Thursday, 18 June 2020
Bowden, Mr Michael John, OAM
Two years ago tonight, members of my local branch of the ALP gathered in Alice Springs to farewell Mike and Judy Bowden, who were leaving Alice Springs to live and be supported by family in Darwin. Sadly, Mike passed away on Easter Sunday, and Judy is now in care in Darwin. Mike was born on the eve of the 1947 VFL season, and VFL became an important of his life. He played in the Richmond premiership in 1969. But that wasn't his biggest part. Mike was raised a Catholic in postwar working-class Melbourne. Life centred on family, church, education and sport. He matriculated from St Kevin's College, then spent two years in the seminary at Werribee before deciding he could make a wider contribution to society by embracing the plight of the less well off.
He met Judith and they married in 1969, a few months after he had achieved premiership success with Richmond footy club and had obtained a teaching degree. A family followed, raised in Robinvale, in Victoria's north-west Sunraysia district, and they remained there until the early 1980s.
In 1983 the family of now five boys moved to Pukatja, in Pitjantjatjara-Yankuntjatjara community in the north of South Australia, where his daughter Majella was born in 1985. Mike believed in the return of lands, equity in education and its delivery, and a respect for uniqueness, diversity and that which had come before, and which remains. He moved to Alice Springs, firstly working at the Catholic high school, before moving to Tangentyere council as the community development manager. He later had stints as principal at the Ngukurr and Minyerri schools in the Top End. His final contribution was at O'Loughlin Catholic College, where his son Rhett is now principal.
Mike did great things, but, for him, it was the little things that mattered. He loved the pure contest that went with sport and the outdoors and he was a serious bike rider. He never stopped engaging with the community, saying in a final interview:
I hope my life has been lived in good relationships with all other humans, all other life. I love creation and everything in it.
Mike never allowed himself to be co-opted by others. He was a community leader, a recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia and a life member of the Australian Labor Party and the Richmond Football Club. In 2019, exploring the Arrernte concept of Altyerre and looking for the alignment between Christian doctrine and the Arrernte religious traditions, Mike was awarded a doctorate in theology, and, at the same time, he received delivery of the 2019 Richmond premiership cup.
Mike faced his diagnosis of motor neuron disease with courage and was an inspiration to all who knew him. As his end was near, he considered that he was waiting to get on the escalator. He caught that escalator to mystery on Holy Saturday, 11 April 2020. Mike is survived by his brother Frank and sister Joanne, his wife Judy, his six children—Sean, Rhett, Kane, Joel, Patrick, Charlie and Majella—and 18 grandchildren. I acknowledge the contribution and notes from Sean, Kane and Majella Bowden, which helped me with this speech.