Jim Agnew has never been a ‘whatever will be, will be’ type of person. In fact, the Yamba-based health advocate and activist’s dogged persistence has changed the landscape of the Lower Clarence: he has largely been the driving force behind establishing the Yamba Ambulance Station, widening the Oyster Channel Bridge and making extensive modifications to the Maclean District Hospital.
Tomorrow, Thursday April 21, the Yamba Community Health Centre, named the Jim Agnew OAM Building, will be officially opened. Jim began his campaign to establish the centre as early as 2002, after, he says, then health minister Craig Knowle reneged on a promise.
On Friday, Jim, 91, and his wife, Grace, 92, who have been married for more than 70 years, are moving to Jim’s hometown, Warren, to ‘retire’ to an aged care facility.
The Independent caught up with Jim last week.
Clarence Valley Independent: What do you regard as your greatest achievements?
Jim Agnew: Well there’re three things; I was asked to run a petition to get the bridge widened, and myself and Gary Whale met with [then premier] Bob Carr on the middle of the bridge. I explained to him the most important thing with the bridge was the widening of it because of the narrowness, with buses knocking their rear vision mirrors off. That cost was $7.2 million.
The second thing was the ambulance station. June Mascord [who had previously gathered a 2,500-signature petition] told me that I’ve ‘got no chance of getting it … because we’ve been trying for 20 years’.
The third thing was getting the health centre.
CVI: Who were the most effective and or cooperative politicians from your perspective, for getting things done when it came to achieving your goals?
JA: Janelle Saffin, with the things I did at the hospital in Maclean. She wasn’t the member for the Maclean area [previously in Cowper, now in the federal seat of Page; Ms Saffin argued that many of her constituents used the hospital]. She got $60,000 to put the [extra] road in at the hospital. She got the [recently commissioned rehabilitation] extension to the old hospital.
The other one that I would like to thank thoroughly is [former state member for Clarence] Steve Cansdell, for the Yamba health centre. He and Janelle got that together. She got $4.2 million and Steve got $1.3 million. Chris Gulaptis, [too] and the Health Minister Jillian Skinner; she wrote me a very nice letter about a month ago thanking me for what I’ve done.
CVI: You’ve never completed any formal education, having left school as an 11-year-old; who has assisted you with your letter writing?
JA: I’ve had three people that did my paperwork for me; the first one was Susan Howland, which was very good. Old Marge Morton, I’d like her to be mentioned and Libby [Cotter]. They’re the three main people.
CVI: Who among the bureaucrats have been the most useful from your perspective?
JA: Chris Crawford [who recently retired from his position heading the Northern NSW Local Health District]; he had the hardest job on the north coast, without a doubt, with the people he had to handle and the finances that had to be done.
CVI: What does your future entail?
JA: We’re going back to Warren. Yamba’s so far away from my family; [at our age] we should be with our family. My two daughters live there and 11 grandchildren. I’ve done everything that I could do here; I can’t do anything else, only get that road up [from Central Avenue to Maclean hospital].
I’ve got a niece, who has been the chef [at the aged care facility] for years; she’s a bloody good cook, and a sister who does housework and another girl who goes with my grandson, who is one of the nurses. I’ve got family in there; I’m so proud to be going there.
CVI: What will you do with your spare time, without something to campaign for?
JA: Fishing; the centre we’re going into is right on the Macquarie River; fishing and things like that.
I won’t get bored, I’ve got grandkids there.
CVI: So what is your advice to those who might follow in your footsteps here on the Lower Clarence?
JA: If you want things done, you keep on fighting, mate; you don’t give in.