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James Valentine (Jim) Fairbairn (1897–1940)

James Valentine Fairbairn, Minister for Air, was aged 42. He was born at Wadhurst, Surrey, England, on July 28, 1897, and was a son of Charles Fairbairn, of "Wooloomanata," Lara.

Educated at Geelong Grammar School, Mr Fairbairn was one of the pioneer war pilots, being accepted for the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, at the age of 19. He was wounded while on flying service in France and was taken prisoner when forced down in enemy territory. He was fortunate to secure early repatriation to England, where he underwent many operations for his wounded arm, the condition of which prevented his being employed for further combat service.

His love of aviation, however, remained and although he had extensive business and pastoral interests, it will be by his great activity in aviation itself that he will be most remembered by Australians.

Returning to Australia in 1919, Mr. Fairbairn obtained pastoral interests in Queensland and remained there until 1924, in which year he purchased "Mount Elephant" station, north of Camperdown. One of his first actions was to construct a landing ground on that station for private planes and for many years he used aeroplanes almost exclusively for travelling.

Not content with things achieved, Mr. Fairbairn began to turn more and more attention to public affairs. In 1930 he was elected a member of the Hampden shire council, and later became a member of the Ballarat Diocesan Council. He contested the Warrnambool seat in the Legislative Assembly in 1932 and was returned, but he resigned that seat in the following year to contest Flinders when Mr. S. M. Bruce was appointed High Commissioner to London. He won and retained the seat at subsequent elections.

The long distance between Canberra and his home meant nothing to Mr. Fairbairn, who used an aeroplane as his means of transport. He was keenly interested in the progress of aviation and from time to time purchased a new aeroplane. In 1935 he flew around Australia, and only a week ago he completed a record flight around Australia, in his capacity as Minister for Air, for the purpose of inspecting aircraft establishments and interviewing R.A.A.F. recruits. In 1936 Mr. Fairbairn purchased a new machine in England and flew it to Australia. He also made flights to Papua and New Guinea. Mr. Fairbairn first gained Ministerial rank in April of 1939, when Mr. Menzies appointed him vice president of the Executive Council and Minister Assisting the Minister for Defence. The declaration of war led to his appointment as Minister for Air.

He previously escaped death in an air disaster when fog delayed the Kyeema and he went to Canberra in his own plane. The Kyeema crashed and all on it were killed. Mr. Fairbairn's brother, Pat., and Mrs. Pat. Fairbairn were killed in a flying accident a few years ago.

Mr. Fairbairn was a keen sports man and games in which he took an active part were polo, golf, lawn tennis and squash racquets. He was president of the Australian Squash Racquets Association.

A widow and one son and one daughter survive him.

Mr. Fairbairn was chairman of the Geelong Grammar School council.

Though not so well-known as a councillor as the late Brigadier Street, Mr. Fairbairn was held in no less esteem.

He succeeded the late Cr. D. S. Oman as a representative of the North riding of the Hampden council on May 2, 1930; was re-elected at the August elections in that year; but retired on the expiration of his term on August 11, 1933. Warm tributes were paid by councillors to Mr. Fairbairn's outstanding abilities on the occasion of his retirement.

The parallel courses of the public careers of Brigadier Street, and Mr. Fairbairn form a tragic chain of coincidence. They both owned station properties close together in the Lismore district; both made their debut in public life as representatives of the North riding of the Hampden council, and sat together as representatives of that riding for three years. Later they served together in the allied portfolios of Army and Air Ministers and, by an ironic stroke of fate, died together in the service of their country.

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Citation details

'Fairbairn, James Valentine (Jim) (1897–1940)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


28 July, 1897
Wadhurst, Sussex, England


13 August, 1940 (aged 43)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Cause of Death

air crash

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