James Gilbert Mitchell, my eldest brother, died at 2.15 am on Saturday, March 25, 2023. His death followed a long battle with bowel and prostate cancer. He was 84 years old.
He grew up in Townsville, North Queensland, and made his living selling cars, prospecting for gold, silver, tin and opals and repairing musical instruments. His practical knowledge of fishing, gardening, tools and machinery was second to none and he delighted in sharing it. I was so impressed by his practical skills, I once referred to him as “Master of all trades, jack of none.”
He is survived by his ever-loving partner of 40 years, Daphne, née Murtagh, from the southern Queensland town of Kenilworth. She was the third of eight children, and her parents were hard-working dairy farmers. Jimmy and Daphne were married in 1983 at the Anglican church in Burleigh Heads. He lived by the simple principle that if you lead by example and hard work, others will automatically follow. This appeared to work in the last (20th) Century, but changed completely in the 21st Century when all the old customs and traditions broke down. He attempted to change, but it was not easy. Many of his “muso” friends died off or were too ill to travel.
He increasingly retreated into his own isolation and silence. It was a difficult time: family and friends thought that he still had much to offer (experience, wisdom etc), and he thought he could not cope with the new reality.
Jimmy also had two daughters, Judy and Sue, from his first wife Betty, from Charters Towers, a tireless feminist, musician and management expert.
He had a cavalcade of friends wherever he and Daphne lived – Koala Park on the banks of Tallebudgera Creek, Witta on the slopes of the Glass House Mountains, Montville, and finally at Deception Bay, north of Brisbane.
I once said to Jimmy, “You boomers had the best years” and he replied with characteristic nonchalance: “What’s a boomer?” Jimmy and Daphne shared common interests. They both loved jazz, Jim played the saxophone but preferred his clarinet (“my liquorice stick”), while Daphne played the piano and sang. They formed jazz bands and entertained the locals with free, weekend concerts. Their curry events – when everyone bought a home-cooked item for a slap-up meal – were favourites. Without any formal training, Jimmy wrote dozens of scores for each instrument and visitors marvelled at his remarkable skill.
It was also characteristic that Jimmy absorbed the pain of the loss of both his parents, Jim and Lucy Mitchell, followed more recently by our brother Tony. Needless to say, their loss wounded him deeply. He stepped forward and became “the leader of the pack”. In the process he rescued our family from decades of mourning and lost time. Does this mean he was heartless? Definitely not!
My son Lachlan wrote: “A truly great man. One last win by the Broncos for Jimmy last night (24 March, 2023).” I think Jimmy had a soft spot for the Cowboys who made their home in Townsville, where Jimmy had played half-back and could have gone on to play for Queensland, or even Australia. But music attracted him more than footy and we never saw the best of him as a rugby league player.
Things changed at State of Origin time. Jim was a passionate Maroons supporter and Daphne – who always pronounced persimmon with the accent on “simmon” – turned their living room into a maroon wonderland with balloons and streamers.
My youngest brother Jeff summed him up perfectly: “As human beings go, they didn’t get much better than Jimmy.” Hear, hear!