Toowoomba in the 1960s. It was a time when women wore hats, men sported knee-high socks and Lennons Hotel on Ruthven Street was the glitz and glamour of the Toowoomba social scene.
For local teenager, Robyn the sixties were about more than platform heels and a youth-driven cultural revolution. It was the decade she swapped her school books for a typewriter and embarked on what would blossom into a 50-year career.
On Friday, 3 December 1965 Robyn officially joined the McConachie Stedman family. She remembers the day vividly and confesses that it was actually her birthday. Her boss, Miss Walsh had sold her small accounting business to founding Partner, Mr John McConachie. He dropped by the office for a meeting and before leaving, joked that the day was as good as any for Robyn to relocate. Shortly after and with her belongings in hand, it seemed the joke was more a suggestion and off they went.
Looking back, Robyn laughs that she had no idea she would be joining the ranks of the firm so abruptly. She adds that it naturally took a while to settle in with her new colleagues after her shock transfer.
The former Bank of New South Wales located on the corner of Ruthven and Margaret Street set the scene for the beginning of Robyn’s career and she joined a team of around seven staff. She admits that everyone enjoyed a good joke and they would often play tricks on each other. It’s a time in her career she says she will always remember fondly.
Valentine’s Day in 1966 marks what Robyn describes as the most significant industry change in her career and ironically perhaps one of the most unromantic in Australia’s history. It was the introduction of decimal currency and Robyn remembers the office buzzing in the lead-up. She explains that everything had to be converted from pounds, shillings and pence to dollars and cents. It was a lot of work she recalls, significantly more than the introduction of the GST that followed more than 34 years later.
When the firm made a move to the former SGIO building in the early 1970s, they joined the likes of the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Robyn shares that in 1974, crowned Miss Australia, Randy Baker dropped by the office after an interview and sat at her desk. She laughs that she was only there for around five minutes but confesses that in those days it was a huge deal.
The infamous hail storm of 1976 is a Toowoomba event Robyn says she will never forget. Although the firm was spared from the historic freak storm that ravaged parts of the Garden City, Robyn says that both her home and John McConachie’s were badly affected. She recalls hiding under her bed listening to a race at Clifford Park, an area of town that remained untouched. Afterwards, her curtains lay shredded on the floor in her room and not one panel was straight on her car. The clean-up took months.
When the firm moved to Duggan Street, Robyn says that growth although gradual, did start to gain momentum. A time of change, she remembers when they had a computer installed and confesses that it actually belonged to a client. She laughs that it was so big that a window had to be removed so it could be winched in by a crane and in the end, it took up half of the room.
When the firm did install their first computer years later, Robyn admits she was terrified. She remembers one Saturday when she was at work, former Partner, Mick Cumner told her not to be frightened and reminded her that she couldn’t hurt it. Reassurance she laughs did help.
With a career spanning five decades, Robyn says she has a lifetime of memories. From engagement parties to Christmas celebrations, she shares that one colleague even got married in her lunch hour. The bride surprised everyone after returning from the registry office and Robyn laughs that celebrations poured with orange cordial and jelly babies at the impromptu reception.
Robyn might be the longest-serving employee in the firm’s 70-year history but what is more apparent, is the integral and trusted role she played. From the founding partners to the current directors, Robyn’s responsibilities extended much further than her payroll, accounts and administrative duties.
When John McConachie couldn’t make his weekly visit to Crows Nest, Robyn would go in his place. She would join Bruce Stedman on auditing trips, journeying as far as the Gold Coast and she even played a key role in the behind the scenes administration when Bruce founded the Toowoomba Touch Association.
When asked about founding Partners, John and Bruce, Robyn beams with fond memories. She admits that the two stand out from her time at the firm because they were where it all started, mentoring her from the beginning of her career. She shares that the times when they passed away, were some of the saddest of her life.
After clocking up 50 years with the firm, Robyn retired in 2015. She turned off her computer for the last time and passed the administration baton to a new generation of colleagues.
Marking her milestone service with the firm, Robyn says she was spoilt with celebrations. She received beautiful flowers and gifts, including a handcrafted fruit bowl from the retired partners, a watch and an engraved crystal water set. Tokens of appreciation she says she still cherishes.
Looking back at her time with the firm, Robyn is modest about her contribution. She hopes she is remembered as a loyal, obliging and dedicated worker but the truth is that she will be remembered for so much more. Her mark will be a lasting footprint of service embedded for decades to come.