Robynne Clifton loves challenges such as the Chatterbox Challenge 2012, which she will be doing on Monday, and nothing stands in her way.
Robynne Clifton loves challenges such as the Chatterbox Challenge 2012, which she will be doing on Monday, and nothing stands in her way.

Silencing the chatterbox

THE strongest part of Robynne Clifton's body is her vocal cords.

She is a self-confessed chatterbox and she loves to sing.

But what is surreal is that this woman - who was a singer in the first all-girl band (Peaches) to have a number-one hit in Australia, performing on hit show Countdown and singing at the opening of the Sydney Opera House - went from fighting for her life against a paralysing virus to a successful singing career.

Robynne knows all too well the challenges people with disabilities face day to day.

These days she uses a wheelchair to get around, but it wasn't always the case.

She was born in Sydney in 1949, but when she was seven months old, Robynne got very sick.

After three days of screaming from the pain, the doctors diagnosed her with poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio.

Polio is an infectious viral disease that can strike at any age and affects a person's nervous system.

For Robynne, the virus affected her from the neck down.

Once the doctors made the diagnosis, she was placed in isolation and lived in an iron lung - a huge machine that operated like a pair of bellows to regulate people's breathing and keep them alive - until Robynne was about 12 months old.

From there she went to Prince Henry Hospital at La Perouse where most of the polio victims were taken before being moved on to Royal Far West in Manly.

This was where most polio-affected children learnt to walk with crutches and callipers - the braces Forrest Gump (in the movie) wore as a child.

Robynne stayed at Royal Far West until she was about five years old.

She then moved in with her dad, who struggled being a single parent looking after four children and one sick child, so Robynne went to live with her mother.

Not long after, her mother remarried a man Robynne described as a dream man.

Her stepfather, John, was in the Air Force.

"He refused all postings because of my health," Robynne said with a big smile on her face as she fondly remembered the man who raised her.

The family lived in Ipswich for at least seven years while Robynne underwent four operations from age seven to 14.

"They were you-beaut experiments that didn't work," she said.

The operations included one on her stomach to help blood flow to her legs, one to get her arms to lift up and two on her right leg to correct its alignment.

And just because Robynne had some issues with moving parts of her body doesn't mean she was in any way limited from doing what normal kids do.

She'll even tell you about her adventures climbing trees like a monkey.

It was after her fourth operation that her stepdad, who she simply referred to as dad, said Robynne had been under the knife enough already and wouldn't let doctors conduct any more experimental operations.

During this period, Robynne missed a lot of school.

She says she was lucky if she spent three out the 12 months at school due to the operations and recovery processes.

"I might not know how to spell many words, but I know how to pronounce them," Robynne said.

"What I know now and what I've learnt is through my own perseverance."

Robynne said her mother told her she was a shy child but it was after she started to learn to sing about the age of seven that Robynne started blossoming into the chatterbox she's known as these days.

She still recalls her first big live performance.

She was 12 years old when she performed at the eisteddfod in Brisbane.

From there, her singing career led her to performing with the first all-girl band to have a hit in Australia.

Robynne says when she was about 16 or 17, she was the fourth member of the band Peaches.

"It was the first time Brisbane had an all-girl band," she said.

Robynne said she was in Newcastle when there was a call-out for auditions to replace one of the girls in the band.

That's how she ended up in the band that performed on Countdown in the new bands section of the show.

Peaches reached number one in the Tasmanian charts in 1978, according to one website, and number four in the New South Wales chart the same year, according to

Robynne left the band after 12 months as she married her first husband, John, who was a military man, in 1968.

She said she doesn't know what happened to the band after she left.

At that time, her dad was in Vietnam.

She says it was an exciting time because people such as Denise Drysdale were heading to the war-torn country to perform for soldiers, but Robynne missed out because she was too young.

However, she still made a mark back in Sydney by performing at the opening of the Opera House in 1973.

Months later, she got to travel overseas but not quite following in the footsteps of legendary performers such as Lonnie Lee who sang to troops involved in the Cold War.

Robynne's husband had been posted to Malaysia and off she skipped.

While living in the South-East Asian country during the 1970s, she says she performed at Kuala Lumpur and joined up with a band called the Alley Cats - Malaysia's top band.

While overseas, Robynne continued singing and performing, but she was also keen to start a family.

Due to medical reasons, Robynne couldn't fall pregnant, so adoption was the answer.

She adopted two children, Daniel and Selina.

"To adopt a child in those days, it was like buying a car," Robynne said.

When she moved back to Australia in the early 1980s, her first marriage started to break down and Robynne moved to Sydney.

From there, she performed in pubs and clubs while raising her two children on her own.

Then she met her second husband and they moved to Brisbane where she continued singing.

"I was mainly a solo artist. Clubs would hire me," Robynne said.

When her second marriage broke down, Robynne moved to Ipswich.

She had her own sewing business and continued singing with a band.

Her third and current husband, Ron, was in this band.

The pair both loved legendary performer Buddy Holly and they did two Buddy Holly shows while living in south-east Queensland.

The pair married in 2002 and moved to Rockhampton in 2003 because of Robynne's health issues.

She said the weather became too cold for her body to cope with.

Three years later, Robynne had a fall and broke her 'little' leg (the right leg).

"I broke it twice in one year and over a period of time, it got weaker and weaker," she said.

"I'm going through what they call post-polio syndrome."

Most often, polio survivors start to experience gradual new weakening in muscles that were previously affected by the polio infection.

Robynne's been in a wheelchair since 2007 but it hasn't stopped her from getting up on stage and doing what she loves most - performing.

She's even travelled to Darwin to do a tour.

Obviously, there's not much that stands in the way of this Rockhampton singer.


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