The reason I am here today is to hopefully, shed a little bit of light on what made Jim – JIM.
And when I was thinking about what I would say today, it occurred to
me that I could probably use every adjective in the English language to describe him, and I’d still leave something out.
So under that kind of pressure, I’ll do my best.
Jim was one of 4 kids – and we all grew up in Papua New Guinea. Our parents were both Australian – our dad was a nurse – which was quite unusual for a man in the 1950’s, and our mum was a fiery redhead who came from good convict stock.
In 1954 dad went to PNG as a Medical Officer. Mum who was 8 months pregnant with Jim, and our brother David (who was about 2) followed soon after. For the last part of their journey, mum and David travelled by canoe to Buka Island and Jim was born in a small jungle hospital a few weeks later.
Our father worked in remote areas providing basic healthcare to people living in tiny villages in the middle of nowhere. Our first houses were a bit rough, no running water, no electricity and the walls were made of woven bamboo. We would stay for two or three years in each place and then move on to the next one. Jim and David did all their early schooling via correspondence and short wave radio
We lived in a wild and untouched paradise. Populated by ancient tribes and fierce warriors – It was vibrant and beautiful and dangerous. It was a place of bright colours and dark magic. Everything about it was extreme.
But the thing about growing up in another country, is that sooner or later, you realize it’s not yours. In a very gradual way, you become aware that it is not your place. That your family has a different culture and that you come from somewhere else.
At the age of 12 Jim returned to Australia to go to boarding school – and from that point forward he straddled two very different worlds – modern Australia and ancient PNG.
And I think that’s what made him so observant. Why he paid such close attention to what lies behind the obvious and why so often, he could get to the very heart of the matter.
For Jim, the most lasting and significant aspect of growing up in PNG was his sense of ‘the tribe’, of the ‘village’, of being part of a community that supports and sustains itself. And that was how he felt about the theatre. He often said it was the one place he truly felt at home.
In 1975, Jim was 19 and a pot smoking uni student, working as an asst stage manager at the New Arts theatre in Glebe. I had just turned 11 and I came to Sydney from boarding school to spend a week with him. This was the first time Jim was in charge of looking after me, and for my birthday, he was taking me to see the show he was working on – The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Now I knew that he lived in a rickety old terrace house with some other students and a dancer or two – and I knew that I would be sleeping rough on the floor and I knew that he was a bit of a hippy – but what I didn’t know was that I was going to be offered my very first joint (which I declined), or that I would be eating the weirdest food I had ever seen, but what I really didn’t know, was that I was about to be transported into a world filled with transvestites and aliens.
But that was life with Jim. He was my window to the world and he showed me just how weird and wonderful that world can be. He showed me just how broad the spectrum really is and, I think he would be very pleased to see the motley crew that’s turned up today.
From jungle drums to the bright lights of the big city and into its’ darker corners too, Jim embraced it all, with open arms, open eyes and an open heart. He gave everything he had and expected everyone else to do the same. There were no half measures and no compromises. He never lacked for courage, and his proud, warrior nature led to many conflicts.
Perhaps he had too many principles – perhaps he defended them too passionately?
But then, Jim was passionate about everything. He loved spectacle, he loved people who took risks, he loved living on the edge, with danger breathing down his neck and he appreciated anything that was beautiful.
He was a bright light with a bit of a dark soul. But that’s what made him interesting. Thank you.