Rob Conkie – the unconventional creative
In this little series reflecting on key influencers in my years between 20 and 40 I come to my mate Rob. Rob and I lived in the same house in Brunswick in the late 1980s. I was a fairly conventional young man; until I met this Ballarat boy it was not common for me to hang out with people who regularly wore clown pants to Melbourne Uni when most other people wore either their private school casual uniform or black. Rob opened up my experience of life to include creativity. I had never known someone as sensually aware and intelligent.
I picked up a little practice from Rob that I still find myself doing sometimes; sitting at the dinner table, before he started eating, Rob would slowly lean forward so his face was immediately above the meal. With eyes closed he would inhale deeply, embracing the smells, immersing himself in anticipation of what the flavours would soon deliver.
On more than one occasion I’ve heard people snigger at the extreme ridiculousness of liturgical dance; for good reason I might add. Can you imagine my reaction, while away with friends one weekend, when Rob announces that he is going to perform a dance to a well known song? He executes with such passion and meaning that the circle around him were drawn into a moving and memorable experience.
From his love of drama as an undergraduate and teaching as a young professional, Rob has done the hard yards, here and in England, and now finds himself with a global reputation in Shakespearian performance. I so admire his passion and competency in a domain of which I know virtually nothing.
But Rob is no marginal arty farty. We got to know each other over a diet of sport and slap stick comedy. We laughed and competed our way around Royal Park golf course countless times. We never got our balls confused because for years Rob played with the same bright pink ball. His golf prowess, unlike mine, meant that he wasn’t prone to losing the little blighters. He kicked the pig skin with both right and left (we are both Carlton supporters), a skill that no doubt served him well during the long period he called England home when the world game joined his list of sporting passions. Despite our shared generalist sporting skill and the hours upon hours we spent talking and competing (we played nerf basketball in our kitchen endlessly, seeking to score from increasingly impossible angles and positions – darts, snooker …. ), I could never come close to him on a tennis court where he still hits an A class ball.
On one occasion, much to Maria’s embarrassment, we sat ourselves in front of a TV screen at Barkly Square Shopping Centre and laughed ourselves silly watching the Naked Gun 2 ½ . We laughed often together, seeing things that were not conventionally comical, but of which we shared a comic perspective. We had some fun, typically during morning peak hour traffic when driving home from the cleaning job we shared, picking out the stereo-typical commuting types. A favourite was the blond young professional women driving small red cars. It amused us deeply how many there seemed to be on any given day at that time.
The Australia I recall growing up in had a neat way of categorising people. White collar, blue collar; Catholics and Protestants; Aussies and migrants; private schools kids and government school kids. There were us’ and thems’ at every turn. Meeting and becoming friends with Rob helped me appreciate that the tendency to categorise creates prejudices that prevent us from embracing all humanity has to offer. Like many exceptionally talented people, Rob did not fit a stereotype and in being a friend, taught me to love the unconventional in people.
Mate, as I’ve said to you before, I feel like our souls are connected in some way. You have helped me laugh. You have opened my eyes. Our lives have their own independent maturity now but you have left an imprint on mine that means I will always be grateful for having you as a friend.