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­­Notable Residents: Robert Allenby and Prof Kwong Lee Dow

Updated: May 10

This post is the first in a series about the lives of notable people who grew up in or around Ashburton, Glen Iris and Burwood.

Lets start with two men who grew up a generation apart and followed very different paths. Yet both came from humble beginnings to become trailblazers in their fields: Professor Kwong Lee Dow and Robert Allenby.


Professor Kwong Lee Dow AO OAM: noted authority on education

12 Florizel Street, childhood home of Professor Kwong Lee Dow

Professor Kwong Lee Dow grew up at 12 Florizel Street, Burwood (now Glen Iris).

A third generation Chinese-Australian, Kwong Lee Dow’s maternal grandfather was a herbalist who immigrated to Australia in the 1890s. He set up a highly successful Chinese medicine practice popular with Chinese and Anglo-Australians alike. After marrying an Australian-born woman of Chinese descent, they focused on raising children who would make a difference. Their daughter Sylvia became a highly accomplished pianist. She taught junior primary level in Shepparton before moving to Depression-era Carlton and attending Melbourne Teachers College.[1] She married Roy Lee Dow, an engineer with Australian Iron and Steel (later BHP).

Their only son Kwong was born in 1938. The little family later moved to Florizel Street.

In the pre-war era, pre-schools and kindergartens were little more than part-time playgroups in Church halls. Determined to give her son the best education she could, Sylvia decided to set up her own kindergarten near Burwood Railway Station. In 1944, Kwong commenced at Ashburton State School.  

‘I had trouble with a tooth and the school principal sat me in the office and pulled the tooth out,’ he remembered in 2008. His precocious intelligence combined with an extraordinary patience for teaching at a very early age.

The school was packed to the rafters at this time and the teachers stretched thin. ‘I would take kids who had difficulties learning to read and we would sit under the big gum tree in the school yard.’ There he would listen to their reading and teach them new words.

At the age of 11, Kwong read the newspapers and took to writing to The Age about his interests and opinions. Today, these letters provide insights into his capacity for intellectual thinking, and the compassion that his students would later admire.

In answer to the 22 July 1949 Topic of the Week (“Are you interested in raising £10 for some worthy cause?”) Kwong Lee Dow wrote in to suggest holding a bazaar. “I would ask my friends to give me old books and toys, which I could sell cheaply and, because I can bake, the night before my bazaar I would make cakes and decorate them.”[2]

He had quite forward-thinking opinions about road safety. ‘If I was running a road safety campaign, I would make it compulsory for motorists to have their cars overhauled yearly,’ he wrote. ‘I would have special lanes on the sides of all roads for cyclists, so that they need not be worried about cars and larger vehicles. I believe many lives could be saved if this idea could be put into operation,’ he concluded.

Next came a detailed account of his interest in breeding tadpoles. ‘It is important to look after them properly. Keeping tadpoles in bottles or jars is cruel and anyone who loves studying the beauty of nature will not use this method.’[3] Instead, one should leave the vessel outside in a cool place and certainly not feed them bread or biscuits. ‘The main food of the tadpole is the slime which gathers on the sides of their dish,’ the young man concluded. The care he took of his tadpoles showcased how science would later guide his teaching career.

A few months after the tadpole letter, Kwong waded into the far meatier topic of euthanasia. ‘Recently I read in the daily press that an American doctor had been charged with murder for killing one of his patients – a woman suffering the tortures of an incurable cancer,’ he began. ‘I think it is wrong that this doctor has been charged with murder because if a person is suffering it is very much kinder to put them out of their misery instead of letting them live on in agony. It seems to me that people are kinder to their animals than their fellow human beings.’[4]

One can only speculate what his neighbour at number 6, the staunchly conservative W Gordon Sprigg, would have thought of the opinions of the deep-thinking 12-year-old at number 12.

Six months after this rather controversial letter, Kwong Lee Dow wrote in support of the slightly less controversial topic of pocket money for children. ‘I do not think children should be paid for jobs they do in their own home,” he wrote. “Children should be given money because they need it. It is most important for all children to realise the value of money and know how to put it to their best advantage.’

Like his mother, Kwong was a gifted musician, winning and placing in eisteddfods for piano and later, clarinet. With private school not available to him – either for financial reasons or the fact that the private school parents of the 1950s actively sought to keep private schools the domain of rich white kids – he went on to attend Camberwell High School. Melbourne’s public high schools were still finding their feet then and the scramble for teachers combined with the influx of baby boomers meant a lot of kids were being taught by people barely out of high school themselves.

Kwong soon moved on to the selective Melbourne High School. By this time, he had already decided his destiny was to give knowledge to others. He attended Melbourne University and completed a science degree with honours. He returned to Melbourne High to teach but was soon seconded to train science and maths teachers himself.

Years later, people who met him would mention the continuing influence of the chemistry textbook he wrote in the 1960s.

He moved into academia and by 1973, at the age of 35, became a Professor. Five years after that, he was Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Melbourne. Then came the Deputy Vice-Chancellor job. In 2004, after a year as the Vice-Chancellor, it was time to retire.

Professor Kwong Lee Dow’s policy work, such as his review of the Victorian Certificate of Education for the Kennett Government and his participation in numerous federal higher education reviews, has shaped Government policy and students' knowledge for four decades.

Professor Kwong Lee Dow with his grandson in 2008

In 2007, he lent his name to the Kwong Lee Dow Young Scholars Program. It aims to give bright students from any Victorian secondary school the chance to attend the University of Melbourne. The University honoured him by naming a building after him and various awards and recognitions over the years have assured him several combinations of prestigious letters after his name.

In 2008, Professor Kwong Lee Dow was the very special guest at the 80th anniversary of Ashburton Primary School, the school his grandson attended at the time. Although he keeps a very low profile in retirement, I understand he remained living in the Glen Iris area for many years.


Robert Allenby: Professional Golfer

Born in 1971, Robert Allenby attended Alamein State School. The fourth child of British immigrants, his father was a golf professional in Leeds. Some news reports say he grew up in a Housing Commission house in Chadstone while Ashburton contemporaries remember him living in Sunderland Avenue.[5]

Last of the Commission housing: Sunderland Avenue today

Wherever he lived (I did ask but he never replied), by the age of seven his physical proximity to the Malvern Valley Golf Course had already shaped his destiny.

First opened by Malvern Council as a nine-hole golf course in 1931, two years later it was converted to 18 holes. The new course was part of a Melbourne-wide push to make golf more accessible for everyone. ‘Golf is no longer a game exclusive and expensive,’ the Council announced to the Herald. ‘Anybody with a shilling to spare and a couple of clubs may enjoy a round.’[6]  It is perhaps fitting that a kid from the nearby Housing Commission houses built 15 years later would come to exemplify this statement.

View of Malvern Valley Golf Course from across Kooyong Koot Creek

By the time Allenby stepped onto it, the suburban sprawl had metastasised all around. Malvern Valley now sat right in the path of two encroaching freeways: Mulgrave Freeway to the east (stopping at Warrigal Road) and the South-eastern Freeway stopping at High Street. By 1978, the push to close the gap between them turned highly political. To join them would take out acres of sporting fields, green space, houses and more importantly, compromise sections of Kooyong Koot (Gardiners Creek). But the reality was endless traffic up High Street and a convoluted series of roads to travel between the two Freeways. By 1984, the need to relieve traffic congestion won and the Monash Freeway emerged.

His father’s influence combined with living so close to Malvern Valley so that by the late 1980s, Robert Allenby had grown from promising golfing prodigy to the hottest Australian golfing teenager in years. Before he finished up at Alamein State School, the Mothers Club recognised his potential with a special scholarship.

Allenby moved on to attend Ashwood High School and train at Yarra Yarra and Box Hill golf courses under the watchful eye of Steve Bann.[7] “One of my biggest thrills as an amateur was playing Royal Melbourne for the first time,” he wrote in an op-ed published in The Age in 1992.[8]

'The day before the event, I was riding my bike to school down High Street Road in Ashwood when I was hit by a car that came out of a driveway. I somersaulted through the air and landed in the middle of the road, fortunately in a break in the traffic.’

Anyone who has driven down this section of the exceptionally steep High Street Road knows you take your life in your hands riding down it on a bike.

‘I jumped up, got off the road and then passed out. The driver rushed me to a medical clinic where I was treated for a badly bruised right thigh.’ The doctor insisted he rest the leg. ‘I told the doctor, “I have to play golf at Royal Melbourne tomorrow!” and he said “no way”!”

His parents tried to talk him out of it but Allenby was adamant. “I went out the next day with a big bandage on my leg and shot par on the West Course.” He was 15.

To pay his daily golf practise fees, Allenby lived with his parents and worked in an Ashburton art-supply factory, packing art supplies. 'Robert and I used to work together,' his friend and golfing colleague Mark Allen said in 1990. 'We worked from 7 to 12 in the morning and made about $120 a week, then used to go off and play golf together.'[9]

By the time he was 18, Allenby had set records at Riversdale (66), Northern (67), Green Acres (64) and Kew (65). He was tall, lean, humble, articulate and the best amateur golfer in the country.[10] Two years later, he had played in four professional events as an amateur, including winning the Victorian Open and placing second in the Australian Open. Had he been a pro, he would have earned $117,000 but he was forced to pass on it all, including giving the third placeholder the $75,000 he won in the Australian Open. ‘It’s all experience for me,’ he said magnanimously at the time. ‘The more experience the better.’

One day, he was out on the golf course when a call came into his parents’ house. It was a member of the Australian PGA Tour board. Robert Allenby had been granted a special dispensation to play on the Tour.[11] ‘Allenby is the most exciting arrival on the Australian golf scene for a long time,’ PGA Tour executive director Michael Duff said at the time. Robert Allenby was on his way.

Allenby pictured in 2016 (courtesy of PGA of America)

Early in his career as a professional golfer, Robert Allenby established a philanthropic interest in cancer research. This was spurred by the death of a childhood friend from the disease.[12] ‘I wanted to do something to support children and families going through cancer,’ he told the Herald Sun during his last visit to Melbourne in 2022 to support his charity Challenge. According to a Golf Magazine article in 2020, Robert Allenby was named as one of golf’s most charitable players. He has helped Challenge raise over $20 million since 1992 and lent his name to the Robert Allenby Golf and Gala Dinner.

His career had its ups and downs over the years but ‘I followed my dreams and when I turned pro I was able to do something and it just happened from there,’ he said in 2022, as humble as ever.


NEXT TIME: The Gyngell Brothers 

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[1] "A Shaper of Minds and Governments," The Age, 4 December 2004.

[2] "Here's How You Can Raise 10 Pounds," The Age, 5 August 1949.

[3] "Breeds Tadpoles in Spare Time," The Age, 7 October 1949.

[4] "Letters to the Editor," The Age, 27 January 1950.`

[5] Grant, Trevor, "All That Stands between Robert Allenby and One of These Is Robert Allenby," Herald Sun, 20 December 2003.

[6] "Public Golf Courses, Malvern to Have One," Herald, 9 July 1930.

[7] "All That Stands between Robert Allenby and One of These Is Robert Allenby."

[8] Allenby, Robert, "Great to Triump on the World's Greatest Course," The Age, 7 December 1992.

[9] Moloney, Brendan, "A Masterly Harwood out in Front," The Age, 16 November 1990.

[10] Tressider, Phil, "Amateur Whiz Rewrites the Record Books," Sun Herald, 8 April 1990.

[11] "Tour Permits Allenby to Become a Pro," Canberra Times, 5 December 1991.

[12] Byrne, Fiona, "Allenby in Town for Kids' Cancer Foundation," Herald Sun, 11 December 2022.

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