Too often with our busy lives and commitments, we lose touch with those who have lived among us for many years; forging their way through the early years of our communities. They have seen many changes as our streets grow, whilst nurturing their own families and lives.
We would like to introduce a series of stories from our most senior residents who have opened up their homes and hearts, to share their memories with our community. We are honoured to have the privilege to listen their stories first-hand and impart some of their wisdom, strength and memories with you.
Brian & Ann Bourke
This interview was conducted primarily with Brian with the help of his daughter, Roz and his sister Clair. His beautiful wife Ann was present through most of it but suffers from dementia so was content to sit and listen.
Brian & Ann currently reside in their home at Sinnamon Park. Born in South Brisbane, 1923 and Toowoomba, 1925 respectively, they recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with their extended family and friends.
Ann Sealy Griffin was the eldest of four children who grew up on a property south of Texas. She spent her young years being home-schooled and helping her father on the family farm. One year, her father bought a mob of sheep with all the ewes being pregnant. However, the person who sold him the sheep lied about when they were due to lamb, subsequently, a lot of the lambs were born away from the farm and were found abandoned. Ann rescued 15 of them, took them home, hand fed them all until they could eat on their own. This was good training for what was to come in Ann’s later life as a parent!
On the 8th May 1945, Ann joined the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service as a Driver. It was not long after and on Ann’s 20th birthday that life took a tragic turn. Her father was a Commanding Officer at the Air Force base in Lowood. On the 23rd July, 1945, he and other officers were going up to Bowen aboard a Lockheed Hudson A16-47. That plane never made its destination and to this day, has never been found. It was last heard of at Rockhampton and it is believed that it possibly crashed into Shoalwater Bay near Akens Island in central Queensland. Its crew of two and five passengers were eventually presumed dead. Cuthbert Griffin was 47yrs old.
Brian Walter Bourke was raised in the family home at Ascot with his four sisters. At 4.5yrs, he started Calvert State School near Rosewood, where he lived with his extended family for six months at a time. When he would return home during the break, Brian jokes he would find he had a new sister, then he would return back to school again.
A fond recollection Brian has of those young years at Calvert, was cream testing. Kids would bring a sample in from their farm where they would add sulphuric acid into the cream and manually spin the sample in a centrifuge to separate the butter fat. The percentage of butter fat was important to let the dairy farmers know the quality of the milk and how their cows were performing.
Brian was a bright young lad who loved maths. So much so that at the age of 4.5yrs he taught a neighbouring family’s 8yr old son his sums.
In 1936 Brian attended Gregory Terrace, Spring Hill where he excelled, graduating ahead of his peers in 1939. When he left school, he was supposed to start a new job as an Apprentice Fitter & Turner at B.C Richards & Co Pty Ltd, but due to the outbreak of WWII, the position was withdrawn. Now with nothing to do, Brian’s father suggested he go to university but Brian thought he couldn’t go as “only rich kids go to university”.
Brian’s father used his whole life’s savings to pay his first year’s fees and Brian attended the University of Queensland. During his first year, an old lady died (whom Brian didn’t know) and as he had the same name as a priest she knew in Ireland, she’d left him $100 pounds which subsequently paid for his next year’s fees. By then the war was raging, the government was building ships and aeroplanes, and factories needed engineers so Brian got through the next two years on scholarships.
Memory Capture: When Brian was at university, which was located at St Lucia and he was living in Ascot, he decided to purchase a pushbike. He went into Massey’s Sports Store in Elizabeth Street where he had the choice of a Gentleman’s Roadster ($8 pounds, 15 shillings) or a Semi-Racer ($12 pounds). He chose the Semi-Racer where he handed over his only money, $1 pound. He rode the bike home and every Saturday he returned with his week’s earnings of $1 pound until he paid it off. There was no paperwork, it was all done by trust. Also, at that time (during the Depression) Brian was one of very few people to own a bicycle and he felt like “king of the road”.
Brian graduated with his “Lec & Mec” Electrical and Mechanical Engineering degree in 1943.
Brian joined the Royal Australian Navy in 1944 as a Sub-Lieutenant and served on the HMAS Nepal Destroyer. The ship derived its name in honour of the Gurkhas. Brian was on-board the Nepal, about 300 miles north of Tokyo when the atomic bomb detonated at Hiroshima. It was this event that caused him to “have a big think” about where the war was going.
Memory Capture: In 1945 Brian was Speaker for the Japanese Diet (Japanese House of Parliament). He and some other officers were wandering around Tokyo “having a sticky beak” when they came across the Diet. Brian entered and found the Speaker’s Chair vacant so he sat there for 15 minutes and became ‘the Speaker’.
Later in 1945, after the war was over, Brian was transferred back to Brisbane. In 1946, as Staff Officer (Engineering), he needed to use a ute but there were none available. Another officer told Brian there was a 5 tonne truck he could have and although he thought it was a bit big for what he needed it for, he went out with the truck, which had a driver attached. They completed the job, Brian returned the truck to the Officer in Charge, but he kept the driver! The family jokes that Ann literally “picked him up”.
Brian and Ann were married in 1947.
Brian and Ann both left the Royal Australian Navy to start their married life together. They bought their first home at Sherwood in 1948 for $1,500 pounds. In those days, Brian says, houses for sale were like hens’ teeth so there wasn’t a choice of which suburb to live in; you lived where you could buy a house. Their second home was in Hawken Drive, St Lucia.
Brian started his civilian career employed as a Power Station Design Engineer and was involved with the construction of the Bulimba B Power Station on Gibson Island. Following that, he was employed to design and specify electric induction motors.
Brian and Ann next built in Indooroopilly where they lived for 43 years, raising their ever-growing family of 11 children. During the Vietnam War period, whilst Ann was pregnant with their 11th child, she feared that her eldest sons may get conscripted into the war and she was terrified of that happening. This fear had a big impact on her life, along with the death of her father and so many others she knew not making it home from the wars.
In 1983, after Brian retired from being an engineer, he decided to get his pilot’s licence and bought himself a Beechcraft Bonanza 6-seater aeroplane which he fondly nicknamed ‘Sarah’ and flew all around Australia to various locations to visit their grown children and take holidays. When Brian again retired, he was one of Australia’s oldest pilot’s at 80yrs.
Memory Capture: In 1991 Brian joined a flying safari to America along with about 20 other aeroplanes. They flew into various cities and in the smaller towns they would be welcomed by most of the township who came out to see the spectacle of so many aeroplanes. It was during one of these trips, that Brian found himself flying up the Hudson River at 1100ft, looking into the windows of the World Trade Centre where he could “see the girls working at their desks”.
In 2001 they decided to downsize from their 7 bedroom home at Indooroopilly when they saw a sign at Sinnamon Farm advertising “Land for Sale”. They approached the agent and found that there was one home left for sale. They walked inside and said “it was just right” so they bought it and have lived there ever since.
Brian and Ann have 11 children, 27 grandchildren and 8.5 great-grandchildren and the best advice they could pass down to their great-grandchildren would be to study.
Last Word: One thing Brian has always wanted to do but has never done is to build a houseboat. With the advent of ice caps melting and the sea-levels rising, Brian designed a houseboat along the lines of his favourite ship, the HMAS Nepal. Complete with 4000HP, this boat is the one that he still dreams of building and cruising.
Brian was wheeled in the ANZAC Parade in Brisbane this year as one of the oldest surviving WWII veterans.
Interview recorded on 6th April 2017
by Lisa Baillie