Robert Devenish was born in Perth on 29 April 1942. He grew up in Wembley but when his parents moved to Mundaring to manage the family hotel, Robert entered Hale School as a boarder at the Havelock Street campus at the age of 10. The year was 1952.
Robert known as ‘Devo’ by his peers, was a high achieving student who shared classes with boys who later became some of Western Australia’s most prominent men. Names like former Lord Mayor of Perth, Peter Nattrass; The Honourable Hendy Cowan; former CEO and Chairman of Wesfarmers, Trevor Eastwood; prominent artist Gary Zeck; world renowned Professor of Philosophy, John Kleinig and one of Australia’s most acclaimed novelists, Robert Drewe.
The 1959 year was what some consider one of the greatest year groups to have ever graduated from Hale School and Robert was very much a ‘backbone’ member of the year group.
In his final year at Hale, Robert was a School and House Prefect, and captained Faulkner House. He had previously been the cox of the winning 1956 1st VIII, but after a growth spurt was not only rowing number three seat for the 1st VIII but was also playing 1st XVIII football. Robert sat on the Sports Council and even diversified his involvement by sitting on the Dramatic Society committee. It was at the Year 10 dancing classes that Robert met the love of his life. Lesley and Robert caught each other’s eye from across the hall and when they started talking, Lesley took an immediate liking to this strong willed boy. She found Robert attractive because even back then he had strong views on things he found important, one of which wasn’t going to dancing classes! Lesley and Robert married in 1964 in Nedlands.
After leaving school, Robert attended night school to study Accounting. By day he had a job with Coopers and Lybrand, a company that would later merge to form PricewaterhouseCoopers. He worked with Coopers and Lybrand in Perth until 1965 when he took a posting at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in 1966 and 1967. These were eye opening years for Robert; he joined the Citizen Military Forces and began coaching and playing with an All Native Aussie Rules Football team. They were wonderful days and Roberts’s acceptance and appreciation for people of different cultures and backgrounds began to develop. His determination was exemplified by his personal challenge of walking the Kokoda Trail. He did this solo with no porters. He carried all of his supplies and did it in only four days which is considered phenomenal. Upon returning to Perth, Robert took up partnership in the accounting firm Yarwood and Vane which would later transition to Deloittes. Robert spent 17 years with the firm until 1986, when he went out on his own and practiced accountancy, specialising in assisting schools with their computers and accounting packages.
It was in 1997 that Robert’s yearning to make a difference, fuelled by his compassion and the need for deeper meaning in his life, that saw him enrol in the Chaplaincy course offered by the Anglican Church. An encounter with spirit-filled chaplains Rev Jenny Hall, Rev Les Goode and Rev Doug Davies solidified his decision and he completed the course. Robert had assumed that he would end up as a Chaplain at a hospital and was taken aback to find his posting was going to be at Casuarina Maximum Security Prison. He thought he must have failed to have been given such a posting! But of course, like everything else in his life, he took the opportunity and for over 10 years, Robert gave comfort and faith to men who the rest of society did not want. But he did more than just that, Robert became an advocate for prisoners that the system had failed. He was instrumental in assisting the overturning of the 1994 wilful murder charge against Andrew Mallard and worked tirelessly until Andrew was exonerated in 2006. Maybe from his time in Port Moresby, Robert also recognised and respected the different cultures of the prisoners; he even managed to organise Halal meals for some inmates. Robert never judged nor did he differentiate prisoners. Christian or not, Robert sat with them and treated them as human beings, regardless of their offences.
His mantra: “What would Jesus do here?”
Sadly, in March 2010 Robert Devenish died at the age of 67 after he fought a brave battle with an inoperable brain tumour. It was only a few months later that Robert was awarded an OAM for services to inmates as Chaplain.
To fully appreciate his influence on inmates, one only has to read his obituary from the West Australian newspaper. One prisoner was quoted as saying:
“Rob Devenish was an educated man and one of nature’s true gentlemen. His kindness to others, frequently less fortunate and struggling, often in tragic circumstances, has earned him the respect of the inmates of Casuarina Prison”.
Another prisoner said:
“I believe I owe my life to Rob because he made me see the light at the end of the tunnel because I had a severe drug problem. He taught me to take responsibility of being a father to my daughter whether I was with the mother or not. Rob was quite simply one of the best people I have ever known. He was selfless, tireless, honest and brave.”
Colleen Egan, the author of Robert’s Obituary wrote:
“WA has lost a man of immense generosity and integrity; a person who left the lucrative corporate world to take up causes of injustice with intelligence, humility and kindness”.
Robert was a loving husband, a loving father, and much loved grandfather, and has also left a legacy of enduring faith in so many inmates at Casuarina Prison.
It is with great honour that we present posthumously the 2013 Bishop Hale Medal to such a man. May he rest in peace and all the people he touched continue to follow him in his good step.
Mr Michael Beech
Bishop Hale Medal Speech, 2013