Jill Robb began her career as a stand-in for English actress Jill Adams in director Lee Robinson’s film Dust in the Sun, a drama about a policeman who is attacked while escorting an Aboriginal prisoner to trial.
She wrongly thought stand-in meant understudy so she memorised the entire script en route to the location in the Northern Territory. That was in 1958.
Robb quickly discovered her forte was in producing and later as an executive. She was the first marketing and distribution manager at the South Australian Film Corp, the inaugural CEO of Film Victoria and a founding member of the board of the Australian Film Commission.
Her illustrious career was honoured on Thursday night when she received the Cinema Pioneer of the Year award from the Australian Society of Cinema Pioneers. “Jill is a great dame and a truly distinguished recipient,” said her long-time friend, producer Sue Milliken in presenting the award.
Robb’s first credit was production co-ordinator on Michael Powell’s 1963 classic comedy They’re a Weird Mob and she was casting director on Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright in 1970. She was the producer or executive producer on the films Dawn!, Careful, He Might Hear You and The More Things Change… and the TV series Phoenix, Secrets and The Man From Snowy River.
“Jill has been a role model and mentor for many women in the industry, and I suspect, not a few men,” said Milliken. “And from time to time she has quietly provided financial and emotional support to someone down on their luck, just when they needed it most.”
Robb’s accolades include the Raymond Longford Award from the AFI, membership of the Order of Australia and, three years ago, the launch by Film Victoria of the annual Jill Robb Award which recognises the achievements of women in the industry.
In her speech Robb recalled many memorable moments, including the time she discovered there was a $250,000 shortfall in the budget for the second series of The Man From Snowy River.
Her solution was to eliminate the completion guarantee bond– to the detriment of her friend Milliken who ran the bond company, but took it in her stride.