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Local Stories helping Local People

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Jimmy Trifyllis

Dave Knight says the most interesting person he knows on the Coffs Coast is Jimmy Trifyllis.    They grew up together and played in a band in high school.  That’s before Jimmy took off for the big city and life as a photo-journalist with the Daily Telegraph.  Eighteen months ago Jimmy returned to Coffs, they are back to jamming together and Dave could spend hours listening to Jimmy’s adventures as a photographer.


A Life in Pictures

Jimmy Trifyllis rushes into the Happy Frog late, carrying cases filled with cameras, lenses and computers.  “I’m sorry, I was shooting some real estate,” he says, looking a bit flustered.  As we settle at a table and order some coffee, he doesn’t seem altogether comfortable with the idea of being interviewed.  That is, until he turns on the computer and starts to share his portfolio of photographs.  “Every picture’s a story,” he says with delight.  After 30 years as a professional photographer the stories of Jimmy’s pictures are the narrative of his life.

The slide show commences.  The Jetty.  A surf beach.  “Oh, that’s the Big Banana,” Jimmy exclaims.  The story begins right here in Coffs Harbour.   Not only did Jimmy grow up on our coast, but he says working at Coffs’ iconic banana is what got him into photography in the first place.  As a kid working in the milk bar he knew slightly more than the others about film and cameras – enough to make him the resident expert.  The manager bought him his first camera, a throw away instamatic, and his course was set.

Bus Crash in GraftonWe keep flicking.  “Oh man, there’s one of an accident on the Pacific Highway,” Jimmy cries.  You guessed it, Jimmy started at The Advocate.  He was young, only 17, when he became a young cadet with the local paper.  “I remember that a couple of the first jobs I actually rode my bike because I couldn’t drive,” Jimmy says.  For the next seven years he honed his skills at the paper, shooting local sports teams, CWA ladies, the odd road accident or fire, school kids holding up paintings.  Jimmy’s portfolio was expanding, the photos keep scrolling past.  Floods, fires, ambulances…..

The computer screen now reveals a shot of a negotiator trying to talk a jumper down off a building.  We’re not in Coffs Harbour anymore!  This is the big smoke:  Sydney.  Jimmy moved here at 30 to broaden his horizons.  He started out freelance, working for 10 years on his own shooting for clients like Mirvac, Qantas and Innoxa.  There are pictures of real estate, models, food, jets.   “The world was my studio,” Jimmy explains.  He travelled all over Australia meeting the country’s best chefs, shooting the best resorts, working with top models.  He led a high flying life.

Digital cameras and GST brought him down to earth.  Rather than invest his savings in high priced new technology or face up to monthly BAS statements, he landed a job with the Daily Telegraph.  This brings us back to that shot of the negotiator and the jumper which he took in the early days working for the paper.  This shot wound up on page 3 and Jimmy says it was pure luck.  “We were going to this really nice pizza shop called Dimitri’s on Crowne and the roads were all blocked off,” Jimmy recalls.  The driver noticed someone hanging on the side of the building.  “I had the lens.  Right place, right time,” says Jimmy.

And right place, right time seems to be the story of his life.  When he walked into the Daily Telegraph he was offered a job starting tomorrow, and within 6 months he was the highest paid photographer at the paper.  “I think your destiny is where you want to take it,” Jimmy says.  “Doors will open if you’re passionate about something.”  The pictures keep flashing past.  This guy lost his son in a tragic accident.  Here’s another fire.  A university protest.  Asylum seekers stitching up their lips.

Todd Delaney Captured at Star City after shooting his girlfriendThis was the hard news section, Jimmy explains.  “What counts as a hard news event,” I ask.  “Death,” Jimmy answers.  “It’s a tough business.  Editors will say “How many people are dead?  Oh, there’s only one.  Don’t bother.””  So Jimmy has seen a lot of violence.  “I think you’ll find that journos, especially photographers, see more blood and gore than any policeman.”

“What’s the worst thing you’ve seen,” I ask.  Clearly a photographer’s eyes become inured to pain and ugliness, but their ears remain vulnerable, for Jimmy’s darkest memory is of sound, not sight.  “I went to this accident scene one day.  P plates on the front of the car.  Carnage.  I took my pictures, then the mother turns up.  I’ve seen a lot – but just to hear it.  To hear that mother’s wailing for her child.”

The pictures keep flicking past so we don’t have to think about that mother’s loss.  There’s the One Tel guys, a siege situation, the big fires in Gosford.    Perhaps you can only shield yourself from the ‘hard news’ for so long.  Jimmy moved on to feature stories, and says he liked feature work the best.  A Pink concert, a theatre company of homeless people, Nicholaus Cawdry, the chef at the Opera House: these pictures are easier to look at.  Oh my God, there’s Tony Abbot in his budgie smugglers.  “That was my last big shot,” explains Jimmy.

It was the uncertainty that got to Jimmy in the end.  “I just got sick and tired of not knowing where I was going,” he explains his decision to leave the Telegraph and return to Coffs.  He thought he was going to relax and surf.  But the pictures won’t stop.  He’s doing one day a week shooting for the Independent and some real estate work.  Then we come to his favourite photograph, a black and white of a hunched old woman in a field.  “That’s my island in Greece,” Jimmy explains.  Jimmy plans to fix up his great grand-parents home on Kythera Island in the Peloponnese and live there 3 months of the year, taking pictures, running photo tours.  And the photos keep coming: blue oceans, crumbling Greek buildings, peasants in their fields.


It’s the shots and stories that are missing from Jimmy’s portfolio that I find the most striking.  No wedding pictures, no holiday snaps, no pictures of himself.  “There was never any time for a relationship,” Jimmy explains.  “I never knew where I was going next.”  He was consumed with looking through the lens at the lives of other people; did he forget to live his own?

No says Jimmy.  “I really love the things that I’ve achieved,” he says.  Photography has been enough.  And now he’s back in Coffs with old mates, has the surf and dreams of a Greek island.  He is content. 

The screen flickers off.  The computer goes back in the case.  Jimmy smiles.  Story time is over.


Jimmy says the most interesting person he knows in Coffs is Peter Higgs.  “I know he’s my friend, he’s one of my best mates, but he really is one of the most interesting people I’ve met,” Jimmy exclaims.  He’s an acupuncturist, but he’s also studied biology and archaeology.  According to Jimmy, “He’s travelled to Namibia cutting off rats toes for research.”  Oh yes, and he’s got an organic fertiliser business as well.  That certainly sounds interesting to me!


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Reader Comments (3)

I've known Jimmy for some time.
As a kid we traversed from Dubbo up via the Dorrigo ranges to Coffs during the school holidays.
What he forgot to tell you was the he was into drums back then.
Under the house; in what I walways thought was the coolest bat cave ever, was Jimmy's drum set.
He'd make us stand and listen to a session, then head off on some deadly tredlies to the beach for surf and fishing.
I must say I'm surprised he hasn't inluded in his portfolio at least one of the countless pics he still sends me of the fish he pulls out of the ocean at Coffs.
From drums he moved onto photography in a big way because the drum set gave way to a photo lab. I still recall the funny coloured bulb hanging from the ceiling and the entrance got a thick curtain to stop any light.

On ya Jimmy!!!!!

July 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Kaloutsis

Hey Greg - Jimmy never told me about the bat cave. Maybe I need to sharpen my interviewing skills! Stephanie

July 27, 2011 | Registered CommenterStephanie Hunt

I coached Jim in junior cricket for about 3 years from when he was about 10 years old - he was a batsman who would stand up to anything, lots of guts. And as time moved on I'd catch him now and then as he was doing the rounds as an Advocate photographer - and now I've discovered he's back in Coffs. Shows what happens when you google someone to find out what they're up to.

Rod Harvey
Gold Coast

August 9, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRod Harvey

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