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Croll, Robert Henderson (Bob) (1869–1947)

by Geoffrey Serle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Robert Henderson (Bob) Croll (1869-1947), author and public servant, was born about midnight on either 4 or 5 January 1869 at Pleasant Creek (Stawell), Victoria, fifth child of Charles Croll, goldminer, and his wife Janet, née Henderson, both Scottish-born. An introspective and sensitive boy, he was educated at Stawell State School and in September 1886, after passing the clerical examination for the Public Service, was appointed to the Public Library of Victoria. He remained there, reading voraciously, for five years until he transferred as junior clerk to the Education Department, where he stayed for over forty years. He revered Frank Tate, became a firm administrator, and retired as senior clerk at 65, having been registrar of the Council of Public Education for thirteen years. He had also been secretary of two royal commissions and had occasionally written speeches and articles for premiers.

In his youth Croll was a founder of the East Melbourne Harriers and eventually became a senior official of the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association, managing several Victorian teams. He was an enthusiastic bushwalker who eventually claimed to have carried his swag for about 3000 miles (4800 km), to have tramped at least as far on short trips, and to have been an office-bearer of the Melbourne Walking Club for fifty years. Encouraged to write by David Blair, Croll began contributing in the early 1890s to Bohemia, then to the Sydney Bulletin, the Melbourne Argus and Herald and many other journals; at one stage he was writing three columns each week. His The Open Road in Victoria … (1928) and Along the Track (1930) were selections from his journalism; he possibly did more than anyone else in his time to encourage bushwalking. For some years he was associate editor of the Emu. He developed his talent for light verse and the composition of epigraphs, and helped his close friend Percival Serle compile his Australasian Anthology (1927); he also produced editions of the works of the poets John Shaw Neilson and F. S. Williamson in 1934 and in 1940 and, after his retirement, plunged into literary activity. He was generous in advising young writers, especially through the Bread and Cheese Club.

Bob Croll was equally prominent in art circles. He was author in 1935 of an important biography of Tom Roberts, edited Streeton's letters to Roberts (1946), and in 1920 produced an edition of etchings by John Shirlow. He also organized the State Centenary Art Exhibition, was general secretary of the Australian Academy of Art and a councillor of the Victorian Artists' Society, and opened many exhibitions of paintings.

In 1929, with the psychologist S. D. Porteus, Croll made the first of his six trips to Central Australia; he vigorously covered the field on camels, was jocularly granted 'honorary membership' of the Arunta tribe, and by broadcasting and in his Wide Horizons: Wanderings in Central Australia (1937) expressed his affection for Aboriginals. He also, with Charles Barrett, published in 1943 Art of the Australian Aboriginal.

During World War II Croll was acting chief censor for Victoria for five months in 1941 and relieving talks officer for the Australian Broadcasting Commission in Victoria next year. A classical product of the Victorian goldfields, he nowhere ran very deep, perhaps, yet few in his time made a more diverse contribution to cultural and intellectual life. He was president at various times of the Field Naturalists' Club, the Anthropological Society, and the Travel League of Victoria, and the Wallaby, P.E.N. and Book-plate clubs among others. Sympathetic to Labor in his youth, he became more conservative in later life when he was influenced by (Sir) Robert Menzies; his religious views were broad and tolerant. Croll was the most gregarious of men, an habitué of the Amateur Sports Club of Victoria and the Savage Club, with hundreds of friends. He had a 'facetious graceful manner' of unfailing pleasantness; many of his anecdotes are gathered in his reminiscences, I Recall; Collections and Recollections (1939). In 1946 he published An Autobituary.

He died at Camberwell on 18 October 1947, survived by his wife Grace Devereaux, née Croall, whom he had married at Hawthorn Presbyterian Church on 23 September 1914 and by their son; he was cremated. Several portraits of him were painted and he is commemorated by a bronze plaque in the Stawell Town Hall.

Select Bibliography

  • H. W. Malloch, Fellows All (Melb, 1943)
  • S. D. Porteus, A Psychologist of Sorts (Palo Alto, 1969)
  • L. J. Blake (ed), Vision and Realisation (Melb, 1973)
  • Croll papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Geoffrey Serle, 'Croll, Robert Henderson (Bob) (1869–1947)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/croll-robert-henderson-bob-5824/text9889, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 22 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

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