Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser 21 May 1930 – 20 March 2015
Salvation Army General Eva Burrows (Rtd) 15 September 1929 – 20 March 2015
Two Australian giants in their respective callings died on the same day late last month, leading to an outpouring of commentary across the political, religious and community sectors.
Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s sudden death not surprisingly led to pages of commentary, a day of condolences in Federal Parliament and the airing of current and past documentaries. The media coverage of the passing of Salvation Army General Eva Burrows (Rtd) was more muted, but her achievements have been equally as luminary.
The Salvo’s 13th world leader, General Burrows (from 1986 to 1993) steered the movement’s entry back into many formerly communist nations. She was the youngest person, only the second woman, and the second Australian to serve as General.
In an interview conducted by the Salvation Army in 2009 at the time of her 80th birthday, Ms Burrows was asked ‘what do you want to be remembered for?’ The General told the story of her biographer, Colonel Henry Gariepy, asking her what she wanted on her tombstone.
“Quickly, before I even had to think,” General Burrows told the interviewers, “I said, ‘She pleased God’. That’s one very important thing to me; that my life has been pleasing to the God I serve.”
Eva Burrows committed her life to service to God as a Salvation Army officer when she was a university student, and for the bulk of her earlier years she was involved in teaching and academic administration within the Corp. An obituary prepared by the Salvation Army drew attention to her appointment as leader of the Women’s Social Services in Great Britain and Northern Ireland in the 1970s. “It brought her into close touch with the effects of poverty and exploitation in the crowded cities of Britain.”
Unlike some women in leadership, Ms Burrows did not dismiss the importance of being a woman. She believed that women do lead differently from men. “I’m not a confrontationist, I’m a diffuser. I try to diffuse ‘aggro’ if there is aggression around, and I don’t enjoy confrontation as much as men often seem to,” she said.
And she was happy to own the ‘f’ word, describing the Army mother, Catherine Booth as a Christian feminist. In the interview, Eva Burrows acknowledged that the Salvation Army failed to keep up with the changing world. But under her leadership significant changes were made, particularly in relation to the officer wife having rank in her own right.
“I didn’t say, negatively, ‘We’re behind the times,’ but I did say, ‘Come on, let us see that you (the Commission for women’s ministry) come forward with suggestions that give women the opportunities they should have’.”
General Burrows started to slow down in recent years, but her passion for the most vulnerable in our community was reflected in her ongoing service at the Salvation Army 614 Project, where she continued to offer her time as mentor, board member and recruiting sergeant.
Malcolm Fraser was General Burrows’ junior by nine months. No doubt they ran into each other throughout the years as they both carried a passion for issues of social justice. There has been much written about Malcolm Fraser’s legacy since his death. Some commentary suggests that his views changed dramatically in his post parliamentary years, others claim that his commitment to multiculturalism and abhorrence of racism consistently reflected his small ‘l’ liberal values.
Perhaps the more important issue for us as a nation is who is going to stand in the gap previously inhabited by Mr Fraser, as he eloquently poked, prodded and challenged government policy on matters of grave importance – issues which addressed fundamental values of compassion, equity, opportunity and integrity.
Described by Vietnamese Australians as their father and grandfather, the then-prime minister opened Australia’s borders to 56,000 Indo-Chinese refugees in the late 1970s. It is little wonder he spent his latter years railing against both Liberal and Labor Government asylum seeker policy.
Mr Fraser had recently been highly critical of Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, chiding Australia for being ‘a country now known around the world as the most inhumane, the most uncaring and the most selfish of all the wealthy countries’.
“Australia has lost a great voice of conscience on human rights, multiculturalism and social justice,” the President of the Uniting Church in Australia Rev Professor Andrew Dutney said.
“The Uniting Church in Australia was born under Mr Fraser’s Prime Ministership. Thirty-eight years later many of us yearn for the hopeful values we remember from that era in which Aboriginal land rights were acknowledged and there was a bipartisan decency so lacking in our current immigration policy.
“My colleagues from the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania and I will be walking in Mr Fraser’s footsteps when we lead the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees in Melbourne this weekend.”
Crosslight farewells two great Australians, whose contributions to humanity cannot be understated.