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Robert Cecil (Bob) Cugley (1902–1987)

by John Arnold

This article was published:

Robert Cecil (Bob) Cugley (1902-1987), printer and publisher, was born in 1902 at Daylesford, Victoria, son of Australian-born parents Thomas Frederick Cugley, miner, and his wife Agnes, née Rowling. In 1914 the family moved to Port Melbourne, where Bob attended a local primary school. He left at 14, to join Specialty Press, a city-based printer and occasional publisher.

Due to wartime manpower shortages, Cugley did not undertake a formal apprenticeship but quickly learnt the rudiments of the trade. By the 1920s he was printing music and concert programs for J. C. Williamson Ltd and (after 1932) the Australian Broadcasting Commission, meeting many notable musicians and performers. In the 1930s his networks extended to include large corporate advertising accounts. At St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Port Melbourne, on 26 August 1926 he married Rose Marie Hooper.

In 1938, deciding to be `the sole judge of the people I dealt with’, he purchased a struggling printery, National Press, at 34 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne; he was to run the business from this address for forty years. Sympathetic towards and, he confessed, `a sucker for protesters’, Cugley printed magazines and leaflets supporting left-wing causes at or near cost: `every ratbag in Melbourne’, he once remarked, `sooner or later finds his way here’. He printed Angry Penguins from its fifth number (1943), including the infamous 1944 Ern Malley issue; from 1947 he handled the annual Melbourne University Magazine; and from 1972 he printed Overland. Regular fare for the press also included high school annuals and journals such as The Secondary Teacher.

National Press also published books—mainly novels and poetry—and some political pamphlets, all selected by Cugley not so much on literary merit but through his assessment of whether the author was `a good sort of bloke who deserved a go’. His major venture was Frank Dalby Davison’s The White Thorntree (1968), which, owing to its length, complexity and focus on sexual relationships, had been rejected by other publishers.

In 1975 Cugley was honoured by the inaugural National Book Council’s Bookman’s award. Forced to vacate his Lonsdale Street premises because of fire regulations, in 1978 he moved the business to Abbotsford. By 1983 his age, and competition from new technologies, forced him to close the press. The last book appearing over the National imprint was an autobiographical memoir by Frank Cheshire, a fellow publisher whom Cugley had known since the 1920s.

Short, usually dressed in a dark blue suit and always with a hat when outdoors, Bob Cugley was described by Max Harris as `the Unknown Great Australian’. Lunch at the Florentino, Bourke Street, was a regular pleasure for him: he celebrated his eightieth birthday there with women-only companions, one of whom, the artist Mirka Mora, recalled him as a much-loved man although one with a `fierce judgement of people’. Survived by his wife and one of their two sons, he died on 24 June 1987 at Preston and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Harris, The Unknown Great Australian (1983)
  • M. Mora, Wicked But Virtuous (2000)
  • Secondary Teacher, Nov 1978, p 19
  • personal information.

Citation details

John Arnold, 'Cugley, Robert Cecil (Bob) (1902–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 13 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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