05 June 2007

A traditional Labor man

Today's Australian pays generous tribute (as News Ltd papers are apt to do when a non-conservative political figure dies) to Tom Burns, former ALP Leader of the Opposition. There are several articles, some photos, including a large one on the front page of him looking a very fit and happy retiree, and a lengthy obituary "Softie who breathed fire". A former political opponent said that he "was always a fighter, but he was grounded in decency". Not a bad tribute for anyone, even if it comes at the end of a life.

An extract:

When he was deputy premier, Burns earned the title of minister for the bush because he was concerned that those who formed his beloved Labor Party, the shearers and bush workers, were living in tory electorates and were, in his view, ignored by all political sides.

He told a story, one of thousands, about stopping at a road accident in central Brisbane where an elderly pedestrian had been struck by a car. "I was one of the first on the scene and this bloke later in hospital told me he had worked his life on properties at Blackall and Longreach, but when he got to retirement age he had to move to the city," Burns said."He didn't even know about traffic lights and had to drink on his own in the pub because he didn't know anybody and he had no family down here. The old bloke told me there were no retirement facilities in bush towns, so I resolved to do something about that if ever I was in a position to do so."

And, in true Burns style, he did. Complexes were built in many rural towns where bush workers could retire in the town they had spent their lives, where they were comfortable and near friends.

Another trademark Burns anecdote came at his retirement from parliament in 1996, when he said he had encountered the saddest constituent experience in his life and it concerned the lack of professional help for bush dwellers.

He told a story about twin teenage boys who went home from a city boarding school to their parents' drought-stricken property. Burns said the parents told the boys that as they could no longer afford the expensive private school fees, they would have to enrol locally. The boys were apparently so ashamed or depressed, they took their own lives.

1 comment:

Miss Eagle said...

Thank you for mentioning the passing of Tom Burns. I knew Tom over the passage of many years from when he was State Secretary of the Qld ALP, to Opposition Leader (and the makeover of speech and clothes), to Deputy Leader of the Goss Labor Government. Tom had a gift that very few politicians had. He could take a complex matter and put it into simple and succinct language that the person in the street could understand. A rare gift that should be more widely disseminated. Another quality of Tom's that is not shared by all politicians is that Tom was fair dinkum. I don't think any Queenslander, whatever their political persuasion, ever doubted that.