SHINE BRIGHT: Iconic Gemfields man Jim the Gem passed away late last month aged 79.
SHINE BRIGHT: Iconic Gemfields man Jim the Gem passed away late last month aged 79. Contributed

Gemfields icon farewelled

JIM the Gem acquired his nickname, close friend Kim Tompson said, "because he was just such a treasure”.

Jim - known in his younger days as Hippy Jim and born as James Sydney Court - was farewelled at his funeral on December 1 after he passed away on November 25.

Kim, who became friends with the iconic Gemfields' character more than 20 years ago when he moved to their unique community, said he used to always wear a racoon-skin hat and a "big old poncho”.

"And he was classic!”

Kim said Jim fell in love with the region and its precious rocks and set up a home which he called ''Freedom'' in an old caravan on the edge of a mostly dry creek.

He would often take tourists out to "his little piece of paradise”, and the only payment he would accept were biscuits, bananas and the pleasure of telling his stories and listening to the tales of others.

"He looked after people, he was very unique,” Kim said.

"It became a regular thing that he took tourists out to show them how to dig and find sapphires, and he's got visitors' books with message from people from all over the world.”

Kim said Jim was passionate about people but didn't like crowds and he was dedicated to living a "very simple life” and a life that overflowed with generosity and compassion.

"He never had a TV in his life - he called them 'idiot boxes'.

"He would listen to the ABC but that was it.”

People often suggested to Jim that he should move into town (Rubyvale) or upgrade, so about 10 years ago, he moved from his van into a tin shed with a pot belly in the doorway.

"He had a big garden because he was a green thumb and even with very little water he would grow the most amazing vegetables,” Kim said.

She said Jim didn't miss a single local event, whether it was helping out at the folk festival, or a get-together or fundraiser hosted by the ambulance or fire services.

"I'm going to miss him sitting there at the gate of the folk festival talking to everyone.

"He also supported Meals on Wheels and he'd buy $100 worth of tickets and he'd win a lot of prizes and then he'd donate them all straight back. He was very generous and he was a very happy soul.”

Kim said Jim was always donating jewellery and sapphires that he had found over the years for local groups to use as fundraising prizes.

Last year, she said, he gave nearly $20,000 worth of sapphires to the Salvation Army.

"I did ask him a bit of advice here and there and I think one of the things I learnt from him is to be true to myself - don't let the naysayers get to you.”

Jim the Gem was 79 and died from lung cancer.

He spent the last few weeks of his life in Avalon Aged Care Facility and Kim said he was "accepting” of his fate.

He enjoyed a phone call with his younger brother, Harry Court, who still lives in New Zealand where he was also born.

"There's three things that everybody who knew Jim knew about him. One was his motto: 'Better a hard life than an empty one'.

"The second was his 'magic moments' - so instead of calling his funeral wake a 'wake', we called it a celebration of magic moments, that's all the happy times.

"And sharing and caring was his other thing.

"If he was at a function and kids were squabbling, he'd say, 'Where's our caring and sharing?'”

Jim would often talk about his intense love of rocks saying he became a "rock hound” when he was about 11 years old.

He moved to Australia in 1964 and settled with his five children and wife - whom he later separated from - on a hobby farm in Biloela.

While he called the Gemfields home, he had also dug around Queensland, seeking garnets, zircon, sapphire and amethyst as well as the Dawson River for petrified wood.

In an interview a few years ago, Jim said: "I've met some beautiful people, my life is a ball full of magic moments and it is terrific”.

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