Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

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The Africans then began to really organise in a serious way, because they could see that their opportunities were going to be closed off altogether. Did any of the people that were part of your mission, the Africans who were Salvation Army people, join in that struggle?

Well, the struggle had been going on underground. I didn't know too much about that because they didn't let us into the secrets. But I knew that our headmaster of our primary school (which had all the village pupils, where we used to do our practical teaching), his name was Parirenyatwa, and his brother was a doctor who was very much to the forefront in the African movement. So I knew he was involved somehow, and later he disappeared and went to Northern Rhodesia, later Zambia. And one night, I always remember, I was walking in the compound and a car came along late at night and I was so surprised. And when I looked in the car I saw a very famous man (now), and that was Mr Nkomo, the head of the other section of the country, the Matabeleland, who later became Assistant President. He was very vocal.

Joshua Nkomo.

Yes. And I added, 'Is there anything you want?' And he said, 'can you tell us how to get to Paranatoi's house?', you see. And that was our headmaster. They didn't tell us what they were doing because no doubt they felt they had to keep these things secret to themselves.

There were, of course later, great tensions between the whites and the blacks in the country as things drew to a head. Were those tensions apparent to you at the time?

Not as great, no. And in a school, although we knew the students were very vocal to each other, it was not like later -- when I had left, Zimbabwe, there was a great deal of tension even in the schools. So that once the freedom fighters were set up by Mugabe and others -- and many students ran away from school to join Mugabe -- even some of our own students went off to give themselves in service to the freedom fighters. And many of them were sent abroad, to China and Russia, to learn how to fight. Some of our Salvation Army officers who are now members of the church were actually trained in China. Some of them know how to speak Chinese and Russian. It's because they felt they wanted to go and serve with Mugabe's forces, and bring about the freedom that they were looking for. But during our time there, there really wasn't a great deal of, shall we say, overt anti-mission feeling. And even later, when some of the freedom fighters came in and murdered missionaries, very often they were people who had been trained in China and Russia, and they thought anybody who was white was against them. In fact, two of our own missionaries were murdered at the school where I used to be the principal. I had left, I'd gone to London on another assignment for the Salvation Army and at the Usher School, the terrorists -- well, they like to be called freedom fighters, I should remember that -- they came in to the mission station and rounded up a lot of the missionaries and then they were marching them down through the school compound when they heard a noise, and they thought it was probably the government troops coming. So they just shot the four missionaries and then ran off into the bush. And two of them were quite young girls who'd only just come to Rhodesia a year or so beforehand. The other two survived; a man and a woman who were somewhat older. But that didn't stop our missionary people from continuing their work because they knew that some of these freedom fighters had been brainwashed against the missions. And now, the situation is so different. Now that there's independence and Zimbabwe governs itself, the attitude to the Christian missions is very different, very positive. President Mugabe has spoken out very clearly that they feel the church has a great deal to give to the country. But it was a difficult time, especially after I left. So I didn't share that period but I know that, just like the fenced villages of Vietnam, in Zimbabwe all the people came in to an area of safety. And, for example, Howard Institute became a fenced village where people could come and shelter with the missionaries.

What was the official attitude of the Salvation Army to the movement for independence? Was a position taken in relation to that?

I would say that we remained fairly neutral, because the Salvation Army has never got involved in political parties and discussions like that. But we would be as supportive as possible. Many of our African teachers were actually killed too. One of my own students, I heard later, he was a headmaster of a school in a very far distant rural area, where the freedom fighters came in and rounded up people and took him away. And he's never been found again. So I think the Salvation Army had to maintain a very careful stance.

You say you were neutral politically, and yet on the day that Ian Smith declared UDI, you were so angry that you took the day off. So you did have, quietly, some political opinions of your own?

Oh yes, yes. And I would probably have been a bit of a rebel in that case. And I wasn't in Zimbabwe, so I don't know what I might have done. But I think the Salvation Army was ready to be supportive to the families of the freedom fighters. We would provide means with which they could have help and food and things like that in the forests. I think that -- where we could help we did. And we had always been keen to develop black leaders. And always, I think, we were keen to hear what they were saying, so that now, in Zimbabwe, our commanders have been black for quite some time.

You loved Africa so much, why did you leave?

Well, I didn't leave of my own volition. I was told by the Salvation Army that I would have another appointment. And that's Salvation Army style. You don't plan where you'll go, you just go where you're sent. So they felt that I was to be useful in some other sphere of work. And I was being appointed to the Salvation Army's International College -- [for Officers] in London. So I had to just get up and go.

How were you told about that?

Oh, my commander would just inform [you] that you have another assignment. And I was due to go home to Australia for some leave. And he said, 'When you go home, you won't be returning. You'll have to go somewhere else.' And he didn't tell me where I would be going. I didn't know for some time.

How much notice did you have to say goodbye to Africa?

Oh, very little. Couple of months, few months.

How did you feel about that?

Oh, it was a grief experience. I was mourning inside myself. You know, I really felt that I was leaving part of myself behind.

So if it had been up to you, you wouldn't have made that change?

Correct. And when I went to Africa I thought I'd be there til the rest of my days.

Could you describe to me what it felt like for someone like yourself, who likes to be in control of your life, to be placed in that situation where you had to follow orders without even understanding the reason for them.

Well, I think I interpreted the reason. And the reason was that I had performed well as a principal of a school and had shown leadership qualities, and therefore it was seen that I should go somewhere else where that leadership would be developed. And my commander, interpreting that too, would say well, that's the reason. There's something else up ahead where your gifts will be used in a wider field. So, in a sense, that therefore helps you to accept what has happened, which would not necessarily have been of your choice.

Because the idea of obeying orders is so foreign to the modern contemporary mind, I would like you to describe exactly how it was that that impacted on you at the time, the kinds of thoughts you had and how it felt to be in a situation where you had to follow an order that, in your heart, you didn't feel happy about.

Well, I must say that when you become a Salvation Army officer you accept that as part of the discipline of your life in the ministry, that you are sent where your leaders consider your gifts will be best used. And therefore you really don't argue against it, even if you feel sorry about moving, or feel sorry to leave the people you've grown to love. And you feel, well, I accept this because it is a decision that's obviously for the Kingdom of God, of which the Salvation Army is a part. So if this is going to benefit the Kingdom of God, then I accept it. Now I know that is difficult in the modern context, but in the Salvation Army context it is not so difficult. And if you feel that your hand … you are in the hand of God, and the Salvation Army is the medium through which you express your ministry, then you accept the style of the Salvation Army.

In retrospect of course, they were grooming you for even higher things.

Correct.

At the time, did you realise that? Did you have an inkling of that?

I would say it was a slight inkling. I didn't think it was something like one day being the General. But it was obvious that they had noted my abilities in leadership. And, interestingly, I had been to a course in London in 1967, a two-month course which is rather like in the military; a staff college. It's a refresher course for two months, and there's a college in London, at which I later became the principal [International College for Officers]. I went as a delegate to that course. And I think some people in London who were responsible for Salvation Army grooming, if you like, noticed me and some people said, you know, you really have the gifts to do something of value in Salvation Army leadership. So I mean I kept that in the back of my mind.

During the period that you'd been in Rhodesia, how had your leadership progressed, how had that been displayed?

Well, when I went, I was just a teacher. Then, by having the responsibility of the church life of the mission station, that had indicated to people that I could organise well. And then I was made the person to introduce a new teachers' college course. When I was on my first leave from Africa, I went to Sydney University and took a masters degree in education. I stayed home for a year, and then I presented my thesis from Zimbabwe on the training of black teachers. So I got the opportunity to begin a new course. And we did a lot of experimental work in training black students for teaching opportunities. So I had shown my capacity. And the Government Inspectorate, who would come and oversee the school and review the school and see how our students were doing, and whether they were decent teachers or not -- we got such really high grades for the quality of education we were providing for teachers. And then I was sent as the head of a mission station in the south of the country in Zimbabwe. So I was the principal of Usher Institute, which was a girls' school, and that was a teachers' college for girls doing domestic science teaching. And a secondary school, boarding school, for girls, as well as a primary school. So I had the responsibility of the whole mission. And that's what I had been doing when I was then appointed to London.

And you hadn't been there very long, and you were just getting it all going, weren't you, when you were called away?

Yes, I'd been there about three years, yeah. And the school was doing very well too.

But you accepted it. And what was the post that you were sent off to?

Well, I was appointed to be the assistant principal of this international college in London, that I'd been at about three years before as a delegate. So I went to live in London. And it's a college on Sydenham Hill in South London, where we had four courses per year. And each course held 24 or 26 students, and they were from all around the world. There would be as many as 12, 15, countries represented. And they had to be officers who'd had at least ten years of service. So this was a place where they would look again at the motivation of the Salvation Army, look at some of the places of our history, because we began in Britain, and we would see the sites where William Booth began the Salvation Army. Then we would discuss something of our administration, our international impact around the world. So it was more like giving these officers an opportunity to see the Salvation Army in a far wider perspective than they would in their own country.

It was also giving the Salvation Army headquarters an opportunity to look at you …

Yes. I didn't think of that at the time, but I realise now that they were having a good look at me.

When you were home on leave, that was about the time that some significant things happened in your family too, wasn't it?

Yes. That time, when I was on leave, my father died. Actually my mother took a stroke in 1967 … [INTERRUPTION]

What was happening with your family back in Australia at that time?

Well, in 1967, I had word that I was going to go to London, which I was very excited about (going to that college for a two-month period) when I suddenly got a call from one of my brothers to say Mother had taken a stroke and so I flew home, and spent about a fortnight with Mother. She was in the hospital at that time. Actually it was quite lovely because she hadn't spoken since she'd had the stroke and when I walked into the hospital ward, my mother looked at me and called my name. And she never said anything else after that. Father and I used to spend time with her daily, and other members of the family came in. But I was home with father and looking after him, and then Mother died. There was a lovely thing that happened at that time. I was very anxious because the hospital wouldn't be able to keep my mother and so I wanted to find a place where she would be cared for. And so my brothers and sisters left it to me because I was free, and I went to the Catholic hospital called Mt Olivet and had an appointment with the Mother Superior there. And when I talked to her, she said, 'Look, I would normally say no, I can't do anything for you, we're so full. But because you've given your life so beautifully to God in service in Africa, I'll find your mother a bed.' I thought that was lovely. But then the day she was to move, she died. She didn't go to Mt. Olivet. But I always cherish that because when people [talk] of different denominations, we talk about all the tensions between them [and] that was a beautiful time to prove that we can live together and understand each other well. And then Mother died, and I was going to stay home with Father but he insisted that I went to that course, which was just about to start. And so I left and went to London. And I have other sisters and brothers who were able to keep an eye on Father. But then when I was told I was leaving Africa, I was on my way home to see my father and then get ready to go to London, when I got word that he was very, very ill with cancer. In fact, I got off the boat at Perth and flew home to Brisbane, and when I went to the hospital, somehow Dad sort of perked up as quite often happened. He was so pleased to see me. And the doctor said, 'Well, he can come home. And he won't live for long. But you can look after him at home if you like.' So I said, 'Oh, there's nothing I'd like better.' So for about eight weeks I cared for my father, and looked after him before he died. So I felt very privileged that after all the years I'd been away I was able to be near both my parents at the time of their passing, at the time of what we call in the Salvation Army 'promotion to glory'. That's your last and best promotion, when you're promoted to be with God. So that was beautiful for me.

And so you didn't feel huge sadness at the loss? You felt that it was something wonderful had happened to them?

Yes, well, my parents were in their 70s when both of them died. I know they worked hard all their life and served the Lord. And so therefore death is not something to mourn about at that stage. You realise that they are going to a place of much greater joy and glory than they have known here. And although there's great sorrow in losing them, it's more our loss of them than the fact that they're going. So a funeral service in the Salvation Army is often almost like a joyous occasion, because this person, especially when they're older -- it's different when it's a child and there's so much more reason to try and provide comfort and consolation -- in the Salvation Army we say if a person has lived a good life and their reward is beyond them, then there's a sort of note of jubilation. In fact, I've actually had people say to me, 'I've been to a Salvation Army funeral and it's so different. It was such an amazing occasion. Everybody was rejoicing in the life of this person and the fact of what lies ahead.'

So, did you make a great success of this job of being in London at this college? Was their faith that your gifts would be able to be used in this new context justified?

Oh, I think so, because I think I did extremely well, because I had already lived in Africa and therefore was sensitive to those people in the course who were from the Third World. In fact, I was the first staff member of that college who had actually served in the Third World so that was a great advantage to me. I really took an interest in those who -- perhaps their English was not as strong, good, as the Americans and Australians and Canadians-- so I would spend extra time with them. I did all kinds of extra-curricular activities. I'd take groups of them, of the delegates, to the different churches in London, not just to the Salvation Army, to go and hear some of the famous preachers in the Methodist Church and the Congregational Church and the Anglican Church. And also I would take them to some cultural events. I remember one missionary who'd come from Malaysia, she'd been way up in northern part of Malaysia, and I took her and a few others to see Swan Lake at Covent Garden. And she said, 'I know this has been a wonderful course, but I think that day at Covent Garden was the best of the lot.' So I took, I think, a tremendous interest in the students. And then I know that the students themselves, they talked to others. The world for the Salvation Army is divided into five zones. There's North and South America is one, Europe, Africa, South Asia and then South Pacific and East Asia. So each one of those zones has a sort of leader in London, who oversights that area. So his delegates that came from that area, he would talk to them. I'm sure that they said, oh, what they thought about me at the college, and how I helped them, and how I made it as interesting and stimulating and I think challenging as possible. I think that would have been well-known because students are like that, aren't they? They tell on their teachers.

And so what was your next big challenge?

Well, the next big challenge was that, oh, one day I was in the Salvation Army's world headquarters, I was talking to the second in command. We call him the Chief of the Staff. There's the General and the Chief of the Staff. And I'd been talking to him about the college, because I was now the principal. And we were discussing some changes in the curriculum, and so forth, and then he said, 'Oh, this morning we've got a surprise for you. Would you come and see the General?' And when I went to see the General, they said, 'Oh, we have decided that you should have a change of appointment.' Now, I had been five years at the college. I wasn't surprised to get a change, because it's good after a period of time to go somewhere else. You know, especially after five years, and many things that I'd changed, I'd now felt I needed another challenge. But the challenge that they gave me really did nearly knock me off the chair. Because they said to me, 'You are now going to be in charge of all the social work for women in Great Britain and Ireland,' and that was quite a shock. Unlike when I left Africa, I wasn't worried about leaving the college, because I'd done a good job there. But I said to the General, 'Do you know that I've never been in social problems before?' And I'd been mainly involved in education and in international situation. 'No,' they said, you know, 'we feel that you're the one to do it.' So I said, 'Well, I've never refused any appointment before, so don't think I'm going to refuse. I'll accept it and I'll do my very best.' And I said, 'I hope that you're going to ensure that I'm replaced at the college with someone who's been in the Third World, someone on the mission,' who'd been a missionary, someone who had some understanding of other parts of the world apart from America and Britain. And he promised me that that's what they would do. He even asked me some suggestions of names, which I was glad to inform him about. And he did choose one of those.

Does anybody ever refuse? I mean, what would have happened if you'd said, 'No fear, I'm not going to do that?'

I think they would have listened. And I must say that today, in today's climate, we do a lot more talking to officers about what their potential is and where they could be best used. And I think many officers know well in advance of the actual announcement now, what's going to be coming up for them. There's still a certain element of going by command but we're much more in a consultative situation. And I myself, as a leader, always considered consultative leadership as one of my styles. But if I'd said no, I wonder what they would have done. They would have tried to persuade me that's why they had chosen me for that position and then I probably would have said yes. But if I'd continued to say no, they would have said, 'Well, you better stay where you are for the present and we'll see what else happens.' But that would have taken every opportunity for future leadership away from me, I think, because I was not willing to abide by the methods, the strategies, of the Salvation Army. And if I was going to be a leader of the Salvation Army later, I ought to abide by what they do.

But in fact you were really actually quite excited, weren't you, about the thought of going into an absolutely brand new field?

Yes, I was quite -- once I got there I was a bit trepidacious at the beginning for me. I'm usually fairly confident. But I thought, how can I cope, because actually Britain is very much bigger than Australia in terms of population and social centres. And I thought, how am I going to cope with this wide range of activity. But once I got there and started to have a look at the situation, I was really quite challenged to do something about it. It was interesting because when I came to the end of my five years at the college, I was allowed to come home to Australia for six weeks. And during that six weeks, I was able to go to a few talks by social people here in Australia, [from] which I learnt a lot. I can't remember his name exactly, I think it might have been Michael Scott, but I went somewhere where he was giving some lectures on social problems in Australia and what we're trying to do here. And I was 'specially impressed by his comments about advocacy, speaking up for the people who can't speak up for themselves. And that was a short time but it really was another thing that helped me to feel quite challenged that I could really do something. And then of course I began what was really only a very short appointment but, to me, one of the most significant appointments of my life. Length of time doesn't necessarily tell you how valuable a thing is.

And what was valuable about it?

Well, I think I learnt to understand some of the social problems of the Western world. I'd been in Africa. I thought the poor were all in Africa. But then I found the drastic poverty of people in Britain and especially women. I used to go to our big hostels, where we had women who were homeless, lonely, women who had alcohol problems. And they were so desperately sad. Such desperately sad people. And I just realised that here was a tremendous need, and the Salvation Army was trying to provide them with some love, some friendship, a place where they could meet other people and enjoy decent food and so forth. And I think one of my surprising experiences was when I went to one of our hostels -- and we had a lot of them in Britain -- this one was up in Scotland, and in those days the places where the women slept were rather like dormitories. Now we have much nicer hostels with single rooms and so forth. But in those days, there'd be, say, a very big room with about 30 beds, and then beside each bed was a little locker where they kept their clothes. And Matron was telling me something about the women and what a sad sort of lonely lot they were. And then I saw on one of the lockers this Christmas card which I -- I suppose curiosity -- I bent down and was reading it. And it said, you know, 'Christmas Greetings from loved ones across the sea.' So I said, 'Oh well, at least this lady's got someone who loves her.' And Matron said, 'Oh no, no. She would have sent that card to herself. And that was quite a moment for me. I hadn't ever realised that people could be that lonely. So then, you know, I had a whole paradigm shift, as they call it these days, looking at these women, and trying to see what we could do to bring some joy and happiness and meaning into their life. And [looking at] the programs that we had in the centres, not just offering them a bed and some food, but what are we doing with them in the daytime, how are we helping them to find something meaningful. And also at that time too, in British social work, many of our children's centres were closing down, because the idea of fostering became very popular. And keeping children in a Home was not thought to be good for them. I don't necessarily agree with that myself, but they … children were fostered out, only the very, very, difficult children, or children with parents who needed some help over the weekends or something. Our children's centres were changed. And so many of our centres became empty. And that's when we moved into caring for women from violent home settings. What the English call 'battered wives', a phrase I never liked. So we had a lot of that kind of work. So no, I really got very absorbed into it all.

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