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Bourke, Miles (1925–1982)

by Campbell Curtis

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Miles Bourke (1925-1982), farmer and organiser of primary producers, was born on 20 November 1925 at Warracknabeal, Victoria, second son of Michael Thomas Bourke, farmer, and his wife Lucy, née Powell, both born in Victoria. The Bourkes grew wheat and grazed sheep in the Areegra district between Donald and Warracknabeal, and Miles attended the local one-teacher primary school. He progressed to Donald Higher Elementary School (boarding during the week) then to Ballarat Church of England Grammar School, where he did well academically and at sport.

In 1939 Bourke’s father died. His mother ran the farm with the help of hired labour and he joined her when he left school in December 1942. Through hard work and perseverance, they prospered. On 15 July 1953 at Canterbury Presbyterian Church, Melbourne, Miles married Ida Jean Brewster. He was a councillor (1955-76) and president (1959 and 1967) of Warracknabeal Shire, a member of Apex, a lay reader in the Church of England, a Freemason and a member of the Victorian Soil Conservation Authority’s Northern Wimmera district advisory committee.

Active in the Victorian Wheat and Wool-growers’ Association, Bourke was elected to the State executive in 1963. This somewhat militant, non-party pressure group represented wheat growers and small wool producers, and became a rival of the Graziers’ Association of Victoria, which bigger pastoralists dominated. Bourke was a member of the VWWGA’s committees on bulk handling and on finance and administration. He was also a director of Farrer House Ltd, a company set up to rebuild the association’s headquarters in Melbourne. The State government appointed him to the Wheat Advisory Committee and the Victorian Wheat Research Foundation. In 1965 he was gazetted a growers’ representative on the Victorian Grain Elevators Board. He was elected to the Australian Wheat Board and appointed to the International Labour Organisation’s advisory committee on rural development in 1974. Two years later he became senior vice-president of the Australian Wheat-growers’ Federation.

Earlier, Bourke’s easy personality and negotiating skills had assisted efforts to amalgamate the VWWGA with the Victorian division of the Australian Primary Producers’ Union to form the Victorian Farmers’ Union; the merger took place in July 1968. As senior vice-president of the VFU, in the late 1970s he took a leading part in discussions with the Graziers’ Association of Victoria and the United Dairy-farmers of Victoria, which were aimed at further unifying primary industry. These endeavours resulted in the formation in 1979 of the Victorian Farmers and Graziers Association (later renamed the Victorian Farmers’ Federation).

Bourke’s popularity with all parties led to his election as the first president of the new body. The position was demanding but he gave his time and energy without stint, travelling long distances to meetings. Drought added greatly to his workload in 1982. After collapsing at a wheat board meeting, he died of a dissecting aneurysm on 13 October 1982 in South Melbourne and was buried in Warracknabeal cemetery. His funeral was probably the largest ever seen in the town. A memorial service was held in a packed St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne. Bourke was survived by his wife and their son and daughter. A wide circle of friends and colleagues remembered him with affection for his wit, humour and warm humanity. He was a wise and dedicated leader who did much to mould disparate factions into a united primary producers’ organisation.

Select Bibliography

  • G. H. Mitchell (compiler), Growers in Action (1969)
  • Age (Melbourne), 15 Oct 1982, p 5
  • Ballarat Grammar School records
  • Victorian Farmers’ Federation records (Melbourne)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Campbell Curtis, 'Bourke, Miles (1925–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bourke-miles-12237/text21951, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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