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Tuesday, 2 December 2003
Page: 23523

Ms KING (9:20 PM) —I rise this evening to inform the House of the recent passing of Mr Austin Dowling DFC—wartime bomber pilot, teacher and someone whose advice and friendship I was privileged to receive. This is the first opportunity I have had to mark Austin's passing in this place, and I want to quote from the obituary published in the Age last week, prepared by his family and his friends David Volk and Jeremy Harper:

Austin Dowling was born in London where his parents lived briefly for study reasons. His father was a pharmacist and veterinarian and his mother, unusual for the time, was also a pharmacist. Returning to Australia as a young child and growing up in a home where educational achievement was valued, Austin received his formative education in Ballarat. As an 18 year old, Austin joined the RAAF in late 1941, was stationed in Britain and as a Flight Lieutenant flew Lancaster Bombers over Germany during the closing stages of World War II. He was a skilled pilot and won the Distinguished Flying Cross with the citation:

“Flt Lieutenant Dowling has completed numerous operations against the enemy, in the course of which he has invariably displayed utmost fortitude, courage and devotion to duty.”

He returned from the war physically unscathed, but emotionally it had taken its toll. A deeply reflective man he had an abhorrence of war and he was never one to uncritically accept the myths surrounding the role of bomber command.

On returning to Australia, Austin married his beloved Isobel in 1945 and they became inseparable partners for the next 58 years. Their first son Bill was born in 1947 and Peter in 1950. Based on his deep and enduring affection for children and believing teaching to be a socially responsible job, Austin decided on an arts degree at Melbourne University and he became a teacher. He taught in Ballarat from 1954 at Ballarat High School, where he remained for 17 years.

He influenced the lives of many young people in Ballarat, much to the annoyance sometimes, I suspect, of some of their parents. In one year, he was accused by a parent of trying to turn students into communists; by another into Catholics. Austin described that as a champagne year.

During this same period, politics sat comfortably with Austin's critical and compassionate mind. His political involvement was uncompromisingly directed by the common good. As a federal Labor candidate in 1955 he had no illusions about winning the seat of Ballarat but was motivated by what he saw as a pernicious influence in Australian politics: the rise of the DLP, the cause of ALP paralysis for the next 20-odd years. It took considerable courage to stand as a Labor candidate in this era. Austin did so with dignity and good humour, being hugely delighted for example when, in six foot high letters, `Don't vote for commo Dowling,' appeared on the local racecourse fence.

In 1970, Austin left teaching to return to study to become a social worker, again motivated by his respect and care for children. In public social welfare, working with the most vulnerable children in society, he promoted through dedicated practice the best interests of the child and is remembered fondly by colleagues and clients as a thoughtful and compassionate practitioner, and later as an effective administrator within the state Department of Community Welfare Services.

On retirement in 1986, Austin resumed his pursuit of a variety of interests. History along with literature ranked highly and his meticulous work at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery on their illuminated manuscripts is appreciated by many today. Austin was a valued member of the Ballarat Choral Society and also had a great passion for bushwalking.

What epitomised Austin, and for what he is most fondly remembered, was his belief in the importance of human relationships. He was passionate about the concept of friendship. In difficult times he would often come back to one of E.M. Forster's essays, What I Believe, in which Forster talks about his own disenchantment with 20th century doctrines of all political persuasions when saying:

... I do believe in personal relationships. Starting from them, I get a little order into the contemporary chaos.

For Austin, friendship and close personal relationships were his points of reference; where he started from. In describing Austin Dowling, the words `unconventional', `principled', `rational', `brave' and `humane' come to mind. Austin would have preferred to be summed up by a few plain English nouns: a friend, a teacher, a dad and a grandad. He is survived by Isobel, his companion of over 60 years; his sons, Bill and Peter; and their families. Austin, Ballarat is a richer place for you having lived there and shared your life with us.