Birthday toast for Robbie

Birthday boy Robbie McGregor with his siblings (at back from left) Merilyn Sussich, Bruce McGregor and Ailsa Cook, as well as long-time friend Lloyd Thomas to his right. 391536_02

By Garry Howe

For years Robbie McGregor cut a familiar figure around the Pakenham streets.

Riding his trusty pushbike, he’d go from business to business, popping his familiar head in to see if he could lend a hand.

Treloar’s Hairdressing, Alex Scott and Sons, Pakenham Travel, the Station Street medical clinic, Pakenham Newsagency, Lazy Frog and the old Gazette office were among those on the beat.

Third generation barber Graham Treloar struck a deal to cut Robbie’s hair for $1 if he swept the floor three times a day. At one stage, thinking he was being hard done by, Robbie snuck up the road to Colour Me Happy and, after shelling out $17.50, came back cap in hand to ask for his job back.

A few others fell out of favour over the years. It took a long time for Robbie to forgive Ian and Dot Thomas for relocating the Gazette office from Main Street to the current side on the corner of Princes Highway and Army Road. A stickler for road safety, he wouldn’t risk the highway traffic and only visited after that when he could get a lift.

The police copped a similar serve when they relocated to a highway site at the other end of town, in the new Lakeside development.

Robbie’s job at Lazy Frog was to ensure the condiments were replenished and he did it so well that boxes of teabags were piling up in the kitchen. It transpired that owner Janet Purcell didn’t have the heart say no to Robbie, hence the oversupply.

At the newsagent, he earned the honour of being named Victoria’s longest serving paperboy, delivering the news around town for over 50 years. The story made the Herald-Sun’s Black and White column the same day Ophrah Winfrey came to town. The family still can’t believe Robbie shared the spotlight with Oprah.

Robbie used the occasion of his 70th birthday on 22 February 2011 to announce his retirement in front of a big crowd that assembled for the occasion at the old Lions Den Social Club.

He still did a few jobs around town for a while, but these days is less mobile and living at the Millhaven aged care home, where family and a few old friends gathered last Thursday to toast his 83rd birthday.

Peter Deering, who ran the Alex Scott office, travelled down from Yarrawonga for the occasion. Every few years Peter would initiate a whip-around of businesses to update Robbie’s mode of transport. He was joined by former colleague and another great friend Janine Gerdsen, who still works at the Alex Scott office.

Former travel agent David Brown was there as well, travelling from Cape Patterson to pay his respects, as was his long-time hairdressing mate Graham Treloar, who still makes the trip from Phillip Island once a month with the clippers and scissors. Not sure if the $1 still changes hands.

A few stories were shared of Robbie’s exploits over the years.

Like the time iconic racing figure David Bourke, a former VRC chairman, entrusted Robbie with the job of transporting the day’s race taking from the old Pakenham racecourse to the ANZ Bank, with strict instructions to ride straight there and back.

When Robbie hadn’t return for a while, David rang home to ask his mother if she had seen him. It transpired that Robbie felt hungry and had called in for a meal before the return journey, leaving the club secretary pacing the mounting yard in a lather of sweat.

One of the best Robbie stories was the time the Post Master General’s office (the phone service provider back then) was converting the Pakenham Telephone Exchange from manual to automatic.

The first phones to be converted, naturally, were those of the town’s emergency services. Robbie was a frequent visitor to them all.

The ambulance station was the first to be converted and the sole officer at the time, John McMillan, happened to be out on a job when the phone rang.

Robbie, pottering around as he did, picked up the phone and gave his usual animated greeting of “Hello”.

“Who’s that,” the PMG technician asked.

“It’s Robbie McGregor.”

“Where do you live Robbie?”

“King Street.”

The puzzled technician muttered that he must have crossed the lines and hung up.

A little while later Robbie had finished his duties at the ambulance station and rode his bike up the road to the fire station to sweep the floors.

The phone rang there.

“Hello,” Robbie said.

“Who’s that?” an increasingly puzzled and now frustrated technician asked.

“It’s Robbie McGregor…”

It’s not clear what the technician muttered next, but there’s a fair chance there were a few expletives in his reply.

The situation was eventually sorted and that memory had given a lot of people a laugh over the years – as only one of the few times that Robbie McGregor’s desire to help was actually no help at all.

Happy birthday Robbie!