A leader is chosen
Sir Robert was born in 1906 in South Yarra into an academic family. He was educated at Melbourne Grammar, and trained as an engineer at the University of Melbourne. After graduating, he took a job at the Dunlop Rubber Company, rising to become its technical manager. Before long, the call came from his old university and he returned in 1946 as a professor of mechanical engineering and dean of the Faculty.
In 1948, Blackwood left the University and returned to Dunlop as its general manager. When he first took the wheel at Dunlop, the quietly spoken, reflective professor may have looked, as historian Geoffrey Blainey has remarked, ‘like a leisurely seeker of truth who had lost his way in a rubber factory’. However over the following decade he led Dunlop into a period of rapid and sustained growth. Demand was up for Dunlop’s products.
Blackwood was chosen as the first chair of the new Monash University’s Interim Council and later as the first chancellor. Once Matheson was appointed vice-chancellor, the old friends worked to build the physical campus, with Louis keeping an eye on the needs of teaching and research staff, and Bob focusing on the functional necessities of the campus. The search for a location and the planning and construction of the university at the Clayton site benefitted from Blackwood’s organised and analytical approach. His guiding hand influenced not only the physical construction of the University, but also its character. His own vast interests spanned not only engineering but also the arts, natural history, travel, and music. He wanted a university that gave students a broad education across disciplines.
Blackwood was knighted in 1961, in honour of his work done to establish Monash University. He stepped down as chancellor in 1968 but continued to serve on multiple trusts and councils, and maintain his many interests. He died in 1982.