Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

Tape of 13

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How did you feel when you were told that you were coming back to Australia? A position of leadership in your own country where you were born is a little bit different, isn't it?

Yes, that's right, and I think I was quite excited about it, because I was the first woman to ever be a Commander in Australia. And the Salvation Army had been in Australia more than 100 years at that stage. So that was-- for me -- quite a challenge too. The appointment itself had, I think, been in the offing for some time, because although the General at that time was General Wahlstrom, who's a Finnish general, General Brown, the previous General, had no doubt had this in mind. He was Canadian and had taken a great interest, I think, in my development. He sometimes calls himself my mentor. I don't know that he did the mentoring that we normally associate with that today, but he did take a great interest in my development as a leader. He was a General for part of the time when I was in Scotland and encouraged me, and I think he felt that it was a good time for a woman to come to leadership in a prominent Salvation Army command such as Australia. The other thing that perhaps gave me a little concern, was I wondered if I would be Australian enough, because you see I'd been away from Australia for more than 30 years, hadn't worked and served in Australia yet. And so I thought, I wonder if the Australians will think I'm too much of somebody from afar. And how would I fit into the Australian scene. And it was a wonderful discovery, that I hadn't been back here two weeks when I felt a real Aussie. It was great. That's when I realised that your roots are very significant in your upbringing. I mean I'd been in Australia the first 21 years of my life. And when I was abroad in other places people always recognised me as an Australian. Something of my Australian-ness communicated to people. But when I actually came to live here I felt a real Australian.

And what does that actually mean? What did it mean to you to be Australian? What do you call your Australian-ness? How would you characterise it?

I think it would be a relaxed style, an openness, a readiness to meet with people and get involved with people. I think openness is a quality of Australian-ness, if I may say so. And enjoying people, enjoying other people. Maybe it comes from our wide open spaces, I don't know what it is. But certainly that I call being an Australian.

And were you accepted back here?

Well there was, I think, quite a deal of interest. I didn't know very much about what the feelings were, but certainly I think amongst the men there was a concern whether I would be able to make it because I hadn't worked in Australia for many years. People knew who I was, but didn't know very much about my ability to lead and command. So I think they were holding their support until they saw how I got on. I think there were some reservations amongst some people.

Were they mainly on the grounds that you were a woman?

I think there were certain feelings that perhaps a woman couldn't cope with the demands of a place like Australia, which involved total work of the Salvation Army, both social work and evangelistic work, preaching and teaching and organising. I think amongst Australian men there has been a feeling that a woman is not such a good organiser as a man. I think that's a cultural thing in Australia, which I think is changing greatly now. But it was more, not criticism of women, but protection almost of women. You know, these women really, you know, we must look after them. They can't really cope with the demands of this very heavy job.

You'd been in Scotland and in England and in Africa and Sri Lanka, and yet you seem to be suggesting that Australian men had more scepticism about the capacity of women than the men in those other countries?

Ah, I don't know if it's more. But I think in Australia we hadn't had women leaders at the top level. Australia had had -- let me put it this way -- the Australian Salvation Army had had women in leadership at the local level, but not at the top administrative level. I think perhaps men here in Australia had, at that stage, not realised that women had the capacity to do that. I know we hear a lot about mateship and all that sort of thing in Australia, but perhaps it's taken Australian men a little more time than some others to come to accept the ability of women in administrative positions.

And then, Eva Burrows arrived in Australia, to take leadership. How did you go about tackling the task in that environment?

Well, of course, I worked mostly with men, in the close administrative positions. I think I was sensitive to the fact that I had to walk a little carefully. My style, I think, is one of consultative leadership, so that I involved the men in the group in my decision making. I think that's important. And I was not an authoritative leader, dictatorial, but shared leadership. And also I think I tried to be non-confrontationist. I think you often win many arguments by disarming rather than confronting. So that I didn't use it as a technique so much as the fact that that was my style. So I would say, 'Well, I haven't had a great deal of experience in this area, but what do you think about this?' So that didn't lay on the fact that I knew a great deal about Salvation Army leadership too quickly. And then I think the men who worked with me discovered that I did have wide experience, experience beyond what they had had themselves. And so then I think some of their scepticism may have turned to admiration.

What did you do during that period that you think attracted admiration?

I think my style at the administrative boards, for example. Unlike a lot of people I actually do enjoy the cut and thrust around a board table. The Bible has a verse which says 'Iron sharpeneth iron.' And I enjoy that. And I often find that, in that discussion, what emerges is something of great value, which is much better than what I had in mind in the first place. So I appreciate the views of other people and when I accept their views I acknowledge it too. I don't take it as my view. I will admit where it came from in the first place, and I think men appreciated that because that's not always the style of a leader. If he gets good ideas from somewhere else they usually come out as his own ideas. I think also my tremendous interest in people gained admiration, because as I would move around the area of my responsibility, I would get to know people and be able to call them by name, and refer to them when we would have discussions at the headquarters. Now, some of the men still find that interesting, and even surprising. Because, you know, when a man is married and his wife is with him in his ministry, I've noticed everywhere I've been, that he often says to his wife, 'Who was that person, dear?' or 'What was the name of that woman we met so and so?' Because so often he depends on his wife to remember the names of the people that they've been involved with. But I had to do that myself, I had no wife. And I was interested in people. So I think that was another point that was valued very much. I think my style of preaching, which was significantly a communicative style. I was not a heavy preacher with great theological implications in my services, much more a topical preacher. I think people found my preaching helpful. And I think generally my style, which is again not to stand on my dignity, but to really enjoy people and to come up close to them and get to know them. And in that too, there was a great joke that I was always the last person out after any event. And that was because I would stand and greet the people. And the people would all be gone and my second in command would say, 'Aren't you ever going home?' Those kinds of things I think were among various aspects of my leadership that made people warm to me.

On the organisational front, there'd been concern that maybe you wouldn't be up to it. What did you achieve in the organisational sense while you were in Australia?

Well, I think I encouraged everyone to take their own responsibility. I, for example, gave to the divisional leaders a new level of responsibility, and I think that also encourages them to take their part with a greater effort, so that you felt the whole territory was working together. I also established a church growth sector, which was to emphasise the evangelistic work in Australia. Like many Western countries, we were not exactly going down, but we were just keeping a sort of -- in the graph --plateau, in the number of our membership. And when I heard about a new style of encouraging growth within the church, then I sent a couple of our best officers to Canada to take part in a seminar and course. And then they came back and we established a Growth Department where I put two of our best people, and Australian Salvationists said, 'Well, she's putting her money where her mouth is. She's setting up this new scheme for evangelistic growth. Not only putting her money into social programs.' I developed a very interesting program called Employment 2000 for unemployed youth so I was supporting our social community program, but I was also supporting our evangelistic program, so that our evangelism and social work were being treated as equally important in my eyes. So, to get those kind of things going and supporting the public relations people in their fundraising, doing everything I could to show them that that work was a very spiritual work just as much as it's an economic and financial work. When they raise funds for the Salvation Army, it's for the good of God's Kingdom.

The public relations side of the work and specifically the advertising that the Salvation Army engaged in at that time led you into controversy, didn't it? There was a particular campaign …[INTERRUPTION] … In relation to Australia, you mentioned that it's a very prominent command to have the Australian command. Why is that? Is the Salvation Army particularly big in Australia?

The Salvation Army is strong in Australia, and it is a very significant part of community life. You see, the Salvation Army began in Australia in 1880. The actual name, the Salvation Army, came into being in 1878 in England. So we were very early in the world to become the Salvation Army. And it happened in a most interesting way: in Adelaide, where free settlers had established that particular colony, two men who had become Christians (as we say, converted, in the preaching of William Booth in England) were now settlers in Adelaide. And they -- there was no Salvation Army so they had turned to some church, perhaps Methodist or something like that. And in the service this day, the preacher had said something and one of these men shouted out in good Salvation Army style, 'Hallelujah!' So they met afterwards. One said, you know, 'Did you hear the preaching of William Booth?' or something like that and they discovered that they had become Christians in Britain under William Booth. So they decided, oh, we should start the Salvation Army. I mean that's real Australian, isn't it, taking that sort of initiative. So they wrote to William Booth and asked him to send an officer to help them begin the Salvation Army amongst the settlers in Adelaide, and they didn't get an answer for quite a time from William Booth, so they decided they'd take the law in their hands and start themselves. So they had their first meeting in the Botanical Gardens in Adelaide, which was a place like Speakers' Corner, where politician's and anybody could get up and have a spruik. And so they took a greengrocer's cart and they had an organ and a couple of other supporters. And they held their first meeting under this big gum tree. And in actual fact -- a lot of people came around to listen. And something that one of these men said on that occasion is very significant, to me. He said, 'Oh, we're going to have a service here today, we're going to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, but let me say this: if there's anybody here who hasn't had a meal today, after the service you can come home with me and I'll give you something to eat.' I like that, because right in the very first meeting of the Salvation Army in Australia, unofficial, informal, a man illustrates this duality of our purpose, which is to proclaim the gospel and to help people at a point of need, either to feed them or to clothe them or to help in their particular problems. So when I came to Australia as the Territorial Commander and went to Adelaide for the first time in my life -- I'm ashamed to say that I was an Australian who had never yet visited Adelaide -- I asked if I could go and see that gum tree. And we went and stood under that gum tree, there was a plaque there, and we prayed. And I prayed that God would help me to have that same adventurous spirit that those very first two men had, who began the Salvation Army all those years before.

Often when men are doubtful about whether or not a woman can do a leadership job of an organisational kind, by organisation they mean financial management?

Quite a lot, yes.

There is a scepticism about a woman's capacity to handle the financial side of a very large organisation of the kind that you were in charge of. How did you go on that financial side?

Well, I've always felt that money was very important. I've never scorned money like some religious or over-pious people do. I think money is important because you're going to use it to the betterment of society and for the building of God's Kingdom. So I always considered the financial side very important. With a greater sense of accountability, I really felt we had to go out and try and get as much as possible, so I was a great encourager of the Public Relations Department, which had those two sides of seeing that the public's informed about what the Salvation Army does, but also asking them for money. And I have always made it very clear that we can never ask for money unless we're doing it. So that if anybody is asked to support us, I should be able to take them to any Salvation Army social and community centre and they can look at what we do. And it's often when they come and see what we do that they become even more generous subscribers. I'm not averse to approaching wealthy people to help us. For example, at that time when I was beginning this program for unemployed youth in Australia, we could sense that we wouldn't get too much government support. So I needed plenty of funding to get it launched. And then I thought, well once we're doing it and the government sees what we're doing, we'll get more support from the government. And so a very generous philanthropist here in Australia, I went to lunch with him, at the very nice Windsor Hotel in Melbourne, and persuaded him to give up a lot of money.

Who was that?

Sir John Reid. And he was very generous to us on other occasions as well. And he was able to support that program, and as it developed, then we were able to expand it to all the other capitals. We started in Perth actually and now it's right throughout Australia. And the government came and interviewed us and we explained the program and then we received very good funding from the government. Not total funding, but part funding. And some of the government schemes themselves, I could see little echoes of our projects. So I was never averse to asking for money. I didn't ever feel, you know, I was like a pauper going to ask some rich person to help me. I was going to ask a wealthy person to share in this great endeavour that we were involved in. And many wealthy people have actually said to me, 'Thank you for the privilege of supporting this.' And when I prayed with them and asked God's blessing upon them, and even asked God to bless the use of their money, they've said to me, 'Oh you've given me more than I've given you.' I even had opportunity to ask Rupert Murdoch once to help us.

How did you go?

Oh, very well, thank you. It was in London and it was in our great bicentennial year. And the High Commissioner for Australia, Doug McClelland, who was very I think supportive of the Salvation Army, he invited me to quite a few events in order to pray at the meal, you know. In Britain it's always important to have grace said at any big event such as a dinner or something like that. So there was to be a big dinner dance, I think it was at the Dorchester in Park Lane, and I'd been invited to come and say the grace over the banquet. And I said I'd be leaving before it came to the ball part and the dancing. So just before the dinner we were in the room with all the chief guests -- the Duke and Duchess of York were there. And that's the first time I met Rupert Murdoch and in our conversation he actually said, you know, any time I might need any help, he would be able to. So I immediately capitalised on that and said yes I would because I felt that the Public Relations Department in Britain, while I was the General in London, really could do with a little revamping. So he said, 'Write to me.' And I did. And then he arranged for that great company called Saatchi&Saatchi to come and give us some good advice and help on how to improve our public relations. So I was always ready to capitalise on opportunities to get money. And, I may say, a woman often has a greater advantage than a man in doing this … We won't say how.

You're not telling me you flirted with Rupert Murdoch?

No, I didn't. I don't use feminine wiles, but I think a woman can have a style in approaching people which is again less confrontationist, and perhaps more with a sympathetic, compassionate, sort of style. Not as a trick, no, no, no. But I think naturally. Our founder's wife, Catherine Booth, always said that women are not in competition with men. Women and men complement each other, because women have their gifts, their psyche, and if you use those gifts which you have to the glory of God, then God has a wonderful way of turning them to great value.

Looking back on the time that you were in Australia, what do you think was your most significant contribution to the Salvation Army during that period of your leadership?

Well, I think it was twofold probably. One is the encouragement to the Salvation Army to be a church and to be known as a church. That's what I call the Church Growth Department and the movement we made. And the realisation that Australian Salvationists should reach out to people in their community, not just with the helping hand and food and clothing, but to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ, the introduction of friends' and neighbours' services, where Salvationists who perhaps have never brought a neighbour to the church before, were encouraged to bring them on these occasions, when we would have a service which was more geared to people who'd never been to church before. And to see a growth in the membership of the Salvation Army as a church. And to try and help people generally to know that the Salvation Army is a church, a denomination, as well as a charity. And then I think I quickened the conscience of everyone who came within the orbit of my influence towards unemployment and the homeless. I often had the chance to speak to the media about this.

Who was the government at the time?

Ah, Premier Cain was the Premier of Victoria. And I had quite a lot to do with that. In the central government was Mr Fraser's government. But I think the opportunities came more within the state parliaments than the federal parliaments. We did set up, at that time, a central office in Canberra for the whole of Australia because in Australia the Salvation Army has two territories with a headquarters in Melbourne and a headquarters in Sydney. So you co-operate together. And we've now set up a ministry in Canberra that also approaches the government there. We had very good friends who helped us to find a location in Canberra to set up our central national office. And in that office we now approach the government together, both the territories of Australia. And also through that office we seek support from US aid for projects in the Third World as well.

Had you any idea, as you were getting this succession of high-level appointments, moving, as it were, up the career ladder within the Salvation Army, that you were being groomed to be the General one day?

No, I don't think I had the feeling that I was being groomed for it. I know that a lot of people here and there …

During the period when you were in charge of things in Australia, what was your relationship with government like?

Well, first of all with state governments we had a very good and close relationship, through our state commanders. But with the federal government, the leadership had changed from the …

What was your relationship with the federal government?

Well, we at that time had the big change from the Fraser Government to the Hawke Government. And I must say that during the time when Mr Hawke was in power, he was certainly very supportive to the Salvation Army, and particularly to our social programs. I was invited, at that time, to sit on the Tax Summit and that was a great experience. I actually sat next to Peter Hollingworth, who was then working in Melbourne, but now of course is Archbishop in Brisbane, who is a very involved person in community affairs. But I also had the chance to speak there and I think that was a time when Mr Hawke realised how passionate I was concerning the poor and the disadvantaged and the unemployed in Australia. You know that was the time when Mr Keating, who was treasurer, was seeking to bring in a consumption tax. And actually I spoke against the consumption tax, because I had some statistics which revealed that charities would be tremendously disadvantaged if the tax had come in. And I asked for exemption for charities, especially on certain things such as food and so forth. Anyway, the next day, after I'd spoken, it was announced that charities were going to be exempt from the consumption tax. So I don't know whether my speech moved the heart of Mr Keating as well as Mr Hawke.

In the end, of course, the whole idea of the consumption tax was dropped. Would you speak against it now?

No, no, I wouldn't actually. I have a somewhat different view because I've lived in other countries where a consumption tax is very common. In Britain for example, it's 17 and a half per cent on everything. And I realised that for those who have much, the consumption tax means that they have to pay up. You know, in Australia, we've always been famous for the number of people who can evade and avoid tax. Quite legally. So that very often the very rich hardly pay any tax whereas they have to pay consumption tax. And of course, they buy more expensive things than the poor. And so, for example, if they buy all their designer clothes, they're paying a tax on those clothes. So at least it's one way to catch the wealthy who don't pay their tax. And therefore, if the government is careful in the introduction of a consumption tax, to protect poor by giving a larger non-taxable section of your income, or ensure that certain products in foods and things that are used a great deal are not taxed. So I think with careful working out, we could see that consumption tax would be beneficial. Except it should not be as high for example as in Britain. For 17 and a half per cent is a very big hit. And when John Major not so long ago tried to bring in the consumption tax on your telephone, and your fuel, you know, heat and light and gas and electricity, he even lost that vote because many of his own Tories went and voted against him, because it's the poor who need electricity and gas. And even now in Britain in the winter, many of the poor die because they can't afford the electricity and fuel to keep the place warm. So he actually lost it when he tried to put the consumption tax on gas and electricity. So when I say a consumption tax may be useful, I think you have to have it well and carefully worked out. I know Australians think they're very heavily taxed, but in fact not having a consumption tax, they're better off than a lot of people.

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