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Zimin, Innokentiy Temofeevech (Jim) (1902–1974)

by Sue Harlow

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Innokentiy Temofeevech (Jim) Zimin (1902-1974), peanut-farmer, was born on 26 November 1902 at Sretensk, Siberia, Russia, son of Tomefoy Nikolaevisch Zimin. A Cossack, he settled at Harbin, China, after the Russian Civil War (1918-20). He gained a chauffeur-mechanic's certificate from the Young Men's Christian Association in 1925.

Migrating to Australia in 1927, 'Jim' Zimin worked in various parts of Queensland before arriving in the Northern Territory. In 1929 he took up government land, at Adelaide River, made available for peanut growing. He was joined by five other Russians and they formed I. T. Zimin & Co. With little money and no machinery they were faced with the back-breaking task of clearing the trees, tilling the soil and planting the seed by hand. Harvesting was also done manually. Despite their sending 150 bags of peanuts to the markets in Darwin, the partnership was dissolved in 1930 and Zimin moved to Katherine.

In 1933 Zimin began to clear and cultivate a block of land on the Katherine River. Next year he was naturalized; he was then 5 ft 8¼ ins (173 cm) tall in his boots, with fair hair and blue eyes. Although he and two other Russians returned to Harbin in 1935 to seek wives, he was to remain single. Back at Katherine in 1936, Zimin purchased a new peanut-farm on the banks of the Katherine River. Within two years he was producing the best germination seed in the district. Experiencing difficulty in obtaining loans to buy machinery for his farm, he designed and built his own peanut digger, which was to receive (in 1949) the first agricultural patent awarded to a resident of the Northern Territory.

Continual problems, such as unreliable rainfall, disease, fluctuations in seasonal yields, and trouble with marketing and grading, eventually led to many peanut-farmers, including Zimin, seeking permission to grow other crops. In 1939 he began to experiment with cotton and millet. Only three Russians and one other farmer remained on their land by 1942. With tens of thousands of troops in the region after the bombing of Darwin in February, Zimin was contracted to supply tomatoes, cabbages, pumpkins and watermelons to the army. Aboriginal labourers assisted with the work. In 1942 the 121st (later 101st) Australian General Hospital was built on Zimin's land.

After World War II the farmers no longer had a market for their produce and many were forced from their land. Crown rot was affecting the peanut crop by 1951. Following the flood of 1957, Zimin took a job with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. In 1962 he sold 200 acres (81 ha) of his property to a meatworks and in 1971 gave up most of his remaining land. Remembered as a diligent farmer, he had continued with his neighbours to observe the customs and traditions of his native Russia. He died on 31 August 1974 on his small block and was buried in Katherine cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Carment et al (eds), Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, vol 1 (Darwin, 1990)
  • M. Canavan, Russian Peanut Farming at Katherine 1929-1960 (Katherine, NT, 1991)
  • W. S. Mollah, Agriculture at Katherine, Northern Territory: Elusive or Illusory? (B.Litt. thesis, University of New England, 1980)
  • T. Shorter, taped interview with Erina Tokmakoff-Hill, 1990, NTRS 226, typescript 595
  • (Northern Territory Archives)
  • Primary Producers Board, correspondence files, F 114 (Northern Territory Archives)
  • naturalisation file, A1, item 1933/8343 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Katherine Historical Society Museum Archives, Northern Territory.

Citation details

Sue Harlow, 'Zimin, Innokentiy Temofeevech (Jim) (1902–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/zimin-innokentiy-temofeevech-jim-12094/text21701, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 17 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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