Local Names: The Bourke family of Singleton

Meet four members of the family who helped shape our town over several generations and more than a hundred years.

The late 1800s: The Boy Barber of Singleton

Edward Bourke was just 13 when his father died and he took over his father’s business – a barbershop in Macquarie Street. Standing on a box to trim beards and cut hair, Edward kept his family afloat, earning himself the nickname “The Boy Barber” into the bargain.

Edward was also a keen swimmer and taught many locals to swim. It was reported on his death that he rescued 15 people throughout his life, including a mother and daughter whose car ended up in the flooded river. In 1875 the town’s citizens presented him with a gold watch to recognise these live-saving efforts.

Edward became an alderman soon after the town was incorporated as a municipality. When he died in 1923, the flag at the council building flew at half-mast to honour his service.

The early 1900s: Harry’s menswear and musical pursuits

Like his uncle, Edward, Harry Bourke also gave to his community.

In 1908, aged 19, Harry joined the volunteer fire brigade as a foundation member, raising funds for the brigade and eventually receiving a long service medal. He also helped finance the purchase of Singleton’s first ambulance and, later, the John Street ambulance station.

Although not musical, Harry immersed himself in the town band, putting up the money for land on Bowman Street where the band’s hall would be built. He was a life member of the band, along with his wife Grace and sons, Clive and Aubrey.

But where Harry really left his mark was in business.

In 1927 Harry opened a John Street institution: a menswear shop named simply “Harry Bourke”. Business took off and in 1946 he changed the name to “Harry Bourke and Sons” when Aubrey and Clive joined the business. Although the popular business is now gone, it is honoured in the name of Bourkes Arcade where, as many of you will remember, the business once stood.

The next generation: Clive, Aubrey and Mollie Bourke

Along with the family menswear store, Clive Bourke also made his mark as part of Singleton council. First elected to the council in 1950, he served nine terms as mayor and was deputy mayor for seven.

Clive’s time as mayor coincided with the devastating 1955 flood. In 1968 he received an OBE for services to the community, most particularly for his rehabilitation efforts after the flood, which included the construction of the levee bank.

Clive’s achievements while in council also included the establishment of the public library and a major upgrade to John Street. He served as secretary of the Chamber of Commerce for many years and was chair of many committees including Hunter Valley Local Government Association, Community Services Committee, Municipal Council centenary and countless others. In 1975 he received the National Medal for Service.

Clive’s brother Aubrey also gave to his community. Before the town had a proper blood bank, Aubrey donated blood on a regular basis, his universal O-positive blood helping countless people over the years. Aubrey’s wife, Mollie, was passionate about aged care and, due to her influence, land was bequeathed by Clive Gates for the building of the Alroy Hostel and Elizabeth Gates Nursing Homes.


Harry, Clive, Aubrey and Mollie were all inducted into the Wambo Coal Singleton Hall of Fame in recognition of their services to Singleton. And there are still a lot of Bourke descendants around town – including Angela, who works with OneAgency and is one of Harry’s great-grandchildren.

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