Vale Chris Bourne – Cultural Collections Digitisation Officer and Project Assistant dies aged 62

Chris Bourne with renown historian and teacher Ed Tonks

It is with great sadness that we convey the news that our wonderful friend and colleague, Chris Bourne, passed away in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 14 February 2020 aged 62.

Christopher Owen Bourne was born on the 31 July 1957. He was educated at Jame Ruse Agricultural High School and matriculated in 1976 at Pennant Hills High School. During the 1980s, an alumnus of Wright College in Armidale, without taking a degree, he later worked in the hospitality industry for many years as a waiter, freelance caterer, teacher, supervisor and restaurant manager before changing course and obtaining his Diploma of Library & Information Services at Newcastle TAFE in 2010. In that year he also volunteered at Mayfield Public Library as a librarian.

Chris Bourne

Chris began volunteering with the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections Team in January 2011 as a TAFE Certificate III in Recordkeeping student scanning photographs from the Dalton Family Archives.

In 2012 he was successful in attaining the first of a number of paid contracts, thanks to the donors to the Vera Deacon Regional History Fund, as a Project Assistant working on updating the listings and descriptive information on University records in TRIM.

Since then he worked on some of the most important and significant projects both as a paid Project Assistant and Digitisation Officer (and committed volunteer when the Vera Deacon Funds ran out). They included:

  • The Margaret Senior Archives. In 2015 he worked with one of our other digitisation officers, Natasha Schroder, digitising thousands of Margaret Senior’s natural history illustration art works on the large format plan scanner. See https://livinghistories.newcastle.edu.au/nodes/view/72938
  • Wangi Power Station Plans. In 2015 he also worked with Natasha accessioning approximately ten thousand plans of the Wangi Power Station as part of a New South Wales State Archives in the Bush Project.
  • The People & Place | Coal & Community Project. http://www.coalandcommunity.com/
  • The digitisation and indexing of the Anglican Children’s Homes records. Since 2014 this was a highly confidential project during which the Anglican Diocese Children’s homes records were digitised and indexed to speed up access to the care leavers, through the Samaritans Foundation. Chris was employed as Digitisation Officer digitising over 5,000 records, but even when the funds ran out, he continued work on them as a volunteer because he knew how important they were to the care leavers and their families. His work here has been invaluable. See: https://hunterlivinghistories.com/2019/06/05/childrens-homes-records/ 
  • The Dalton Family Archives. Chris worked closely with Warren and Lyn Dalton on Warren’s family archives featuring World War 1 soldiers. Chris was an expert on WW1 military history and he worked very hard on this project, doing much of the work outside the Library as well as in it.

In 2012 he wrote to Warren Dalton:

“My name is Chris Bourne and I work in the archives section of the Auchmuty Library at The University of Newcastle. I hope you don’t mind but Lyn Keily, my supervisor, gave me your email address and suggested that I might contact you in regards to James Dalton whom served with the 2nd Australian Field Artillery Brigade during World War 1.

When I first started working here my initial assignment was to go through all the boxes of material mainly compiled by William Dalton and donated by your family. Part of this task included scanning the fine collection of photographs, including many glass negatives, and posting them on FLICKR. A good portion of these images were of William’s time serving in the AIF during WW1 and funnily enough as I steadily worked through these images it dawned on me that, somewhere at some time,I had seen many of these before.

Curiosity led me to and old photo album that belonged to my grandmother, Grace Bourne (nee Park) and low and behold I found quite a number of the exact same photos. With further investigations I was able to ascertain that two of my great uncles, Wallace and Bruce Park had actually gone through Liverpool Military Training Camp and embarked to France with William in 1917. (Small World)

Because they were in a reinforcement contingent they did not seem to be in battle together but they certainly kept in touch as I also found amongst the material of William’s some brief correspondence between them during that time. Some of the pictures in both collections suggest that they probably visited some of the battle sites after the Armistice. Whether they stayed in touch after the War I do not know but it wouldn’t surprise me as they both (Bruce and Wallace) owned properties in and around Tamworth. Maybe that is something you could shed some light upon?

Consequently, my interest in the Dalton’s is close to the heart and I have done quite a bit of research into those war years. One name sticks out during this ghastly episode, that being of James Dalton. As you are probably well aware of, it is just incredible what he went through. To think he survived Gallipoli, although wounded during the terrible August assaults, then nearly two years in France/Belgium (twice wounded) and ultimately killed at the Battle of Broodsiende/Paaschendale is gut wrenching. I don’t know if William knew of his death before he sailed, but it must have been very difficult and sad time for him once he had arrived over there.

This year, like most years, we, in archives, endeavour to put a display up in the Auchmuty Library to commemorate Anzac Day. Over the past few years some of the photos and correspondence from William’s (Dalton Collection) have been exhibited and greatly admired by our visitors however this year I was hoping to go one step further. What we would love to do is a special section on James. The fact that he was firstly an “Original”, joined up in 1914, fought at Anzac Cove and then went over to France puts him within a very select group of the AIF (it’s a shame he didn’t make it back….the odds were against him unfortunately). He was also from a local Newcastle family.

I have scanned the internet including the Australian War Service Records and Military Diaries, to name a few,  and have found some interesting information that could help us to trace and compile a small tribute to James. There are also some details in the Dalton Collection but references to James are generally fairly scant and there is no trace of any correspondence written by or to him.

Hence, I was wondering if there was any letters or other type of information that directly relates to James that you may possess, or know of its existence, and would be willing to let us use for this display. Even a short history of James’s (too shorter) life would be very helpful.

There is much more that I could include in this email but it is probably too long already so it might be best just to leave it at this for now. I trust you have the gist of it. Even if you don’t have anything I may be able to use I would certainly be interested to hear from you in the future to perhaps discuss the relationship between William and both of my Great Uncles. I sometimes wonder if he (William) ever met my Grandmother or Grandfather (he was also in France 1917/18).

Look forward to your reply

Cheers
Chris Bourne”

The exchange that followed led to Chris’ story being considered (but never used) along with the Birdwood Flag and the Dalton WW1 Letters and box brownie photograph album by the producers of Tony Robinson’s Tour of Duty Newcastle Show for the History Channel in 2014. See: https://www.historychannel.com.au/shows/tony-robinsons-tour-of-duty/

His delight at even being considered for inclusion by the producers was expressed in an email “Amazing” 20 January 2014:

“Hi John,

Isn’t it incredible to think that just from originally sitting down to scan a collection of old negatives that such a task could lead us on an interesting journey that could all culminate with an ABC production……I may not have seemed too excited over the phone but, let me tell you, I’m tingling all over right now.

Without going overboard, but it may add some spice to the story, is the mention of a guy called Beeston, I think, (Lyn knows) in James Dalton’s letters. He is a Newcastle local and we have a published account of his time at Gallipoli (he was a surgeon in the medical corps) buried in the “A” section…you are probably aware of this. It is not the greatest book ever written but it gives an insight into the conditions on the Gallipoli Peninsula and is all part of this journey, they obviously knew each other quite well. I don’t think there would be too many copies of this book around.

Won’t ramble on any more today but should be at the library on Wednesday if my Uncle is okay. He is not the best at present with a chest infection and is very incoherent, I am about to head up to the hospital.

Thanks for the call this morning, will be interested to hear what Warren and Lyn Dalton have to say. Do you think I should give Gwen Hamment a ring??

Ciao

Chris”

Chris had a funny side. You could tell when he was happy because he would go quiet, with a focused gaze, sporting a smile at you. His rugged face, matched by his deep gravelly voice, may have, in another life, have launched him a great career as a late night radio DJ. He’d appear in the morning, after a swim at the Forum, with a copy of the Saturday Paper and shaking his head at what the politicians had managed to stuff up that week. He loved Lindt chocolates, and cake, and regularly brought in a supply of ANZAC cookies for everyone to share; he definitely had a sweet tooth and a generous heart.

Back in 2013 he complained for weeks and weeks of a boil on his backside (caused by a cyst) that was giving him great discomfort. We did our best to give him work that kept him on his feet, and not sitting down. Finally, relief came, and we received the following email under the title of “Good Decision” on 8 November 2013:

“Hi John,

Think I was very wise to have bolted to Sydney on Tuesday. The damn boil only grew bigger throughout the day and by the time I went to bed (sort of) I could not sit down and the pain was awful. Fortunately my doctor was able to lance it early yesterday morning and the relief was explosive and messy but immediate and delightful.

None the less, I now have a bloody great crater remaining and must keep it open for the next few days by sitting in hot salt water baths twice a day and consuming buckets of antibiotics. By all accounts I should be fine by next week, the only activities I won’t be able to participate in is swimming and body balance.

Have a good weekend and will see you next week.

Ciao for now

Chris”

Chris faced many personal and health issues during his working life with us. On the 11 May 2016, his brother, Tim,  passed away unexpectedly aged 57. His mother, to whom he was very close, suffered from dementia in her last years and passed away just before Christmas in 2017. His uncle Dave, who was like a father to him, had a lingering death in late 2017 – early 2018, dying in February 2018. Chris cared for both his mother and uncle, traveling back and forth from Sydney to Newcastle. And, while all this was going on, Chris was also diagnosed with lung cancer. He was treated for it, undergoing many chemo treatments, and made a complete recovery, but was being screened frequently.

During 2019 he started having severe blackouts, and complaining of incessant shoulder and foot pain, of which the doctors were unable to find a cause or a cure.

Chris moved to Newcastle so he could work with us more easily, but his illness meant he wasn’t been able to come in as regularly as he could. He loved swimming at the Forum, and would often call in to do a few hours of volunteer work when he could manage it.

In our experience we found him to be all of the following:

  • Reliable
  • Honest
  • Generous
  • Kind
  • Diligent
  • Trustworthy
  • A great team player
  • Excellent when dealing with the members of the public
  • Keen to learn
  • Very competent
  • Willing to work on any projects and to undertake any training
  • Totally professional
  • An excellent worker
  • Dedicated and committed
  • A good friend

And we all miss him greatly. The biggest shock for us is not being able to ever see him again, or talk with him. It makes us mindful to always remember to take the moment to have that cup of coffee, that chat, take the time, as you never know when it may be our last. Don’t take anyone for granted, and do the best to make the world around you a better place. Chris has left an impression on all who knew him, and we send or sincere condolences to his family and friends.

Vale Chris Bourne, 1957-2020, we thank you for all your years of work and dedication to the University of Newcastle and its communities.

From all your University of Newcastle colleagues and friends.

The Celebration of Chris’ Life was held in the North Chapel, Northern Suburbs Crematorium,
199 Delhi Rd, North Ryde on Wednesday 19th February 2020 at 1.15pm.
Funeral Tributes: https://tributes.smh.com.au/obituaries/128075/christopher-owen-bourne/

At the funeral the family were very happy with the dedication, they printed it out in full, and gave it out to all the attendees. Terry, one of his Newcastle friends, spoke of Chris’ amazing generosity to others. He noticed a woman sobbing uncontrollably and in despair on a seat; he went up to her and asked her what was wrong, she said she was homeless, had no idea what she was going to do. Chris quietly walked away, to the bank and withdrew $500, went back and gave it to her. She asked, “what am I going to have to do for this?” He said “nothing”. “How am I going to repay you” she asked. He replied, “You don’t have to repay me.”  We lost a wonderful guy, and we are all going to be the poorer for it. I was very proud of our Cultural Collections team yesterday hearing the impact we made on his life, and the impact he made on ours.

Take care of one another, and don’t take anyone for granted.

DOWNLOAD
Remembering the Incomparable
Christopher Owen Bourne “Chris” “Digger”
31 July 1957 – 14 February 2020 (1.6 MB PDF)

Here is a copy of the Eulogy to Chris, delivered on the day by his brother Michael Bourne, on behalf of the Family (reproduced with permission):

“Christopher Owen Bourne was born on the 31 July 1957 to John and Betty Bourne. He was the second of two kids, Susan – was his older sister and they were soon followed by Tim in 1959 and me in 1960.

John and Betty Bourne with kids Susan, Chris and Tim (with Michael yet to be born in 1960)

We lived in Pennant Hills on a block that largely encompassed the land that would soon become Pennant Hills High School. Our time as kids was spent exploring the school as it was being built, running through the bush with our dogs, Summer visits to the beach, Spring holidays in Avoca and of course playing an enormous amount of sport. Ours was at times a chaotic household but we were a loving and close family.

Chris had always been a bit of rogue and this emerged at quite a young age and here’s an example. With 3 boys -backyard cricket was a big favourite and it was always as if we were playing a test match.

Chris took it seriously and was annoyed one day when the neighbour picked up a stray ball that flew over the fence and despite Chris’ polite requests wouldn’t throw it back.  We were abandoning play when Chris told us to come and watch.

We knew the neighbour was meticulous about his lawn; he’d mow it with an expensive golf course type mower with a roller on the back so the lawn would be left with pristine stripes. Chris crept into the hedge dividing our houses and waited patiently and undetected until the mower moved about a metre from him. Unknown to us he had a hand full of mandarins and with great precision rolled these directly under the roaring mower. An explosion of peel and pulp covered the lawn all around the mower ruining the pristine finish – our neighbour let out a scream of shock which turned quickly to anger as Chris revealed himself and calmly walked away.

Chris was educated at James Ruse Agricultural High School and matriculated in 1976 at Pennant Hills High School. During his school years he excelled at sport and played representative Rugby, Cricket, Soccer and he was an excellent swimmer. He also excelled in having the most beautiful girl friends. He was definitely a fashion trend setter (or so he thought) unconventional, and as one example back then in the 70’s’he rolled his pants up and wouldn’t wear socks – normal now but no-one did it at the time. We thought he was crazy but he definitely looked cool.

As many of you know Chris was a keen punter his whole life and loved very few things more than donning a smart jacket with the turf club membership hanging off it, a countryesque tie and heading out to Randwick or Rosehill – usually with Tim at his side. These were great days.

During the 1980s, Chris studied Economics at Wright College at the University of New England, Armidale, he later studied hospitality at Ryde College and was soon recognised as one of Australia’s finest student waiters; later being asked to judge the national student waiters’ competition.

Chris worked in the hospitality industry for many years as a waiter, Maître ‘d, supervisor, restaurant manager and a teacher.

Chris and I often worked together in the early days; our years working at what was then known as The Newport Arms – with Tim also working there, were definitely a wonderful time in all our lives. Now, we all know Chris was a character and he would often boast that he could take a dinner order for a table of 10 without having to write anything down. This was pretty much the holy grail. No-one believed him and one night I dared him to do it. We had to laugh as we watched him take the order, the disbelief of the customers as he just stood there listening and not writing anything down and then seeing their appreciation and delight as every meal was delivered perfectly. He pranced around and carried on to make sure we all knew and even got some applause.

Chris loved these years particularly as a teacher – he would always tell us how proud he was of his students, Clearly, they also loved and appreciated his  skill and care as indicated by the numerous cards, gifts and engraved trophies of thanks he received from them.

Chris had a lifelong love of reading. No doubt this came from Mum who encouraged all of us. He particularly loved reading the paper on the weekend; it was home delivered quite early. If I beat him to it he’d not stop nagging me and standing over me until I could hand the whole thing over. I made the mistake many times of talking to him when he was reading and although it may have just been the two of us in a room – he wouldn’t hear a word. He always had several books on the go. One would always be an historical war book. He had a prized collection of these which he added to over many years and he would read them and re-read them.

He had a sharp intellect and ignored conventional wisdom on many subjects. He trusted his own views and researched to support them.

In his early post school years’, he was a copy boy with Fairfax and had he not been laid off due to downsizing he may well have been a journalist as he was all his life an eloquent and engaging writer.

With this love of reading and a connection to the military and the world wars via dad who was a sub lieutenant in the navy and fought in WW2 and his grandfather and great uncles on dad’s side who fought in WW1; Chris developed a deep passion for war history – particularly WW1. During his school years he would enthusiastically and with great detail and insight recite stories from WW1. He did this so often and with such appreciation for the stories and the courage and sacrifice of the subjects that he earned the nick name “Digger” which stuck.

This love of reading and his passion for research led Chris to obtain a Diploma of Library & Information Services at Newcastle TAFE in 2010.

Chris began volunteering with the University of Newcastle’s Cultural Collections Team in January 2011.

In 2012 he was successful in attaining the first of a number of paid contracts as a Project Assistant.

Following this he worked on some of the most important and significant projects for the Cultural Collections Team both as a paid Project Assistant and Digitisation Officer and committed volunteer.

They were all vital pieces of work which he loved and appreciated working on but the one he was most proud of was the Dalton Family Archives. Chris worked closely with the Dalton family on the archives which featured World War 1 soldiers.

Chris by then was considered by the library as an expert on WW1 military history and to his enormous surprise, following his own research, discovered a military service link between our great uncles and William Dalton, who compiled the information Chris was cataloguing.

Chris’s work was used as a display on ANZAC Day at the University and was seriously considered but unfortunately not used for a show on The History Channel regarding Newcastle locals who served at war. That this piece of work was even considered gave Chris a great sense of joy. It was a wonderful moment for him and we were all very proud of him and happy for him – particularly his Mum Betty.

Chris enjoyed more years of service at Newcastle University making some great friends along the way. Please read the article kindly published by the university about Chris which has been handed out today – it is a beautiful piece which I have borrowed from for this eulogy. Reading it I am immensely thankful to them. I love their descriptions of Chris – they truly knew him and I know he felt loved and appreciated by them and he definitely returned this affection.

Chris was a bit of a rogue. He was a raconteur, an excellent and healthy cook, a wine lover, beer lover, rugby league lover – he supported the Rabbitohs, a punter, he had a keen sense of social justice and loved his fellow man and woman, he loved dancing and he loved music – Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, classical. In his home at Newcastle he had an old turn table and an enviable vinyl collection.

Chris was a wonderful brother, a great and loyal friend, a super uncle, a caring and respected worker, a loving son to both Mum and Dad and I cannot express how proud and thankful we are to him for the way he supported Mum and our uncle Dave in there last years. He had a huge and generous heart and although he became agitated and disappointed with certain causes and issues he did because he cared deeply for the common man and for our planet – he was a gentle, gentle person.

Like all of you I can’t believe he has just gone. I hope there is another place where we can embrace again. To feel his warmth, his good humour, his total acceptance and his unflinching love. To hear his beautiful voice, see him dance a little jig which he would often do. In his last weeks he made a real point of saying each time I spoke with him which thank fully was quite often – I love you bro, I love you mate – he would say. I knew he meant it – I always knew he meant it. I’d say it back never thinking for a moment that time was running out. Maybe he had a feeling.

Chris with sister Sue, and brother Michael.

In these circumstances regret will try and creep in – but I don’t want regret. I’m simply grateful. Grateful Chris was our brother, I’m grateful Chris was my friend, I’m grateful we had nearly 60 years of sharing our lives. The good times, the not so good times, hearing his stories, laughing together, crying together. He had many friends as evidenced today and he cared deeply about all of us and he felt privileged to be loved by us.

Chris was a unique and wonderful individual – he was honest, bold, courageous, loyal, funny, quirky, loving, protective, inquisitive, and many other things – above all else – an individual. He loved his way and lived his way – I’m very happy for that but sad that our world has lost a spark, a glow – it’s lost a bit of colour, the music has lost some melody. We love you Chris and we miss you like crazy.”

 

A Tribute to Chris

By Justin (Justie) Fleming (Chris’ nephew)

 

Me and my sisters and my brother and my cousins will remember Chris forever, as a wonderful uncle.

Times spent with Chris when we were kids were joyful times. Times spent at Pennant Hills with Chris, Mum and Dad and Mike & Birgit (later, Hannah and Sienna) and Nanny and Grandpa and Tim and Sharon and Cal and Ryan and Sarah, and Anne and John and Sal & Rob and Mrs Mac, were really joyful times!

Birgit recalled a story the other day about when Mum and Dad asked Chris to babysit me and my brother Bim. I was 7, Bim was 4. The expectation from Mum and Dads point of view, I think, was that the 3 of us remain at 88 Boundary Road. Chris had other ideas… Bim and Chris and I went from Boundary Road, to the pub, to the tab, back to the pub and then back to the tab and then back to the pub. We sat up at the bar (perhaps even on the bar), drank fizzy drink, had 50 cents each way bets, ate chips and chatted to locals. Certainly now, and probably then things like this are considered irresponsible! But for two young boys, occasions like this, with our uncle Chris, were the spice of life…. and are now fond memories.

We have memories of Chris being so happy to see us, of loving our company (or at least pretending too!) and we have memories of Chris making us laugh! He was caring and funny and we loved him!

Chris’s life, however, was not without its turbulent years… But he was never without love for his family!

And in Chris’s latter years his love for his family was ever so strong. The care that he showed Nanny and Uncle Dave in their final years was a shining example of devotion and it greatly improved their lives at that time. I recall very clearly Nany remarking not long before she died that Chris was ‘a wonderful man’!

Our uncle Chris, just like the rest of us, was not perfect. And nor did he pretend to be. But he was kind and he was loving, and he was loyal. To his family, to his old friends and of course, to his new friends.

This is short poem that we put together as a tribute to Chris.

 

You lived your life with Colour

And you loved us along the way

An uncle, a son, a friend, a brother

We farewell here today

They’re a barstard these twists and turns of fate

That bring us all here like this

Forced to go on without our mate

And heartbroken for a man we are going to miss

Fiercely loving and kind and loyal

And a ratbag, if we’re speaking of fact

Your life, at times, it did uncoil

But you left this world with things in tact

And you left with your family around you

And you left memories for us to hold

Stories about you, over one or two

Will be relived and enjoyed and retold

We’ll talk about your fashion

Your sense of humour and your flare

We’ll talk about your generosity and your passion

It’s just a bugger you won’t be there!

And your love for us, we all well knew

And it brings a tear to our eye

We were so bloody lucky to have you
Thankyou, we love you, goodbye

Rest in peace mate!

 

Chris Bourne, with colleagues Mr Peter Trenbath, Dr Edward Bridle, Dr Ann Hardy and Dr Amir Mogadam in Cultural Collections, Auchmuty Library, University of Newcastle.


Reminiscences

From Zane Mecalfe, Archives Officer (18/2/2020):

“I’m absolutely floored. The news comes doubly as a shock considering he was probably the most physically fit person I knew. He never looked like he was in his 60’s, he looked like someone who just hit their 40’s a little hard – all due to the swimming no doubt.

He was a good bloke. He’d always make a point of shaking your hand or giving you a friendly clap on the shoulder when he came and went. He was always great with people. I bumped into him walking through Newcastle with a friend and he made quite an impression on her all in the space of 5 minutes. I’d give my left arm to be as warm and welcoming and generally good with people as he was. I remember a lot of friendly sporting rivalry between him and Anne Kay, Anne always backing her Roosters, Chris always betting against them and losing more than half the time. It was always fun to watch.

I’ve read the blog post and I don’t recognise the man in the photo without the pony tail! I’ve never known him any other way.”


One thought on “Vale Chris Bourne – Cultural Collections Digitisation Officer and Project Assistant dies aged 62

Leave a Reply