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Robinson, Raymond John (1905–1982)

by Gideon Haigh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Raymond John Robinson (1905-1982), journalist and cricket historian, was born on 8 July 1905 at Brighton, Victoria, eldest of three sons of Victorian-born parents John Robinson, butcher, and his wife Clarice Isabel, née Drayton.  Educated locally, Ray aspired to be a cartoonist and at 15 he joined Melbourne Punch as an office-boy.  He then took a job manning telephones at the Melbourne Herald, where his uncle Ern Baillie was chief-of-staff, and later he became a sub-editor.

A keen local cricket player, Robinson was vexed by the poor quality of coverage of the Australian game in the English magazine Cricketer and wrote to complain.  Its editor invited him to do better and he began a career, which continued for fifty-five years, as the Cricketer’s Australian correspondent.  He was appointed cricket writer with the Star in September 1933, and worked for Australian Press Association in London during the Australian cricket team’s tour of England in 1934, when he read the work of urbane British cricket writers like (Sir) Neville Cardus and R. C. Robertson-Glasgow.

Cardus became a mentor to Robinson when they met in Sydney during World War II:  Cardus as music correspondent of the Sydney Morning Herald, Robinson as foreign editor of the Sunday Telegraph.  Cardus encouraged Robinson to finish writing a cricket book and recommended the manuscript to his English publisher, William Collins & Sons.  Of Between Wickets, released in 1946, Cardus wrote:  'It would be no great praise to describe this book . . . as the best on cricket written by an Australian so far'.  It sold more than 50,000 copies.  Robinson invested the proceeds in a house at Northbridge that he called Between Wickets.  His books continued, with From the Boundary (1950) and Green Sprigs (1954).

After World War II Robinson was chief sub-editor at the Sunday Sun and Guardian in Sydney and later at the SMH, but was a cricket writer during the summer and for overseas tours of the Australian team.  In 1966, when he suffered detached retinas requiring treatment at Boston, United States of America, the New South Wales Cricket Association lent him the cost of the fare.  He lost the sight in his right eye.  After he had further surgery—for twisting of the bowel—Australian journalists in the USA contributed several pints of blood to offset the charges incurred from a transfusion; his diet was henceforward restricted to eggs, baby food and fruit juice.

While in hospital in 1970 Robinson conceived a new book, The Wildest Tests (1972), which described a dozen Test matches around the world that had been disrupted by crowd violence.  With a modest stipend from the Commonwealth Literature Fund he then began what became On Top Down Under (1975), a collection of biographical sketches of cricketers who had captained Australia.  Widely acclaimed, it won the English Cricket Society’s silver jubilee literary award, and Sir Donald Bradman thought 'no cricket library could be complete without it'.

Robinson’s books were distinguished by meticulous accuracy and painstakingly well-turned phrases.  Bradman made the purple patches of others 'look like washed-out lilac'; Bob Simpson had 'a mind no easier to change than a £100 note'; Richie Benaud had 'the faculty of making snap decisions that did not snap back'.  Unusually for a journalist, the personable Robinson enjoyed the complete trust of players.  Bradman said of him:  'Ray lived as he wrote, honestly, modestly, sincerely and always respected a confidence'.  Yet for all the success of his books, Robinson’s most enduring contribution to cricket lore may have been made as a sub-editor at the Herald.  Inspired by the journalist Jack Worrall’s description of the bowling of England’s Bill Voce in the Australasian in December 1932—'half-pitched slingers on the body-line'—he coined 'body-line' as an adjective and 'bodyline' as a noun.  The word was then brought into common usage by Robinson’s colourful Herald colleague Hugh Buggy.

On 6 October 1928 at Brighton Methodist Church, Victoria, Robinson had married Ellen Jessie Gilbert.  Cricket defined their home life.  When their son Brian was born in 1930, Robinson was following Bradman’s return to Australia from his first Ashes tour; he learned of the birth of their daughter Audrey while en route to England with the Australian team in 1934.  His last trip to England was in 1977.  He died on 6 July 1982 at St Leonards, Sydney, and was cremated.  Predeceased by his wife (d.1973) and daughter (d.1968), he was survived by his son.  His last contribution to the Cricketer was published alongside the notice of his death.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Haigh, 'Preface', in R. Robinson, On Top Down Under, 1996
  • D. Frith, Bodyline Autopsy, 2002
  • Australasian, 10 December 1932, p 27
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 7 July 1982, p 10
  • Cricketer (Melbourne), October 1982, p 19
  • B. Robinson, unpublished 'Foreword' for The Wildest Tests (ms, 2001, copy held on ADB file)
  • N. Bennetts, interview with R. Robinson (ts, 1980, National Library of Australia)
  • Ray Robinson papers (National Library of Australia)

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Gideon Haigh, 'Robinson, Raymond John (1905–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/robinson-raymond-john-14460/text25552, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 June 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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