By Phil Jarratt
Just over three months since the protests of his many friends resulted in a quarantine exemption that allowed him to come home to die, John Bowie – the bloke in yellow – passed away at home in his beloved Noosa last week, surrounded by friends, his dog, Buster at his side, in the loving arms of wife Chris.
A broken-hearted Chris Bowie told Noosa Today: “It was so amazing to spend the last three months saying goodbye to everyone. Our 45th wedding anniversary was on New Year’s Eve and I think he had that goal in mind, to be here for that. He was such a strong-willed man. I managed to get him to the beach or the river every day up until last weekend.”
Born in West Wyalong, NSW in 1947, John grew up at the beach after his teacher father was transferred to Port Macquarie, and developed a lifelong love of surfing. He also became an excellent rugby player, joining Gordon Rugby Club in Sydney after he finished school, and later playing for the combined services team while serving in the RAAF at Williamtown. After his air force days he played first grade rugby for Stockton and Merewether, prompting an old Newcastle rugby hand to comment: “I can honestly say that pound for pound I never saw a better centre than John. His tackling and strength was unbelievable.”
John met Chris in 1970 and they married on New Year’s Eve in 1975. She became a teacher, he a signwriter, and after a few years moving around, they made their home back in Port Macquarie, where John built their dream home in 1981.
From an early age John had been a talented cartoonist, often doing funny drawings of his teachers in primary school. But at Port Macquarie he started cartooning in earnest and soon had black and white cartoons published in Australian Playboy, before progressing to full-page colour cartoons. This writer, who was Playboy editor at the time, was a particular fan of his work.
The Bowies moved to Noosa in 2002 and, says Chris: “John started a love affair with the place that never waned. He loved the surf, the people, the strong sense of community, and he did his utmost to engage as many people as possible. Telling jokes and making people laugh was his main aim in life, all the while dressed in his sunny yellow outfits.”
John was hard to miss around Noosa, pedaling his little yellow fold-up bike to beach or river every morning, usually with Buster in a trolley behind him, Chris bringing up the rear. Everyone he met was an instant mate, and his unfailing good humour was infectious.
But the Bowies were rocked in the middle of last year when John was diagnosed with cancer, and after chemotherapy to reduce the tumour, they flew to Sydney for specialist surgery. Unfortunately the cancer was too advanced to be removed and John was given a terminal prognosis. With little time left, John’s greatest wish was to get home to Noosa, so the Bowies applied for a hotel quarantine exemption but were rejected.
That was when John’s army of Noosa mates stepped up. After their “Yellow Shirts For John” Main Beach protest hit the headlines, the case was reviewed and John came home to say his goodbyes.
I said mine one beautiful spring morning, at John’s spot, just along from the lifeguard tower. A smiling presence despite the tubes and the oxygen tank, he leaned in and said, “Wouldn’t be dead for quids, eh!”
That combination of sunny disposition, wicked humour and tremendous courage is what his many friends will remember. Vale, John Bowie, a life well lived.
(Sincere thanks to Chris Bowie for assistance in the preparation of this article.)