Vale Rob Bennett | 1944 - 2020

Vale Rob Bennett: The acclaimed former Western Australian journalist and City of Busselton councillor passed away in late February.
Vale Rob Bennett: The acclaimed former Western Australian journalist and City of Busselton councillor passed away in late February.

It is with great sadness that the Mail reports the death of former Busselton Dunsborough Mail editor Rob Bennett, who passed away on Thursday, February 27 after a 14-month illness.

Rob was a formidable journalist who had a stellar career and a much loved family man, he most recently served as a City of Busselton councillor where he always had the community at the forefront of his actions.

Robert Taylor Bennett was born in Subiaco on January 31, 1944 to Albert and Emily Bennett. He had an older brother Peter and sister Anne who sadly died from diphtheria at the age of six.

He attended Graylands Primary School, then Hollywood High. As a teenager he was a mad sporting kid who excelled in athletics, played a lot of footy including for the Claremont Colts and was an excellent cyclist who represented WA in Tasmania.

His journalism career started as a cadet at the South Western Times as well as becoming a football writer throughout the region.

In the 1970's he accepted a promotion to Port Hedland with his wife Megan and children Cortlan and Alicia.

Rob reported stories from around the North West and was involved in playing and coaching the Port Hedland Rovers to a premiership in 1973.

Later Rob's career as a journalist saw him working at the Daily News, The Australian and The Sunday Times where he had a range of positions including chief of staff and news editor.

He was always hungry to sink his teeth into any leaked gossip that would catch a politician stepping out of line.

His former colleague Joe Poprzeczny recalled there were so many things that made their 36-year friendship wonderful years, especially their Monday afternoon jaw-boning get-togethers enjoying a wine at Rob's home, and chewing-over story ideas for the coming week's edition.

In 2000, Rob retired and moved to Quindalup with his partner of 30 years Norma Andrews to follow their dream of restoring an old townsite. His love of history was an incredible contribution as he helped restore the old government building Harwoods Cottage.

Ms Andrews said Rob was a great friend and companion, always doing as many things as they could together.

"Right from when we moved here to start the renovations on Harwoods he would 100 per cent support me, even though he would try and tell me I should have this or that," she said.

"Rob was incredibly proud of what we did there. We were really good partners to each other. He was my special mate, my cobber and I will miss him."

After their tree change to Quindalup, it wasn't long before Rob had a gig with the Busselton Dunsborough Mail where he became editor, working hard to whip his cadets into shape with his standard of journalism.

Former Mail and now BBC journalist Usman Azad recalled when he first met Rob, he was his boss. Pretty soon afterwards Mr Azad looked up to Rob as his mentor and not long later his friend.

"This newspaper you are reading now was an exciting place to work under his editorship. It was required reading on a Wednesday morning. I have no doubt this was because he dug up and then wrote most of the great stories," Mr Azad said. "He didn't shy away from the big issues. We challenged the council on Smith's Beach, the crumbling jetty, the plans to sell-off land to redevelop the foreshore and the debate over the location of the new hospital.

"He was an editor who had high standards. He hated errors and he hated us cadet journalists missing a story. But it was the best place to cut our teeth. Rob helped me and the other cadets find our voices and our styles as journalists. Some of us moved onto different careers but I don't think any of us would forget his influence.

"But of all the memories, I will cherish the times we spent 'chewing the fat' at his home in Quindalup. Often we spent hours reminiscing about the stories we had done and the characters we had written about.

"On the first day I waltzed into the Busselton Dunsborough Mail office as a freshed-face, naive cadet journalist. The first thing Rob ever said to me, after a gruff hello, was this: 'There's something happening in Mitchell Park. Go out there and come back with the story'.

"I was shocked but I didn't say no - I just picked up a camera and rushed out. What was happening in Mitchell Park didn't actually matter (for the record the council was replacing the reticulation) but Rob wanted to know whether I was prepared to chase a story. It was an important lesson. And it was just one of many Rob taught me over the years. I will miss his wisdom, his wicked sense of humour and his friendship. I will never forget him."

ABC reporter Nicole Asher said she, Jac Manuel and Lincoln Bertelli were his final round of cadets and they shared hilarious memories of Rob building up a head of steam while pulling together the paper.

"He would edit our yarns in red pen, and make us correct them - it quickly taught us the value of clean copy. No matter how stressful the afternoon was though, he'd shout you a beer at the Vasse afterwards," she said.

"He really loved news and sharing people's stories. He taught us the importance of building strong contacts and that everyone has a story worth telling. I'll never forget our Friday lunches - we'd either be at the Dynasty for Chinese, or we'd hit the road to find yarns (and watering holes) in far-flung corners of the patch.

"He'll be missed by all those he took under his wing. He was a legend at the Mail and he'd still be there if he didn't cop the redundancy axe."

After the paper Rob became a City of Busselton councillor. When he was asked how he felt about being on the other side of the fence he quoted Lyndon B Johnson: "It's probably better to be on the inside of the tent pissing out, than to be on the inside of the tent with them pissing in."

Fellow councillor and friend Tom Tuffin said Rob was absolutely fastidious reporting on council matters and made a major contribution keeping citizens well informed on the issues facing the community.

Mr Tuffin urged Rob to stand for council because of his knowledge of the people and issues facing the community, he believed Rob would make an outstanding councillor. "He did stand and he was outstanding," Mr Tuffin said.