The dates might look strange, but note it was delivered nine years ago. On re-reading it I like what I said about Gail and Bourke graziers.
Your article on Will Ogilvie and Bourke (Western Herald-April 12) reminded me of the speech I gave at the Official Opening at the Back of Bourke Centre in October 2009. I quote some extracts-
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.
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!
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?’ ”.
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.
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”!