Robin Curtis


Because I am very old I suspect that I knew Robin longer than anyone here. We met, I believe, sometime in 1952-3. Sadly, I did not, for various reasons, know him nearly as well as most of you.


Robin and I did our undergraduate geology degree at the same university in Wales. It was then known as the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire and was one of the four constituent colleges of the University of Wales. It is now known simply as Cardiff University.


Robin was one year behind me, but I nevertheless came to know him quite well. One reason for this was that the geology department in common with many geology departments of that era was located in an ancient brick building that housed a number of odd university departments like ours. It was a good 15 minutes brisk walk in the rain with our gowns (yes, we had to wear academic gowns to lectures) billowing in the wind behind us from what was affectionately known as the Old Building to get to the white Portland stone main buildings of the university where our non-geology lectures and laboratories were held. This ensured that the geologists regarded themselves as an elite if somewhat down-trodden group and there was an unusual amount of mingling between the different years.


The major reason I knew Robin so well in those days was, however, due to Robin’s academic ability and his devotion to geology. The great majority of students studying geology were doing it as part of another degree. In my year there were only two determined to become geologists (I was obviously one). In Robin’s year he is the only one that I remember who was also determined to be a geologist.


The head of the department took special care of such people. As a consequence of this, Robin was invited to join my third-year excursion to Belgium while still in his second year. We had many adventures on that trip apart from the geological ones. For example, spending a night in a monastery on mattresses made of straw and fashioned like a large pipe so it was impossible to sleep. In those days our age group were really innocent. One night in Liege we went into an establishment that we thought was a café. We were immediately surrounded by young ladies demanding drinks for favours we escaped with our innocence intact by pretending to be Russians. Another memory of that trip is of Robin insisting that the only way to avoid sea-sickness on the return crossing of the English Channel was to chain-smoke very strong, unfiltered French cigarettes. He stood on deck the entire trip smoking without any visible harm.


Before I was accepted into the Geology course as a potential honours student (and therefore a serious geologist) the head of department made me swear that I had no expectation of working in Britain (because there were no jobs) and I must be prepared to work overseas. I believe Robin was put through the same test. The head of department believed that we would join the British Colonial Geological Survey. Both Robin and I knew that this did not offer a long-term future (the colonies were disappearing at a rapid rate!). So, I took off for London in 1955 and then the Copperbelt of Northern Rhodesia in 1956, and then to Canada in various other places 1958.


I was told on one of my visits to the old department in Cardiff that Robin had gone to the Antarctic as part of a PhD program. This seemed to me an extreme measure to avoid the Colonial Geological Survey, but I could not guess what he would achieve there. The world was a much bigger place then (no emails) and I had no news of Robin after that.


One day in the late 1970’s or early 1980’s (after I had finished my global wanderings and I was more or less settled down in Australia) I was at some meeting in Sydney most likely a SMEDG meeting when I saw a large gentleman advancing towards me across the room. I recognised him as Robin immediately because of his characteristic slow and gentle smile. The last time I saw him a few weeks ago, he greeted me with exactly the same smile.


We will all miss Robin for our own personal reasons.


GJS Govett

Emeritus Professor

20th November 2006