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Harpur, James Thomas (Jim) (1926–2011)

Jim Harpur had some dramas in life, not the least being when he was living in a tent at North Avoca in 1953, temporary accommodation while his house was being built. The lake, at the bottom of Tramway Road, flooded. Water entered the tent and the cot containing his son, Steven, started to float away. Harpur saved both the cot and the baby.

He was equal to many situations, including the demands of his football in 1945, when he played rugby union for Parramatta and rugby league for Toongabbie. He trained four times a week, played union on Saturdays and league on Sundays, then turned up to the technical college on Monday nights.

Harpur excelled in many sports, including surf lifesaving, boxing, squash and golf. He achieved fame as the first graded rugby league player to run on to Parramatta rugby league club's home ground, Cumberland Oval, which opened for business in 1947, and stamped his authority on the development of sport, particularly among the youth, on the state's central coast.

James Thomas Harpur was born in Newtown on September 8, 1926, one of four children of a railway worker, Charles Harpur and Gertrude (nee Fletcher). Harpur left school in 1941, played football, worked for six weeks at the Riverstone meat works and then began an apprenticeship as an electrical mechanic with the NSW railways. Six years later, he left to become a building contractor.

In rugby league, Harpur played the 1946 season with Toongabbie and in 1947 was captain of the Parramatta third-grade side. He went on to play as captain-coach of the Riverstone and Richmond clubs. He also found time to fit in a little boxing.

In 1947, while on his way home from a football match, Harpur met a secretary, Joyce Froud, on a train. The two fell in love and were married in October, 1949. Harpur joined the Avoca Beach Surf Lifesaving Club in 1951, gaining his bronze medallion the following year.

In 1953, the family moved to North Avoca and built their house. He also played rugby league for Erina and became a foundation member of the Central Coast Leagues Club. In 1954, Harpur joined the Brisbane Water County Council and in 1956 received his surf lifesaving instructor's certificate, and was appointed Avoca SLSC club captain.

Harpur played eight years with the Erina Rugby League Club. In 1961, he played with the Entrance, which won the grand final in the local competition. In the surf club, Harpur was an A-grade rower for 10 years, club standard bearer for 14 years and competed in the double ski events. There was tragedy in his life in 1964, when a portion of the cliff face at North Avoca beach fell away and killed his younger son, Kim. But Harpur carried on. He supported Joyce in her singing career and became coach-manager of the central coast branch of the surf lifesaving movement in 1966. The same year, he was made a life member of Avoca SLSC.

Following his retirement from football, Harpur started with squash. He continued with the county council, completing his overhead linesman certificate and power-crane driver's qualifications. In 1974, he was made leading hand substation construction technician. He was a mentor to young tradesmen and lived with simple mottos: lead by example and do it once, do it right.

Joyce worked for P&O Cruises for 18 years as an entertainer, which allowed Jim some perks, including free cruises. In 1978, Harpur was made a life member of the leagues club and received a medal from the Registered Clubs Association. He carried the Avoca SLSC flag at two world surfing titles: Bali in 1981 and Hawaii in 1983. In 1987, he retired from from Sydney Electricity, as it then was, and took up golf. For 10 years, he was president of the Central Coast Youth Club.

Jim Harpur is survived by Joyce, son Steven, grandchildren Clayton and Neroli and great-grandchildren Olive and Hazel.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 December 2011

Citation details

'Harpur, James Thomas (Jim) (1926–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/harpur-james-thomas-jim-16715/text28611, accessed 23 October 2019.

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