and a 40-year career in radio drew a close.
ABC Capricornia's lead news reporter called time this month after a career that began as a 70s rock DJ in Melbourne.
Robinson was on long service leave when he made the decision to retire and reports coming out of the devastating Central Queensland bushfires this month provoked mixed feelings as he watched and listened from home.
"On one hand I was thinking about how I would be covering it, but then it's nice to be able to sit back and relax after 40 years," he said.
Robinson has covered most of the biggest news stories across Central Queensland since he began at the station in January 1997, his professionalism and confidence a far cry from the young reporter on his first national breaking news story in 1989.
Robinson was working for Macquarie National News in Canberra when Australian Federal Police assistant commissioner, Colin Winchester was assassinated, shot twice in the head with a semi-automatic rifle.
"It was a big learning curve," he said.
"I spent all night outside his house that night.
"I'd sent stories and interviews with police to the Sydney newsroom and asked them 'where do we go now'?
"They told me to speak to neighbours so I saw a light on outside a neighbours house and knocked on the door at about 10pm.
"This poor woman came down in her dressing gown, behind locked doors and I said, 'did you hear anything?'
"She said it was a really quiet area and she didn't hear anything but I was desperate, so that became the news, that she heard nothing.
"The next morning all the TV crews and newspapers went to her place; everyone wanted to talk to the woman on the radio last night, who'd heard nothing."
Robinson said everyone was convinced Winchester had been killed by the mafia but public servant, David Eastman was eventually convicted of his murder.
In a retrial last month, a jury found him not guilty after he'd spent 19 years in jail.
Robinson's love of radio started while he was studying for an accounting degree at RMIT in Melbourne, which had its own radio station.
He was running a 70s rock music program as a hobby and found himself spending more time in the studio and less on his studies.
"I started to think it wouldn't be a bad career," he said.
"I called John Deeks, a radio announcer at 3DB, and asked how to go about getting in to it.
"He told me to send tapes to the country stations, including 3CS in Colac and they had a job going as a DJ at nights."
From Colac, he went back to Melbourne and worked in production, mainly recording commercials, then to 2QN in Deniliquin, Horsham, Swan Hill and eventually Launceston in Tasmania where part of the job was to read the news.
"I couldn't see myself as a DJ long-term," he said.
"Eventually the listeners were going to say 'you're too old to play rock and roll'.
"I always thought news would be an option."
He ended up in news full-time and after a few years, applied for the job at Macquarie in Canberra.
Robinson's first stint at the ABC came as a casual in Canberra after Macquarie was taken over but he started looking further afield and found work first in Cairns and then Mareeba.
"The plan was to work my way back to Brisbane and eventually Melbourne," he said.
But life had other plans.
He loved the weather and relaxed lifestyle in the north and it was also when he met his wife, Elsa.
He said the highlight was covering Bill Clinton's visit to Port Douglas and while he was there he ran into an ABC journalist who called him a couple of weeks later to tell him about a position going at 4RK, now ABC Capricornia.
Robinson recalled the biggest story he covered in his time there as Leonard Fraser and the murder of nine-year-old Rockhampton school girl Keyra Steinhardt in 1999.
"It drives home that in a small community those sort of stories can affect you personally," he said.
"Keyra lived just up the road from where we were living at the time.
"She played with our friend's daughter and walked right past our house to go to school. It was very close to home.
"When they were searching for her body, the helicopter was flying overhead and every time I see that rescue helicopter flying over the river I still think of her.
"Reporting on a story with a personal connection is difficult, you just have to block that out and report."
The other story that will stay with him forever is the fatal crash of the Capricorn Rescue Helicopter in thick fog near Marlborough in July 2000.
"That weekend I'd taken the Friday and Monday off," he said.
"On the Friday, Norm Watt, the dog squad police officer was shot dead at a siege at Alton Downs.
"Then late on Sunday the call came to head up to Marlborough to the crash site.
"The place was thick fog and I couldn't find the crash site, which turned out to be just a few metres from the highway."
Having dealt with the rescue organisation "constantly", Robinson said it hit him hard when all five people on board; pilot Paddy O'Brien, paramedics Craig Staines and Bill Birch, five-year-old Anthony Sherry and his mum Susan, were killed.
But now the years of being up before 4am, at his desk by 5.30 to put out the early morning bulletin at 6.30 are behind him.
His colleague and friend of the past 22 years, Jacquie Mackay, invited him onto her Breakfast program recently and asked him to read the 7.30 news bulletin one last time.
Together, they have been the voices of the ABC in Central Queensland for more than two decades.
"I thought 'I hope I get this right because this is how I'll be remembered'," he said of his final bulletin.
But in reality Paul Robinson will be remembered for much more than his final sign off.
"He will be remembered as a very kind soul with a fantastic memory for the stories and people in the region," Ms Mackay said.
"His enthusiasm for chasing the news is legendary, he loves it.
"When Paul started here it was all reel-to-reel, now it's all digital and he's embraced all the changes that came his way."
She said he will be remembered for his funny little quips and laughs, never mean, but always helping to lighten the mood.
And for his contribution to the careers of the many young journalists who passed through the Rockhampton newsroom.
His shy, gentle nature, commitment and tenacity will be missed throughout the region.
With their two boys now grown and following careers into engineering, he and Elsa plan to stay in Rockhampton, after a lot more travelling "to anywhere interesting".