Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

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General Eva Burrows, you were born on the 15th of September, 1929. What were your parents like?

Well, my parents were already in their 40s actually, and my father and my mother were Salvation Army officers in a small suburb of Newcastle, which was called Tighes Hill. They had been Salvation Army officers, by that time, for probably about nine, ten, years. So they were, first of all, preachers of the gospel and they organised and preached in this small Salvation Army church, which was next door to the house where I was born. And they also, like most Salvation Army officers, tried to see what they could do in the community to help people and care for people. So they were like the clergy. And of course my mother was a preacher as well, because in the Salvation Army both husband and wife are ordained to the ministry. And we were already a very big family, so we had a lively household.

How many brothers and sisters did you have?

Well, at that time I had four brothers and three sisters, so I was the eighth child. And then there was one sister who came after that, when we moved later to Lismore in New South Wales.

So it was a family of nine children in the end?

In the end, yes. Big family. But a happy family, actually.

Were you well off?

Oh no, not at all. And of course I was born in 1929, and we often think of that as one of the key years for the Depression in Australia. And my parents have told me -- and I've read some of my father's diaries about that time -- there was tremendous poverty in Australia, unbelievable poverty. And as Salvation Army organisers in the Salvation Army Corps, as we call them, my parents would be dependent on the giving of the members of the church. So naturally, they didn't have very much to live on. But my mother seemed to be an amazing person at making do, making many things out of nothing. And I don't remember ever having new clothes until I was quite a big girl, because Mother could make do with my older sisters' clothes, or even Father's trousers could be converted into skirts and things like that. I would say we shared the life of poverty of the people around us.

Did you think of yourself as poor?

No, we didn't. Not at all. We were a very lively family, and I think the happiness that we had together [came through] being very involved in the Salvation Army, because it's surprising how the Salvation Army fills your whole life. Because you don't just go on Sunday. You're involved during the week: maybe at the Bible Study or the Children's Meeting or playing in the band, or learning to play the tambourine. And it seemed to be quite a total lifestyle for us. And of course, my parents were involved with the people in the community. So it was like the limits of our life. But it was involved with people, and I think that's where I learnt to really enjoy doing things for people, helping people. And my father was a very keen musician. He played the violin and quite a few instruments. And my brothers all learnt music. So we often had a lot of music at home. And quite a lot of fun. I think we had a lot of family fun; we didn't have to find our fun outside. We didn't, for example in those days, go to the movies very much, or have to find any other pleasure outside.

What's your earliest memory?

Well, that's very interesting, because I have difficulty remembering until I was about six. Five or six. My parents moved a great deal. In actual fact, though I was born in Tighes Hill, I jokingly say I was only born there to be near my mother, because they moved pretty quickly after that. And then they moved again and we pretty well moved every two years. So all those early experiences I find difficult to remember. But I do have a really amusing early memory, must have been because it was a sort of a traumatic experience. We were living in Maryborough in Queensland, and I would probably be about five, and the police had come to the house because one of my brothers, he must have been smoking in the dunny (as we used to call them, the outside toilet) and must have perhaps dropped a match or something in the sawdust that you used to use in those days. And I can remember very [clearly] the police coming. I can't remember what happened, but I know it was a drama in the family. So my brothers were often getting into quite a lot of difficulties.

What did your father think of your brother smoking in the dunny?

Oh, they'd have got … no, they'd have got a beating. My father did believe in corporal punishment. Not so much for us girls but the boys did. In those days men used to often shave with a razor, and he would sharpen his razor on the razor strap, which was kept in the bathroom behind the door. And then he used to use the razor strap for giving my brothers a bit of a tap. But we've learned since of all the escapades they got into. Walking under the sewers in Maryborough. Mother didn't know and Father didn't know, but they were obviously very adventurous boys.

And what about you? Were you a good little girl?

I think, relatively good. I think I was a bit of a show-off when I was small. And I liked to be noticed. And in the Salvation Army we often had concerts where we would sing or act and things like that. And I think probably that I was very pleased when people noticed who I was. Perhaps in a family when there are a lot of you, if you come at the bottom end of the family, you've got to fight for yourself. But I was a fairly obedient child at home. I think my sister that came after me and I were ready to follow what our parents taught us. But in our family of nine, we're all quite different.

What was your role in the family? How were you seen?

Well now, the family was like this. There were two girls and then four boys and then three girls at the bottom end. So naturally we were looked upon as the ones who would help with the washing up or help with the duties around the house. But actually, it's my father who always did the washing up. We jokingly later used to call him Brother Lawrence, who was the famous saint who...[INTERRUPTION] [used to run a kitchen in a monastery in France in the 1500s].

What was your place in the family, as the second youngest?

Well, I think, because the family was structured like this -- there were two girls and then four boys, one after the other, then three girls at the end -- my older sisters were like little mothers to us. And then we were expected, because the boys were all ahead of us, to take part in the household duties. But I can always remember being very happy. I didn't feel put out by the fact that I was at the bottom end of the family. I think we all shared everything together. And I never felt that there was any problem, you know, that I didn't perhaps have a special place in the family. My mother had a wonderful way of making us all feel very important to her. It didn't matter where we came in the family. I was very proud of my father, I thought he was very clever and could preach well. And I really loved my mother. And she was the person who kind of organised the whole household. We were always very happy.

Didn't you ever fight with your brothers and sisters?

Oh yeah, yeah, we had a lot of fights. We were actually quite aggressive in some ways. If we felt something or we believed something, we would have a good argument. We could argue marvellously and then we would have -- even fisticuffs, you know, punching or hitting each other. Even rolling on the floor. And then as soon as that was all over, well, we forgot about it. We were never a family that held grudges, you know, if you had a disagreement, well, that was gone. And next day was another day. So that's why I suppose in a way we were a very happy lot, even if we did have rows.

What did you think of being part of the Salvation Army? Do you remember, as a child, whether or not that was a source of pleasure and pride to you? Or were you ever embarrassed, for example, about the fact that you had public meetings and that the other children from school saw you out there in a public place? Was that a source of pride or embarrassment for you

Oh, it was more pride really. I was quite happy to be known as a member of the Salvation Army when I was young. It was when I went into my teens that I became a rebel, and didn't want to go at all. But when I was younger, we used to stand in the street, have street meetings, which have become popular with some churches these days. But we were doing them long ago in the Salvation Army, right from the very beginning. And even when we were tiny, we would go with our parents and stand in the street. I played the tambourine, even when I was a little girl, perhaps five or six. So that that was part of our whole family purpose. We identified with our parents in that. But it was later, I think in my teenage years, when I went to high school and felt that perhaps I knew …

As a child, how did you do at school?

I did very well at school. I loved school and I used to run off to school every day, enjoying it very much. I can't remember all my teachers, but I can always remember being so pleased because I did well in the class.

Now, children who move about a lot often get handicapped in their schoolwork. But this didn't seem to affect you.

No, no, it didn't with any of the family. And, in fact, you know, sometimes it's when you move from place to place -- you're pushed into being outgoing towards people and I think that is never a disadvantage for a child -- that you have to learn how to present yourself to new people, and prepare for a whole new set of situations. So we adapted very quickly. I know these days you often hear when children move [that] they have psychological hang-ups and so forth, because they've left their friends. We accepted it as part of our lifestyle and in fact there was a certain excitement about going to a new place. And certainly it didn't affect my schooling. I seemed to always do quite well. And then during the Second World War years, my father became a welfare officer with the Salvation Army Red Shield section, that travelled with the troops everywhere. Father didn't go beyond Australia because he was an older man, and he also had very poor eyesight, but he was away from home for quite a number of years. So that meant that I did get a section of my education as a stable opportunity. For example, I went to Brisbane State High School for the whole of the four years leading to university. So in that sense I think it would be much more difficult at the secondary level to be changing all the time. But in primary it didn't seem to matter very much.

Did all your brothers and sisters do as well at school as you did, or were you particularly gifted in relation to school work?

Well, no, I think my brothers were quite good at school, but they had to leave school and go to work, and my eldest brother for example, his name was Beverly, he was a very good student. But because the family didn't have resources he had to leave and go to work after he'd done two years of high school. Later on, he joined the forces as a private, and became a major in the Australian army. So he was obviously a gifted young man who could rise in the ranks without having been to the officers' training school. So I would say that the family, generally, were fairly bright. My sister above me, it was very interesting, she hated school, and she didn't -- she wanted to leave school as soon as possible, whereas I wanted to stay as long as I could.

And how was it that you were given that opportunity?

Well, that's because, by that time the family wasn't in quite as great a difficulty financially, and my father was away with the forces. And my mother was very keen for me to continue my education. My mother was, you could say, ambitious for me. She wanted to see me develop the opportunities that came to me. In Queensland in those days you stayed at school until you were about 14. School leaving age was 14. And many, many young people finished school at primary. They didn't go to secondary school at all. And in Brisbane, you could only get to the one state high school by a good result in the Grade 7 scholarship (it was called in those days). So I got a good enough result to allow me to go to high school. If you had money, of course, you could go to the Church of England grammar schools and the Brisbane Grammar and the Catholic schools. But there was only one academic state high school. And now, of course, there are dozens and dozens in all the suburbs. So I worked hard for that. And so my mother said, 'Well, you've got to stay at school.' And when my father came back from working with the forces he thought, you know, maybe I shouldn't stay at school, that I needed to get out and find out what it was like to work out in the world. But my mother was my great supporter.

Now, your mother was ambitious for you. Were you ambitious for yourself?

Yes, I think I was, ambitious in the sense that I was the first one in the family to go to the university. And I think in the Salvation Army at that time not many people would have g one to the university. And I saw that as a great opportunity for myself. Not long range, because I didn't know what the future was going to hold, but I wanted to do well and I wanted to be an achiever. I think -- yes, I think you could put it that way. I wanted to achieve.

Did you know what it was you wanted to achieve?

No, I don't think I did at that time. I had, for a long time, wanted to be a doctor. But then I changed my mind when I was at high school and decided I'd become a teacher. I'd already realised that I had skills in leadership, because at Brisbane State High School I not only was elected the form captain every year … [INTERRUPTION]

What were your own ambitions for yourself?

Well, I think I didn't have any long-range ambitions. I just knew I wanted to do well, I wanted to achieve. I felt I had certain abilities and therefore I wanted always to do well. And I already knew I was going to be a leader of some kind because at Brisbane State High, which was an excellent school and still has a wonderful reputation, I was elected by my peers as the form captain every year. And then I became the school captain of the whole school. Mind you, in those days, it was a mixed school, co-educational, but we hardly ever saw the boys. Not like now. The girls had their own assembly. The boys had their assembly. And we organised the girls ourselves. And we really didn't have much to do with the boys. But I can even remember standing at the door in the afternoon as the girls went out. We'd check them on how they were wearing their hat, and if they had their gloves on. And you know, I did that with aplomb. I'm sure I couldn't to it today if I was that age. But in those days girls accepted you very well as the leader. I think I was quite a popular leader in the school.

You weren't bossy?

Oh yes, I think I was a bit bossy. But on the other hand, I think I was also popular. So that always helps you if you're a bit bossy, if they like you. And I think they liked me. And I was good at sport too, and that always helps. I wasn't a brilliant student at State High. I didn't come top all the time. But I did well.

And you were good at sport as well. So you were a good all-rounder?

Yes. I think I'm a better all-rounder than, say, an intellectual. I never became an intellectual [but] I'm intelligent, I've got good common sense, I'm not an intellectual. I don't live in my mind. I can only live in relation to people. And that's why I think, you know, I enjoyed other goals and we had wonderful time at sports. I played netball and tennis and, for example, I could always inspire them to do well, you see, so when we had our big sports competition against the grammar school, and the Church of England schools, when we won, you know, we thought we were so good. But, you know, you'll be interested to know that they still feel like that, because this year it was the 75th anniversary of the school. And when I was in Brisbane I was invited to come and greet the principal and I met the prefects and they were asking me what it was like, you know, when I was at school. And when I told them that, they said, 'Oh, General, it's just like that today. We like to beat everybody else.' So that, no, I enjoyed my school life but it was at that time that I became quite rebellious. I really thought that I didn't want anything to do with the Salvation Army. I think, probably, because I was popular at school and the Salvation Army was so strict about -- in those days -- about your behaviour.

In what way?

You couldn't go to dances for example. And you weren't supposed to go to the movies. We've moved on fortunately since those days. So I wanted to do all those things, because I was organising them often. So then I just felt I couldn't be bothered going to the Salvation Army, because it was too strict. I wanted to be so free, and choose what I wanted to do, not just what I was told to do. I suppose you could say I was flying my wings and wanting to be myself. And at that time my father was away with the forces. So we didn't have his very strict disciplinary style. And mother was a bit soft I think. She virtually let me do that.

So you were breaking the rules and going to these things that you weren't supposed to go to. But were you still going to the Salvation Army?

I gave up after a while. And I said to my mother, you know, 'I'm not going now. I'm old enough to choose for myself.' For a little while, very interesting, my father was a padre at a military camp at Redbank, outside Brisbane. And on Sunday he would hold a big service. And I used to have a good singing voice, and so Mother and I and my sister Margaret, we would go to the camp and help father in the service. And I would sing. And Margaret and I often sang duets together. So that kind of took me away from a settled Salvation Army Corps, or church. So that I would go on Sunday with Mother and then gradually when Father moved away I didn't go anywhere. One interesting experience we had there, when we used to go to Redbank camp, was that all the Australian troops went up north to go to Papua New Guinea. And suddenly the whole camp was filled with Americans, and they were all black. I suddenly realised that in the American forces the black and the white never fought together. They always fought in separate brigades. There was total racial separation in the military forces. But to me it was beautiful because these Negroes, or as they now call them Afro-Americans, they loved these services on Sunday. And they would sing -- you know, Afro-Americans are marvellous singers -- and so I learnt many of the songs that they sang, and learnt to sing the American national anthem. And then many years later, when I became the General, and went to America -- and they always begin everything in America [with] put your hand on your heart and sing the American national anthem -- I was singing the American national anthem. Everybody thought, 'Oh, isn't that wonderful, the General has even learnt our national anthem.' But it goes back to the days when I used to sing with the Afro-Americans in the camp.

Now, as you were moving away from your parental control and being rebellious and saying you weren't going to go to services, and going and doing things that they disapproved of, what was happening to your spiritual life? What were you thinking about your own relationship to your religion?

Oh, it was just dropped off me like a cloak, just left me. I had no interest in it at all. Which means that though I had been a regular attender at church and felt that I loved God and served him, I realised that that had been very superficial, must have been superficial, because when I stopped attending, I actually felt very released and very free. It didn't worry me at all.

And what brought you back?

Oh, well, I was going to say it's interesting, but I often say it was God's hand in my life. I think God, like my mother, was very patient. He waited for me to learn some lessons and learn the meaning of spiritual values. I went to Brisbane University -- Queensland University -- and in my first few weeks we had an orientation course. And I went to all the clubs to see what was going on in all the different societies. And then a fellow, a Salvation Army chap whom I didn't really know well, he said, you know, 'Do you want to come to the Christian Union?' So I went to the Christian Union and found all these very nice young people, all switched on, you know, to the Christian faith. And I think before that I'd probably felt that Christianity was more to do with the older people and strict rules. And here were these young university students following The Bible, studying The Bible, enjoying talking about The Bible. So I went a few times and suddenly it all began to click. And I felt, 'Here's something that I haven't really thought seriously about.' So I began to attend their services. And I also went to a vacation Bible Camp that they were holding. I think it was a young Anglican clergyman there, and he was talking about the letter to the Romans which Paul had written, which shows us how we can turn around our whole life. He was a young man -- Marcus Loane his name was -- and later he became the Anglican Archbishop [of Sydney] and Primate of all Australia. But in those few days in that week he had tremendous impact on my life. So that I really wanted my life to follow the Christian faith.

And why not then, as you had been so affected by an Anglican preacher, why not in the Anglican faith? Why did you go back to the Salvation Army?

Well, here again, that's something we'll never quite understand. Except that my father had now come out of the forces and had become a Salvation Army Corps officer. And I began to attend the services where he was preaching. And they put on some very big youth events in the Salvation Army. And I went to this day when we were all young people. And it was during that day that I had a strong conviction. I can only call it an inner awareness that the Salvation Army is the place where God wanted me to be. And that morning I made a very solemn decision. In the Salvation Army when we have an evangelical service, we will often invite people to come forward to a place of prayer -- something like a communion rail but we call it the mercy seat -- and I went forward and knelt, and first of all I asked God's forgiveness for all those years of being so rebellious to his will. I didn't ask forgiveness for rebellion to the Salvation Army but I asked forgiveness for being rebellious to what he would have wanted with my life. And then I said, you know, I give myself to you in dedication. And it was like being at an altar when you bring your gift to the altar. I brought myself, and from that time on there was no question in my mind that my life was to be devoted to God, and within the orbit of the Salvation Army. That's, I suppose, what you mean by conviction.

During the period of your rebellion, as you put it, how did your mother treat you?

Well, my mother would often tell me I ought to go to the Salvation Army. But she didn't force me at all. No, my mother was a very compassionate person, and I think she herself understood that I'd found my father's discipline very restrictive. So she was very understanding and I've always loved her very much for that.

And she still supported you in going to the university?

Oh yes, yes, very much so, because that's when my father perhaps thought, you know, I should now go off to work, seeing I'd finished secondary school. But I'd got a university grant and that was going to help at home. And my mother said, you know, 'She's going to go to university even if have to go out washing or something.' I mean, she was very determined, and although my mother was not a person who shared things at depth (in the sense of telling me why she did that), she never really told me except to say that she always had felt that I had gifts of leadership and she wanted me to become what she thought I could be.

What did you study at university?

I did an arts degree at Queensland University. First two years were interesting (we were down at the Botanical Gardens) but then in my final year, the third year, we were the very first students at the St Lucia University. During the war years, that long building, which is now the famous centrepoint of the whole campus, was virtually … that was the only part that was there. And the military, Australian military, confiscated it for their Pacific headquarters. I think General Blamey and others were there. So when I was in my third year, that would be 1949, we went in as the first students. We even used to have our lunch in Nissan huts which were in the grounds. It was a very minimal place, and now when you go there it's one of the most beautiful campuses, I would think, in the world, surrounded by the Brisbane River. But it was a fine [university], and I spent a lot of time in the library. And I majored in English and history. But I also did a one-year subject in education. And during that time I met Professor Ringrose, who was our lecturer, and talked to him about the fact that I wanted to go to Africa and teach. And he said, 'Well, why don't you go to London University, where they have a special course for people who are going to teach in tropical lands,' most of the students being people going out in the colonial service. And at that time I then heard that there was going to be a youth congress in London, so I decided I'd go to the youth congress and then go to the university in London to prepare myself for teaching in Africa. So Professor Ringrose was a help to me on that occasion. I also did a little bit of German. And that was very interesting because one of my fellow students was Keith Rainer, who now is the Primate of all Australia. I'm sure our German teacher never knew who he had in his class.

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