Burtenshaw. Mr G - Members Statement

Hon. GW ELMES (Noosa—LNP) (Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and Multicultural Affairs and Minister Assisting the Premier) (3.06 pm): In this year when we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, the personal sacrifice of war has been highlighted in my own electorate. On 5 July, the Noosa community lost George Burtenshaw, a World War II veteran and a victim of the infamous Changi prisoner-of-war camp. Mr Burtenshaw was born in Newport, near the border of Wales and England, on 23 December 1911. He immigrated to Australia alone at the age of 16 under the Church of England settlement scheme. In 1940 he married Eva and together they produced a family of three daughters, Dorothy, Gwen and Grace, and a son, John, now deceased. Over time the family blossomed into 16 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

In June 1940, married life was interrupted when George enlisted at Toowoomba to become a gunner in the 2/10 Field Regiment. He was posted overseas only to be at the fall of Singapore on 15 February 1942. George then endured three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war in Changi, slaving on the notorious Thai-Burma railway. At the time of his release in 1945, he was so emaciated that he could feel his backbone through his stomach. It took him a further six years to recover his weight at enlistment.

George returned to Australia and for the following 37 years farmed pineapples in the Mary Valley. At 60, he stood successfully for the Widgee Shire Council. He retired after seven elections and 21 years as a councillor. At age 99, he walked six kilometres to the Tewantin-Noosa RSL from his home in the Laguna Retirement Village to pay his annual dues, and then walked home again.

It was at the Laguna Retirement Village that I came to know George, whom I met while visiting my parents there. I would pass George’s unit, which I remember had the lushest and best kept garden I have ever seen. My memories of George are of a quietly spoken, life-loving gentleman. Those who knew George well speak of his good character. Most remain in disbelief that, despite his treatment as a POW, he never hated the Japanese. That is testament to the stamp of a man regarded as a living treasure and remembered for his dignity, generosity and spirituality.

The Tewantin-Noosa RSL sub-branch commissioned a portrait of George by Noosaville artist, Frances McLeod, to celebrate his 30 years of membership. The montage of aspects of his life, including his time as a POW, will hang in the McArthur Museum in Brisbane. George is survived by his three daughters. George Burtenshaw: a community leader, a role model and an exemplar of the sort of people who have made our community and our country so great.