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Robert Pillans (1860–1941)

The death occurred at a hospital in Sydney about 9 a.m. yesterday of Mr. Robert Pillans, who had taken a leading part in the civic and industrial life of the Lithgow district for nearly half a century. He was in his 81st year.

His life was one of service for others and to the community generally, and he was held in the highest esteem throughout the State.

The late Mr. Pillans was born in Lanarkshire, and left his native Scotland for Australia at the age of 28. He settled first at Minmi, in the Newcastle district, and later went to the shale-mining centre or Joadja Creek, in the Moss Vale area. He arrived at Hartley Vale some time later, and then began a record of public service in this district, extending well over 40 years.

Mr. Pillans was a man of forth-right opinions and was never afraid to express them both in public and in private. But at the same time he held due regard for the views of others, and it was this excellent attribute, together with his flair for administration that made him such an admirable head of local government administration. Despite his keen interest in the industrial life of the community and his political affiliations, Mr. Pillans will perhaps be best known in this town — indeed, throughout the district and perhaps the State as Mayor of the town. He occupied this important position from 1911 to 1918 (inclusive) and from 1923 to 1927 (inclusive), or 13 years in all.

During that time he naturally saw Lithgow progress; indeed, it was his wise foresight, with the assistance of Mr. Thomas Evans and Mr. R. A. Brouff, able executive heads, that during that time Lithgow reached the peak of its prosperity, and though the depression later struck the town, Mr. Pillans had the satisfaction of knowing that the foundations of all communal services had been well laid.

Honest in all his dealings, it was his proud boast that never, during his long political, industrial and local government career had he ever accepted one penny largesse from any one and in all matters which came before the Council he shrewdly examined every aspect of the situation, and once his opinion was formed, he felt it his duty to pursue to the end the decision reached.

A very fluent speaker, he was acknowledged to be one of Lithgow's ablest orators, and on almost any subject he was able to put a case for the town with clarity and eloquence.

Mr. Pillans, as is well known, was always a staunch Laborite, and at Hartley Vale he was one of the first organisers of the political Labor movement there. Later, when he came to Lithgow, he aspired to political honors in the Legislative Assembly, and was one of the participants in an election drama when he was defeated by fewer than 20 votes by the late John Hurley. This was his only direct attempt to enter the Legislative Assembly; but in 1925 he was appointed an M.L.C. and held that position until a few years ago, when the method of election was re-organised.

As a unionist, of course, Mr Pillans took a prominent part in every phase of activity in this district. Not only was he president of the Western Miners' Federation for many years but he also assisted as a conciliator in the big iron works strike of 1911, and on many other occasions was to the fore when industrial cessations took place. However, although always staunch, Mr. Pillans was a man of broad mind, as well as strength of character, and was never afraid to adopt an attitude which would bring about peace in industry, even though sometimes it meant concessions but not an abrogation of principle.

It is difficult to give a clear summary of the deceased's many activities on behalf of the town and district, since over a great number of years no deputation to Sydney, no effort on behalf of the town, and no attempt to benefit Lithgow in any shape or form was complete without his participation. Indeed, with the late Major Bracey and the late Hon. J. Ryan, Mr. Pillans was a member of a triumvirate who went even far afield in the interests of the town, notably the big fight which was put up when it was proposed to remove the Small Arms Factory from Lithgow to Tuggeranong. Another giant fight was the establishment of copper refining methods at the Great Cobar works at Lithgow, extended railway freight zones, and so on.

With Mr. Pillans' demise, probably the only remaining early prominent civic patriot to-day is ex-Ald. William Slattery, and with that gentleman the deceased had a lifelong friendship, despite very many tussles and discussions in the Council chambers as aldermen. Indeed, on at least two occasions they tied for the Mayoral position, and on each occasion Mr. Pillans was successful in the draw from the hat.

Amongst the deceased's many activities was membership of the Repatriation Committee after the last war. This committee did exceptionally good work and Mr. Pillans was one of its most prominent members. He was also a member of the Local Land Board, one of the town's oldest Justices of the Peace, a foundation member of Lithgow Co-operative Society, and one of its first presidents. He was also the Western Miners' representative on the Coal Tribunal during and subsequent to the Great War.

Mr. Pillans was at one time president of Lithgow and District Eight. Hour Committee and a member for many years. Indeed, it would be difficult to mention any organisation in the town in which he was not either directly or indirectly interested. For instance, with other citizens, he was instrumental in securing a Trades School for Lithgow, and his interest in the School of Arts was very pronounced, as also was his association with the St. Mary's Presbyterian Church and the Hoskins Memorial Church. As a mark of his interest in Hassan's Walls, one of the lookouts at that well-known point of vantage is named after him.

Mr. Pillans at one time was engaged at the Lithgow ironworks, but for the most part he was a coal and shale-miner. About five years ago he had a serious illness, and since then his health had not been robust; although on occasions, such as Six Hour and Labor Day, he was able to meet some old friends and veterans of the movement.

His family life was particularly happy, and he was much devoted to his home and family. He was a keen horticulturist, and frequently exhibited in earlier Lithgow Shows. Incidentally, the golden wedding anniversary of Mr. and Mrs. Pillans was celebrated about two and a half years ago.

Besides his widow, who is a resident of Mort's-street, Mort's Estate, Mr. Pillans is survived by three sons — Mr. William Pillans, B.A., headmaster of Gosford High School; Mr John Pillans, State president of the Printing Industry Union, who is associated with Truth and Sportsman Ltd., Sydney; and Mr. Robert Pillans, Shire Clerk of Amaroo Shire, Cumnock.

The funeral has been arranged for to-morrow afternoon, the cortege to leave the Hoskins Memorial Church, after a service beginning at 3.30, for the Presbyterian portion of Bowenfels cemetery. Messrs. Matthews and Lemon have the details in hand.

General sympathy will be extended to the family and with this the "Mercury" desires to be associated. Vale a good citizen of Australia — and Lithgow.

Original publication

Additional Resources

  • profile, Democrat (Lithgow, NSW), 5 June 1915, p 1

Citation details

'Pillans, Robert (1860–1941)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/pillans-robert-34097/text42761, accessed 25 June 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]

Birth

30 December, 1860
Rootpark, Lanarkshire, Scotland

Death

31 August, 1941 (aged 80)
Lidcombe, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

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