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A personal perspective on Jim Cooper AM

Steve Brooks takes a brief look at the life and times of the late Jim Cooper


Words will never do justice to the life and achievements of Jim Cooper. Not my words, anyway. They could never be good enough.

Nor could they relate the depth of regard and admiration felt for a man whose strength of character and inherent tenacity, cobbled with an underlying and understated passion for people of substance at all rungs of the social spectrum, made him truly special as a human being. First and foremost.

Yet, despite the inadequacy of words, it’s impossible to let Jim’s recent passing at 81 years of age slide by without at least offering some modest acknowledgement of a man whose presence had such an enduring effect on people of so many persuasions.

Immediately in my mind come people like long-term Cooper stalwart Michael ‘Hollywood’ Chard, the Bilato brothers of G&S Transport in Alice Springs, my late mate and exceptional remote regions driver Lance Ward, and esteemed former trucking journalists Bruce Honeywill and Murray Clifford.

Jim Cooper on the job in Western Australia. His contribution to remote Australia was remarkable. His influence on many people, exceptional!

Without prompt or encouragement, each would openly extol a liking and respect for Jim, drawn from deep and largely personal experiences of working with and for him. But they certainly weren’t alone. There were so many more lifetime Cooper colleagues and confidantes while, at the top end of town, politicians, business leaders, mining giants, managing directors and transport chiefs were all part of the Cooper tapestry.

Still, and again to my mind, Jim was a man you had to know to appreciate who and what he was. The wiry build, the laconic persona, the blunt talk and the distaste for public notoriety despite an Order of Australia medal all belied the titan within. True, the frank demeanour, high expectations and absolute intolerance for bullshit may not have always won
the support of some but, in Jim’s view, it usually won with those who mattered.

No question, he built a fabulous legacy full of wonderful innovations, great company accomplishments and invaluable industry advocacy, and his range of associates and contacts were as vast and varied as his adopted country.

A Kiwi by birth and Territorian by choice for much of his life, he jammed more into one existence than some of us could even think possible, let alone achievable.

His book Pushing the Boundaries – The Gulf Group in Remote Australia defines both the possibilities and the achievements. Any attempt to summarise or extrapolate something more meaningful in the wake of his passing would, I believe, be less than respectful. It’s his story and his book tells it best.

Maybe, and perhaps probably, Jim and his adored late wife Jenny never set out to build businesses of such size or scope. They saw a job and they did it. They saw an opportunity and they took it. And, for Jim, there was always a better way to do it, whether it was hauling road trains of livestock or bulk loads of rock and ore through some of the most inhospitable regions of Australia, creating a Powertrans enterprise of specialised mining trucks and powered trailers, or, in later life, when most people might be looking to back off, reshaping a massive dairy enterprise in New Zealand’s South Island close to his family’s hometown in Wanaka.

Jim and son Jamie snapped at the 2015 Brisbane Truck Show. His laconic character belied a life of immense achievements

Cooper the man, however, was far more than the sum of his industrial and commercial achievements. Heaps more and, again, his influence on people of extraordinarily diverse backgrounds was immense. I am grateful to have been one of the many.

Indeed, at the start of 2020, just as COVID-19 was rearing its ugly head, there was a sense of excited appreciation to be on the guest list of his 80th birthday celebrations in Wanaka. The list itself was a typically eclectic cohort of Cooper family and friends, drawn from both sides of the Tasman and spanning decades of shared deeds and interests.

RELATED ARTICLE: Industry salutes life of trucking icon Jim Cooper

Sadly, COVID caused the event to be cancelled at the last minute and the opportunity to celebrate a remarkable man’s remarkable journey was lost. Worse, in occasional phone calls over the following year and more, his waning health became increasingly apparent. He wouldn’t mention it, preferring to dig into the memory bank and enjoy talk of shared experiences.

As a close colleague remarked when first hearing of Jim’s passing: “It truly is the end of an era. We won’t see his like again, certainly not in our lifetimes.”

It is unfortunate that the modern world overstates words like ‘legend’ and ‘icon’ so freely because, quite simply, these are the words that define the life and times of Jim Cooper most rightly.

Survived by son Jamie and daughters Robyn, Erynne and Allison, Jim Cooper passed away on Friday, January 28, in his native New Zealand.

Many will miss him, but just as many will be grateful for having known him. Fortunately, I will be one of the many.

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