Robert Daniel Brinsmead (1933 – ) – The Story So Far….
Robert Daniel Brinsmead – author, horticulturist, and local government politician – was born in the Hawthorn hospital on August 9, 1933 in Victoria, Australia. He was the youngest child in a family of six boys and two surviving girls (one died in infancy). Bob always said that his childhood in this large boisterous family was more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
His parents were Cedric John and Laura Elsie Brinsmead. Both came from families that had emigrated from England or Scotland in the nineteenth century, although Laura’s ancestors on her father’s side were French Huguenots who had escaped to Scotland. She consequently inherited the French maiden name of Goulette.
Bob was born during the Great Depression. The family has just been forced to leave their wheat and sheep property in the Wimmera district of Victoria by the collapse of the world markets. They retreated to Dandenong where they set up a modern little dairy farm supplying milk and home-made cakes directly to customers in the Dandenong community. This is where Robert spent the first seven years of his life. Riding to town on the horse and cart to deliver milk to Dandenong with his older brothers was more exciting than going to a circus.
Bob started school a year earlier than most children, and completed his first two years at the public primary school in West Dandenong. He gratefully remembers that his teacher, Miss Tipton, taught him so well that he was set up to be a good reader and writer for the rest of his life.
When Bob was eight years old, the family moved into the Melbourne suburb of Gardiner for two years. This enabled two of his older brothers, Laurence and Noel, to graduate from the renowned Burnley Horticultural College. (By this time the four eldest children had already left home to begin careers in the teaching or nursing professions). Now that two members of the family were trained horticulturists, the family acquired the Devon Bulbery Tulip Farm located at The Patch in the beautiful Dandenong Ranges. Besides cultivating flowers, the family were potato growers, an industry so valuable to the nation during the war years that Laurence was not called up into the armed forces like his older brother Reg. During these years at The Patch, Bob completed his primary school education at the nearby Kalista public school and also his first year at the Upway High School. Mr. Bill Woodfull, the ex-captain of the Australian cricket team, was his headmaster.
At the end of World War II, Cedric Brinsmead heard voices saying, “Go north, young man.” Not that he was still a young man, but with four energetic sons still at home, the family had outgrown its small Victorian farm. This triggered a great family trek to the Tweed in northern New South Wales. Here Cedric was able to secure a much larger parcel of land on a rugged mountainside at Numinbah, right beneath the Queensland border. The Numinbah property was really a neglected shambles of a farm, covered with tree re-growth, Lantana and Crofton Weed. It appeared to have nothing going for it except for its perceived potential to grow lots of bananas. Without the benefit of any modern machinery, not even a tractor, and armed only with axes, brush hooks, and of box of matches, the family cleared and transformed their abandoned old farm into the largest banana plantation in the region.
It was during these Numinbah years that Bob completed his education at Murwillumbah High School – almost in-between making banana boxes and packing bananas for market, often late into the night. He excelled in literary subjects despite the intrusions of farm life, and in his final year secured First Class Honours in History. Also in his final year (1949), he won the mile race and became a member of the High School’s cricket eleven.
Soon the family had once again outgrown the farm. In 1951 two of the brothers – Laurence and Bob – migrated to far away North Queensland where they purchased a sugar cane farm near Innisfail. In those days, there was no banana industry in the tropical north, and the towns of the region had to import their bananas from northern New South Wales. The Brinsmead brothers started growing bananas as a side-interest. It proved to be so successful that when the news spread back to the Tweed, many Tweed banana growers began an exodus to North Queensland where most of Australia’s bananas are now grown.
In 1955, still retaining a stake in the land, Bob took up the study of theology at the Avondale College near Newcastle, New South Wales. Here he became attracted to Valorie Mann, a student teacher. The attraction proved to be mutual, resulting in their marriage on December 29, 1958. Four children – Judith, Paul, Sally and Daniel – were born to them over a twelve year birthing cycle from 1960 to 1972. Bob and Val also adopted two more children (Matthew and Wanda) and cared for a number of other young people in their home.
At the time of his marriage to Valorie, Bob had already shown an inclination to become a free lance writer in theology, remaining independent of any religious institution. He began to travel widely as a guest speaker and writer. He authored several books and at least a thousand articles and papers for various publishing houses, many of which were translated into Spanish, French, Dutch, German and other languages. He became editor of Verdict, a journal of theology that had a wide circle of readers all over the world.
After spending several years in North America with a very young family, Bob and Valorie returned to the Tweed, taking up a property at Duranbah. This seemed to be an ideal place for the family to settle down for the sake of the children’s education. Judith, Paul, Sally and Daniel all passed through Robert’s old High School at Murwillumbah, and went on to establish successful careers of their own in law, in business administration, in food and hospitality, and in art.
The farm that they purchased in Duranbah hosted the Tropical Fruit Research Station for the New South Wales government before it closed down in 1967. The farm’s track record in tropical fruit research prompted Bob to begin his own tropical fruit research project that would go way beyond anything the government had attempted. Soon the farm was growing more than five hundred species of rare fruits from South America, Africa, South East Asia, and the Pacific Islands and not forgetting the Australian bush foods. The research included looking at new ways to prepare or process rare fruit, new markets and new methods of propagating exotic fruit under Australian conditions.
After spending about ten years in this horticultural development, the Brinsmeads opened the farm as a tourist attraction in 1983. It soon became – and still remains – the Number 1 tourist attraction in the Tweed region. It is now well-known nationally and internationally as Tropical Fruit World.
Bob generally gets an itch for making some radical change about every ten years. Instead of changing his marriage partner as some restless spirits do, Bob would re-invent himself with new ideas and activities. True to form, in 1991 Robert handed over the management of Tropical Fruit World to his eldest daughter Judith who was already a successful business executive in a large construction company. Bob, now 58, needed a break in order to get on top of a threatening health condition. Not content to sit down and watch life passing by, however, Robert launched himself into a career in local politics. He had been frustrated to see the Tweed languish as an economic backwater when it was just as endowed with natural assets and wealth creating advantages as its neighbouring Gold Coast. He was elected to the Tweed Shire Council in 1991 on a platform of fostering change through economic development. During his first eight years in local politics, the Council continued to be ruled by a faction that resisted change, fearing that economic development would harm the Tweed environment.
In 1999, a group of like-minded Councillors that included Bob secured a Council majority, and they immediately acted to open the Tweed for business. Believing that no area can acquire quality amenities and infrastructure apart from getting business on board, Robert helped to attract some of the most creative developers in Australia to invest in quality projects along the Tweed Coast. This accord between an investment-friendly Council and a new breed of movers and shakers in the development industry gave birth to the giant Casuarina and Salt projects and other exciting projects that together created “the new Tweed Coast.” Despite the ill-founded fears to the contrary, it is now becoming clearer every day that these quality projects have enhanced rather than harmed the environment. Bob is immensely proud of playing a significant role in the development of “the new Tweed Coast.”
The old guard who had kept the Tweed in the dark ages were not happy. They fostered resentment against achievement and a politics of envy. They played on people’s inherent fear of change, fear of developers corrupting the Council and fear of short-changing the community. Bob says that falsehood will always travel seven times around the world before the truth can get its boots on. It seems that before the truth of what the new Council had accomplished could get its boots on, the Council was sacked by an intervening government pandering to voices that Bob jokingly calls the BANANA party (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody).
”In politics,” says Bob philosophically, “your side can’t always expect to win anymore than your sporting team can always be expected to win. But we managed to switch on a light that can never be put out.” True to his worldview, Bob remains an incurable optimist. “The story of the human race”, he says, “is the story of the human’s spirit’s quest for constant improvement. In this journey of the human race, setbacks are only temporary because the trajectory is set in the direction of an ever improving human condition.”
A Summary of Robert’s Achievements
Bob would always say that partnering wife Valorie to raise a loving and happy family transcends every other achievement. If the children are gold, then the grandchildren, all eleven of them so far, are Bob’s diamonds.
Bob’s three main career achievements are
(1) Robert D. Brinsmead’s theological interest has inspired most of his books and papers. Bob will tell you that being a theologian doesn’t mean that one can pretend to have an extensive knowledge of God. After a lifetime of thinking in this field, he readily admits, “All that I know about God could be written on a postage stamp with a large piece of chalk.” He concurs with Alexander Pope’s poetic line, “Cease from God to scan / the proper study of mankind is man.” So Bob says that good theology is thinking about the mystery of human consciousness, the mystery of love, the nature of the human spirit, the ground of being, the quest for meaning, and the great story of the human exodus to freedom, to an ever improving human condition and a human potential that in the words of Freeman Dyson “is infinite in all directions.” His scholarly interest has covered history, apocalyptic, myth, and literary criticism in the age of science. He describes his thought as being spiritual rather than religious. Unlike some ideologues who start out with a paradigm (system of thought or worldview) and then spend the rest of their lives defending it like a patch of turf, Bob’s ideas have always been evolving and developing. He is more like a man on a journey who doesn’t have to defend any patch of turf.
(2) As a horticulturist, Robert has acquired a wealth of hands on experience in rare fruits and their potential either in the market place or the home garden. The tourist attraction he founded at Duranbah is a scenic jewel that continues to attract thousands of national and international visitors to the region every year. Bob jokes that the man who calls a spade a spade deserves to use one. Whilst Bob is a man who has spent much of his life in the world of ideas, he has always kept his feet on the ground and his hands in the soil.
(3) As a local politician, Bob has thought through the reasons why he should support the economic development of his beloved Tweed. He doesn’t agree with the pessimists whose mantra is about economic activity and human technology being bad for the environment. “Imagine discarding our advanced transport and communications networks and returning to the horse and buggy culture,” he laughs. “It would require enough horses to bury our cities in horse dung and enough horse pasture to replace most of our forests. Then you would have a real environmental problem. They actually had this problem in New York and other big cities before the internal combustion engine was invented to replace horses.” Bob will point out that the most prosperous countries of the world have the purest air, the cleanest water and the best conditions for cultural development, whilst the poorest societies suffer from the most polluted environments. He thinks that ignorance, poverty and lack of development are the greatest evils that stalk the planet.
Bob has always been controversial without being quarrelsome, spiritual rather than religious, an optimist instead of a pessimist. He likes to live as he plays tennis, and that is to win, even when the odds are stacked against him. “Everyone who pursues a dream is a winner in the end, no matter what.”
At the Tweed Business Excellence Awards on June 30, 2006, Bob Brinsmead was honored by being inducted into the region’s Hall of Fame for Business Excellence.