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Giving up was not an option

Over the past 12 years Yamba health advocate, Jim Agnew, has regularly been at my door seeking a story or spruiking his next project. Sometimes, due to ill health, he looked like he was on his last legs, but still he battled on. In fact, it’s my guess that I have written more Jim Agnew-related words than those about any other individual. I’d been working at the Lower Clarence Review for a about 15 months in various capacities before I took ownership of the journalist’s chair in April 2004, so I had an inkling of what Jim Agnew was up to. The journalist before me had left a folder on my computer’s desktop titled ‘Jim ?%*#$ Agnew’. My immediate reaction was, ‘that’s a bit harsh’, but then I thought, perhaps that the folder’s title was ironic (I hope) and, soon enough, I discovered what the previous journalist’s sardonic sense of humour had encapsulated in those three words. You see, Jim had long been a man of action before he and his wife, Grace, moved to Yamba in 1990; and he knew that pestering (in the nicest possible way) the media was, perhaps, his most important tool to achieve his goals – garnering support through the collection and tabling of petitions with various governments was the other. In 2008, Jim was awarded and Order of Australia Medal (OAM), primarily for the part he played in establishing the Yamba ambulance station, but also for the roles he played in widening the Oyster Channel Bridge and improvements made at Maclean District Hospital. Jim always emphasised that it wasn’t only his efforts, but other community members and people from the committees on which he served, that brought his ideas to fruition. His dogged persistence meant he had the ears of relevant politicians, and bureaucrats, too. However, his do-it-yourself work ethic was long established before he set foot in Yamba. At the age of 11, Jim left school and took up fulltime employment as a farmhand at Baldry on the central western slopes of NSW He’d already known hardship during the Great Depression (1929 to 1932). “I can remember, there were nine in my family, but there were four of us reared during the depression, and I was the youngest of those four,” he told me after receiving his OAM. “My mother made shirts and dresses out of calico flour bags.” As young as he was during those years (he was born in 1925), it steeled him for what lay ahead. “My education in life was experience. When I remember those hard times it helps me to do what I’m doing now,” he said. During his working life, Jim has owned a transport business, built a service station out of timber he cut and milled himself, and ran a car dealership in his hometown, Warren, for 25 years. His service to the community also includes five years as the president of the Warren Bowling Club, being the founding president of the Warren Trotting Club and four years as a Warren Shire councillor. On Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, he was the founding president of the Kawana Waters Bowling Club in 1977. There are smaller, less noticeable things Jim has done, too: in 2005, having recently recovered from heart surgery, he constructed a concrete slab and installed a seat, ashtray and bin on a nature strip adjacent to the western (back) exit at Yamba Fair (“Everyone was stoked to see the seat and bins,” a Bilo employee said, “it’s a lovely little spot.”) and tending the gardens surrounding the ambulance station, with the help of others. And there’s a story about how Dudley Robert Agnew came to be known as ‘Jim’: “After I was born I wasn’t supposed to make it – they reckoned I had pneumonia. The doctor called me little Jimmy after my Dad, and it’s stuck with me all through my life.”