Reginald Bruce Fleming

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Bruce Fleming, circa 1950
Reginald Bruce Fleming was born on 7 September 1929 at Young, NSW. His parents were Reginald Angus Fleming and Stella Jolliffe who had been married at Canowindra on 31 January 1929. Bruce has written about his early years: click here.

hrbf age 3.jpg (55480 bytes)Bruce, Aged 3
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After a short time in Young, the family moved to Kensington in the eastern suburbs of Sydney in 1936.Two years later, the family moved to the beach suburb of Maroubra.

When the Second World War started, Bruce's father joined the army as a Gunner and served in both the Middle East and New Guinea. Bruce's parents were divorced in 1942.

Bruce enjoyed his schooling and took a keen interest in sport, especially football, cricket and surfing at the local beach. Bruce has written about his early years with parents and grandparents and about some of his experiences with his mates in the surf: The cadets.

After leaving school, Bruce worked for the Bank of New South Wales. One placement was in the cheque clearing house, a job that required him to physically deliver cheques to other banks in accordance with a strict timetable. He became expert in getting around the city in quick time

He continued to play cricket in summer and rugby league in winter. His cricket team won a Premiership in the Eastern Suburbs Competition and, in the next year, he switched to a different team and won the Premiership again. His skills as en economical off-spin bowler were key features in the winning of those finals matches. In the 1948-49 season he played Telegraph Shield for the Eastern Suburbs Cricket Association, even though he was at this time, living with his father and step-mother at Ashfield.

In rugby league he played fullback for Kensington. On Saturday 16 July 1950, the team played the Orange team at Orange. One of Bruce's team mates was badly concussed and had to stay in hospital for a couple of nights for observation. Since Bruce's grandmother Ada and aunt Irene lived in the town, he volunteered to stay with them and accompany his team mate back to Sydney on the Monday train. On the Monday he accompanied his aunt to work at the Council Chambers where his grandfather had been Shire Clerk between 1907 and 1937. He was offered a job by the current Shire Clerk, Mr John Karl Gwynne Williams, and accepted. Bruce moved from Ashfield to Orange on New Year's Day 1951

During his time in Orange, Bruce played rugby union for the local team and was in very good form. He was selected in the Western Districts team to play the touring All Blacks but, unfortunately, was forced to listen to the game on the radio from his hospital bed as he recovered from an emergency appendectomy.

After about a year working for the Canobolas Shire Council, Bruce realised that he was better suited to Bank work. One day he ran into his old boss from the Bank of New South Wales in the main street of Orange. Bruce accepted an offer to rejoin the Bank.

For his sins, Bruce was posted to one of the furthest outposts in the Bank: Bourke. He arrived in the town on Easter Monday 1952. Bruce made lots of friends in Bourke very quickly, especially through his participation in rugby league and cricket. He trained with the rugby league team on his second night in the town and scored four ties against Nyngan on the following weekend! 

Nevertheless, the first few months in Bourke were a sad time for Bruce as he received two lots of bad news: both his grandmothers, Amy Jolliffe and Ada Fleming died suddenly in 1952.

One of his football team mates was Jim Kessey and Bruce soon met all of the Kessey clan, including Jim's sister Halvene. They were married in Bourke on 1 March 1955. Bruce and Halvene raised their four children in Bourke.

Bruce continued his involvement in rugby league (as a player and, later, a referee) and cricket for a number of years. He was also involved in bowls for a time before taking up golf. He was a driving force, as Club Captain, in establishing and running the first Pro-Am days in Bourke.

For many years Bruce ran his own business based on the Ampol petrol depot and including wool carting and a mail run. He was involved in community events through his membership and committee work for both the Apex Club and Rotary. Later, Bruce worked for Tancred's abattoir in Bourke before accepting a transfer to Tancred's office at Corrimal (near Wollongong) to be nearer his grown-up children.

After several years working at Corrimal and living at Figtree, Bruce and Halvene moved to Bathurst. Halvene passed away on 6 October 2005 and was buried in Bathurst.

Bruce lived in Dubbo for a few years before he suffered a mini-stroke in June 2014. He then moved to Canberra where he died in August 2016. He is buried in Bathurst with Halvene.


Eulogy for Reginald Bruce Fleming

by  Jim Fleming

18 August 2016


·       I'm going to start with a verse from Dad's favourite poet. Dad loved to recite poetry at family gatherings but I promise that I won't put quite as much of myself into it as Dad was renowned for doing!

I've followed all my tracks and ways,

From old bark hut, to Leicester Square,

I've been right back to boyhood’s days,

and found no light or pleasure there.

But every dream and every track

-        And there were many that I knew –

They all lead on, or they lead back

To Bourke in ninety one and two.

·       This is as true for Dad as it was for the poet, Henry Lawson. Like Lawson, Dad arrived in Bourke by train – but 60 years later, in 1952.  Many of the tracks in Dad's life lead back to Bourke in 1952. For Dad, Bourke marked a new beginning following a number of significant upheavals in his early life; and he was able in later years to reflect with pleasure on the success that flowed from this new beginning.



·       Dad was born in Young where his father was employed in a Bank. His father (Reg) was 21 and his mother (Stella) just 19 years old. The family was soon expanded with the birth of Dad's brother Jim. Soon after Dad started school his father was transferred to Sydney and the family moved to Kensington. They later moved to Maroubra where Dad had a great lifestyle. He liked his teachers; he played cricket and rugby union; he surfed at Maroubra and he had a lot of mates.

·       The first upheavals in his life came with the start of World War 2, when his father joined the army. Dad was proud that his father served in the Middle East and New Guinea. He always called his father “Dig” in recognition of his war service.

·       But Reg and Stella’s marriage had broken down and they were divorced when Reg returned to Australia from the Middle East in 1943.

·       Stella married Johannes Willemsen, a Dutch merchant mariner, in 1944 and Dad was close to his stepfather. Unfortunately, Johannes died just 3 months after the wedding - his ship sank in a cyclone off the Queensland coast while engaged on war service for Australia.

·       About a year later Dad's mother decided to honour Johannes wish that she visit his parents in Holland. She therefore arranged for Dad’s father to take over to the care of Dad and Jim.

·       While she was overseas, she met Jacques Pelissot in Jakarta and they were later married. Dad's half-brother Georges Pelissot was born in Nairobi in 1951. Georges and his family live in Grenoble and have sent us some lovely words of condolence in recent days.

·       After returning from war service in New Guinea, Dad's father also remarried. He and his wife Win started a new family with the birth of Dad's other half-brother Geoffrey Fleming; also in 1951. Geoffrey and his family now live in Mackay but he visited Dad for a few days recently when Dad was very ill.

·       Dad’s brother Jim couldn’t make it to the funeral today, but he saw Dad recently in hospital.


·       So Dad’s family life was a bit fractured when he left home at the age of 18. This was exacerbated not long afterwards when both of Dad's beloved grandmothers (Amy Jolliffe and Ada Fleming) died suddenly within a few months of each other. This was around about the time that the Bank transferred Dad to Bourke and he got off the train that I mentioned earlier.

·       But Bourke provided Dad with a new home and even a new family.



·       Throughout his whole life, Dad was a pretty sociable person. He got involved in activities, played sport, made friends easily.

·       One of his favourite activities when he was young was dancing. He met Mum at the 1952 Bourke Race Club Ball and that is the main reason why all subsequent tracks lead back to Bourke in fifty-two! Mum and Dad never missed a Dance or a Ball in those days.

·       They were married in Bourke in February 1955 and went to live in Windsor – where the bank had transferred Dad. But Mum was very homesick and so Dad gave up his budding banking career and moved back to Bourke. This was an early reflection of just how family oriented he was.

·       He was a great Dad; always very loving and affectionate. He put family and friends first

o   He moved back to Bourke to be nearer family when Mum needed that, just before I was born

o   He worked multiple jobs; he changed career and learnt new skills to support his family. He eventually established his own business centred around running the Ampol petrol depot; carting wool; and undertaking the Collerina Mail run for many years – where I learned to drive under his tutelage. The business made a very good income and Dad provided his family with a very comfortable lifestyle: a nice house, regular holidays on the coast, a boat for water skiing, pony club.

o   He was always very welcoming and friendly towards our friends. Several of them have commented on that in recent days.

o   This sociability also saw him make an effort throughout his life to keep in touch with wider family and friends. He regularly visited his Mother’s family – the Jolliffes – in Canowindra and Windang and made sure that his children got to know our Jolliffe uncles, aunts and cousins.

o   He enjoyed regular visits from Georges’ family in France.

o   He maintained regular contact with his father, Win and Geoffrey and was very happy that Geoff’s family attended his 50th wedding anniversary in 2005.

o   He even contacted distant cousins in New Zealand that he never met in person. He sent an annual Christmas letter that was appreciated by family members far and wide. This family sensibility was valued by all.

o   For the sake of close family ties he accepted the challenge of moving to new places and took it in his stride. In his day he moved to Orange, Bourke, Woolongong, Bathurst, Dubbo and finally Canberra – He always soon made friends, soon knew all the people in the village, and everyone knew him!



·       Sport was a big part of Dad's life for many years. I mentioned his schoolboy involvement earlier.

·       He played rugby union and cricket with Maroubra Old Boys and with his Church Social Club.

·       He played Rugby Union for Wests when he lived in Orange for a year in 1951. He was chosen in the representative team to play the touring All Blacks, but missed out when he had to have his appendix out.

·       Within a week of his arrival in Bourke he scored three tries in a trial Rugby League match against Nyngan and he was soon in the Bourke first grade team.

·       When work commitments undermined his ability to train for football, he became a respected referee in Group 15. He also played Bowls and cricket in Bourke.

·       But his main love was golf. As a player he won a couple of B Grade championships. As a committee man, he was Captain of Bourke Golf Club and worked hard to initiate the very first Bourke Pro-Am Tournament in cooperation with his fellow committee men Kelvin Primmer, John Hull, Frank Poschich and Bruce Gray. Dad was very proud that the tournament continued to attract very good professionals year after year; and excited that the tournament recently held its 40th annual event.

·       But he might have stretched his sporting prowess a little too far when he took up the skateboard at the age of 47!



·       Dad also contributed to the Bourke Community as a member, committee member and President of both Apex and Rotary. He was heavily involved in those club’s social works at that time.

·       In later years he worked hard for the Wollongong Taxi Drivers Golf Club.

·       He maintained an enquiring mind - learning and mastering computers and the Internet in his 70s. He attended every U3A class that he could and then he and his fellow students created and ran their own once they had done all the art courses. He even had a go at cross-stitch for a while! It is lovely to have some of his Bathurst Art Group friends here with us today.


·       Dad could be pretty forthright when he wanted to. For example, he felt that he shouldn't have had to wait until he was 63 for his first grandchild. So he came out with great expression before Amber was born -  he reckoned that he and Mum were excellent grandparents going to waste!

·       Dad was always full of surprises. Who knew he could sing Jerusalem from start to finish so well – we only found that out a few years ago. So it was appropriate that we played that song as you all entered the Cathedral today.

·       A few years ago Dad attended a reunion of his old school friends from Maroubra. He was really looking forward to it and was most indignant to find that one of his very best friends had no memory of him at all. While dementia was to also afflict Dad in his last few years, we were fortunate that it was never that bad; he retained his memories of family and friends right up to the end.

·       He lived life with great passion, enthusiasm and verve - from “bull at a gate Fleming’” (as coined by his favourite teacher Minnie Peters at Maroubra); to leading the singing at the Goodwin Aged Care Home with great energy and engagement, much to the delight of the other residents and staff. Nurses, doctors etc all enjoyed his witty and cheeky nature, even when he was quite ill. 

·       We are her to say goodbye to our much loved father, pop, brother, uncle and friend. He will be greatly missed. Let's remember and cherish all of our great memories of time spent together with him.

Obituary from The Western Herald, 15 September 2016

Lucky punishment
by Jim Fleming


Sent to Bourke as a punishment, he later considered it to have been a lucky break in life. Bruce Fleming, who has died in Canberra aged 86 years, was able in later years to reflect with pleasure on a happy and successful life that flowed from his new beginning in Bourke in 1952.

Born in Young NSW in 1929, Bruce was a fifth generation Australian. His father (Reginald Fleming) descended from Scottish and English skilled tradesmen while his mother (Stella Jolliffe) descended from farmers in Central West NSW and the Illawarra.

As he stepped from the train at Bourke on Easter Monday 1952, Bruce reflected ruefully on the punishment meted out by his employer (the Bank of NSW) for the crime of having (temporarily) resigned his position with the bank a year earlier. He needn’t have worried; within a week he was selected in Bourke’s first grade rugby league side after scoring three tries in a trial game against Nyngan. Within a few months he had met his future wife (Halvene Kessey) at the Bourke Race Club Ball. He had fallen on his feet.

Halvene was part of a large extended family that had called Bourke home for generations. Bruce embraced them enthusiastically, especially as his own family life had been fractured by his father’s lengthy absence on war service; his parents’ divorce in 1943; the tragic death while on war service of his step-father (Johannes Willemsen) with whom he was quite close; and the sudden death of both of his beloved grandmothers in 1952.

Bruce and Halvene married in Bourke in February 1955 and made a comfortable life in the town where they raised two sons and two daughters. He eventually established his own business based on the Ampol petrol depot supplemented with wool carting and undertaking the Collerina mail run. He later worked for Tancreds in Bourke, Corrimal and Homebush.

Bruce contributed to the Bourke community as a member, board member and President the Bourke Apex club during the 1960s. He worked hard for the Bourke Festival of Sport committee in 1973 and 1974, arranging the water skiiing carnival at North Bourke. He lent a hand where he could in supporting the Bourke Pony Club and equestrian events.

Sport was a big part of Bruce’s life for many years, starting with cricket and football as a schoolboy in the Sydney suburbs of Kensington and Maroubra and supplemented with lots of surfing at Maroubra Beach. Before coming to Bourke he had played rugby union with the Wests club in Orange NSW where an untimely bout of appendicitis had ruined his chances of making the Central Western Districts team that played the touring All Blacks at Parkes. When work and family commitments undermined his ability to train for football he became a respected referee in Group 15. He played cricket for Bourke Waratahs and Snake Gully and also played bowls for a while.

But his main love was golf. As a player he won a couple of B Grade championships. As a committee man, he was Captain of Bourke Golf Club and worked hard to initiate the very first Bourke Pro-Am Tournament in cooperation with his fellow committee men including Kelvin Primmer, John Hull, Frank Poschich and Bruce Gray. He was proud that the tournament continued to attract very good professionals year after year; and excited that the tournament recently held its 40th annual event.

Bruce lived life passionately. His favourite primary school teacher (Minnie Peters) summed him up early and aptly as ”bull-at-a-gate Fleming”. He was always very sociable, gathering friends quickly wherever he went. Even during his recent decline in health, he led the singing at his aged care home with great energy; while nurses and doctors enjoyed his witty and cheeky nature.

Ultimately, Bruce was a family man, establishing and maintaining regular contact with far-flung family and friends while he was still able. To misquote Henry Lawson’s poem Bourke, for Bruce every dream and every track, all lead on or all lead back to Bourke in 52.

Bruce died in Canberra on 15 August and was buried alongside Halvene in Bathurst Cemetery on 18 August. He was much loved and is survived by his brother Jim; half-brothers Geoffrey Fleming and Georges Pelissot; children and partners Jim and John, Shae, Peta and Sharon; Patrick and Lisa; and grandchildren Amber, Ruby and Jed.