Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Jim Downing: 1926-2009

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Jim Downing: 1926-2009

Article excerpt

Born in 1926, Jim Downing grew up in Footscray in Melbourne's west. The Yorta Yorta activist William Cooper also lived part of his life there.

It may have been his western suburbs origins or his vocation as a minister of the Congregational Church, later to become the Uniting Church, that gave Jim his passion for social justice. It was a passion that burned for the whole of his life. Few have served it so tirelessly, or so effectively, or with such good humour.

After his training in theology and social work, he became Superintendent of the Congregational Metropolitan Mission in Redfern in inner-city Sydney and served in that position from 1959 to 1965. Jim identified with the underdog and became increasingly involved with people in the Aboriginal community there. It began with the young people hanging around the milk bars and led to involvement with the police and courts on their behalf and dealing with the myriad social issues and difficulties faced by them and their families. He discovered the distinctive culture of the people and grappled with the realities of cultural loss.

So he was ready in 1965 when a government grant to work with Aboriginal people led to a call to the Uniting Church in Alice Springs. The die was cast. He spent the next 40 years as an activist and advocate of behalf of Aboriginal people in Central and northern Australia.

Jim Downing was a strategic thinker. Seeing the failures and injustice caused by poor communication and cultural ignorance, he established the Institute for Aboriginal Development (IAD) to record and teach Aboriginal languages, train interpreters, and to educate police officers, nurses, teachers, lawyers and others in Aboriginal culture and community development. He was a mentor for Yami Lester, who succeeded him as director of IAD. When he moved to Darwin in the early 1980s to work for the Uniting Church's Aboriginal Advisory and Development Services, he continued his work in community development in the Top End communities. He and Stuart Philpott developed a management course and travelled to Aboriginal-owned cattle stations to train the managers of those developing stations.

Although a man of faith--and he became the Moderator of the Northern Synod of the Uniting Church--he was no conservative. …

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