Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Deaths of Paul Johnstone, Don Day

In providing commentary on New England life and issues, I do try to monitor obituaries. It's not possible to catch them all, but I do try to pick up some where I know people whose lives have illuminated aspects of New England life. In this case, the obituaries' section of the Sydney Morning Herald pointed me to two recent deaths. 

In the comments that follow, I haven't repeated all the material in the obituaries. Rather, I have given a summary with some personal comments to set a context.

Paul Lorimer Johnstone was born on November 12, 1922, the second of five children, and the only son of John (Jack) Johnstone and his wife, Noemi (De Lepervanche). Like his father, he was educated at the Armidale School, where he was a keen sportsman.

In 1939 Paul joined the legal firm A.W. Simpson & Co, Armidale's oldest law firm, where his father was a partner. In 1941, he enlisted with the 2nd/6th Australian Armoured Regiment, rose to lieutenant and served in New Guinea in 1942 and 1943.

After the war Paul returned to Simpsons, completed his exams and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of NSW in 1948. That same year, he married Rosemary Nivison. Paul practised law at Simpsons as a partner and later as a consultant until his retirement.

A simple story, but one with many textures centred on his profession and community life.

Professionally, Paul held executive positions in the North & North West Law Society and was president in 1968 and 1969. This is quite important, for with country professionals (lawyers, accountants, doctors engineers etc) their professional associations are central to keeping them in touch.Kath Vickers, Paul Johnstone 1999

Paul was a keen sportsman who played a key role in the development of the Armidale Tennis Club holding many official positions. He also played squash, was a clay pigeon shooter and, later in life, a golfer.

The photo from cousin Jamie's collection shows Paul and Aunt Kay (Kathleen Vickers nee Drummond) as joint patrons of the Tennis Club in 1999. The honour board behind them carries their joint names in the two years they won the mixed doubles in the early 1950s.

Today it is hard to believe just how important tennis was. Throughout much of the twentieth century, tennis was the dominant social sport across New England, providing a key element in the social life of big and small communities alike.

Paul's contribution to community activities was enormous. Outside sport, he was on the TAS Council as his father had been before him; he was active in Legacy, in the construction of retirement homes and a founding member of the committee to build a handicapped children's centre; he worked for civic improvements in general, and was chair of Council at the Armidale College of Advanced Education.

In her obituary, daughter Pamela records that her father had a sense of humour and a quick wit. He was a generous host and loved to invite people to his home for dinner, not always giving appropriate notice to wife Rosemary.

I didn't quite see him this way.

I knew Paul all my life, but not well. As a child, one of the Johnstone's trees was on our fruit collection round in the early mornings when we went out scavenging. Given our age difference, I always saw Paul as an older, more formal, figure. I knew he was active in community activities, but actually had no idea as to how much he had achieved until I read the obituary. I wish that I had known him better.

Don Day was a very different man, if with the same community focus.

Don and I came from different sides of politics. He was Labor Party, I was Country Party. I was a campaigner for self-government, he was opposed. Yet, and for reasons that I will explain in a moment, I had a high respect for him.

Don was born in Victoria in 1924 and grew up in the Depression years. Alex Mitchell records that Don went to Swinburne Technical College, began his working life as a fitter and turner and became an ALP supporter. After war service, he began an engineering degree, but with a wife and young family to support he gave up his studies to enter the rural motor trade at Maclean. He served in local government for 19 years, as deputy mayor of Maclean municipality, deputy shire president and chairman of the Lower Clarence County Council, and was active on the hospital board and in the local chamber of commerce.

I first came across Don during our campaign for self-government. He was already active in local government and in the ALP and was the most visible new state opponent in the Clarence, visible via statements and letters to the editor. Friend Geoff and I as first year university students decided to take him on.

I have often wondered what happened to Geoff, for we lost contact after university. He came from Grafton, had a shock of long hair that he threw back. I used to join him at the Earle Page townhouse in Dangar Street. There we would peruse the Grafton Daily Examiner and compose our replies via letters to the editor.

We wrote under various names, then posting the letters. For a period, our exchanges with Don dominated the letter pages!

New England is so fragmented today that we forget just how small and interlinked it was then. Everybody knew everybody, or at least somebody who knew somebody. It was the following year, I think, that Don's daughter Jenny came to UNE and we became friends. So I was campaigning against Don on one side, socialising with his daughter on the other!

In 1971, Don won the state seat of Casino for the ALP. This marked a major breach-head in the previous Country Party dominance of the North Coast, although I am a little suspicious of Alex Mitchell's interpretation here.

I think the key point to remember is that country people, and I still classify myself this way, have different expectations of their members of parliament from those in city electorates. They actually know them personally and have a primary belief that the member represents them at a personal and locality level. Their personal expectations are far higher, but they also give loyalty in return. 

The Country Party may have stuffed up to some degree, but Don won because he had fought for, and was known to have fought, for local concerns. He held the seat for the same reason until his retirement as member in 1984, including a period as minister. Once he retired, the ALP promptly list the seat.

I have always wondered a little how Don fitted into the ALP machine. He was loyal to the Party by tradition and sentiment, but was always prepared to fight against dominant interests including city perceptions. He lost some, but his approach brought substantial benefits to his electorate.

I suspect, I may be wrong, that by 1984 the gap between Don and some views in the ALP may have begun to wear him down a little. Upon retirement, Don remained active on his farm outside Maclean. Even today, he is remembered as an active and effective local members.  


Jenny Thomas said...

Hey, Jim. Thank you for your commentary on Dad's death...though I'm a bit alarmed after all these years to discover those letters to the editor weren't written by Ulrich Ellis at all....could he have been a figment of our imaginations??? I remember a debate -when I was a kid- in Grafton at a church hall on the New State between Dad and Ulrich Ellis, David Parsonage and someone else whose name escapes me now. The SMH obituary was pleasing to the family, but got a few things wrong. Hope life has been good to you. Jenny Thomas (nee Day)

Jim Belshaw said...

What a nice surprise after all these years, Jenny. No, Ulrich was not a figment of your imagination! However, there were others involved.

I was pleased that your Dad was recognised. I couldn't comment on the detail of the obit, but thought it fitting that someone from the other side of the fence so to speak should say something. And that whole period does stand out in my mind!

After UNE, I worked in the Commonwealth for many years before going into the private sector as a consultant. I have mainly worked as a consultant since apart from two years as CEO of a specialist medical college.

I finally married quite late and after we came down to Sydney in 96, I chose to be primary child care to our two daughters (the light of my eyes)so Dee could focus on her career.

As you will see from the blog, I have in some ways returned to my original New England interests, still fighting for the dame causes! However, I am also doing a lot of historical writing with an NE connection. Really trying to record and preserve things in danger of being lost.

Jenny Thomas said...

Jim, would like to catch up in a less public forum. My email address is jenny@thewanderlust.net, if you would send me a note.

I am living in Yamba these days with my partner, after also spending much of my working life in Canberra with the Commonwealth. I retired ten years ago to become a consultant in Qld and also completed a Masters in Counselling at that time. Am now fully retired however and loving it.
We had three children who are now reproducing themselves...a baby for each of them.

I wonder how we missed each other in Canberra?

kousalya said...
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