Prison boss won wide respect
FRANK WILLIAM (BILL) IRVINE Prison superintendent
Born: February 6, 1941, Maleny Died: June 17, 2015, Cooroy BILL Irvine was born to dairy farming parents in the Hinterland town of Maleny, and it was this rural upbringing that would ultimately shape his career.
He attended the local school and, after finishing his education, worked at the butter factory as a milk tester before joining the police force.
However, he decided a career as a policeman was not for him and, following a conversation with a sergeant in 1960, Bill applied for a job with the prison service at Stuart Creek, Townsville, as a farm officer, where he put to use the knowledge he gained working on his parents’ farm.
The prison farm supported a dairy and piggery, vegetable gardens and small crops which enabled inmates to be taught all manner of farming techniques as well as machinery operation and maintenance.
These were invaluable skills that assisted inmates in their rehabilitation before their return to society.
In 1968, Bill was transferred to HM Prison Farm at Wacol. He continued his approach to teaching and being a mentor to inmates to enable them to become responsible citizens upon their release. He also continued his own studies and eventually became farm supervisor at the institution.
In 1975, he was promoted to superintendent at Palen Creek Prison, Rathdowney, becoming the youngest person appointed to the position. It was here he saw the opportunity to assist the community as he felt the locals needed some compensation for having a prison in their midst.
He organised for an exhibit, manned by inmates, to be set up at Beaudesert’s annual show. Kitchen inmates preserved produce grown on the farm, while others fashioned items out of any available materials, including a miniature orchestra complete with all the instruments.
While inmates were accompanied by plain-clothed officers, they were allowed to engage with members of the community. Bill thought this was an important part of reintroducing those inmates who had experienced little contact with the outside world for quite some time.
Other community projects Bill instigated included the rejuvenation of the information centre, RSL Club, establishment of a bowling green and renovation of a cottage at the Tamrookum church.
Bill often received cards and calls from discharged inmates thanking him for assisting with their rehabilitation.
In 1982, Bill received the Australia Day Citizen of the Year award from the Beaudesert Shire for his contribution to the community.
In 1985, he was appointed superintendent at Etna Creek Rockhampton, where he once again became involved in the community. He joined the Rockhampton Sunrise Rotary Club and became president of the Caves and District State School.
Together with the Rotary Club he organised for inmates to help upgrade pathways at Mt Archer Park for wheelchair access. This project was opened by the Duchess of Kent.
On another occasion, when Gympie was devastated by floods, Bill sent inmates to help with clean-up and repairs.
As a member of the Rockhampton Lions Club, Bill was part of a team that established a farming and lifestyle expo at the prison farm. He again involved inmates in the annual event instilling in them a sense of achievement.
Bill was also the force behind the formation of a prison rugby league team, which was admitted to play in the local reserve grade competition.
Bill was honoured to be recognised as a Paul Harris Fellow by the Rotary Foundation for his contribution to the community.
In 1987, Bill accepted a temporary transfer to Boggo Road jail as acting chief superintendent until a permanent placement was made. His appointment was initially met with opposition after he introduced standards he expected his staff to abide by. But he eventually gained their support and respect.
Bill was well aware of his responsibilities to his employer and to those with whom he worked and those he was charged with looking after.
He took the opportunity to rehabilitate those inmates who had been less fortunate in life or had chosen the wrong path and he was always compassionate and fair in his dealings.
Bill took great pride in involving the community in his projects and they, in turn, had confidence that Bill would ensure their community was safe at all times.
Bill was proud of his achievements and valued the friendships he made and maintained throughout life.
He retired in 1992 and took up dairy farming with his wife Carol at Pomona, until deregulation of the milk industry made small farms unviable.
Tributes flowed on news of his death with many former prison employees describing Bill as a “great man”; “A rough diamond” and “what you saw was what you got – a staunch ally or a much respected foe”.
Bill’s family also received a text from a former inmate of Palen Creek Prison Farm who wrote: “It is was with sadness, and fond memories, that I heard of Bill’s passing today. The year was 1982 and I was an inmate at Palen Creek Prison Farm where Bill Irvine administered my incarceration with ‘tough love’. Which in turn led me to live an honest and productive life. He taught me to be civil and respectful in all my dealings and above all not to be overly judgmental.
“Bill sent me from Palen Creek with an attitude to put the past behind me and move forward. I took on board his advice and today I am the CEO of an organisation with 1100 staff under my control and an annual budget of $80 million.
“He taught me the value of supporting others along the way. When I stop and think that I was not the only one he helped, is there any wonder he is held in such high esteem by me and I am sure countless others.”
Bill was a man for all seasons, he was tough but fair and had the support of his superiors, subordinates and prison staff as well as inmates.
He also was in demand as a public speaker because of his ability to relate to people from all walks of life.
He could call among his friends politicians from all political parties, clergy, magistrates, health officials, public servants and rank and file police officers.
Bill was full of bluff, bravado and stories galore from the old days. Under all that, though, he was understanding, considerate and possessed a wicked sense of humour.
He was the last of the oldtime superintendents before the name change to Corrective Services following the Fitzgerald Inquiry and one of the last to wear the khaki uniform with metal badges and braiding.
Bill is survived by Carol, his wife of 43 years; his children Rosalind, Melissa and Vern and four grandchildren. His son Frank predeceased him.