The Late Great Jim Downie 1912-2008

Jim Downie

Jim Downie

The Late Great Jim Downie (1912-2008)

Day Shift – 21/10/2008 – 02:10 PM
Presenter: Carol Duncan
Producer: Beth McMullen
Interviewee: Gionni Di Gravio, Archivist, Newcastle University

Newcastle University Archivist Gionni Di Gravio discusses the life of the late Jim Downie of Mayfield. Jim was a Mayfield Businessman, local historian, Rotarian, Army Veteran, Scholar, Poet and a very special and wonderful person.  Jim deposited his personal papers with the University of Newcastle, of which we are greatly honoured. He passed away in his 95th year last Monday week on the 12 October 2008.

Broadcast Notes:

James William Downie, or Jim, was a highly respected and esteemed man. On many occasions he was called upon to help people on various aspects of local history, of which he was an excellent counsel. He was a man of enormous charm and good will, always willing and enthusiastic to assist people. I will personally miss the chance to ring him up to clarify some aspect of Newcastle’s history or some photograph or document in his collection. An entire human library of a man’s life is now lost. Right up until the end, he said he had been blessed to have known wonderful people throughout his life and he had no regrets. As his sister Cath Armstrong so eloquently said at his funeral yesterday we need not lament his passing so much so, as to give thanks that he existed. He will be missed by a great number of people across the local community and globe.

James William Downie was born on the 29 November 1913 in Mayfield New South Wales to Alex and Bertha Bathurst Downie. James (or Jim as we all knew him) left school in 1928 (old Newcastle High School) because of the Great Depression and his father found him a job at D. Mitchell & Co. wholesale merchants in Perkins St (near where David Jones is now). During the 1930s he pursued his studies at night through the Newcastle Technical College.

He joined the A.I.F. as a gunner in 1941 and attained the rank of Captain upon his discharge in 1946. His official records state that Lieutenant (Temporary Captain) James William Downie of the 103 Australian Tank Attack Regiment served on continuous full time war service in the Citizen Military Forces from 1 October 1941 to 13 August 1942 and the Australian Imperial Force from 14 August 1942 to 17 May 1946. His full time service ceased on the 17 May 1946. At the end of his service in the Australian Army in the Second World War, he shared the task of making arrangements for the 300,000 Japanese prisoners of the war on Rabaul.

Jim Downie’s continuing education was enhanced in a series of overseas trips during the years 1948-1949, 1962 and 1972.

Durban Town Hall

Durban Town Hall

As a businessman he ran a hardware business known as Downie’s Hardware Store at 183 Maitland Road Mayfield from 1950-1962 selling hardware supplies to the community including the late Bishop Batty Bishop of Newcastle, who was reputed to be a carpenter and furniture maker in his spare time.

Downie's Hardware


He worked for a number of community organisations including The Flying Angel Mission to Seamen, the YMCA, Mayfield Rotary Club, Royal Blind Society and played the organ at the Mayfield Uniting Church. He remained active in many professional and civic groups until his twilight years. He would always be ready to provide an impromptu recital to visitors to his home, Myola, in Barton Street.

He was President of Mayfield Business Men’s Association and instrumental in organising the first of the successful Mayfield Spring Fairs.

In Perth he was Manager of the Rawlplug Company (Aust.) from 1963 until his retirement in the mid 1970s.

He was a Rotarian since 1954 and member of Mayfield Rotary Club. He served the organisation in a number of distinguished roles as President of the West Perth Rotary Club, Rotary International, Governor, District 245, 1972-1973. Member. International Service Consultative Group R.I. 1973-1974. Member. Australian New Zealand and African (ANZAO) Consultative Group R.I. 1975-1976.

He attained his University qualifications as Bachelor of Arts University of Newcastle conferred Saturday 2 May 1981 Diploma in Arts James William Downie, B.A., (English – Honours Class II, Division II Conferred 4 May 1985.

Among Mr Downie’s papers deposited with the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections in the Auchmuty Library include extensive records relating to William Ferrier (1853-1916). He was Jim Downie’s grandfather on his mother’s side. Originally a stone and marble expert, he was Clerk of Works for the construction of Central Station, Sydney.

Among his papers also lie his poems and prose compositions. He lectured to the University of the Third Age and was extremely proud of his University connections.

He penned this poem:


Environment! God’s gift to man,
But man to Mannon gives the gift,
Disturbing nature’s balanced plan,
Meets retribution, harsh and swift.
Development, encroachment, both,
Ecology annihilate,
And in it’s place in overgrowth,
High concrete jungles violate.
A tree becomes a load of chips,
And hills and sands to furnace go,
Long miles of land are asphalt strips,
And lakes and rivers cease to flow.
The sunburnt country cries aloud,
Preserve my hills, my trees, my shores,
Or burning sands will be my shroud.
Alas! My proud progenitors!

Jim Downie 1975

Jim died peacefully on the 12 October 2008.

Vale Jim Downie.

(Ref: University News 14 May 1981 Vol.7:7)
(Ref: Australian Star (Sydney) 7 Oct 1889: 4-5)

One thought on “The Late Great Jim Downie 1912-2008

  1. My parents owned the newsagency on the corner of Elizabeth Street and Maitland Road Mayfield for 36 years. I knew Jim Downie for most of my life. During the period 1979 to 1989, I worked in the shop fulltime and Jim would call in to get his Newcastle Herald every morning. We would chat most days for about half an hour or so, mostly about the state of the nation and we would share a few jokes…..he had a great sense of humour. I will miss Jim Downie……he was one of lifes true gentlemen and a great character.

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