A Mullumbimbian through and through, Noel James was born in Mullum on April 3, 1928, in what seems to be a world away from today, but in his words, ‘it was only 93 short years ago’.
Noel grew up in an era where you still rode horses to school, and the pubs shut at 6pm.
Noel grew up in the family home with his three brothers: Barry, Geoff (who was his twin), and Bill, who later became his business partner in James Hardware and Electrical, and his two sisters Betty and Ruth, who is the only surviving James sibling.
Noel’s family were farmers, and Noel was always working on the farm – from breaking in horses to bringing in the cows to milk. He once mused that as a child, his family went to Brunswick Heads on holidays.
He and his brothers had to take turns to ride back to Mullum to milk the cows both morning and night.
Imagine sending your eight-year-old home to milk the cows? Noel went to Farrer agriculture school near Toowoomba, then back to Mullum to work on the farms.
He realised he was not a farmer and he broke the news to his dad. He was told ‘unless you have some other career that is acceptable to the family, this is what you are’. He promptly applied for various positions and was accepted by the bank.
Noel was a keen sportsman, playing footy in winter and was a member of the Bruns surf club. But it was playing footy in Evans Head one day which lit Noel’s ultimate passion – a plane flew over the football field, he looked up, and he knew straight away, that was where he wanted to be.
Alas, becoming a pilot was a very expensive pastime, so he settled for a joy flight every now and then.
His bank career was on the move, he became a relief bank Johnny, which allowed him to travel. His first posting was in Bellingen, where he played footy. He won an A grade premiership there in 1947 – he was just 19.
He moved around quite a bit – Musselbrook, Singleton and Newcastle, and this was where, at a Christmas party, he spotted Barbara Lockwood. She was only sixteen, but they struck up a friendship. At the same time, a call went out from the airforce, who were in need of pilots as Australia was involved with the conflict with Korea.
This was a chance for Noel to reignite his flying passion and someone else would pay.
He enlisted and became a trainee at Williamstown near Newcastle, in what was called the citizen’s air force. He was doing what he wanted to do; he was near Newcastle so his friendship with Barbara continued.
Noel was enlisted from 1951 to 1953 and he was about three weeks from attaining his full wings and being drafted into the war effort when Australia’s part in the conflict ended.
On his return to Mullum, Bill ran the local hardware store, and the boys joined forces. And with the help of their dad, they expanded the business. They branched into electrical as well, and in true entrepreneurial spirit, decided that if this new thing called television was coming, they would be the first to sell them.
Dad courted Barbara from afar and they were married on February 5, 1955 in Newcastle. They relocated to Brunswick Heads, then to Stuart Street in Mullum. Their sons Stephen and Greg arrived in 1959 and 1963 at the Stuart Street Hospital.
TV comes to Mullum
Meanwhile, back at the shop, the brothers found a signal at Palmwoods at the top of Main Arm, and brought TV to Mullum. It was one of the first regional towns in Australia to have it.
In his spare time, like his brothers and family before him, Noel was hell-bent on promoting the area through community organisations.
He joined the Lions Club in 1952, and was a member for the rest of his life. He was awarded life Membership in 1979, and was still an active member until he passed.
Noel and the Lions, along with other community groups, helped build the golf club and the swimming pool. To raise money for the pool and other community requirements, the Chincogan festival was born and is now known as the Chinny Charge.
He served on many committees, and was a Life Member of the Golf Club, as well as being president of the Masonic Club at one stage.
He served on committees for the surf club and was also a founding member of the local Civil Defence, known today as the SES.
But his biggest achievement, and what I think is his everlasting achievement, was the Tyagarah Airstrip.
He loved flying, and he was so proud of being able to bring that facility to the area and allow others to enjoy flights without having to leave the Shire.
Sadly, Barbara passed away in May 2013, and Noel missed her terribly. In his later years, his deteriorating eyesight was pretty hard for him, as he was so active previously.
He still loved going up the street in his motorised scooter, terrorising the locals and just having a chat – everyone loved him – he was a true gentleman, a Mullumbimby icon, and simply a good bloke. Failing health saw Noel relocate to Byron Aged Care in July, and he passed away on November 12.