Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert Nixon (Bob) Dalkin (1914–1991)

by Alan Stephens

This article was published:

Robert Dalkin, n.d. [detail]

Robert Dalkin, n.d. [detail]

Australian War Memorial, P05288-003

Robert Nixon Dalkin (1914-1991), air force officer and territory administrator, was born on 21 February 1914 at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, England, younger son of English-born parents George Nixon Dalkin, rent collector, and his wife Jennie, née Porter. The family migrated to Australia in 1929. During the 1930s Robert served in the Militia, was briefly a member of the right-wing New Guard, and became business manager (1936-40) for W. R. Carpenter & Co. (Aviation), New Guinea, where he gained a commercial pilot’s licence. Described as ‘tall, lean, dark and impressive [with a] well-developed sense of humour, and a natural, easy charm’ (NAA A12372), Dalkin enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) on 8 January 1940 and was commissioned on 4 May. After a period instructing he was posted to No. 2 Squadron, Laverton, Victoria, where he captained Lockheed Hudson light bombers on reconnaissance duties. On 28 December 1940 at St John’s Church, Melbourne, he married Welsh-born Helen James, a bookkeeper, with Church of England rites.

Promoted to flight lieutenant on 1 January 1942, Dalkin became a flight commander in No. 13 Squadron, Darwin, in March, again flying Hudsons. During the next seven months he flew numerous strikes against Japanese targets. On 30 June, after leading four aircraft on a night attack against Koepang, Timor, in which eight enemy aircraft were possibly destroyed, Dalkin was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation commended his leadership and courage in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire. From October 1944, as an acting wing commander, he was attached to the Royal Air Force’s Bomber Command in Britain to develop techniques the RAAF might adopt in the Pacific.

Following demobilisation on 5 March 1946, Dalkin became chief ground instructor for Trans Australia Airlines, but rejoined the RAAF as a squadron leader with a permanent commission on 26 September. Respected for his clear thinking and integrity, he was promoted to group captain on 1 January 1956. In this rank he progressed through a series of influential posts, including commandant of both the RAAF College (1955-56) and Staff College (1960-61), staff officer operations, Home Command (1957-59), and officer commanding the RAAF Base, Williamtown, New South Wales (1963). He had graduated from the RAF Staff College (1950) and the Imperial Defence College (1962). Simultaneously, he maintained operational proficiency, flying Canberra bombers and Sabre fighters.

At his own request Dalkin retired with the rank of honorary air commodore from the RAAF on 4 July 1968 to become administrator (1968-72) of Norfolk Island. His tenure coincided with a number of important issues, including changes in taxation, the expansion of tourism, and an examination of the special position held by islanders.

Dalkin overcame a modest school education to study at the Australian National University (BA, 1965; MA, 1978). Following retirement, he wrote Colonial Era Cemetery of Norfolk Island (1974) and his (unpublished) memoirs. He was active in Legacy and the RAAF Women’s Association Education Patriotic Fund. Bob Dalkin would often say, ‘Australia’s been good to me.’ Survived by his wife and two children, he died of cancer in Canberra on 18 November 1991 and was cremated. His medals and a wartime sketch by Roy Hodgkinson are held by the Australian War Memorial.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Gillison, Douglas. Royal Australian Air Force 1939-1942. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1962
  • National Archives of Australia. A12372, Dalkin, R. N
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘R. A. A. F. Pilot Wins D. F. C.,’  11 July 1942, 11.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Alan Stephens, 'Dalkin, Robert Nixon (Bob) (1914–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2014, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert Dalkin, n.d. [detail]

Robert Dalkin, n.d. [detail]

Australian War Memorial, P05288-003

Life Summary [details]


21 February, 1914
Whitley Bay, Northumberland, England


18 November, 1991 (aged 77)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

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Military Service