A MEREWETHER surfer who was part of the great "counter culture" movement of young people in the 1960s and 1970s to the carefree climes of the northern NSW coast has died in tragic circumstances at Nymboida.
Jim McInnes, 70, lived on a large rural property that had been his home since 1974, when he moved there with the world famous Aussie surfing world champion Nat Young.
His closest friends have told the Newcastle Herald that the bushfires of the 2019-20 summer, which tore Nymboida and much of the Clarence Valley, gutted the farm.
Jim cut and milled timber for a living, and his workshop and the shed that he lived in beside it, went in the blaze.
His friends said that Jim had suffered physically in latter years, especially since a large log had rolled onto his leg, causing "crush injuries", in 2014. He was no longer able to surf after the accident.
Julie Rogers, of Grafton, a close friend for 25 years and who lived on an adjoining farm until moving to Grafton in 2013, said the police arrived on Thursday morning to be told that Jim had taken his own life.
"Jim lost everything in the fires, not that he was a materialistic person, he gave everything away," Rogers said yesterday.
"The 2019 fires ravaged Nymboida, and Jim lost his livelihood.
"He cut timber on the property, and would mill the timber and then he would deliver it to people around here, and he hardly charged for it. It was what kept him going as a human being."
Rogers said she still saw McInnes "three or four days a week" and realised he was struggling more recently.
"He would be on his verandah, just sitting there, and you know when you have that gut feeling, when you know a friend is declining?
"We had talked about getting older. He was 70 and I am 55.
"And he had said once before that 'my time is nearly done'.
"But he also said he would never do anything like this because he was always thinking of other people, he was such a gentleman, such a generous person, always giving, and so he didn't want to think that someone else would have to deal with what would be left behind."
NSW Police media said yesterday that emergency services were called to the property at Glens Creek Road, Nymboida, shortly before 9.30am on Tuesday, responding to reports of an injured person.
Police from the Coffs/Clarence Police District attended along with paramedics, and the 70-year-old man was declared deceased.
His death was not being treated as suspicious and a report would be prepared for the Coroner.
McInnes has a sister who still lives in Newcastle, but she said last night, through friends, that she simply wanted to grieve for her brother's passing.
Such a death is tragic at any time, but the news came in the same week I was talking with Hunter surf figure Terry McKenna - who is organising this year's Mattara contest in October - about an article to highlight the work of a Newcastle not-for-profit, Another Sunrise.
The organisation, which is relaunching online this week, works to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
Another Sunrise founder Rachel Henshaw said at the time that society needed to "open the door" and create a "deeper awareness" of mental health issues.
She said yesterday that the death toll did not tell the full story because it did not count those who lived through their crises.
But more than 3300 people taking their own lives in Australia in 2019 showed the scale of the crisis.
"Nobody can ever know the truth of another's journey, but there are things in common," Henshaw said.
"There is a pathway through, and it's a pathway we can reignite together. There's always another sunrise. Another opportunity to start again."
She urged people to reach out for help if they needed it.
McKenna said he was shocked at what he'd learned from Another Sunrise, and was doing what he could to spread the word.
"The numbers are frightening," McKenna said yesterday.
"It's almost to the point where I can say I have lost count of how many friends I've lost in the last three years, many in that 35-to-55 age bracket.
"The COVID pandemic has raised stress levels and things have compounded with uncertainty and financial pressure, tipping some people over.
"The number of lives lost to coronavirus can't be ignored. But we are losing more people - good men and women - to suicide than the pandemic is taking from us."
He said Another Sunrise had become "a supporting partner" to the Mattara, which would celebrate its 60th consecutive running this October.
McKenna said he did not know McInnes personally - "he was before my time" - but he knew of him by reputation as a surfer of courage and ability.
McInnes was an early member of the Merewether Surfboard Club, which posted a notice lamenting his passing on their Facebook page, remembering "a talented natural footer" whose family lived in Pell Street, Merewether, and who made a name for himself as one of our very best surfers".
The post told of a teenage McInnes "taking off behind the peak at giant third reef bomb, copping a lip in the head as he drove into the tube".
"Jim was driven through his board face first and snapped Ronnie Ross's Green decked Nipper Williams Tracker clean in two," his contemporary, Peter Thompson, wrote in the post.
"If you look closely at the 1967 Team and committee photo, Jim at the back right is sporting the damage of that wipeout."
That photo appears below.
His passing was also lamented on a Nymboida Bushfire Survivors Facebook page.
The Nymboida property that McInnes called home for so long had a controversial side to it in the 1970s, as surfing legend Nat Young recounted in one of his books, Nat's Nat And That's That, an autobiography published in 1998 with a forward from Midnight Oil singer Peter Garrett, who was still 12 years away from entering federal parliament.
Young, who turns 74 in November, was Australian champion surfer in 1966, 1967 and 1969 and world champion in 1966, among many accolades that went from longboards to the shortboard era, and then out again, as Young pursued a second competitive career riding malibus.
Young was a household name in his prime and he writes in Nat's Nat of supporting Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's 1974 re-election campaign.
He wrote of donating his $600 in prizemoney from that year's Coca-Cola Surfabout to the Labor Party, and joining Whitlam and other luminaries, including writer Patrick White, painter Lloyd Rees and historian Manning Clark at an election rally at the Sydney Opera House.
This was the "Age of Aquarius', with hippies heading for the hills of Nimbin and surrounds.
Young writes of joining that scene, and then leaving it, moving farther south, attracted by the now famous point break at Angourie, near Yamba.
He and McInnes found a farm of some 810 hectares at Nymboida, 45 kilometres south of Grafton.
"I got into a good gab about cattle and farm life with a nuggety little bloke, a bit younger than me, named Jim McInnes, a talented ex-Newcastle surfer who had a fruit and vege truck he drove from Ballina to Byron, surfing produce door to door," Young wrote.
"I'd known Jim for years; he'd gained my respect out in the surf at Lennox on days when it was big and solid."
As he recounts in the book, the farm became the centre of a controversy in 1979, when McInnes and two others were arrested, charged and convicted for growing cannabis.
Young writes of his cannabis use in the book, but, at the time this occurred, he had not "been near the farm in over a year" because of his work on a film he would later release, Fall Line, and he was never charged.
The matter is ancient history now, but is remembered up north, and in surfing circles among the older generation.
The Herald left messages yesterday with Young and his wife, but did not hear back.
Julie Rogers and her daughter Zearna said yesterday that McInnes still carried some scars from that time.
He had also been diagnosed with cancer decades ago, but had struggled on, something "of a hermit".
Zearna, who is 20, said she had known Jim her whole life.
"Jim was like a father to me and the best male role model a female could have and I will miss him so much,' she said.
Her mother concurred: "From the day I met him I knew he was a special person.
"I have hardly stopped crying since the police came to the door."
Lifeline 13 11 14
beyondblue 1300 22 4636
SUBSCRIBE FOR OUR NEWCASTLE CUP COVERAGE
It's less than a cup of coffee a week. $19.50 a month ($4.50 a week) $187.20 annually upfront ($3.60 a week). Hit the red SUBSCRIBE button on your screen.
IN THE NEWS:
- Knights poised to seek exemptions from the NRL to field a team against the Titans next week
- Two NSW surfers pulled unconscious from water die
- Nats face sharper preference campaign in Upper Hunter from Shooters, Labor after Michael Johnsen exit
- One Nation's Stuart Bonds not standing in Upper Hunter
- The Russian, the fraudster and the suitcase of cash
- NDIS new independent assessments concern Hunter participants and advocates for people with disability
- Korean firm sticks with Newcastle gas terminal
- Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
- Bookmark: newcastleherald.com.au
- Download our app
- Make sure you are signed up for our breaking and regular headlines newsletters
- Follow us on Twitter
- Follow us on Instagram
- Follow us on Google News