By Cherry Bright
Locals would recognise Jimmy Howard as the country and western guitar-playing singer who has performed at the Noosa Farmers Markets for many years.
The 90-year-old singer was born in Kimberley, Western Australia on 7 June, 1930. His parents were part of the Aboriginal stolen generation. They were both taken from their families as young children and brought up in a mission. His mother’s father was Scottish and his father’s father was English. Jimmy’s mother lived in the East Kimberleys to the ripe old age of 107. His father lived in Fitzroy Crossing. Like his parents Jimmy, along with his sister and three brothers grew up on a German Catholic mission, north of Broome. Jimmy is the only one in the family still living. Life on the mission was harsh.
The girls and boys lived separately in dormitories and he remembers being given the strap from the Irish nuns and priests.
All the children were forced to leave school at 14 to work at the mission. The girls became domestic servants and the boys worked as carpenters or stockmen as did Jimmy. He said they received no pay for their long hours but were given shelter, clothing and food and they all worked in the large vegetable garden. He remembers working as a stockman from daylight to dark for no pay.
Jimmy and his first wife had 11 children, six girls and five boys of which seven are still living. He has 40 grandchildren.
He now lives with his partner of 38 years Val.
Over the years Jimmy has had many jobs including as a tour driver, builder’s labourer, groundsman, wharfie, sand blaster and for many years sang to the tourists. A self-taught guitar player, he loves singing Slim Dusty songs. Slim is his idol.
When I went to the Slim Dusty museum in Kemsey, I felt really emotional and as I walked in to the museum to the tune of ‘G’day, G’day, he said.
Like his idol, Jimmy likes to tell stories of his travels around Australia, the outback, cattle and horses.
While working in Longreach he heard that the Eumundi markets were a good place to busk, so he and his wife Val moved to the Sunshine coast. After busking for 23 years at the Eumundi Markets, he moved to the Noosa Farmers Markets where he sang for 17 years up until February this year.
He loves playing music and comes to life with an audience. Jimmy knows an incredible 350 songs.
Western Australia still holds a special place in his heart and he has been back to Broome 18 times, always travelling by car which takes from 4 days to 3 weeks.
For many years he towed a caravan on the journey, but for the last 11 years he switched to a campervan. On the way, he likes to stop at the markets and busk. He likes to make friends with everyone he meets, “even the coppers“.
After living in Tewantin for 19 years the couple moved to Laguna retirement village. In addition to his music Jimmy says he can still crack a good whip and tie good knots.
He suffers now from smoking related lung issues and his only regret in life is smoking which he took up at the age of 12. If I hadn’t smoked, I might be able to live as long a life as my mum, he said.
Jimmy’s advice for youngsters – “be honest, be nice to people, make friends with people and always be kind“.