Vale Robert James ‘Jim’ Smith
18/5/1938 – 13/3/2023
Jim Smith was a long-time member and friend of Fairfield Canoe Club. He was a mate of Jonathan Mayne from the Church of England Boys Society days in the early ‘50s. Later they joined the Fairfield Canoe Club and became great supporters of the club and paddling in general.
Back in 1956 Jim worked as a ‘sub-official’ for the Olympic Games on Lake Wendouree and was later interviewed in the “Young Sun” regarding his scrapbook collection of this event.
Jim Smith 1956 Olympic Games Arena Offical’s ID card on view FCC History display cabinet.
1956 Herald-Sun article featuring a young Jim Smith following his ‘sub-official ‘work at the Olympic events at Ballarat. Note that he was a member of Rudder Grange club near his home on Heidelberg Road. Jonathan Mayne soon encouraged him across to FCC though (FCC archive scrapbook).
Jim described himself as ‘river rat’ who enjoyed exploring the waterways and club social life rather than full-on competition. In spite of this self-title, he did have a documented competitive profile. After the 1956 Melbourne Olympic, Zoltan (Zoli) Szigeti joined Fairfield Canoe Club where he gathered any interested paddlers, including Jim, to train with him. This group later became known as the ‘Silly Club’ because they trained six days a week. Further evidence of his competitive streak is found in club archives with his winning a VACA award in 1958, an Australian Canoe Federation White Water teams event medal in 1964 and in 1965 a gold medal in the White Water Slalom RK1 Teams event.
1958 Arthur Howard presents a VACA award to Jim Smith in our old FCC clubhouse (Photo G.Allen)
1965 ACF Slalom RK1 Teams medal on view in FCC History display cabinet (FCC archive)
Whilst he was best man at Jonathan and Jenny Mayne’s wedding, Jonathan informs that he was not always the ‘best man’ as land crew for when Jonathan, together with Olympian Reuben Collins and James Simpson paddled the 100-mile (non-stop) event on the Hawkesbury they pulled-in at a checkpoint around 3.00am in the morning they found Jim asleep on the dock waiting for them.
“Still half asleep he staggered to the edge of the dock threw us a block of cheese, missing us by at least 3 meters. We were starving by this time as we watched the cheese sink slowly into the clear water of the river.”
Jim made a huge commitment in support of the club, an example of this is well documented in a 1979 club newsletter:
“Jim Smith is our team manager at regattas and all queries must be directed through him. You can’t miss him. He resides outside the blue tent, cares for the BBQ and has a good supply of claret. He is the chubby fellow with the black beard and the red setter for a friend”.
Jim was a lifelong enthusiast and supporter of the club whose loyalty saw him contributing actively to club meetings and contributing financially in times of need well after he had stopped paddling.
1999 FCC Club Legends Reunite at Club 80th Birthday Celebration
L-R: Jonathan Mayne, Jim Smith, Zoli Szigeti, Roland Mueller
Having retired from the paddling scene, Jim was very active and much loved in bush poetry and music circles in both Victoria and Northern Territory. Fittingly, family and friends from near and far held a lively wake to celebrate his life with music, poetry and recollections of a special friend. It was lovely that club members who knew Jim were also able to attend.
Written with assistance from FCC Life Members, Margaret Buck and Jonathan Mayne.