Bob Solomon turns ninety on November 2, 2021
Younger Australian geographers—and that includes almost all of us—may be unaware of the extraordinary impact of Robert John Solomon in so many areas of applied geography. He graduated B.A. with First Class Honours in Geography from Sydney University in 1954, for a thesis on Broken Hill. This he expanded and published as The Richest Lode—Broken Hill, 1883-1988 (1988, 2008). As the Rhodes Scholar for New South Wales in 1955, he had to demonstrate an equivalent athletic achievement. That he provided as State Junior Champion in the 440 yards event, then setting both the inter-club and inter-varsity records over that distance. Tom McKnight of UCLA dubbed him “Speedy” Solomon. At Oxford, he completed his M.A. degree with Martyn J. Webb as tutor, and represented the English universities in track events against the American Ivy League. Even that took a scholarly turn, with his publication of Great Australian Athletes—Selected Olympians, 1928-1956.
Bob earned his Ph.D. degree while lecturing at the University of Tasmania (1957-69), before winning a seat in Federal Parliament as the Liberal member for Denison (1969-72). He then edited Federal Gallery, the journal of the Association of Former Members of Parliament. His doctoral dissertation on the historical geography of Hobart was published as Urbanisation: The Evolution of an Australian Capital (1976). A law degree from the University of News South Wales qualified him as a barrister. He served UNSW as its director of development (fund-raising), and was executive director of the Advertising Federation of Australia. He chaired the Australian Institute of Urban Studies on three occasions. In retirement, he still serves on the Council of the Geographical Society of New South Wales, and presided over its Travellers Club until the pandemic struck.
At the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2010, Bob was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). Its citation read, in part, “for service to urban affairs, particularly through research, public discussion and policy development.” Alaric Maude, his former colleague in Tasmania, was similarly honoured more recently.
Last February, Bob suffered a stroke (bleed) which placed him in rehabilitation at St. Vincent’s Care Services in Edgecliff, where his personal telephone number is 02 8593 8364. His emails are being managed by Pip Vice (email@example.com). I’m sure stress-free birthday greetings would be welcome.
Bob Solomon is not the only Elder Statesman in Australian Geography. John Holmes (University of Queensland) is ninety-one, and engaged as ever. Murray Wilson (University of Wollongong) is a wide-awake eighty-nine. Don Biddle is ninety-eight. Those of us whose careers have been cloistered by the lecture theatre, library, laboratory, and research site can only marvel at Bob Solomon’s multifaceted conquest of the Real World itself. Happy ninetieth birthday, Bob, you free-ranging old geographer-dinosaur!
Bruce Ryan, FIAG
University of Cincinnati, USA