12 February 2016

Kath Bourke, Canberra Citizen of the Year 1989

Kath Bourke, left, at a building committee meeting of Woden Senior Citizens Club, 1980.

“Of course we did community work then”, Kath Bourke said on receiving the 1989 Canberra Citizen of the Year award. “Everybody did.”
Kath arrived in Canberra in 1939, having paid her own removal expenses from Perth, to work in the War Cabinet secretariat.  As a woman she was ineliglbe for removal assistance.
On her marriage in 1943 she was required to resign from the public service, but special arrangements were made to allow her to continue working as a temporary officer until she returned to Perth. Incensed at this further inequity Kath joined the newly formed ACT branch of the National Council of Women. She fought first for equal pay, then in 1965 she was part of the successful three-woman deputation to Prime Minister Menzies to request the repeal of the marriage bar (which was lifted in 1966).  
As a wife and mother, Kath concerned herself with assisting in community services for families, including the establishment of Marymead.  In her time with the National Council of Women she was involved in the establishment of the District Nursing Service, the Emergency Housekeeper Service and the Goodwin Homes for the Aged.
Returning to work in 1958, she continued to be involved in the Churchill Fellowship, the Catholic Women's League, the Community Services Council of the ACT, the ACT Consultative Committee on Social Welfare, the community health services board of the ACT Health Authority, and the ACT Library Service advisory committee and later turned her energy to services for the aged. She was responsible in large part for the establishment of the Respite Care Program and the Carers’ Support Group. It was for these services that Kath was chosen as the inaugural Canberra Citizen of the Year in 1989.
Further biographical detail about Kath Bourke is available on our website, as is a history of the Canberra Citizen of the Year Award and a full list of awardees.
The 40th consecutive Canberra Citizen of the Year will be announced by the Chief Minister during Canberra Day Celebrations in March 2016.