Jim Bourne: Militant Gentleman

Jim Bourne, Balmain boy, former Newcastle port secretary of the Stewards' Union and veteran activist died peacefully on Friday October 16.

Long time friend and shipwright Jack Catley was at the hospital on Jim's last day.

"He went out like a gentleman," said Jack.  "A courageous gentleman.  I was there with him and his wife, Rose.  The doctor said he could last a bit longer if he got some treatment for the cancer, but Jim said no.  The doctor knew, Jim knew, his wife knew, I knew, there wasn't long to go.  He died 20 minutes after I left the hospital.

 "'I'm going now, Jim,' I said.   'What do you want to back in the Caulfield Cup?'  Jimmy had been saying he fancied a horse called C'est la guerre, but as I was going he decided to go out on Harris Tweed.  I went to the pub and backed him 1000 to 20."



National Secretary Paddy Crumlin agreed. "Jimmy was a pretty good tipster so I took them both in my multiples."

The National Secretary said Jim was a remarkable bloke. "He was a barnacled-on waterfront identity, who came from a respected family and worked in just about any occupation that was going around the place.  Like many he ended at sea as a steward, became an official and played an important role in the amalgamation between the Seamen's Union and the Stewards' Union due to the respect he was held in and the union activism he was capable of.

"Jimmy was a political bloke in the best sense," said Paddy.  "As a worker he believed in the working class movement as the best way to get going forward.  Like many knock arounds, he knew what it was like to be helped along in the tough times and consequently spent his life helping others.  Jim would always give you a fair go and would go the distance if he got one in return.  He is greatly missed by his many comrades and friends of our union and movement."

Jim was 75 years old.

Retired steward George Rowbottom remembers Jim from the Balmain shipyards some 30 years back.

"He worked as a painter and docker, waterside worker, then went to sea," George recalls.  "The sea took him to Newcastle in the seventies where he became port secretary for the Stewards' Union.  He played a significant part in the amalgamation with the then Seamen's Union, and then went back to sea.  Most of the stewards thought at the time that the SUA should have picked him up as an official.


"Jim always remained committed to the union.  He gave his services to catering for many functions run by the MUA.  He prided himself working hand in hand with then SUA branch secretary John Brennan and local identity Billy Bodenham (both deceased)."

When Jim retired in the early nineties he became very involved with the veterans. 

"He played a huge role in the Patrick dispute," said George.  "He was almost run over by a bus because he stood in front of it and refused to budge.  He never missed a picket line.  Jim was a hands-on man - he did all the hard yards.

"Jim would be the most reliable, dependable, trustworthy bloke you would met.  His word was his bond.

"We were on the same ship together.  My partner Joan was a smoker and they enjoyed a cup of coffee together.  One day Joan said 'Jim you should meet my sister, Rose.'

"Jim married Rose and she was there right to the end.  They settled at Marks Point.  We were all close knit."

Pat Geraghty, long-time secretary of the Seamen's Union recalls Jim's contribution to amalgamation.

 "Jim was a Balmain boy.  He grew up on the waterfront, went to sea and became a militant steward.  I knew Jim a long way back, some 40 years ago.  He always supported amalgamation with the Seamen's Union.  He was one of the stewards' leaders and worked closely with SUA branch secretary John Brennan.  After amalgamation he played a good role settling things down.

Baked rabbit

"Jim did a great job for stewards.  He was known all over the coast as a good, solid, union activist.  He was a great mixer with the rank and file.  Jim was involved in all the social and welfare activities, helping golf days and at the Anchors ceremony.  He was a well-respected man and would always look after anyone who was in troubled times.  We christened him the baked rabbit because of his slender appearance."

Robert Coombs, former Sydney Branch Secretary, now member of state parliament sailed with Jim as a young seafarer.

"I knew him a very long while," said Robert.  "Jim was a great shipmate, a great union delegate and great organiser for the union.  He was a very honest, decent, principled and intelligent person - and good company on the golf course.  Jim wasn't a burglar."

MUA NNSW Branch Secretary Jim Boyle described Jim as one of nature's true gentlemen. 

"He will be remembered for his tireless efforts working for the branch and the veterans," said Jim.   "He organised all our Christmas parties, picnic days, all the functions and rallies - anything we did, Jim was there.  He was a really great bloke.


"Jim carried on with great courage knowing he was dying of cancer.  It was very unfortunate.  News of his illness came not long after he was winding back on branch work and was about to put his feet up.  We made him a presentation last Christmas party, commending him for all the work he'd done for us.  It was a real tragedy.  One minute he was in the office talking to us, the next he was too crook to be seen.  He was only given months to live then he was gone.  It was a real shock."

Harry Black of the MUA veterans, remembers Jim from his Balmain days.

"He was one of the best people I've ever came across," said Harry.  "He was always most helpful and obliging.  I was trying to get myself elected to state parliament and Jim came to where I was speaking wanting to help.  He went away and did a wonderful job.  I didn't even know him at the time.  Jim was such a good person to get on with.  Such a good person."

Jack Catley remembers the election.

"Jimmy was handing out leaflets and supporting Harry outside the Balmain Catholic Church," he said.  "The priest was out the front saying goodbye to everyone and saw Jimmy.  'What are you doing, Jim?' he asked.  Jim showed him the leaflets and said he was handing them out for Harry. 'He's a communist, Jim,' the priest said good-naturedly.  'He's not one of our flock.  You'll get a suspension barracking for the wrong cause.'

"We were kids together in Balmain," said Jack.  "Jim was in the same class as my brother at the Christian Brothers.  The Bournes were a big family and a real landmark in Balmain.  There's a big crowd of them even today and they're well respected.  Some of them have moved around, but they still have their HQ there.

"Jim was a social person.  He was sadly missed even before he went.  He used to arrange golf day and the old timers' do.  It's a lot of work - months and months of preparation.  Now it's up to someone else."

Harsh conditions

In the eulogy at Jim's funeral, brother Ray described Jim as a proud man, a man of courage and wisdom, a man who cared.

"Born in Balmain on 16/08/1934 at the end of the Depression years, first son of James Bourne and Ethel Fletcher and brother to Monica, Jim lived in extremely harsh and difficult conditions throughout his childhood in Balmain, where the family had merely enough money to survive and often depended on handouts from friends and relatives to have the most basic of meals and clothing," said Ray.

"Jim went to School at Balmain Christian Brothers and quickly became known as 'The Greyhound' for his athletic and boxing skills having won several 'fleaweight' boxing bouts. He commanded great respect from his peers."

But Jim didn't see "eye to eye" with the teachings and discipline of the Catholic Church in those days.

"He was constantly drawn to the union movement from his early upbringing while watching his father and uncles work on the waterfront as shipwrights, boilermakers & ironworkers and he joined them at Chapman's Slipways and Mort's Dock as an ironworker labourer," said Ray.  "The seeds were sown here in the working class suburb of Balmain, where you had to be tough, stand your ground and fight for your rights."

During the war, Jimmy wound up at Gan Gan army kitchen at Port Stephens where he learnt to make his now famous "cucumber, onion & vinegar" salad - the early beginnings of a career in marine stewarding.

"In the early 1960s, after attending union picket lines and protest marches in Wollongong in support of the local coal miners and steel workers in their fight for better conditions, Jimmy decided to spend the next several years in Wollongong making new friends and comrades in the union movement and eventually wound up on the Port Kembla wharves," said Ray.

He then became a marine steward on the passenger and container ships.

Jim started coming to Sydney to pick up his jobs on the ships at the roster in Kent St, through the Sydney port office.  He decided to move back to Sydney for short while and then on to the Central Coast .

"He'd become a highly accomplished political and social debater at this point, and so began many years of family discussions, debating the politics of the nation and its many colorful political figures, which ultimately wound up in a lecture about rights of the average worker.  And it seems he was always right - he knew his stuff, especially political history.  He was a great teacher and mentor and taught us all some very important qualities of life.

"In about 1990 Jim sold his house at Gwandalan and moved to Sydney to live in Guildford with myself, my wife Yvonne and our daughter Clare, while still going off to sea working on the Caltex oil tankers with his mates.  The days he shared with us in Guildford will be cherished in our hearts forever."

"Jim and Rose later settled into their lovely villa home at Marks Point in about 2001.

"We thank you all for your support and unconditional friendship as we farewell a wonderful man, a proud Australian, a proud unionist and Labor Party supporter, a fighter till the end. He will be sadly missed but forever loved. "  

Remember When

 A Poem by Russell Noakes, 2009

Remember when in childhood days

The nation's questions did but confound,

And a man with principle in his heart

Brought ideas and thought and reason to every answer found.

Remember when they drew the marbles,

And frightened young men rued their very birth,

And in Vung Tau they raised the seven-pointed star

Above a napalm-blistered Earth.

Remember when they sent the men to save the oil;

And the distance of the ships from war? Oh, a good five hundred miles!

And, undaunted, the union man told them all;

That's two minutes by missile.

Remember when they locked the gates.

And amid the children's tears,

Hooded men brought dogs and chains,

And the Government brought the fear.

Honest John and all his running dogs

Have gone by history's way,

But the words of our brother, uncle, comrade live on:

"The MUA will be here to stay".

Remember thus that evil prospers

When good men do little more than nought.

And in the face of great injustice,

It was Jimmy Bourne who stared them down; and he beat the bloody lot.