Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

Tape of 13

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What gave you the idea that you wanted to go to Africa?

Well, I think because I wanted to be a teacher and by that time I was very interested in the Salvation Army, not just in Australia, but internationally. So in our Salvation Army papers you would read about the educational program that we had in India and Africa, and I think I lived in an age when to be a missionary was something where you felt you dedicated yourself and I had this great feeling that I didn't want to have life just easy. I wanted to do something that cost me something. And so to become a missionary and a teacher seemed to me [that] God was sort of pushing me in that direction. I actually say, at times in my life when I've had to make big decisions, I almost have kind of a feeling as if God is pushing me in the back. And that then became my strong awareness that I must prepare to go to Africa. And the way was opened for me to do that.

During the teenage years, when you were in rebellion against your family and you were wanting to go to dances and so on, did that have anything to do with boys, and your awareness of boys?

Yes, probably. I was quite popular with boys. And I liked … I liked boys. I've always liked men. I enjoy men's company very much. And therefore I had a few boyfriends. I changed them fairly regularly. If they didn't suit me then I just dropped them. It wasn't very kind, was it?

Was there any boy that meant a lot to you at that time?

No, not really, no. Not one that I felt that I was so in love with that I wanted to marry. And I also had this strong compulsion that I had to go and be a missionary and go and serve God in Africa. So if a man wasn't ready to do that kind of thing, then I wasn't really interested. I then had that conviction that if the friendship got too close, then I'd have to make my decision to keep to my promise to God.

So when you approached the mercy seat and you made that dedication of your life, was it in your mind then that you would do that as a single woman?

No, I don't think that was fixed in my mind. But I did know that it could mean that. Because if you go to train as a Salvation Army officer, and are ordained, your husband has to also be an ordained minister. And the Salvation Army's always given single women great opportunities, right from the very beginning of our movement. So that I had seen many single women in the Salvation Army with high ranks and doing responsible jobs. So I was aware that that could happen to me. But that never deflected me from the decision that I'd made to serve God. And I also think in that age, in the culture of that time, to be a single woman was something you almost were proud about. Because all my school teachers were single ladies. In Queensland in those days, once you married, you had to stop teaching. Did you know that? And all the matrons of hospitals were all single ladies. So to be a single lady and to have a profession was something that you admired. And my school teachers were very much people I admired. And I would hope I would be like them. So it didn't worry us at that age that we weren't married. Not like today, [it's] almost [as] if you are not married you're a kind of second-class citizen and something is wrong with you. You didn't have any choice. And I know most of the school teachers are married ladies. So for me to choose to be single was not the trauma that it might be to a young woman today and even girls entering into, for example, convents to become nuns, the number of those applying has been greatly reduced. Because [for] many people to be single [means] that you do have a second-class kind of life.

Yes, that's an interesting perspective on it. I would have thought that at the time you were making that decision there would have still been quite a lot of pressure to think that the married route was the better one. And I wonder whether or not you had a perception maybe a bit ahead of your time. That it was, in fact, going to be a subordinate role if you got married. And that perhaps you felt that you really didn't want to take that on.

I think there would also be this factor, that I was already sensing that I had gifts of my own. And that if I married, I didn't want to have those gifts reduced, or the opportunities for their use reduced. And I think that if I had married I would not have become the General of the Salvation Army.

Is that because, although the Salvation Army has a very liberal approach to women being able to be ordained, at the top end that's not quite the same?

Well, it's that the wife also has this -- not only the covenant of ordination -- but she had the covenant of marriage, so that to fit together your marriage, the care of your children, as well as your ministry, you work together with your husband, more in a supportive role. Now that is changing these days and it's very interesting. I'm waiting for the future when a married woman officer becomes the General. That could be possible. She can be nominated and elected and in today's situation, and I suppose the cultural views in the Western world today, we could see married women in the Salvation Army receiving appointments separate from their husband, when they have the gifts to undertake that assignment. That is one of the changing areas.

Now that's a very recent change to the rules, isn't it?

Yes, it's fairly recent.

So that when you were General, even as recently ago as that, a married woman couldn't have become General?

She could have, but it was not even within the likelihood of possibilities that she would be nominated. When the General is elected you are nominated and you are a member of a very select group called the High Council, Which is very similar to the college of cardinals that elects the Pope, that is, the leaders from around the world. We don't have cardinals, but we have territorial commanders, national commanders. And they all meet, and it is normal for a member of that body to be nominated and elected. You wouldn't think of electing somebody to the General who hadn't had the experience of top leadership in a country. But now, by fairly recent change of our regulation, wives will be present at that body called the High Council. So it is more likely now that a wife could be nominated. And I think I see in the Western world, in particular, the leaders of the Salvation Army giving wives opportunity to serve in appointments which may be different from their husbands, where they actually will be using their own specific gifts.

Now, back there in the '40s, when the young Eva Burrows was emerging from university and thinking about her future, in that circumstance you could see that you had a gift for leadership. And did you think of it ever leading you to be General then?

No, no, never did. I had not the concept of that. Because to us in Australia, as a young Salvationist, the General is somebody so high and elevated, and we had a General visit here in -- early in 1950. He was the General at that time. Because there's only one General in office at a time. And he visited Brisbane. And I had been asked to give the youth speech of welcome. I was so anxious, you know, I really must do this well. And when he congratulated me and said what a fine speech I'd given, I mean I was so thrilled. I could never have imagined myself being the General. But I was extremely pleased to be praised by him when I'd given my speech. And a very interesting thing is that the day after the Sunday of worship with General Orsborn was my graduation day. And by a strange coincidence they had arranged for a great open air service in the beautiful Brisbane City Hall square. They'd built a platform in front of the Town Hall. But I was going into the Town Hall because that's where our graduation ceremony was. The university didn't have their own hall in those days. And I was already with my parents when we were going in and someone had told the General and he came over. And he actually prayed for me. That's just before I went in to graduate. And that was a very significant moment in my life. I never thought I'd be the General one day. But I treasured that. And when I became the General myself, I used every opportunity I had to encourage young people, and even to pray with them and so forth.

Now, at this time you were a girl who was popular with boys and you had boys who were interested in you. And yet you resisted it. Was it hard for you to do that?

Not terribly hard at that stage, because my mind was so focused on becoming an officer in the Salvation Army, to be ordained. And so when I came to London for this great youth congress, the principal of the Salvation Army's theological college in London was an Australian. Here again is another [example of] what some people would call coincidence, but I call providential. And I was going to teach for a year before going in to do that course at university (which Professor Ringrose had arranged for me) when this principal-- he was a commissioner in the Salvation Army -- Commissioner Bladin, he met me, because we girls, Australian girls, were being accommodated at the [Salvation Army] theological school during this great youth congress. And he met me in the grounds and he asked me to come and see him in his office, and asked me what I was doing. He knew my parents well. He knew the family. And so when he heard I was going to teach for a year, he said, 'Oh, why don't you come into the training college this year. Rather than doing it after you finish university, come in now and then you can go to university.' And again, you know, like I am, I said to the Lord, 'What shall I do?', and I felt I should do that. So I made the decision there and then and sent a telegram to my parents, and said, 'I'm going to go into the training college to do my training here in England, rather than in Australia.' So that's what I did.

Now, we've got to get you there first. After you graduated, what was the next major step that occurred in your life?

Well, a great opportunity came and that was to go to London, to a big international youth rally. General Orsborn had felt that the first congress or convention, after the war -- when people could come, you know, travel easily around the world -- should be for young people, which I think was quite a lot of foresight. And so we had to raise the funds to travel there. And I was in a group of about 40 Australian young Salvationists who found the cash to go to England. And we went on a P&O boat called the Otranto, which took six weeks to get to London. And then we had this marvellous experience of meeting with a thousand or so Salvationists from all round the world -- Americans, South Americans, Europeans, Africans, everything. And this again confirmed in my mind, you know, this is a place where I should be.

And there was quite a large contingent of Australian Salvation Army youth going over on that ship?

Yes, yes, we were -- I'm not sure of the number -- I think it was about 40. And some were from the eastern side of Australian and some from the south. And one thing that General Orsborn had said was that the Salvation Army girls in Australia can play the tambourine better than anybody else in the world. And he wanted us to make sure that we would play in London, so that the other young people of the world could see our method. Now we didn't know that it was special, but somehow the playing of the tambourine in Australia has developed into quite an amazingly good musical expression. So every day on the ship we girls would practise the tambourine with a record going. Most of the people on the ship came to see us practising as well. And we used to have Bible Studies and often we would hold meetings for all the kids on the ship and give them a nice Sunday School and so forth. So we were kept very busy on the journey.

What was special about your tambourine playing?

The Salvation Army in Australia have learnt to play with choreography, with patterns. And around the world the Salvationists only just hit the timbrel, like a drum -- bang, bang, bang, bang, bang -- to the melody of the tune. But in Australia they've developed all this most graceful and beautiful playing and when we are in the street meetings, like I recently was up in Sydney, down near Central Quay, you know there, when the Salvation Army girls stand out to play the tambourine, everybody stops and listens. And it's a way of attracting people to come and listen to the message. So since that time, the Salvation Army type of playing in Australia has gone all round the world. Girls came to Australia to try and learn how we play. And everywhere you go in the world they play like that now.

How did you get the money to go to England?

Oh, well, that was my mother really. All the time I'd been at university, when my scholarship grant fund came in, she'd never used it, and she'd kept it for the day, she said, when we might need it. And we also did some fundraising events to help. But it wasn't very much. You know that for six weeks on a boat it was £65. Can't believe that. But of course I suppose £65 would be a lot more today.

And you ended up staying in England. How did that happen?

Well, when I met this training principal (who was an Australian and he suggested that I should go into the Salvation Army College in London), that sort of changed my whole plans. I had intended to train for the Salvation Army in Australia but it seemed to me like kind of divine guidance and I later felt that that was really the right thing to do. So I spent a year in the Salvation Army's College and then I went to university in London for a year, before I then went to Africa to teach. Because the kind of training that I did at the university was all designed for teaching in Third World countries. I did quite a lot in the course of anthropology and studying the culture of the people.

Did you do that at London University at SOAS [School of Oriental and African Studies]?

That would be at the Institute of Education, which is at the back of Russell Square just near the Senate House, the London University. And I lived in a Salvation Army students' hostel in Southampton Road. I'd just walk through Russell Square to university every day. And, you know, the university in Britain in those days certainly used the tutorial system. I must say my training in Queensland University in those days was classes and that's that. I mean, nowadays, we've taken on much more the tutorial system, where students are really encouraged to present their thoughts and discuss them out, whereas in my day, university was more like a lecture and you had to just listen, and that was what happened. But I had a very fine tutor at London University, a lady, Mrs Baggott, who had been a missionary educator in Nigeria. So she was very interested in what I was going to do. So that was very helpful to me.

What advantage do you think it gave you to have done your Salvation Army training in England rather than in Australia?

I don't think there's very much difference except that I was with a lot of international students as well as British students because it was called, in those days, the International Training College. And because a lot of us had gone to that youth congress we had a big number of students from abroad. There was Swedes, Danes, Italians, there was a couple of Indians, South Americans. And so it widened my view of the Salvation Army, and I learnt something about how the Salvation Army works internationally, from the headquarters in London.

And didn't alter you plan to [go to] Africa?

No, no. No, I think once I'd got into the college I pretty well knew then that I was probably going to remain celibate. So even …

How did you know that?

Oh, well, I had this feeling that the Lord had some plan for me ahead. And that going to Africa, teaching there, I probably wouldn't meet men, single men in our movement who would be ordained and whom I would then marry. I would not marry anyone who wasn't ordained because otherwise I would have had to then restrict my ministry. There were a lot of men in that course. There were about 200 students in the Salvation Army training. And probably 110 girls and 90 men. Just like school, it was pretty much separated.

So there wasn't a lot of pairing off. Because of the tradition of husbands and wives both being ordained, one would have thought that would have been exactly the place where matches would have been made?.

They were. It was. But not for me. Quite a few of the girls met their future husband in the group. And although we had these very strict rules about girls, and men and women, in separate sides and we were together in class [and] were not expected to meet up outside. But quite a few disobeyed the rules. But I think also I was the only graduate in the group. It was still fairly uncommon for Salvation Army members to be university graduates. And perhaps I was looking for somebody of my equal. And I didn't -- I looked them over but I didn't see anybody that particularly suited me.

And so it was then you decided -- how old were you when you felt that the celibate life was going to be yours?

I was probably -- yeah, 21. 21 or 22.

Was there any stage where you met any anybody that tempted you away from that dedication?

Afterward, yes.

Much later?

A good … yes, somewhat later. Perhaps later, when I studied at university again, when I was home in Australia on leave from Africa. Once I went to Africa, the term of service -- actually it was to have been seven years -- they reduced it to five while I was in my first term. So you would be allowed to go home after five years. And I decided to go back to university, and I met some people. But by that time I think my convictions were so strong about ministry that I … that is a time when I really did forfeit what might have culminated in marriage, in order to continue in my ministry in the Salvation Army.

Maybe we'll come back to that when we get to that part of the story.

I think probably too, at that later mature age, [that] I was ready for such an experience. And perhaps ready for the challenge too.

So at 21, 22, you were set fair to go out to Africa. When did you do that? When did you actually go and how did it come about?

Well, that was in 1952. I had been at university 1951-52, because it was a one-year course. And in the experiences there it was a fantastic time when I went teaching in the East End of London, the very area where William Booth started his work amongst the really working class. I went -- did my practice teaching there and it was quite an experience. So I had some great experiences during that time. My other assignment at university was in the south of England at Chichester, which was a very sedate area. And I went to say with a lord of the local manor while I did a research of the rural education. So I had, you know, the absolute extremes of British life, because when I stayed at this manor house, the people had not expected that it was a Salvationist that they were entertaining; it was a student, you see, from London. And I had to turn up on Sunday and I turned up in my uniform and they got an awful shock, thinking they were going to have to put up with this Salvationist for several weeks, you see. But then I explained to them that, no, I wore my civilian clothes, I'd just come from the Salvation Army church. And this very posh English gentleman, you know, he used to say -- he used to call me Aussie -- he used to say 'Aussie, tell me about the Salvation Army.' And then, 'What do you mean, Aussie, about being born again?' We used to have some fantastic discussions while we were sipping coffee through chocolate. And all the kinds of things I'd never done before. I had some very interesting experiences. But then, by the end of -- no, no, it was about July -- I was ready to go to Africa, but I would have liked to go home, because I'd been away from home for two years. And the Salvation Army in those days used to arrange for people to accompany children to Australia, on those migrant ships, and look after the children. Anyway, the immigration Salvation Army man, he got me a job with another girl, she was a teacher. She and I took 12 children to Australia for the Fairbridge Society on this six weeks' journey. It was really something. So I accompanied them, and two girls and ten boys I think it was. Looked after them for the whole journey. They were all -- the oldest was about 14. And they came out to one of these Fairbridge Homes. But it was quite an experience because I thought they were all going to be orphans, but they were mostly children from divorced families, and not orphans at all, kids with really big hang-ups. So we used to have a lot of time helping them. So the journey proved very interesting for that reason.

That was a huge task for two young girls.

Mmm, it was.

How did you cope with it?

Well, we ended up planning every day with school lessons and games and finally we had just about every kid on the ship with us every day. The parents [of other children on the boat] used to think we were there to provide the entertainment for everybody. So we had some very happy times. It was demanding, and especially because we stopped quite a lot. We stopped at Gibraltar and Naples and Port Said and Aden. So we'd have these 12 kids like in a crocodile line, making sure -- I was at the back and the other one was at the front. I don't know whether the kids realised how lucky they were but -- to have that trip.

There's been a lot of retrospective criticism of those schemes that shipped children away from their families out to Australia. What do you think of that?

I was very distressed really. I was distressed because some of those children had a parent, both parents. They were being sent to Australia because they couldn't fit in with the new marriage or something like that. I've never seen any of them except one again. And I was conducting services here in Australia, and a woman came to the service and she came up to see me. And she told me that she'd been happily married. Her husband was a counsellor and obviously in her case it'd worked out well. Certainly we gave them full attention but, I think coming all that way, such a long way from home and family, they, the kids, used to cry a lot.

How old was the youngest?

Oh, about six. Very sad.

And even at the time, even though you were quite young, you saw that this was a very harsh thing for them to have to deal with.

Mmm, mmm, yes. Alan Gill, an Australian journalist who's writing a book about this, he asked me what I thought about it. And I said I thought it was just like tearing a child away from home, because Australia's so far from Britain. It wasn't like being at boarding school, where you can get home to see your parents, and I mean a lot of people criticise boarding schools, but a lot of kids get home every holiday. Some kids get home nearly every weekend. But this was -- they'd never see their parents again. Very sad. But we tried to make it very happy for them. And I think we did, because every [other] kid on the ship preferred to be with us instead of being with their parents.

But you were coming home to see your parents. And then, what was the next move for you?

Well, my parents were by that time living in Sydney. They were in charge of the Salvation Army in Sydney so I stayed with them a couple of months and went up to see the family. So then I went -- sailed to Africa and arrived there in late November, 1952. And I went to Howard Institute, which was a very large mission station, which had a boarding school, teachers' college, theological college for black students, and a clinic, which later became a very big hospital. So it was a very large place. About 200 acres or so. Quite a lot of missionaries. So we had a great missionary family. And from many parts of the world, so you had a lovely family life, as well as the excitement of learning how to teach in Africa.

And what part of Africa were you in?

I was in what was then Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and in the northern area amongst the Mashona people. We were part of what was called, in those days, tribal trust area. That's what we would say in Australia, a reserve. It was an area reserved for Africans to live. And nearby were white farmers and so forth, but we concentrated on the work with the African people in the villages. I actually taught in primary school, I taught in the top class for two years, before I then started to train them as teachers for those primary schools.

And so you were training the Africans so they could take over the primary school teaching?


What religion, what kind of religious interaction, did you have with the Africans? If they were on a reserve, were they practicing their tribal religion around you?

No. By that time there were a lot of Christians. There was plenty of the old tribal faith, but in most of the centres in that area there was a Salvation Army worship centre, church. That is because in Zimbabwe they didn't have competition between the missions, as had been the case in South Africa sometimes. So in an area, the Salvation Army would be the mission. We would have the school, we would have the church. In this area they'd be Anglicans, in this area they'd be Catholics. So that you virtually had your church defined within that tribal trust area. And in all the villages, the main villages, there would be a little primary school, and then they would come to Howard for their secondary, for their later primary school work. And teacher training. When I went in '52 there were no secondary schools for black students, except I think two run by the government in Harare (Salisbury) and Bulawayo, so the African education hadn't yet risen to that stage. So in the 17 or so years that I was in Zimbabwe I saw not only the development of education itself, but I saw the development of secondary education, mostly on the English Cambridge school level. So I saw a great development in education [and] he building of the university.

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