From school drop-out to doctorate

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
Self-made entrepreneur John 'Foxy' Robinson has had a lifetime of hands-on education recognised with an honorary doctorate from Charles Darwin University.
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John ‘Foxy’ Robinson AO has come a long way from leaving school at 13, to now receiving an honorary doctorate from Charles Darwin University (CDU) – reinforcing that lifelong learning doesn’t always happen within the walls of traditional educational institutions.

The university bestowed the honorary doctorate on the well-known Territorian for his entrepreneurship and philanthropy, and in recognitions of his contribution to the NT’s tourism and hospitality sectors. 

He received the honorary doctorate on 24 April, alongside hundreds of graduates at the CDU graduations. 

Entrepreneurship and hands-on education

Mr Robinson’s left his native New South Wales to seek adventure and arrived in the NT in the late 1960s, working in the meat industry until its decline in the early 1980s. He then worked at the Katherine Swimming pool, where recognition of his managerial skills helped spark his ongoing interest in tourism and hospitality. 

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The NT provided a place where he could explore his self-taught entrepreneurial skills and help lay the foundations for the vibrant tourism and hospitality sectors the Territory has become internationally known for. He entered the industry by acquiring and transforming struggling businesses, with an extensive list of subsequent high-profile endeavours that includes the purchase of Darwin’s Palms Resort, as well as the construction of Darwin Airport Resort and Darwin Airport Inn. In recent years, he built the Rydges Palmerston and – in the height of the COVID-19 pandemic – opened the Rydges Gold Coast Airport.

Acknowledging the power of philanthropy

Along the way, Mr Robinson’s philanthropic efforts have encompassed providing furniture to communities affected by Cyclone Lam in 2015, helping a local girl born with microphthalmia to receive a prosthetic eye, hosting the annual Biggest Morning Tea for the Cancer Council of the Northern Territory, and supporting the Humpty Dumpty Foundation.

Mr Robinson describes receiving the recognition from CDU as an honour.

“Tourism is a very challenging business to be in. It’s a tough gig and hard to survive. You must work hard, work to what’s around you and be able to read the movements of the industry,” Mr Robinson says. 

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“You can’t take your foot off the pedal, or you’ll get left behind. In hospitality, I was taken by the people you meet from all walks of life.” 

CDU also awarded Honorary Doctors of Letters to businessman and conservationist Peter Chistophersen, historian Peter Forrest, educator and historian Derek Pugh OAM, and cultural advocate Angelica Poulos OAM. The title of Emeritus Professor was awarded to Dr Sandra Dunn.

The importance of offering a helping hand

Mr Robinson says his passion for philanthropic endeavours stems from his unwavering belief in extending a helping hand to those in need.

“My theory is if you’ve got the ability to make a dollar, never be afraid to share it with those less fortunate,” he says. 

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]