James Chester Draper, known as ‘Jim’ to the wider community and as Chester in the Yan Yean – Arthur’s Creek district, was born on January 15, 1905 at Carlton and died at Heidelberg on November 8, 1998 at the age of 93.
Chester came from pioneering families. He was the third eldest of the nine children of James Draper and Blanche Hurrey. His grandfather Charles Draper was the first to select land at Arthur’s Creek in late 1862, and was the pioneer fruit grower of the district. The ‘Charnwood’ orchards became renowned throughout the Colony.
After attaining the merit certificate in the eighth grade at Yan Yean Primary School, Chester followed a farming life on his parent’s farm and orchards at ‘Barton Hill’, Yan Yean and Arthur’s Creek, and on their bush Run at Glenburn.
He served for a period training horses in the remount section of the permanent military forces at the Sturt Street Depot, South Melbourne, before joining the Victoria Police in May 1928. He was a member of the ‘Prendergast 65’, taking their name from an emergency intake of 65 police trainees authorised by the then Chief Secretary, Mr. George Prendergast. Chester commented that his plan was ‘to work three or four years, and get fifty pounds deposit on a farm. It ended up taking about forty years to get that farm!’. (1)
At the end of his recruit training Jim (Chester) was selected for appointment to the Mounted Branch as a mounted policeman. In 1929, before about 6,000 spectators in the Stadium, he won the Police Amateur Athletic Association’s novice middle weight wrestling championship. He then took on the champion in the open section and ‘beat him two falls to nothing’. Whilst stationed at the Police Depot, he found himself in the Police Hospital in St Kilda Road with cracked ribs after a wrestling incident. A cousin, who was accompanied by her friend Beatrice Jullyan, visited him at the hospital. Jim (Chester) was chosen as a member of the mounted police escort provided for Amy Johnson when she arrived at Moonee Valley racecourse, following her historic first solo flight by a woman from England to Australia in June 1930.
His long involvement in youth work and Scouting commenced in 1929, when he arrived in Numurkah as a young mounted policeman. Jim (Chester) completed an unbroken period of adult service of 69 years with the Scout Association. He attended the 9th Wood Badge training course for Scout Masters, held at Gilwell Park, Gembrook in September 1931. In 1952, whilst at Heyfield, he was awarded the Medal of Merit and later, in 1985, the Thanks Badge for long and outstanding service to the Scout Movement. In September 1997 the Stonnington Scout District presented him with a special award ‘In recognition and appreciation of his valued service to Scouting’.
A highlight of his early involvement in Scouting was a five-month trip to Europe as a member of the Australian Contingent to the 4th World Scout Jamboree held at Godollo, Hungary in 1933. The trip included an overland tour of the Continent and a Motor Coach Tour of England, Scotland and Wales.
On December 16,1933, following his return to Australia, he married Beatrice Violet Jullyan at St. Mary’s Church of England, Caulfield. After a period of seven month’s leave without pay, he resumed duties at the Police Depot on January 1,1934. In March 1934, he was appointed to take charge of the police station at Woomelang in the Mallee, where the young couple commenced their family life together. They had four children, one girl and three boys, (Elaine, Robert, Alan and Bruce).
In August 1939, Jim (Chester) was appointed officer-in-charge of the Heyfield Police Station, one of the last mounted police stations in Victoria. At Heyfield he was to play an active part in two separate air rescues of injured stockmen from Wombat Plain on Mount Wellington in January 1944, and from Holmes plain near Mt Arbuckle in March 1947.
During their time at Heyfield, Chester and Beatrice became involved in a wide range of community activities. Jim (Chester) was largely on his own as a country policeman and was ably assisted by Beat. They saw the town grow from 800 to about 2,000 inhabitants. “In those busy days Mrs. Draper never left the house whilst her husband was away on duty. That indicated the practical help and the complete understanding between them’. At their Heyfield Farewell the Chairman Cr. F.M. Zacher said ‘The number of people present that night indicated the respect in which Mr. and Mrs. Draper were held by the community. Mr. and Mrs. Draper had been in Heyfield for 16 years and had done more for the community in that time than people who had lived in the same centre for a lifetime’.
At Heyfield Jim (Chester) was Captain of both the rural and urban fire brigades. He was Captain of the rural brigade from November 1939, when it was affiliated with the Victorian Bush Fire Brigade’s Association, and ‘was the first delegate from Eastern Victoria to represent the area at association meetings’. At the beginning of 1944, he was a founder of the Heyfield urban brigade, formed under the Country Fire Brigade’s Board. He resigned from the position of Captain of the rural and urban brigades in 1953, following the adoption of a policy by the Country Fire Authority ‘that the police and forest officers will not in future be accepted for office in brigades’, as it was felt that ‘there could be a conflict of duties in the event of fires’. In appreciation of his service on leaving Heyfield in 1955, it was stated that ‘Few could give more service to a volunteer brigade than he did and no one knew the town or district better or answered an alarm faster than he’. He later served with the Eltham and Arthur’s Creek Fire Brigades. At his 90th Birthday celebration held in the Doreen Hall, Chester received a watch and accompanying letter from the Country Fire Authority as thanks for his personal contribution to the service over the past fifty years.
Jim (Chester) was appointed officer-in-charge at Eltham Police Station in June 1955 and remained there until 1959. During his three and a half years at Eltham, Jim and Beat were again involved in a range of community activities. Jim (Chester) was a member and President of the Eltham High School Council, Chairman of the Eltham High School Chaplaincy Fund, and a member and President of the Eltham Scout Group Committee. On March 6, 1959, at a farewell social held in St. Margaret’s Hall, a canteen of cutlery was ‘Presented to Mr. & Mrs. J. Draper from Eltham Friends’. ‘Mr. Draper had left his mark on the district and there were many individuals and a number of organisations which owed a great deal to his work at Eltham. In his work as a policeman he often went far beyond his actual official duty to help an individual’. He undertook relieving duties from Malvern before his retirement from the Police Force in January 1960. Chester said ‘Contact with the public was the greatest thing in the Police Force and was a major reason I stayed in the job, especially in the country’.
He was awarded the Police Long Service and Good Conduct Medal for exemplary police service, in April 1958, and in November 1959 was awarded the Chief Commissioner’s Certificate, ‘for excellent policemanship during his career’, covering 31 and a half years of police service. The citation continued, ‘his participation in community activities covering a wide field enhanced his personal reputation as well as that of the Force as a whole’.
In 1969, Beatrice and Chester moved from Brighton to their farm ‘Maranui’ in Ridge Road, Yan Yean adjacent to neighbouring ‘Barton Hill’ where Chester grew up with his parents, and brothers and sisters. Chester maintained a strong interest in preserving and improving the land. He extensively planted trees and was winner of the 1982-83 Focus on Farm Trees award for Whittlesea Shire. Dams were constructed and major remedial work undertaken to overcome severe gully erosion on the property. He was quoted as saying ‘I like to think I am young in my ways. People say they retire. I bought a farm at 64 years. I say that to encourage other people to get busy and do something instead of folding’.
On December 15, 1983, Chester and Beatrice celebrated their Golden Wedding anniversary. Beatrice died at ‘Maranui’, Yan Yean on September 19, 1992 at the age of 85. Ches. and Beat. are buried at the Arthur’s Creek Cemetery.
James Chester was a resolute person who maintained an independent spirit and kept an alert mind to the last. He was a great raconteur and was able to recite from memory many verses written by Australian poets and the English romanticists.
(Web note) He had inherited a portion of his parents’ historic property, but chose to relinquish it without recompense to one of his brothers, thereby ensuring the land was held as one for another generation. He was always community and family-minded and rarely spoke of this during his lifetime. It’s worth noting his gesture now, many years later, as both a measure of Chester’s generous character, and as a driver throughout his life as he strove to get back to the land. He and Beatrice did eventually buy a farm near ‘Barton Hill’ and ‘Charnwood’, as well as land around Heyfield in Central Gippsland, another district Chester (Jim) came to love. Had he not chosen to give up his land early in life, he and Beatrice may never have developed the lifelong friendships they made in Gippsland. Photos of Chester on his farm and at stockyards and country shows are among the happiest in his collection.
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