JAMES AUSTIN BAINES
12 July 1909 – 16 Aug 1979
Jim spent his early years on the family farm at Boort, northern Victoria. He had five sisters and two brothers who survived to adulthood, while several siblings died in childhood, as was often the case in those days. When Jim was about 10 years old the family moved to Kyneton to give better educational opportunities to the children.
Jim was Dux of Kyneton Hight School then went on to Bendigo Teachers’ College. He loved sport, especially tennis, as well as being academically gifted.
After commencing his teaching career, he taught in State primary schools including Plenty and Bairnsdale. Whilst on the relieving staff, he was posted to Deans Marsh where he met a young teacher’s assistant, Ray Douglas, who had grown up living just out of the town, on the Lorne Road. They married in August 1937 and moved to Torquay where Jim took up a position as head teacher at the school, which at the time was quite small.
During their five years at Torquay, Jim and Ray were involved with what was then known as the Torquay Progress Association. One of the first projects was erecting signs to identify the streets, which had names but no signs. A local builder provided timber and Jim, Ray and a few others painted and erected the signs.
Their first child, Douglas, was born in 1938 and as a toddler had to be taken to safety on the beach as a bushfire ravaged the area in 1940. The young couple were active in sports, such as tennis and table tennis, and also community interests. Jim wrote a history of Torquay and compiled many newspaper cuttings relating to the local area and community. World War Two was on everyone’s mind. As a teacher, Jim was in a reserved occupation so did not join the regular forces but took part in coastal defence training.
Jim and family moved to Melbourne (45 Eastgate St, Oakleigh) in 1942 and he remained at the same address until his retirement. Two further children were born – James in 1945 and Kester in 1950.
Over more than 30 years Jim taught at many State primary schools including Camberwell, Moonee Ponds and Coatsville. His last positions were as Principal at Ringwood, Oakleigh and finally Clayton North. Jim’s interest in history and education was in further evidence when he compiled a history of the schools in the Monash Inspectorate.
Jim’s abiding passions throughout his adult life were genealogy, languages and natural history. For many years he was a keen and active member of the Genealogical Society of Victoria, the Field of Naturalists’ Club of Victoria, the Humanist Society of Victoria, and the South Oakleigh Bowling Club. He contributed many articles to the journals of the organisations of which he was a member, and appeared on two Melbourne television programs, In Melbourne Tonight with Graham Kennedy and Frank Thring, and Tonight with Dave Allen, discussing ancestry and the meanings of surnames. He was an inveterate reader, with a library totaling some 20,000 volumes, an avid buyer of several newspapers every day, and a subscriber to dozens of journals and magazines. His general knowledge was immense and broad-ranging (up there with Barry Jones and Frank Partridge in the opinion of some). He also had a working knowledge of about a dozen languages, including Esperanto. But he was not a man of practical aptitude – in his fifties he set himself the challenge of getting a driver’s licence, and after many lessons and several attempts at the test, he passed. He had the good sense never to get behind the wheel again.
After a four month trip to Britain, Europe and North America in 1974 and Jim’s retirement, Jim and Ray moved back to Torquay in 1976, to 19 Sunningdale Avenue, Jan Juc, where Ray had bought land in the 1950s on the Golf Links Estate. The house, of unique design and planned largely by Ray, was built by E. J. Lyons using coralline limestone from Mt. Gambier.
Following the move to Torquay, Jim continued with the lawn bowls at the Torquay club and was also active in Geelong Field Naturalists’ Club. However, his energies were mainly devoted to drawing together information he had been compiling for many years on the origins and meanings of Australian plant names, thereby combining his interest in languages, history and botany. This culminated in his writing of the book Australian Plant Genera. Sadly he died suddenly and unexpectedly on 16 Aug 1979, when the book was in the proof stage. He never saw the final form of his magnum opus which was published by the Society For Growing Australian Plants (now Australian Native Plants Society) in May 1981. It was very well received by professional botanists and lay field naturalists alike, and is still in use today.
Jim’s contribution to the Torquay community was recognized in the naming of Baines Court (later renamed Baines Crescent after the road was extended).
Following the death of her husband, Ray continued to live at 19 Sunningdale Avenue until she moved into aged care at Elouera, Torquay, in Feb 2011, where she resides today at the age of 96.
Compiled by Kester Baines in July 2013 and published with his permission.