Vale Jimmy Dorabjee

Burnet Institute

03 December, 2019

Image: Jimmy Dorabjee (kneeling, front right) at a harm reduction training course in Indonesia

It’s with deep sadness that Burnet Institute acknowledges the passing of Jimmy Dorabjee, a former senior staff member, researcher, passionate advocate for harm reduction, and larger-than-life character, who exemplified Burnet’s mission.

Burnet’s Head of International Operations, Professor Robert Power, pays tribute to his close friend and colleague.

Jimmy Dorabjee, who worked at Burnet for nigh on a decade, passed away last week after a short illness. He was associated with Burnet’s Centre for Harm Reduction from its inception, coming to work on a causal, then full-time, basis in the early years of this century.

Prior to locating to Melbourne Jimmy was Program Manager for Harm Reduction at the Sharan Society in Delhi. This NGO, now into its 30th year, has a byline that is symbiotic with Burnet’s mission: “for services to urban poverty”. And in so many ways that epitomises Jimmy’s passion and life’s work.

First and foremost, his focus was on the marginalised, the stigmatised, the vilified: the least the last and the lost. He was (and his endeavours will ensure he remains) a giant of reducing the harms associated with illicit drugs.

Jimmy was a driving force behind the formation of the groundbreaking Asian Harm Reduction Network and worked tirelessly as its chairperson. When I took over as Director of the Centre for Harm Reduction at Burnet in 2005, Jimmy was my obvious choice as Deputy Director.

His first advice to me was to “get more ‘peers’ on board.” By this time he was a guiding force to so many and in so many contexts, mentoring countless drug users into positions of dignity and advocacy. This was notably achieved through his various roles at the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs (ANPUD).

I was with Jimmy at a meeting in Goa, India, in 2008 where discussions took place to launch this pioneering organisation. Jimmy was the inaugural director and chairperson and remained an executive member until the last day of his life.

The Sunday before he “tumbled away” (to use a beautiful Aboriginal phrase) I was with him in his Nunawading home in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs where he was fielding emails from ANPUD colleagues. In between times he was playing his guitar (Jimmy was a renowned “Indie” Indian rock star) as we sang together (most memorably) “The House of the Rising Sun”.

Jimmy has made a profound imprint on the international landscape of harm reduction policy and practice, for which he received the highly prestigious National Rolleston Award in 2001.

For, you see, he was able to move between the street, the corridors of power and all the rooms in between. Jimmy was as comfortable and competent on a United Nations Advisory Panel on the need for policy change as he was in addressing peer outreach workers in safe injecting practices in Mandalay, Myanmar. I’ve been with him in both (and many other contexts) and know full well what special talents he possessed.

Let’s leave the last words to Krishna Udayasankar, a young woman from Bangalore, India, who we once talked about: “Some day, you and I will be mere legends. All that matters is whether we did what we could with the life that was given to us.”

I don’t think she ever met Jimmy, but her sentiments sum up the man and his enduring legacy.

Staff Member


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