Orest Jacovlavich [James] (Bob) Bobroff

(courtesy Sadie Bobroff)


13 August 1922 Ė 9 December 2013


Bob and Sadie in garden at Buderim


Bob was born on the 13th August 1922 at Nikolsk - Ussurysk, near Vladivostok, in Sibera. His father, Jacov, was an officer in the Russian Army and a forestry surveyor. He was born at Kaluga, the son of the town blacksmith Ė the town engineer. His mother, Maria, was a teacher. She was born in Arhubinsk, near Astrakan, the daughter of an archdeacon of the Russian Orthodox Church. The family are Ural Cossacks, and Bob has always been proud of this.


After the Russian Revolution, in 1919, Bobís parents joined a party of Ural Cossacks who walked out of Russia with only what they could carry and with what arms they could muster. The party, led by Ural Cossack General Tolstoff, numbered some 800 people Ė men, women and children. They started out through a very severe Russian winter and many perished from the harsh weather Ė including Bobís grandparents and other members of their family.


The group walked down the eastern side of the Caspian Sea into Persia and then on into Mesopotamia, to Basra, where the British Army were in occupation. At first, the group was followed by Communist soldiers who eventually gave up the chase. During that epic journey, they were attacked by hostile Turkomen tribesmen who tried to keep them away from their wells. This caused fighting during which many on both sides were killed. In one episode the tribesmen were led by a mullah on a white horse and General Tolstoff ordered his party to capture the mullah, which they did, and they were then able to get water.


When they were in Persia, Bobís father was able to see the famous Darius carvings. These were on a mountain face and it is a matter of wonder how they were carved. It seems that the carver had a narrow ledge on which to stand but, when he had finished the inscriptions, the ledge was destroyed so that no one could deface them.


In Basra, Bobís father was attached to the British Army working on plans, drawings and surveys. Eventually, the Army told the survivors of the group that they couldnít stay any longer in Basra and asked them where they would like to go. At that time, Vladivostok was still in royalist hands so the British Army put them on a troop ship and took them to Vladivostok. It was near there at Nikolsk-Ussurysk that Bob was born.


Later some of the group went to Harbin, in China, and the rest came to Queensland. The Federal Government of the time made them sign a paper to say that they would never be a burden on the government. It can be said that all of those who came to Australia worked very hard and did well and became good citizens.


At first, Bobís parents picked cotton and cut cane and his mother cooked for the group with a small baby on her back. They lived in tents with no running water, nor sewerage or electricity. Conditions were primitive Ė very different from those for migrants today.


After a time they moved to a two-roomed house in Wooloongabba, purchased for 75 pounds. This they gradually rebuilt and enlarged. They bought their second house in Enoggera Terrace, Paddington and lived there for the rest of their lives. Bobís father became a house painter and then a signwriter.


The family were very involved in the Russian Orthodox Church and his father helped build St Nicholas Church, in Vulture Street. Bobís father had a beautiful tenor voice and started the choir there, and conducted it for many years. He also an artist and painted all the icons in the church. Bob was an altar boy. The pennant of the Ural Cossacks, on which Bobís name is written on the ferule, hung in the church. General Tolstoff had brought it with him during their epic journey but when he arrived in Australia the climate when he was living in a tent was not good for a crimson and gold brocade pennant so it was put in the church for safe keeping. Years later the pennant was returned to the Cossacks in Russia by the Generalís son, Sid.


Bob went to Ithaca State School and Brisbane State High School and was a Scout leader and played football. He learnt Japanese and so spoke that as well as Russian and English. After leaving school he was apprenticed to Torlief Hein, later the Surveyor General of Queensland, and spent time in the jungles of North Queensland.


When World War II broke out he joined the 5th Australian Field Company and during the last year of the War the Survey Company went to Borneo, as part of the 9th Division, where they served in Labuan and Muara. Bob was always fond of horses and whilst in the jungle he broke in a Brumby, which had a silver mane and tail. The men in the camp said that he would not be able to break it in but, being Bob, he did. When he left for the War, he took it over the river and let free. After the War, a friend told him that no one had been able to catch the Brumby so it was still free leading a herd.


From an early age Bob was keen on sailing and built a canoe and a kayak which he sailed on the Brisbane River. He and a friend rowed as a pair. Years later, he built the first catamaran in Cairns which he often sailed to Green Island. The story goes that he wanted to join the Cairns Yacht Club but was told that a catamaran was not a boat and he was refused, whereupon he sailed it single handed to Townsville. Later after he had beaten the yachts going to Green Island, the Yacht Club asked him to join Ė but he refused.



Bobís catamaran Yvonne


After the War he returned to Paddington and decided not to do a university degree in Surveying but sat for the Survey Boardís examination instead. He became a licensed surveyor in 1952, after which he moved to Cairns and went into private practice. He wasnít happy in private practice so joined the Department of National Mapping.


Whilst in Cairns, he married his first wife, Jill Jago, and had two sons, Peter and Paul. Peter joined the Royal Australian Navy, had a brilliant career and was seconded to the American Navy when they were building frigates for the RAN. He received a citation from the American of State for his work and was also awarded the Order of Australia. He married Judy Tacklind, whom he met in Hawaii. She is the daughter of US Marine Colonel Oscar Tacklind and his wife Lu Verne. Peter retired as the youngest Commander in the RAN. Bobís second son, Paul, is artistic and now lives in North Queensland.


Bob was a geodetic surveyor and cartographer and his career was mapping Australia. He was involved in the Geodetic Survey of Australia which is said to be a wonder of the Survey World as it was completed in 10 years. One of the highlights of his career was the digging of Jupiter Well. His friend, Ed Burke, found the site and the survey party dug the well. One night when they looked into the well to see how much water was there they saw the reflection of Jupiter and, of course, it became known as Jupiter Well.


Another interesting story is about when his survey party met the Pintubi Tribe of Aborigines. One morning the party woke up to find spear holes in the ground at their heads and they wondered what was going on. Later in the day a group of Aborigines, men women and children, appeared led by an old man with a beard. They had not met white men before. So Bob and the party showed what magic white men could do by giving them tinned food and shooting into a tin of petrol. This went off with a great bang and the Aborigines were impressed. Bob compared his beard with the leaders and he even trimmed it for him. Although they werenít able to understand each other they talked with sign language. The children were well behaved when the elders were speaking but then went off and played as all children do. Then the Aborigines asked Bobís party to follow them and took them to a sand dune a little way away and told them to stay there and they disappeared over the dune. In a little while a willy-willy appeared and swirled down towards the party and then stopped. Then the Aborigines appeared over the dune and as much as said ďWell chaps what do you think of that?Ē It was their way of saying that they too were clever. Bob has often wondered what happened to them after they came into further contact with white man.



Bobroff, Boss, Burke, Goldsworthy, James, Hutton, Combe at Jupiter Well, 1961


After many years of field work Bob retired from National Mapping in 1982 as a supervising surveyor of the Geodetic Branch of National Mapping. His work had taken him to the length and breadth of Australia, up to the Torres Strait and down to Tasmania and Kangaroo Island.



Bobsí Bobroff & Goldsworthy on Mt Kintore


After retirement, in Melbourne, Bob needed a project to keep him occupied so he decided to build a car. This was known as the Bobswagen as it was built from a fiberglass mould of a Porche on a VW chassis. It had a soft top and was low slung. One of our friends had to crawl out of it because it was so low. This travelled many miles and was eventually given to a friend. He always loved VWs and we still have a Golf.


In 1984 Bob married Sadie Edmonds and they moved to Buderim. They brought Bobís mother with them and she lived with them for three years before going to Buderim Nursing home where she died aged 96.



Urri's Executors


We had a big house and a lovely garden at Buderim and Bob had his cave and his workshop. He made some splendid ironwork for the porch of the house but also made many things for other people. He went to Cairns and brought back his beloved catamaran which he restored and eventually gave it to his friend, Martin Ellnor, who was a shipwright.


Bob and Sadie had a wonderful life together and visited family in Canberra and friends in Victoria and in Cairns and travelled around the Sunshine Coast. Many friends came to stay at Buderim. After 28 years moved to Buderim Gardens Retirement Village. Sadly, in 2012, he became ill and had to move to Buderim Views for full time care.


Bob was a great achiever but a modest man Ė kind, thoughtful and generous and with a great sense of humour. He was a man of principle who had looked after his parents and helped so many people along the way. He is survived by his wife, Sadie, his two sons, Peter and Paul, his daughter-in-law Judy, and grandchildren, Sam and Beth. Sam and his wife, Beck, have two children Felix and Violet, who are Bobís great-grandchildren.






(In early 2013 Sadie wrote ďThe Bobroff SagaĒ and an edited vesion this account is available here.)