I have been greatly looking forward to this day and congratulate all involved in getting this great Centre to where it now is.
I came to Bourke with Dalgety, as a fresh-faced eighteen year old, 50 years ago next August. I soon met a strong-willed, spirited young school leaver called Gail Dugan. There was great strength of spirit and character, and a certain Irish cussedness, not atypical in Bourke residents.
The old timers around here will tell you that not only was Gail very pretty, but she could run like the wind, having distinguished herself on the athletic field both at Bourke and at the All School Sports at Bathurst.
I chased her, on and off, for six years until she became my wife 43 years ago.
In the meantime she completed her nursing training at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney with great distinction. She was top nurse at the Hospital and came third in the State in the final examinations. She is a better diagnostician than any doctors I know and has been a wonderful mother to our three surviving children. This allowed me to pursue my commercial career in which she gave me great support.
If you track back every branch of your family tree you will find that you have no less than eight great grand parents. In Gail’s case all of those great grand parents came from Bourke or Brewarrina. So, it is no exaggeration to say that I have lived with Bourke for the last 43 years!
When after 28 years with Dalgety, I joined the Swire Group as Managing Director of Clyde Agriculture, I found myself working with a company that had been founded in Bourke. We kept our operational headquarters here as the company grew to be one of the major agricultural companies in Australia with holdings spread from central Queensland to Coonamble and east to the New England.
Whenever Gail is asked where she was born and replies “Bourke” you can hear the retort coming “Oh….. Back o’ Bourke”.
The term must be as well known as “she’ll be right” and “’ow you goin’ ”.
With this expression welded into the Australian vernacular and with Bourke’s colourful history, the locals have demonstrated great initiative and judgement in capitalising on them and developing the concept and now the reality of the Back 0’ Bourke Exhibition Centre.
The term “back o’ Bourke” was coined by the Scottish poet Will Ogilvie in his poem “At the Back o’ Bourke”. Ogilvie spent twelve years in Australia from 1889 to 1901, much of it at Belalie Station and around Bourke generally. So he saw and wrote about the Great Flood in the Darling of 1890 (see the plaque on the Post Office which records the height in the main street) and he also saw and wrote of the Federation Drought. (Plenty of Climate Change in those days too-Minister).
Like Henry Lawson he was very aware of the massive seasonal contrasts of the Australian bush and the effect that these have on the character of its inhabitants. Lawson wrote much of mateship, perseverance, steadfastness, consistency, generosity of hearts, and straightness.
These characteristics have been to the fore in the development of this project, not least in the contribution of the volunteers.
They were characteristics greatly admired by the Late Edward Scott, Chairman of John Swire and Sons and Clyde Agriculture, Companies represented here today by the current Chairman of both-Bill Rothery.
Edward Scott with the backing of his shareholders-the Swire family- and with strong support from Doug Anthony, approved $400,000 as seed capital for the Back o’ Bourke Centre. Edward loved Bourke and it is fitting that his memorial rock and plaque are located here.
After the initial enthusiasm the project fell on hard times and for a while people wondered whether it would ever be completed. Then thanks to the establishment of the Darling Matilda Way Sustainable Region, by the Howard/Anderson Government and with significant assistance from then Mayor Wayne O’Mally, we were, able to garner an additional $3m., to complete the project.
John Anderson, as the then local member and Deputy Prime Minister, was central to the establishment of the Sustainable Region.
The Sustainable Regions programme was about using taxpayer’s funds to stimulate economic activity in areas assessed as being disadvantaged. I think it is now called “nation building”.
My Advisory Committee, of which your Shire General Manager and our M.C. here today, Geoff Wise, was a key member, quickly recognised that the name of the game was acting as a catalyst to establish businesses that offered ongoing employment-in other words it was all about long term jobs. In the remote areas of far western Queensland and far western NSW that we were responsible for, tourism was seen as a primary opportunity.
One of the real benefits of tourism projects is that they have a flow-on effect. For example, the Back o’ Bourke Centre has a positive impact on Charleville’s Cosmos Centre and Longreach’s Stockmen’s Hall of Fame and vice versa. Many tourists travel to see the outback package. Furthermore, the economic impact flows beyond the specific tourism project itself, to all of the town’s service industries-accommodation, meals, fuel, etc. etc.
Bourke is quintessential inland Australia. It experiences the character building extremes of the Australian outback climate. It rolls with the punches, recognising that humans have no choice, but to adapt and respond to what nature deals out. Its people are resilient and its land has great recuperative power. It rewards those who are consistent and persistent.
Let me conclude by reading the last verse of Will Ogilvie’s “At The Back of Bourke”
“That’s where the wildest floods have birth
Out of the nakedest ends of Earth—
At the Back o’ Bourke
Where poor men lend and the rich ones borrow
It’s the bitterest land of sweat and sorrow—
But if I were free I’d be off tomorrow
Out to the Back o’ Bourke”!