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Still spreading the good word

Saturday, 4th July, 2015

Salvation Army Lieutenant Colonels Laurie Robertson and his wife Simone are back in Broken Hill to welcome two new captains to the city. Laurie also took the chance to visit some former colleagues at his old workplace, the BDT, yesterday. PICTURE: Darrin Manuel Salvation Army Lieutenant Colonels Laurie Robertson and his wife Simone are back in Broken Hill to welcome two new captains to the city. Laurie also took the chance to visit some former colleagues at his old workplace, the BDT, yesterday. PICTURE: Darrin Manuel

By Darrin Manuel

The task of doing God’s work extends well beyond the walls of the church, and few people know that better than former local Laurie Robertson.

Lieutenant Colonel Robertson has spent years using the literacy skills he honed as a cadet journalist at the BDT in the 1970s to spread the good word through the Salvation Army’s various publications.

Laurie was born in Broken Hill in 1955, the son of “Scotty” Robertson who was well known for playing Santa atop the former Benjamin’s department store.

He developed an interest in journalism in his school days, and in year 11 applied for a position at the Barrier Miner but was turned down due to his age.

Shortly afterwards in 1973 he applied for a cadet journalist position at the BDT, and this time beat a field of 26 candidates to win the coveted position.

He was quickly thrown in the deep end as his first assignment was to transcribe an interview with Australian cricket great Ian Chappell.

He handled the task and flourished in the job over the coming years, but as a lifelong church-going man, he said he felt a higher calling for his skills.

As he neared the end of his cadetship he told general manager Chris Falkner and his editorial colleagues that he would be leaving to train as a Salvation Army officer, and the news was greeted with mixed results.

He said his workmates tried to talk him out of the move, with then editor Glen Robertson even approaching Laurie’s father to urge him to stay on.

But the underlying reasons for their actions was purely positive - Laurie had established himself as a fine journalist, and they simply did not want to lose him.

“It was really special for me just to know that they wanted me to stay,” he said.

While they were discouraging him on the one hand, they were also helping with the other.

Chris Falkner acted as guarantor on a loan to allow Laurie to get a car, the editorial team switched their roster to give him better-paying shifts to help him save for his trip, and the BDT board made him a graded journalist ahead of time.

Laurie said he had never forgotten their kindness, and believes his stint at the BDT was a vital part in God’s plan for his life.

“I think the path was set and the BDT was part of it, and now those skills are used internationally,” he said.

“I had some excellent teachers there in (editors) Kevin Ray and John Hudswell. They were excellent people and mentors.

“Kevin had forgotten more about English than I ever knew. You’d come in and there’d be six or seven pages of notes telling you how you could improve,” he laughed.

“And John was a good balance. He’d really help you and work through things.”

Laurie’s cadetship ended in 1978, and he moved from his $200-a-week journalist job to training officer with the Salvos on an allowance of around $20 per week.

Despite the disparity in salary the move would soon pay off, as he travelled Australia and the world spreading the gospel and undertaking important communication and editing tasks.

The Salvos were quick to make use of his skills, giving him various roles across his 36 years of service including Australian national editor in chief, and Australia Southern Territory literary secretary based in Melbourne.

He has been a key figure in a number of publications including War Cry, Kidzone and On Fire, and helped the Salvos embrace social media and the internet.

On an international level Laurie served as the Salvos International Communications Secretary, editor in chief, and literary secretary in London, and led editorial training seminars in Kenya and India.

Outside of communications, he has also been the officer for five different Salvo churches in Queensland and NSW, as well as divisional commander for Central and North Queensland.

“I just thank God for the opportunity and being able to liaise with so many cultures around the world, and being able to train people out of that experience,” he said.

Laurie now serves as the Eastern Territory Secretary for Programs in Sydney, and is back in Broken Hill to install new local captains Paul and Christy Kurth at a service tomorrow.

He said much has changed in the city since his early days as a reporter, but that the place was still familiar and comfortable.

“I’m still finding my way around without a map...  It’s a wonderful nostalgic feeling for me,” he said.

“I can see changes with modernisation and different shops, but there’s a lot that’s still the same and it feels uplifting to be here and see there are still good things happening.”

Laurie said he wished to thank Peter Keenan and all other local Salvos volunteers for their help over the years, and encouraged everyone to take part in the Red Shield Appeal when it begins again next year.

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