Lee Robinson (director)

Lee Robinson OAM (22 February 1923 – 22 September 2003) was an Australian producer, director and screenwriter who was Australia's most prolific filmmaker of the 1950s.


Robinson was born in Petersham and left school aged 12. He worked at the Daily Telegraph has a copy boy, and wrote short stories prior to the war. He first entered film as a member of the Australian Army History Unit[1] where he filmed Australian troops in Rabaul and East Timor.[2]

After the war he was going to work for the ABC as a scriptwriter when he received an offer to join the Australian Information Service film unit (later Film Australia) where he directed a film on Albert Namatjira called Namatjira the Painter (1946). Robinson made several films in the Northern Territory such as Outback Patrol, The Pearlers and Crocodile Hunters as well as a short film with actors in a studio called Double Trouble (1951).[3] The high quality and Australian subject matter of these films led them to be released theatrically as support for main features.[4]

Robinson was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in the 1985 Australia Day Honours for "service to the Australian film and television industry".[5]

Association with Chips Rafferty

Robinson had known actor Chips Rafferty from writing radio serials for him. Together with George Heath they formed a company called Platypus Productions with the goal of producing Australian films that Robinson would direct and Rafferty could appear in. The Australian Government put a £10,000 limit on any non-essential Australian company, forcing them to make their first film The Phantom Stockman (1953) for that amount.[4] The movie was a success, launching the career of Robinson discovery Victoria Shaw and Robinson found out that modestly made films with good advertising made their money back.[6] He also felt that a film with an unconventional setting should have a conventional story line.

Rafferty and Robinson then formed a new company, Southern International Productions, and made the popular King of the Coral Sea (1954), which marked the feature film debut of Rod Taylor. This was followed by Walk Into Paradise (1956), an Australian/French international co-production which American showman Joseph E. Levine acquired for American release and shrewdly retitled Walk Into Hell. The film became the most successful Australian film up to that time.[7]

Fauna Productions

With feature film production drying up, Robinson moved from directing and writing to producing. In 1966 he formed Fauna Productions with John McCallum to produce the television series Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Robinson had been advised that a children's show would sell well globally.[8] Robinson was inspired by Flipper, changing the dolphin into a kangaroo.[9] The series was filmed in colour before Australia had colour television. Robinson directed a feature film of the series called The Intruders (1969) or Skippy and the Intruders.

Throughout the 1970s he concentrated on television production. In the early 1980s he returned to feature films, producing two films based on the activities of Z Special Unit during World War II.

Personal life

Robinson married Gwenyth in 1940 and they remained together until her death in 1968. They had five children.[10]


"To put an Australian tag on it [an Australian feature film] was the worst thing you could do."

Feature films




Short stories

  • Square Off (1944)[13]
  • Railroad Out (1945)[14]
  • Suffer Little Children (1946)[15]


  1. Australian Army History unit website
  2. Geoff Mayer, 'Lee Robinson Obituary', Screening the Past
  3. Lee Robinson biography at Murdoch University
  4. Lee Robinson's biography at Film Australia
  5. "ROBINSON, Lee". honours.pmc.gov.au. Retrieved 21 September 2018.
  6. Reade, Eric History and Heartburn: The Saga of Australian Film 1896–1978 1981 Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Press p145
  7. http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/1.1/Robinson.html
  8. http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/skippy/skippy.htm
  9. http://www.independentweekly.com.au/news/national/national/general/skippy-australias-first-ambassador/1619955.aspx
  10. Tim Read, 'An Idea That Leapt Borders', Sydney Morning Herald, 8 Oct 2003
  11. "Burns to star in 208 rounds". Sunday Mail. Brisbane. 10 February 1952. p. 15. Retrieved 30 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  12. "LOCAL NEWS". Gilgandra Weekly. NSW. 8 January 1953. p. 4. Retrieved 30 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  13. "SHORT STORY BY AN AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR". The Sunday Times. Perth. 29 October 1944. p. 2 Supplement: SUPPLEMENT TO "THE SUNDAY TIMES". Retrieved 30 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  14. "Railroad Out". The Sunday Times. Perth. 11 March 1945. p. 10 Supplement: SUPPLEMENT TO "THE SUNDAY TIMES". Retrieved 30 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
  15. "SHORT STORY BY AN AUSTRALIAN AUTHOR". The Sunday Times. Perth. 21 April 1946. p. 8 Supplement: The Sunday Times MAGAZINE. Retrieved 30 August 2015 via National Library of Australia.
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