Irvines share their passion for Stawell

Robert Irvine OAM has a passion for education, something that he has brought to Stawell and the Wimmera district over a number of years.

Robert's career has seen both he and his wife, Alison, travel around the state and then across to Western Australia, where he was Dean of the Faculty of Regional Professional Studies at Edith Cowen University in Bunbury.

Retiring from the role last year, Robert and Alison have moved back to Victoria and are currently in the process of building a house in Halls Gap.

"We deliberately came back to the community we love," Robert said.

"The children (Jeremy, Lara and Sian) are all in Ballarat but were born, raised and went to school in Stawell, so we have a long time association with the place."

Robert came to Stawell from Swan Hill in 1980, teaching at Stawell Technical School and then along with John Muller, David Phipps and Jack Baxendale, started the local TAFE (which later morphed into the University of Ballarat).

His wife, Alison, was also involved in the community and worked as a kindergarten teacher for many years.

Working as University of Ballarat Head of the Western Campuses from 2001, Robert was then offered the Dean's position in Bunbury and shifted to Western Australia in 2008.

On Australia Day last year, he was awarded the Order of Australia for services to education, regional development and community.

Robert stresses the importance of education, particularly in rural areas such as the Wimmera.

"Education's fantastic. I've always believed it's a great enabler. Regional education is producing great quality graduates such as nurses and teachers."

When he was head of the Western Campuses at the University of Ballarat, Robert was involved in the implementation of the higher education nursing program in 2001.

"It was a region-wide effort and involved local government and health services," he said.

"The dedication to nurses training in the Wimmera and our health services, are brilliant," he said.

Since shifting to Stawell in 1980 and returning regularly to fulfil his duties as a Stawell Athletic Club member, Robert has seen many transformations within the town.

"The gold mine was a massive change. It started in the early 1980s and today is still working its way underneath the town. Frewstal Abattoirs (opening and creating many jobs) and Pleasant Creek, which is still here - but moving from institutions into housing has been from my view, pretty positive.

"Stawell is inclusive of all the diverse characters of this place."

Robert's dedication to the Stawell Athletic Club has been strong throughout the years. He joined as a volunteer in 1986 before being asked by John Dalziel to become a committee member in 1987, and he has enjoyed it ever since.

Robert even flew back from Western Australia over the past five years to attend the Easter carnival and has passed on his passion to his family with his son Jeremy becoming the Stawell Athletic Club president for 2014.

Despite Robert's fondness for Stawell and the district, living around here presents its challenges.

"Anything that will attract opportunities can improve the town," he said.

"I'd also like to see more assistance from the shire (Northern Grampians Shire Council). We're building our house at Halls Gap at the moment and it has been a challenge. We had to be persistent otherwise it was not going to happen. Although having said that, our shire is generally supportive of things that do happen in the town."

What do you look forward to most at Easter?

"I look forward to the athletics themselves. It's a great event and we showcase the best we can offer in running this carnival over three days on a country footy ground with the Grampians in the background," Robert said.

"The setup comes from the hard work over a lot of years from the shire, Stawell Athletic Club, State and Federal Governments and the footy club.

"I can also say without a shadow of a doubt, the skills taught to me through the Stawell Athletic Club have worked their way into work life."

A recent health scare hasn't slowed Robert down and he pointed to the care that he recently received as a benefit of living in Stawell.

"Although the surgery wasn't performed here, the follow up from local services has been great. We're very lucky to have such great health services."

Alison added that she and her husband are really enjoying being back in the Grampians.

"It's certainly a relaxing lifestyle to work in and it's nice to reacquaint ourselves in the area," she said.

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