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Ron Pinnell

No web site which even touches on development in the Burnley Pocket would be complete without mention of Ron Pinnell.

If anyone can lay claim to being an elder of the Burnley Pocket tribe, it is he. Without his hard work over many years, we would be living in a very different place.

The following tribute, written by his daughter, Gemma, appeared in both The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Her Dad would be very proud.

The efforts of local residents (led by Kathy Watty), which ended in a plaque being erected in his honour in Golden Square Park, should make Gemma, James and their entire family proud.

RON PINNELL March 20, 1928-October 29, 2021

Actor and community activist Ron Pinnell started life on the rough streets of inner-city Melbourne. He grew to become a respected actor of the stage and small screen and in later life became a noted local heritage advocate in the Richmond community.

Ron was born in Collingwood in March 1928. When he was 14 both his parents were killed in a car accident. His two older brothers, Alf and Bill, were away at the time, serving in World War II, so he moved in with his neighbours, and became a paper boy, selling newspapers on the city streets outside the theatres of Melbourne.


Through a chance meeting in his mid-teens, Ron was introduced to Camp Eureka, a bush camp in Yarra Junction which was run by the Eureka Youth League, the Communist party and the trade unions. In the early 1940s, he got his first chance to tread the boards. He was talent spotted by a lady from the left-wing amateur New Theatre Company. It was here he received his training as an actor in the Stanislavsky method and learnt to project his voice and enunciate correctly.


Consequently, he no longer sounded like a bloke who had grown up on the streets of Collingwood. One of his first shows was Reedy River, which was based on the songs and poems of Henry Lawson. This fostered a lifelong love of bush tunes and the Australian poets of that era.

With natural acting talent and comedic wit, Ron started landing roles in professional theatre with shows at the Melbourne Union Theatre Repertory Company based at the University of Melbourne. He appeared as the theatre manager in a production of Lola Montez. Having received “a good crit” for this performance, actor and producer Peter O’Shaughnessy approached him to work with Barry Humphries.

It was here that he found himself in a review show The Rock and Real Review. Humphries played a newly minted Edna Everage from Moonee Ponds and Ron played Edna’s husband Norm, and son Kenny. On the first night, Humphries started to ad-lib with Ron. Back and forth it went to everyone’s delight and the next day, the critics wrote that Norm had been even funnier than Edna. Though frequently referred to in later shows, that was the end of Norm appearing on stage again, or so the story goes.

From the early 1960s to late 1980s, Ron appeared in many iconic Australian television programs, including Homicide (in which he was in 15 episodes as a different character each time), Division 4, Matlock Police, The Sullivans, Prisoner, Neighbours, and the Flying Doctors.

In his late 30s, he met a young nurse named Shirley Hovey. They married in 1969 and set off together by boat to England for work.


In London, they moved into an apartment in Highbury. Not long after, Ron was acting again. For a time, both he and Shirley worked on a travelling pantomime out of Manchester, and when the acting work was quiet, they made ends meet by hiring out banana lounges in London’s Hyde Park. The most famous of his roles was in the Dr Who episode The Moonbase in which he played a scientist, for which he still received fan mail up to his death.


By 1969 Ron and Shirley moved back to Australia. Soon after their two children, Gemma then James, were born. He and Shirley bought a home in the southern-most section of the Yarra Council municipality, an area in Burnley known as “the Golden Square”. Through his connection with the artists’ colony Dunmoochin at Cottles Bridge, Ron met the designer and proponent of mud brick construction Alistair Knox.

Knox instilled in Ron and Shirley the basic techniques of community activism and Ron soon became fully invested in the political, social, and local government landscape in Yarra City, especially when it came to fighting back against what he saw as inappropriate building developments in the area.


It was a valuable and colourful history that began with his involvement in founding the Golden Square Residents’ Association and securing a heritage overlay status for the area.

Following the closure of the Burnley Primary School in the Golden Square area in the 1970s, Ron and Shirley were a driving force in ensuring the vacant land was developed into a park rather than sold off as a housing development as had been proposed.

Ron was a thorn in the side of the Yarra Council’s planning department, tirelessly working to protect the history of the area.


Councillors and the public noted that his verbal submissions were always thoughtful, good-humoured, and tinged with the subtle mirth for which he was renowned. In 2000, he was awarded Yarra citizen of the year for his work in protecting local heritage. Following his death, the current council acknowledged his contribution to the community.

Ron was also heavily involved in the campaign in 2009 to save Dimmey’s department store in Swan Street, Richmond. The campaign was successful in maintaining the iconic clock tower and the popular mural featuring important local figures, painted by Hayden Dewar.

Ron was so many things to so many people. He was likely to break into song and dance at the drop of a hat. He was a passionate life-long Collingwood supporter. He was gentle, funny, eloquent, and inspirational. Ron will be missed chatting to his many friends on the streets of Richmond and by all who knew him.

Ron is survived by his wife, Shirley Pinnell, children Gemma Pinnell and James Pinnell and grandchildren Louis and Audrey.

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