Michael J Bowden, OAM, was a unique man who lived a full Australian life; physically strong and intellectually determined, he was defined not by strength but by decency, according to an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald.
Raised staunchly Catholic in post-war working class Melbourne, his early life was built on common Australian Catholic footings – childhood, education, sport, church and family; moving through Holy Eucharist in Chadstone, to matriculation at St Kevin’s College to the Catholic seminary at Werribee, this pattern would soon break its arc.
After two years in the seminary, he decided the singularity of religious life was not a fit with his drive to make a wider contribution to society and to embrace the plight of the less well off – with the concept of social justice and principles of fairness becoming constant guides in his life, he sought Robert Frost’s road less travelled.
After the seminary, he met the love of his life Judith and they married in 1969, a few months after he achieved premiership success with the Richmond Football Club.
In a remarkable few years, Mike had courted and wed Judy who would remain his constant companion for the next half-century, obtained a teaching degree which would be his core profession for life and achieved the highest sporting accolade available to a young Melburnian – a VFL premiership victory with the Richmond Football Club. A family would soon follow and when offered a senior coaching role with North Melbourne in 1973 most men would have found their pathway set.
With a growing family he returned to teach and coach at Red Cliffs in Sunraysia before in 1983 he moved his family of now five boys to Pukatja, an Aboriginal community of Pitjantjatjara and Yankuntjatjara people on the South Australian and Northern Territory border, about 150 kilometres from Uluru. His daughter, Majella, was born there in 1985.
So had begun a near half-century contribution to the lives and the causes of Aboriginal people. 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.
A recipient of the Medal of the Order of Australia, a life member of the Australian Labor Party and the Richmond Football Club, he was archetypically Australian; a sporting hero; with sporting hero children; he had friendship and respect Australia-wide; a beautiful wife who balanced and loved him in every way; around him were political and community leaders who respected and followed his guidance.
In 2019 exploring the Arrernte concept of ‘Altyerre’, looking for the alignment between Christian doctrine and the ancient religious traditions of the Arrernte people, Mike was awarded a doctorate in theology. And at the same time, he received delivery of the 2019 Richmond Premiership Cup.
Mike Bowden: Defined by decency, not strength (Sydney Morning Herald)
Mike and Judy Bowden (Supplied)