Essendon Athletics legend, Bill Bourke died peacefully on Sunday 19th March aged 98 and 11 months. He was a member Athletics Essendon since 1926 and coach since 1932. A huge chapter in the club’s history has come to an end.
The facts relating to Bill Burkes life are extraordinary, but the real essence of the man cannot be captured by the facts alone. Bill, by his personal example of total fitness for life has truly inspired most of the more than 1,000 young athletes who have come under his influence over a period of 73 years. Many of those people, who range in age from 13 to 90 regarded Bill as one of the most influential and unforgettable people in their lives. Bill never regarded athletic training and physical fitness as an isolated part of life. It is a part, integrated into a persons total well being. Bill never preached, but in his quiet way he delivered a message which steered his athletes towards a better total lifestyle. The need for such aspects of life as respecting parents, no smoking, minimal alcohol, looking after ones spiritual side etc. were never openly stated by Bill Burke – they simply seem to be expected when in his presence.
The man who was to become a legend of athletics in Essendon in his own lifetime, Bill Burke joined Essendon Harriers as a 19 year old in 1926 when the club was exactly 10 years older than Bill, to the very day. Bill celebrated his 90th birthday at the clubs centenary celebrations in 1997. As a competing athlete, Bill was an essential member of the teams when Essendon was a champion cross country club winning Victorian 5 mile teams races in 1933 and 1934 and a 10 mile teams race in 1935.