JIM BOURKE marched off at 1400 precisely last Friday 1 October 2015
To give him his full title, Lt Col (Retired) Dr James Raymond Bourke, Member of the Order of Australia, Medal of Gallantry, Doctor of Philosophy (Victoria University) departed this life after a long illness, lung cancer actually, the legacy of an early life not always wisely spent.
Born in Ayr, Far North Queenslander Bourke, aka Bindi was a 1964 Portsea graduate.
His mates agree the mould was broken when he arrived. There was none other like him and there will unlikely be again. He had what was described in the army of that time as a “bit of a suntan”, not that it mattered.
He served two Vietnam tours, with 1RAR in 1965 and 1968-1969 with the training team and after the logistics support group at Vung Tau.
During his first tour he had to leave two of his diggers on the battlefield, even knowing they were dead it was a burden he was determined not to carry to his grave.
Later in that tour he suffered a grievous head wound, the bullet passing through his mouth and exiting near his ear. He spent months in hospital as his face was reconstructed, needing dentures to replace his lost teeth. That was an easy loss to bear compared with his lost soldiers.
There are many no doubt apocryphal stories about Jim Bourke, but none unbelievable to those who knew him.
He allegedly once opened a steel beer can by firing a .45 pistol round through its top, which is possibly why his AATTV tour was cut short.
At his army farewell at Sydney’s Victoria Barracks in 1980, the dentists who had conducted his discharge examination had made, at the suggestion of one of his fellow officers who may now possibly be governor-general, new dentures of bright metal, fashioned after the teeth of a german shepherd, including prominent canine incisors.
Jim Bourke demonstrated their efficacy by tearing the flesh of a roast chicken from its bones. Those teeth were not unsuited to the personality of this larger than life character. They also typified a tenacity to pursue and devour things which bothered him. The loss of Lcpl “Tiny” Parker and Pte Peter Gillson was one.
After Vietnam there were six Australian soldiers whose remains had not been recovered. Jim Bourke’s persistence to discover and repatriate them drove his latter decades.
He pleaded, bullied cajoled officials and bureaucrats here and in Vietnam until with reluctant Australian government support he located all their remains, bringing them home as he promised he would do to give their families closure.
It also gave closure to Jim Bourke’s anguish at having left two of his diggers behind.
He wrote a thesis on that wider anguish which resulted last week in the presentation of his PhD, sadly on his deathbed.
He had unfinished work he believed, to do the same for Australians missing in action in Korea.
Rest easy mate, for others will pursue that cause in your memory.