Person - Joe Bourke

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Bourke was the first Bursar of the University of NSW (1954-65) where he is commemorated by the Bourke Memorial Fountain. His preferred name was J O A Bourke.

Bourke recited proletarian verse at the Workers Art Club on 14 September 1934, 17 November 1935 and in 1936. An eloquent and amusing speaker, he delivered a lecture “All Literature is Propaganda” to accompany a 26 June 1939 New Theatre League performance of Rehearsal in the Union Hall.

He was born in Glebe on 14 November 1908. His mother was a teacher and his father (who died when J O A was four) a teachers’ training lecturer. At age 16, after passing the Leaving Certificate with First Class Honours in English and History, he entered the Public Service. While working as a clerk in the Dept of the Attorney-General and Justice and later the Licenses <sic> Reduction Board, he was an evening student at Sydney University, graduating BA with Honours in Philosophy in 1928. At university Bourke became a skilful debater and wrote verse. His ten-stanza “Freedom” was published in Hermes:

“No darkened state, and no imperial king

Can hold from man his civil rights expressed.

The children of the new dawn hold their swords

Unsheathed, that bloody wrong shall be redressed.”

Bourke joined the ALP in 1927 and was active in the WEA from 1928. In 1931 he co-founded the Labour Club, but was expelled after supporting the United Front Against Fascism and identifying himself as pro-communist. Active in Union Night debates, Bourke argued on topics such as “present-day education is progressive and enlightening “ and "capitalism in Australia is conducive to liberty".

During the Second World War Bourke worked in the Army Research Unit with other then radicals John Kerr and James McAuley . Postwar he was an inspector with the Public Service Board and assistant director of the Department of Technical Education before taking up the post of UNSW Bursar which he held until his death.

Bourke has an entry in The Australian Dictionary of Biography. His papers are held by UNSW Archives, and he is mentioned in Alan Barcan’s The Old Left at Sydney University.

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