James Matthews Frayle

1941 - 2016


Given by John Reid on 15 March 2016

We are here today to celebrate the life of my friend, Jim Frayle.

Jim was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1941. His family came to Australia after the war, sometime during his primary school years. Peer pressure forces you to lose your regional British accent (as I know from personal experience) so Jim never really sounded Northern Irish. In fact he finished up with an accent all his own.

Jim's parents separated and he lost track of his father. His stepfather was an itinerant bulldozer driver and so Jim attended a large number of primary schools and high schools, sometimes as many as three different schools in a single year. As a kid he frequently needed to establish himself in a new "pecking order". He finished up at Burnie High School.

I first met Jim at a party at "The Murder Flat" in Sandy Bay Road, circa 1959. At the time he worked in a bank in New Norfolk. I have no idea how he got to that student party in Hobart. He told me recently that it was there that I convinced him he should go to Uni.

Jim and the Bank soon parted company over an incident involving firearms. At that time banks kept a pistol under the counter as a deterrent to armed robbery. Jim was practising spinning the pistol around his finger and other such cowboy tricks when it suddenly went off leaving a bullet lodged in the ceiling. Industrial health and safety may have been much more lax in those days but bank managers were not.

So he went to uni. He studied at the University of Tasmania from 1960 to 1964 and completed a B.A.Hons in Humanities and Political Science. He was editor of the student newspaper, Togatus, in 1962. However Jim's ascent to publishing fame came with:

A Book of Songs:
Songs for all occasions, sacred and profane.

Edited by James Frayle and John McKinlay
Published by Tasmania University Union Students' Representative Council (1962).

He was also a keen bushwalker. We did Federation Peak together.

In the 1960s Jim had a number of jobs including working for a petroleum company and for Olivetti. He also worked at Monash University in Administration where one of his duties was to look after the Chancellor on his occasional visits. They got to know one another quite well. The Chancellor was Robert Menzies. I believe Jim had custody of the Chancorial liquor cabinet.

Later Jim gained a Dip Ed from Hawthorn Tech and went on to teach at various Melbourne suburban schools including William Angliss TAFE, Collingwood Tech and Thornbury Tech.

It was at this time Jim and Jan were in Holden Street and then in Westgarth and raised two boys, Ben and Tom, more or less in synch with us Reids with our two girls and the Nielsens with their two girls. I well remember Jim's delight when they moved into their Westgarth house. The previous owner, an elderly Macedonian, had left behind dozens (maybe hundreds) of bottles of home-brewed wine, crown-sealed in beer bottles. Unfortunately it all turned out to be undrinkable.

Jim was friendly with Boyd Oxlade who wrote Death in Bruswick. How many people realize that the grave-robbing scene played by John Clarke in the movie was based on an incident which originally took place in Sandy Bay, Tasmania? In the early 1960s the new University was being constructed on the site of the old Queenborough Cemetery and some coffins had been exposed by the earth moving machinery. Late one night, penniless student, James Frayle and an accomplice decided to recycle some of the lead for its scrap metal value. A fine example of capitalist enterprise. I am sure Jim would have had a more Marxist interpretation.

We didn't see so much of Jim after we had returned to Tasmania and he lived in Glen Iris. Then he turned up at my 70th birthday party where he met Carol. The rest is history.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Jim was his erudition. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of obscure facts about almost any topic you can think of, from the origins of the knighting ceremony to George Washington's real estate holdings. He once appeared on the TV quiz show, Mastermind . He chose, as his special topic, Russian tanks of the Second World War, but they wouldn't let him have that one because they had "had too many military topics recently". I have learned since that the Russians only used one type of tank in the Second World War. On another TV quiz show he won a set of window frames.

He had few vices. He didn't smoke or do drugs. He did drink. He did drink quite a lot actually, but, with Jim, drinking was not so much a vice as an art form. When we were students, before the advent of the wine cask, the preferred form was the half gallon flagon. Twelve and six for a flagon of Yalumba Four Crown and you got two and six back on the empties. In the new metric system that works out at $1.00 for two and one quarter litres. It was called "Claret". Jim would quote Dr Johnson and declaim: "Claret is for boys. One could drown in it before one became drunk." Providing you put the cork back in, a flagon of claret would remain drinkable for a week or so. I remember having a meal with Peter and Carol Hetherington when I was visiting Brisbane. Peter filled our glasses a couple of times, popped the cork back in and put the flagon back in the cupboard. Carol told me that Jim's first wife, Cathy, had stayed shortly before my visit. When Peter put the cork in the flagon Cathy had said "Oh no you can't do that! Jimmy says it goes off if you don't drink it straight away."

Jim was a man of great good humour, great wit, a bon-vivant, good company and a true friend. He could also be garrulous, strident, irritating and argumentative.

But we loved him.

photo:Sophie Reid