A Victoria University researcher saw the final piece laid in a puzzle he has worked on for nearly a decade after the remains of the final two Australian servicemen missing from the Vietnam War were found last week.
Jim Bourke, a Masters of Arts researcher at VU’s Footscray Park Campus, is studying the reasons the bodies of six Australian soldiers declared missing-in-action and left on Vietnam’s battlefields some 40 years ago were not searched for, recovered and repatriated.
That is, until Jim decided to take on the inertia of governments and red tape, both in Australia and abroad, to help bring those bodies home by establishing Operation Aussies Home in 2002.
His volunteer team of navigators, surveyors, forensic experts, and linguists used witness accounts, military maps, and ground-penetrating radar to conduct several in-country investigations to locate the remains of two of the missing men in April 2007, a third in November 2007, and a fourth, in August 2008. Jim ensured the remains were returned home for burial.
In April 2009, searchers found the wreckage of the bomber flown by the last two still missing. Finding their remains within that wreckage this week completes Jim’s years of lobbying, searching and recovery efforts.
A Vietnam veteran himself, the 66-year-old Boronia grandfather said he established the organisation after putting himself in the position of the families who never knew what happened.
“I could see that many of the families were still hurting,” he said. “One of the widows hadn’t even unpacked her husband’s trunk that was sent back to her in 1965, because she was still waiting for him to come home.”
As a way to document his considerable work, Jim decided this year to extend his role from that of participant to academic researcher, by embarking on his Masters degree.
Under the supervision of Professor Robert Pascoe and Adrian Threlfall of VU’s School of Social Sciences and Psychology -- who teach a first-year unit at VU on Australians at War – Jim is now piecing together a collective case study that will explore the social, cultural and political factors that delayed the searches for the missing six. He also wants to illuminate the culture of death and grieving prevalent at the time.
Jim earned a gallantry medal after the Vietnam War, the RSL ANZAC of the Year award in 2008, and a Member of the Order of Australia in 2009 for work with Operation Aussies Home.
Jim Bourke is available for interview. Mobile: 0412 826 744.
Ann Marie Angebrandt, Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University
Ph: (03) 9919-5487; mobile: 0403 556 001