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Trimbole, Robert (1931–1987)

by Barrie Dyster

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

Robert Trimbole (1931-1987), motor mechanic, illicit drugs wholesaler and racing identity, was born on 19 March 1931 at Griffith, New South Wales, fourth surviving child of Italian-born parents Dominico Trimbole, labourer, and his wife Saveria, née Catanzariti, and was named Bruno. Educated locally, Bruno became Bob in the school playground. Following postwar migration to the Griffith region from the Trimboles’ home town of Plati, Calabria, Bob became an interpreter and guide.

After training as a motor mechanic in Sydney, Trimbole married Joan Quested, a clerk, on 18 April 1953 at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, Kensington. Back in Griffith, he leased the Pool Garage. In 1968 he was declared bankrupt as the result of a taxation debt. He had discounted or waived payment for friends and had gambled heavily. The garage burned down with its records.

Early in the 1970s Gianfranco Tizzoni, a Melbourne stand-over man, approached Trimbole to partner him in selling and servicing amusement machines in the Riverina. By this time Trimbole was organising the supply of marijuana to an emergent Sydney market. Tizzoni managed the distribution of Griffith’s marijuana in Melbourne from 1971. This illicit and lucrative trade necessarily involved the bribery of police and other officials. In 1972 Trimbole bought a licensed steakhouse, the Texan Tavern, and the Texan Butchery in Griffith. The next year he sold both businesses and moved to Lansvale, Sydney, purchasing a supermarket and a liquor store at nearby Casula. From this time he lived with an Englishwoman, Ann-Marie Presland, née Wittig, who was then 27 and had a 4-year-old daughter. Trimbole’s wife and their two daughters and two sons moved into a grand new house in Griffith, where he stayed when in town. He bought a clothing store, the Pant Ranch, there and continued to provide lavishly for his family. In 1983 he and Joan divorced.

Discharged from bankruptcy in 1975, Trimbole was fined $1400 in 1978 for failing to file tax returns in 1975-77 and for other tax offences. It was his only conviction. His recent immense wealth could not be disguised. He claimed to be a successful punter, while skilfully laundering money through gambling. When he became fully embedded in the racing world he was able to fix results; on one occasion, it was said, the only jockey who did not know the outcome beforehand was the man who rode the winner. A much-used photograph of Trimbole showed a pudgy middle-aged man in a racegoer’s pork-pie hat pulled down over hair and sideburns worn long, as was normal with men at the beginning of the 1980s.

A Griffith businessman, Donald Mackay, campaigned to expose the growers and sellers of marijuana. His disappearance in 1977 from a car park in the town led to the State royal commission into drug trafficking, conducted by Justice Philip Woodward. He concluded, two years later, that Trimbole was ‘the practical leader’ of an organisation engaged in marijuana production that was responsible for Mackay’s death.

Meanwhile, Trimbole had made himself available to the ‘Mr Asia’ heroin syndicate, recently arrived in Sydney from New Zealand. His distribution network was useful, as were his contacts in the police and the customs departments, his supply of blank birth certificate forms and his ability to arrange murders. At the 1980 inquest into the deaths of Douglas and Isobel Wilson in Victoria, Trimbole was excused from giving evidence because it might incriminate him. Adopting the innocuous names of Bob Jones and Bob Taylor, he spent time in London in 1979 helping the syndicate as it floundered in Britain. He was often dubbed ‘Aussie Bob’—a sobriquet favoured by the Mr Asia syndicate to distinguish him from the New Zealanders and Britons.

Shortly before the Commonwealth government announced that Justice D. G. Stewart would conduct a royal commission to inquire into drug trafficking, Trimbole, acting on a tip-off, flew out of Australia on 7 May 1981 with Presland and her daughter. When Tizzoni was arrested in 1982 with a car boot full of marijuana, he negotiated a reduced sentence by confessing that he had procured the gun and the gunman for Mackay’s murder, but at the behest of Trimbole. Found living in Ireland under the name Michael Pius Hanbury, Trimbole was jailed in October 1984 but a judge found that the arrest, on suspicion of possession of a firearm, was illegal. No extradition treaty existed between Australia and Ireland at the time of his arrest. On the day of his release in February 1985 he left Ireland by chartered plane.

Trimbole died, apparently of a heart attack, on 13 May 1987 at a villa he shared with Presland and her daughter near Alicante, Spain. The Trimbole family brought his body back for a funeral Mass at St Benedict’s Catholic Church, Smithfield, Sydney, and for burial beside his parents in Eastern Creek cemetery. Presland and her daughter and his two daughters and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Report of the Royal Commission into Drug Trafficking, October 1979, vols 1-2 (1979)
  • Royal Commission of Inquiry into Drug Trafficking, Report, February 1983 (1983)
  • D. Wilson with P. Robinson, Big Shots II (1987)
  • K. Moor, Crims in Grass Castles: The True Story of Trimbole, Mr Asia and the Disappearance of Donald Mackay (2009)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 23 June 1983, p 12, 16 May 1987, p 43
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 26 June 1983, p 11.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Barrie Dyster, 'Trimbole, Robert (1931–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/trimbole-robert-15555/text26768, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 16 February 2019.

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

View the front pages for Volume 18

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