Jim Agnew out in front of the site of the Yamba Community Health Centre which will be named after him Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner
Jim Agnew out in front of the site of the Yamba Community Health Centre which will be named after him Photo Adam Hourigan / The Daily Examiner Adam Hourigan

Jim recognised for years of making things better

MORE than a decade ago Jim Agnew lay in the children's ward at Maclean Hospital, he was more 60 years old and it was evidence the health facility was insufficient.

When he got better, he got out of bed and decided to fix the problem.

On Tuesday night the Clarence Valley Council decided to recommend naming Yamba's new community health centre, on Treelands Drive, the Jim Agnew OAM Health Centre.

Mayor Richie Williamson acknowledged Mr Agnew's contribution along with his lengthy battle.

"No one dares to say no to Jim," Cr Williamson said.

As an indication of the contribution this man has made, while he was giving a tour of Yamba's ambulance station, the officers on duty were called out to a job.

"You know how to let yourself out," the paramedics said to him as they rushed off.

And he does, he practically built the place.

Mr Agnew started life as the son of a First World War veteran in the small village of Molong, near Orange, on New South Wales central west slopes.

As a child he had a bout of pneumonia and everyone started calling him Little Jimmy after his father.

The name stuck and no one knows Jim by his given name, Dudley Robert Agnew.

Like many Australians who grew up during the depression, Mr Agnew missed out on schooling.

"I went to work with very little education as an 11-year-old boy during the depression," Mr Agnew said.

"But that's where I learnt a lot, working for the best farmers.

"The kind who carried a book in their shirt pocket and after harvest or sowing greased and replaced everything on their machinery and put it away in a shed instead of leaving it lying in a paddock."

On his 18th birthday Mr Agnew sheared 218 merino sheep.

"And then for a blow-out I went rouseabouting," he said.

A few years later, in a cold shearing shed near Captain's Flat, outside of Canberra, Mr Agnew contracted pneumonia.

Unable to face the rough conditions which were hand in hand with farm labouring at the time, he went to work in a Holden garage.

There he taught himself to weld, and using those skills he went on to open a welding and fabrication business in Warren, in far western NSW.

"We built everything, shearing sheds, truck bodies, stock floats, stock yards; you name it we done it," he said.

The business thrived throughout the '70s.

And so did Mr Agnew as a shire councillor, the founding president of the Macquarie Bogan District Bowling Club and the Warren Trotting Club.

When water was diverted from the Macquarie River, countless cotton farms sprung up in the area.

As the sheep stations became cotton plantations, crop duster aircraft began to spray the trees with insecticides and the fumes affected Jim's wife Grace.

They aggravated her asthma and after several visits to the hospital the couple packed up and moved to Kawana Waters, Queensland.

During the recession of the 1980s Mr Agnew was one of the founding members of the Kawana Waters Bowling Club.

Today it has the largest membership in Queensland.

But the humid climate eventually began to again aggravate Mrs Agnew's asthma and they asked their doctor for the best place to move. The North Coast was recommended and 25 years ago, the Valley made a fortuitous gain.

After a decade caravanning around the country, "you name it we went there," Mr Agnew got sick.

And this is how Mr Agnew ended up lying in a bed, in the children's ward, at Maclean Hospital.

Upset by what he saw, Mr Agnew started fighting to improve health facilities right across the Clarence Valley.

He remembered the ambulance had taken about half an hour, so he lobbied successfully to see Yamba get an ambulance station.

Then he fought to see services improved in Maclean District Hospital and finally, to cap it all off, Mr Agnew fought hard for the community health centre which will now be named in his honour.

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