Everyday Obituaries: Brendan ‘Bourkie’ Bourke



It is with great sadness I report the passing of a truly great character and friend of the Almanac, Brendan ‘Bourkie’ Bourke, who died a few weeks ago at the age of just 65, some eight months after being diagnosed with brain cancer. Our deepest sympathies go to Bourkie’s wonderful family and to his many friends, colleagues, team-mates and all of us fellow pot-in-hand bull shit artists who regarded him as a grand poo-bah in the genre.


Bourkie was a great bloke – in a way that the term ‘great bloke’ was created for Bourkie, and defined by Bourkie. He loved the Almanac and was a magnificent supporter of the Almanac concept in the early years when we were trying to kick things along. While the big boss at Penrite he organised a sponsorship for us which lasted while he remained at Penrite. When he moved on to consultancy work he was always full of ideas – and encouragement. “There’s a few things I reckon I can help with,” he used to say. “We better have a beer.”


I’m not sure where I first met Bourkie – but suddenly he was around us, with us, sipping big, laughing loud. Theorising. Pouring out affection for the Cats. He was part of the Branagan crew – I’ll let PJ explain how in the eulogy which follows. We had some sensational (long) lunches at PJ’s Sporting Club Hotel in Brunswick around 2006 and 2007 and 2008. And Bourkie and Big Kev and the Branagans – ark and Adrian and PJ (behind the bar pouring beers and gathering stories to be committed to memory, craft, and re-told beautifully – as you will see). And Bourkie was always in form, always loud. Always opinionated – only he didn’t ever qualify statements with “I think that…” For example he wouldn’t say “I think Joel Selwood is the hardest first year player ever”, he’d say “Joel Selwood is the hardest first year player.” And when challenged his explanation was “He just fuckin’ is.” He was there for the start of the season lunch in March 2007 when our guest was David Parkin who announced that it would be a very even year but he was certain of one thing: “Geelong can’t win the flag.” He was at our Grand Final Eve lunch that year when Tom Harley’s Dad was among the guests, and then his Mum arrived later. We welcomed her by getting her to ring Tom in the hotel and we had a chat to him in front of the crowd. Bourkie loved that premiership and the two that followed.


He was a great club man. And a great family man. But let me hand over to someone who really knew him, PJ Branagan. This is one of the best eulogies I’ve ever read – and if you can read it in PJ’s wonderful voice, good luck to you, because it makes it even better.


Here’s PJ:



My name is Paul Branagan. I am Helen Bourke’s brother and Bourkie’s brother-in-law and I am privileged to be counted as one of his best mates and to be asked by Bourkie to speak today.



After forty-two wonderful years of marriage Helen often boasts that she has been a Bourke longer than she’s been a Branagan. But Bourkie quickly became an integral and much appreciated part of our family to the point where we told Helen a few years ago that if they ever split up we wanted custody of Bourkie or at least visiting rights every second weekend.



A lot will be said about Bourkie today – a great father, husband, grandfather, uncle, businessman, footballer (the jury’s still out on that one) networker, conversationalist, colourful character, friend and mate. But let’s face it, he spent his whole life trying to annoy the hell out of us. He never wanted to hurt anyone but we all suffered the probing and taunting that Bourkie practised so proficiently and so often.



And of course, the main target was Helen. But she always had Bourkie’s measure. Our family shares a very strong bond with our New Zealand cousins. So, three years ago Helen, Bourkie and I went to Auckland for the wedding of Stacey O’Gorman, daughter of Sue and Curly O’Gorman. We stayed for a week and it was great. After three days, I asked Bourkie how he was enjoying it and Bourkie, always playing the henpecked husband, said that it was the first time he and Helen had had three days without the kids in thirty years and they’d blued with each other the whole time. Which was just not true.



But it might have been a reaction to an incident a few days before when the day before the wedding we’d had a massive gathering of the clan. Bourkie didn’t realise that Helen and I were in earshot and Bourkie, ever the salesman, was rabbiting onto someone from the group about his life – the kids, the new grandson, the house they were building, his job and their overseas trips. This culminated in Bourkie declaring, “And Helen and I are two of the happiest people on the planet!” To which Helen interjected, “And what planet are you on Bourkie?”



But Bourkie didn’t restrict his talents to our fair shores. He was global. In Canada 1994, the day after my wedding, a big group of us went out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in the trendy strip of Robson St in downtown Vancouver. There were thirty odd Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians and Americans and it was a pretty jovial and raucous group. However, in a secluded corner of the restaurant were two actors Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum who were in Canada making one of the Jurassic Park movies. We all pretended that they were not there leaving them to their intimate evening. But not Bourkie! Our generation best knew Jeff Goldblum for his starring role in a terrible Science Fiction Horror movie The Fly where Jeff Goldblum’s character morphs into this massive fly. Upon discovering their presence, Bourkie put his own slant on an old vaudeville joke yelling out, “Waiter there’s a fly in my restaurant!” Suffice to say Laura and Jeff left soon after. Bourkie could play the Ugly Australian so well!


Bourkie loved to fight above his weight and one night at a family dinner party in the home of our mother, Francie and our stepfather Sir Murray McInerney, mentioned Purgatory. Bourkie contended that Purgatory didn’t exist anymore but the judge disagreed. Bourkie, skilled debater that he was, went to his source and claimed that since Vatican II Purgatory no longer existed. Now, Bourkie might have been able to spell Vatican II but that would have been the extent of his research. However, you could bet your bottom dollar that Justice McInerney had read every scrap of the documents emanating from that historic Religious Summit. And he’d probably read them in Latin! But Bourkie stuck to his guns and so Sir Murray took the action he always took when his knowledge and judgement were challenged; “I’ll get the book!”



Now all of us Branagans would have cowered in deference to this man who was a Supreme Court Judge, a Knight of the Realm and had been on General Douglas McArthur’s staff during World War II. But not Bourkie. His mantra, “The bigger they are the harder they fall!” So, after reading two pages from one of the world’s leading Jesuits about the existence of Purgatory, the judge closed the book and looked at Bourkie as if to say, “I rest my case.” To which Bourkie replied, “So that proves just one thing, Murray.” And a very smug Sir Murray asked, “And what’s that Bourkie?” Bourkie responded, “You just can’t believe everything you read!”



Bourkie had the classic mother-in-law/son-in-law relationship with our mother Francie. Try as he might to gain approval, mum often said to Helen, “He’s a good husband and a good provider but…” Yet, when Francie was close to breathing her last and she hit her alarm button alerting Helen that she wasn’t well it was 5pm on a Friday when family members were at work, picking up kids or stuck in traffic. It was Bourkie who got there first and was with her when she passed away – probably much to her chagrin.



Gradually the rest of us arrived and eventually someone asked Bourkie if Francie had had any last words. Bourkie said she had and he then told the hushed family that Francie’s last words were,”Bourkie can you get your knee off my chest.” I think Francie would have enjoyed the irreverence.



Bourkie was always there for everyone in the family whether it was advice on computers, putting up a gazebo for one of our magnificent Christmas Days or confirming from the Bourkieputer how many goals Gary Ablett snared in the 1989 Grand Final.



And of course, if Bourkie was there so was Helen. And on behalf of everyone here I’d like to thank Helen for the way she looked after Bourkie in this tough time. She allowed us to have access to him and kept him comfortable and dignified as they both fought through this terrible ordeal. And on behalf of Helen and the family we’d like to thank the friends and family who gave their time to visit or look after Bourkie.



At this stage I should say that Bourkie touched all of our lives but more correctly he invaded all of our lives and we’re richer for it. I’m sure we’ll all miss him terribly.






And the footy record:



Brendan was an iconic supporter of Emmaus – St Leos. On numerous occasions, he was able to use his loud voice coupled with genuinely funny comments to put off opposition players shooting for goal (or even just trying to kick the ball). He was renowned for this both as a player or supporter on the boundary.


He was Captain/Coach of our inaugural Club XVIII in 1980 and also captained the side in 1981.


Games:  91 (3 in 1sts, 59 in 2nds and 29 in Clubbies) He played from 1975-83 (9 years)


Finals:  5 games, played in both our 1977 (2nd) and 1978 (3rd) reserves campaigns


Trophies: 1980 – 3rd Best & Fairest in Clubbies


About John Harms

JTH is a writer, publisher, speaker, historian. He is publisher and contributing editor of The Footy Almanac and footyalmanac.com.au. He has written columns and features for numerous publications. His books include Confessions of a Thirteenth Man, Memoirs of a Mug Punter, Loose Men Everywhere, Play On, The Pearl: Steve Renouf's Story and Life As I Know It (with Michelle Payne). He appears on ABCTV's Offsiders. He can be contacted [email protected] He is married to The Handicapper and has three kids - Theo13, Anna11, Evie10. He might not be the worst putter in the world but he's in the worst three. His ambition is to lunch for Australia.


  1. Terrific read Paul. A life on a page. That takes enormous skill.

  2. citrus bob says

    Well done Paul. Hope my eulogy is just half as good!
    Not knowing “Bourkie” before I do now. Wish I had met him at the football would have loved to hear what he thought of the mighty cats.

    Would love to see a book on eulogies such as this one day. Our sporting heroes were not always on the front or back page.
    Citrus B

  3. This is lovely stuff. Well done, Paul.

  4. Paul Daffey says

    This is magnificent, PJ. And great introduction, too, Darky,

    I can still hear Bourkey saying, That’s fucking magnificent, or, That’s fucking hopeless.

    He rarely walked the middle ground.

    Bourkie was larger than life in this life. I’m sure he’ll be larger than life in purgatory or wherever it is he finds himself in the next one as well.


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