Robert Watson Hughes AO, MBE
|First name||Robert Watson|
|Last name||Hughes AO, MBE|
|Country of Origin||Scotland|
|Date of Birth||3/27/2012|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1929|
|Submitted by||Alison Smith|
Robert Watson Hughes AO, MBE (PART 1)
Robert was born in Olive Cottage, Links Road, Leven, Fifeshire, Scotland on March 27 1912, the sixth child, & fourth son of Joseph (a successful fish merchant) & Isabella Hughes. In 1922 the family moved to Aberdeen. Robert was awarded a scholarship to attend the prestigious ‘Robert Gordon\’s College.’ Academia became secondary to his need to compose following a visit to hear the orchestra. His early promise was brought to the attention of the Royal College of Music in London.
Isabella died in 1924. The eldest boys, James 1927 and David 1928, emigrated to Melbourne, Australia and re-connected with their aunt, Margaret Smith who came to Australia in1912. Robert\’s music mentor pleaded with Joseph to send Robert to London, instead of taking him to ‘the end of the earth’, where ‘there were no music opportunities.’
Travelling from Aberdeen to Southhampton by train the family group consisted of Joseph, Euphemia, Mary, Joseph Jr., Robert and Mitchell. They sailed aboard the S.S.’Jervis Bay’ on October 30 1929, as 3rd Class passengers. Robert always described the voyage as the most wonderful and exciting adventure a growing lad of 17 could ever have. Three big meals a day, all the shipboard activities, entertainment, exotic and interesting ports to explore plus sun and warmth. The family disembarked in Melbourne on December 5 1929 to a joyous reunion.
The full effect of the Depression was taking hold. Robert was under 18 and got work within a week of arrival, in the accounts department of a hosiery company. He\’d been in accounting since abandoning school, ever the good mathematician, he hated the boring work. Residing in Albert Park, Joseph came out of retirement, opening a fish shop nearby to employ the older boys and keep the family going. Robert adapted to his new country easily; he loved the climate, in particular the warmth, bright sunlight and the availability of wonderful fruit. He was dismayed to find the musical life of the city sadly lacking.
The family joined in the local life of British migrants in Melbourne. The brothers played soccer, attended Scottish dances, gatherings and outings organized by the Caledonian Club. Robert attended concerts at the Town Hall, composed in his spare time and submitted small works, coming to the attention of Joseph Post and Bernard Heinze. His association with the A.B.C. commenced in 1937 with a Suite for Strings.
At said Scottish dances he met Janet Almond; they were married at the Baptist Church, Collins Street, Melbourne, April 10 1937 on the very day the newly installed traffic lights were turned on. After a short honeymoon at Mornington, Robert returned to his employment as a Costing Clerk at the Hytone clothing company in Flinders Lane.
Post and Heinze suggested some formal training was necessary for the largely self-taught, natural talent. Robert was offered a scholarship to Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music. Unable to take up the offer due to marriage and work, a compromise was found; 1938-40 part-time formal music instruction on a Saturday afternoon with A.E.H.Nickson, after working the standard Saturday morning for Hytone.
World War 2 and Robert left his wife and young daughters Delia b.1938 and Gwendolyn b.1940 and enlisted in the A.I.F. Appointed to the rank of sergeant, serving in New Guinea, Bougainville Island and the Solomon Islands, mentioned in Despatches from Salamaua in 1943. Robert heard the first ABC radio broadcast of his music huddled over a small signal unit\’s field radio set whilst serving in New Guinea. Demobilised on December 3 1945, returned to Hytone until being appointed Music Arranger with the Australian Broadcasting Commission June 24 1946.
April 1950 a third daughter, Alison was born. Aided by a War Service Loan in 1953 Robert and Janet bought a two bedroom house at Bonbeach, south of Melbourne. Once again Robert could smell the beloved salty sea air.