A Century of Memories

As part of our centenary year celebrations in 2013, we collected special accounts from Richard Noble & Company alumni – the people who have shaped our history.

Click on the names below to enjoy a personal recollection of their time at the company.

Win Roberts is one of the many people who helped make Richard Noble & Company a lasting success.

Mrs Roberts was just 15 and a Legacy ward when she was interviewed by Richard Noble and secured her first and ultimately only job. It was January 1945 and World War II was near its end.  At that stage, the company had already been in business for around 30 years – still a long way to go to the centenary being celebrated in 2013.

Business was far different. Those were the days when people did not just walk into the lift and press a button – the lift was operated by an attendant, Rex Wheeler, who welcomed everyone and usually exchanged a few comments about the weather or current affairs.

Mrs Roberts was employed in the insurance side of the business, only stepping in to the real estate on Saturday mornings when business was brisk with clients enquiring about land or purchasing.

She remembers Richard Noble as “a fine English gentleman with steel grey curly hair and big thick grey moustache, who every day would walk down the Terrace for luncheon at the Weld Club, resplendent in bowler hat and using his rolled umbrella as a walking stick”.

“His desk was no ordinary desk, but a magnificent rolled-top desk, a piece of furniture that dominated his office; its back against the wall meant there was no intervening barrier for interviews,” Mrs Roberts recalls.

Mrs Roberts worked at Richard Noble & Company for 10 years.

“I enjoyed being part of a small firm. It was all very personal in those days; often when I had an insurance problem I would phone to make an appointment and then walk down the Terrace to see the appropriate person. Time was not the essence of life!”

“When I announced my engagement, Richard Noble wanted to meet my fiancée and invited me to bring Robert Roberts for Saturday morning coffee at his house – and his approval!

Richard Noble & Company has come a long way in 100 years.

Doug Sparks worked for the company as a Property Manager for eight years. He started back in 1986 – not that long ago in terms of Richard Noble’s 100-year history – but things were very different.

It was the days when smoking was permitted in offices and computers were still new-fangled gadgets – at least for some.

One of his colleagues made a lasting impression on him – a man he describes as an “accountant of the old school”.

“George did not trust computers so he ran the old manual system in parallel with the computer.  On pay days we were paid in cash and signed for it in an old fashioned ledger,” Mr Sparks recalls.

“Eventually George retired.  A few months later, he reappeared in the same building, but working for another real estate company as a computer consultant!”

Dramatic changes occur over the course of a century but former Richard Noble & Company secretary Fay Long has observed how events also run in cycles.

At the time when Fay was working at Richard Noble & Company, from 1952 to 1955, Perth was enjoying the benefits of a mining boom similar to the recent resources boom.

Fay said it was an exciting time to be in Perth and a wonderful time to work for the company.

“We were located at 135 St Georges Terrace in the same building as the WA Trustee and there were lots of comings and goings,” said Mrs Long.

“Parlour cars left from outside the building to Claremont. Buses bustled along St Georges Terrace. Most people commuted by bus then as cars weren’t that common.”

Not long after graduating from business college, Mrs Long secured an office position working with a small team of six or seven within the family owned business.

“I loved the work and the people. After I left I went to a much bigger organisation and it took me a while to adjust,” she added.

Despite the similarities of the economic boom of the 1950s, Mrs Long said a lot had changed in Perth since then, especially in the property market.

“There was a lot of land available in the 1950s,” Mrs Long said. “The quarter acre block was the norm. People really wouldn’t consider anything else.

“In those days banks required you to own the land and have a third of the cost of building the home as a deposit.”

Mrs Long said she paid 500 pounds for her first block in 1959. In 1963, she bought another block 300 metres up the road with her husband for 1500 pounds, which was considered expensive at the time, but a worthy investment for Mrs Long who stills lives at the property today.

For 15 year old Stan Gibbons, securing employment at Richard Noble & Company in the middle of a depression was a lifeline. It also served to be a solid foundation for an illustrious career that saw him rise through the ranks of the Australian Imperial Forces during World War II and later the Western Australian Fire Brigade.

Born in 1921 Stan, the son of a railway station porter, understood the need to work hard – an attribute that saw him offered a position in 1936 by Richard Noble himself.

“I left school at 14 when I learnt of a job going at the Scouting Association headquarters in Perth. The Depression had well and truly set in and it was tough, very tough for everyone, including my family.

“After I had been there for a while someone recommended me to a growing company that needed a boy to do some running around – in those times a job was a job, so I took it despite not really knowing anything about the insurance industry.

“I learnt a lot in the two years I worked at Richard Noble & Company. We were a small team – there was just me, Richard, Joe the Business Manager and a couple of typists.

“Richard Noble was in his mid 50s by this time and the business was well established, having been set up over 20 years earlier.

“Richard knew a lot of people and I guess that’s how we gained a lot of work. He was a member of the WA Club and of the Hunt Club. He used to have this big white horse that he’d ride around Kings Park too. I suppose he’d have been considered a bit of a wheeler and dealer these days.

“We were employed by the large trusts and banks to make sure that the insurance policies didn’t lapse on properties they had an interest in. One of my jobs was to go around to the different insurance companies – at that stage there must have been 50 or 60 of them in Perth – to get cover notes from them to ensure that properties were covered while the insurance policies were being renewed. I certainly saw a lot of the city that way and met plenty of different people too.

“I remember having a key to the office, which was on St Georges Terrace, so that I could let myself in. Once a week I also stayed back late so that I could go to night school – I liked to study, even though I’d had to leave school at a young age, and I think Richard approved of that.

“We worked six day weeks back then – but only a half day on a Saturday – I remember always being in a rush to get home in time for my football matches. I was quite an athlete back in those days – I even trained with East Fremantle a few times.

“Richard had two sons – Max and Frank. Frank was a year younger than me and used to work at the office sometimes, I think Richard hoped that he’d eventually join the company; however World War II changed a lot of things. Frank, who was in the same battalion as two of my cousins, was captured in Singapore and died.

“I didn’t join the army right away but by late 1938 I ended up joining the Citizens Military Forces. I distinctly recall some of my early training – it involved us marching around with a pickaxe over our shoulders pretending it was a rifle,” he added.

Stan later transferred to the Australian Imperial Forces and quickly rose through the ranks within the army and eventually moved into the Ordnance Corps, largely due to the administrative and reporting experience he had gained through his employment at Richard Noble & Company. He was based in both South Australia and Queensland during the war, returning to his wife and young son in Perth once it was over in 1945.

After the war Stan returned to meet with his former boss – as there was a requirement for employers to offer returning soldiers their old jobs back but together they agreed that Stan’s increased experience made him significantly overqualified for his old job at Richard Noble & Company.

Stan ended up joining the Western Australian Fire Brigade in 1946 where he excelled, earning a series of promotions during his 36 years with the force. At the time of his retirement in 1982 he was the Chief Officer for the Western Australian Fire Brigade, and he had received a number of prestigious awards including The Queen’s Fire Medal Service.

Stan recognises that his humble beginnings have given him the opportunity to achieve many things in his 92 years.

“I’ve been very fortunate in life. A series of opportunities and coincidences – including the skills I gained working with Richard Noble & Company – have given me wonderful experiences that I wouldn’t change for the world. A regret is that I didn’t have the money at the time to purchase land at Castle Hill Estate at Point Walter in Bicton which was being sold for two shillings and sixpence per week by Richard Noble & Company’s affiliate business Gold Estates – a lot there is now worth more than a million dollars!” he concluded.