(d. Mon May 16, 1994 )
His daughters, his brother and sister-in-law kept telling me that Bill was a quiet man, a modest man, a simple man. The quiet Australian. And so, he was.
He was, as many people are with a touch of the special, dismissive of his virtue, dismissive of his achievements. It seems to me that people with deep rooted goodness think and act that way. They think that more or less everyone thinks the same too - which, as we know, they don't.
Bill Burley was a country boy, born and bred in Maffra in East Gippsland. He spent his formative years there, he went to primary and secondary school there, started his work life there, learned his trade as a butcher there, absorbed his values there.
His father Will Burley, was the local carrier, a person of some interest in that all the text books about private business in those days started with what was called the "common carrier."
His mother, Violet, gave birth to five children. She lost one, Kathleen, when the child was three years old. Of the surviving four, Mary was the eldest, then Jack, Bill was the third, and Sandy the fourth.
He was a country boy - and country people of that era grew up with a wonderful self assurance that they were Australians - and an unquestionable positive morality went with it.
Bill's personal culture was formed by the films of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. Bill sense of slapstick humour, which was legendary in his family, was reinforced by Banjo Paterson's Mulga Bill, and C.J.Dennis's Bill, The Sentimental Bloke.
This quiet Australian, born on the 14th January, 1918 just as World War 1 was ending, was 21 years of age when the Second Great War broke out - a young man, ready for war, generous of life.
He accepted the call, Australia needs you, and enlisted in the Australian Light Horse. Soon judged out of date with horses, he was moved across to the tank division, from whence he volunteered to be trained as a commando.
He saw active service, dangerous service, courageous service - some behind enemy lines - in Timor, Borneo/Tarakan, New Guinea.
In these circumstances he developed a fierce loyalty to his mates, to his country, to his flag, to his Australia. He thought little or nothing of other values or recognition. And he always he carried his copy of the works of Banjo Paterson - words which, from the tropical jungles, reminded him of Australia, like these words
- And he saw the vision splendid
of the sunlit plains extended
and at night
the wondrous glory
of the everlasting stars
Sometime during the early days of the war he met and fell in love with an AWAC or an AWAS (an Australian Women's Army Corps) girl named Mary Coates from Healesville.
The two were married in 1944, the beginning of a long, loving, deeply mutually supportive relationship which only ended in Mary's death some 16 years ago - almost to the day.
The happy couple brought forth two lovely daughters, Kathleen in 1946 and Carolyn in 1949. The girls never heard their parents argue.
They have some overwhelming impressions of their father.
His complete devotion and generosity to his family - especially to his wife and daughters but to other members of his family as well.
They keep recalling his enormous sense of humour. When he was a youngster delivering meat, he was upbraided by a lady of the town about the docket which accompanied the goods. "What does the docket say", demanded the matron? "The docket doesn't say anything," said Bill, "you have to read it." In later life when customers would come into one of his milk bars in Elwood, Carnegie, Collingwood or Perth, to buy toilet paper, he would ask them what flavour would they like.
He was unstinting in his generosity, a complete giver, he would, as the proverb goes, "give you the shirt off his back." He was always doing kindnesses for people. Around these four or five Milk Bars that he and Mary owned a cult following grew up centred on the generous proprietors and their clients. He would break into flats when his customers had lost their keys, he would fix things for the aged, he would do favours of all kinds.
Yet paradoxically, despite; the public persona of the business man, Bill would retreat quietly into the private life of his own family and rarely go further. He did not belong to clubs or societies, or hold parties, or involve himself in sport, or move outside the family circle.
In both circles, businessand private, he was a gentleman, a principled man, an honest man, a moral man, someone who pursued justice when he felt he or his friends were wronged by officialdom or anyone else.
In these circumstances he could be strong willed, strong minded and a fearless opponent.
He was intelligent, knowledgeable, an avid reader of everything from The New Scientist to the labels on wine bottles. He became renowned for his encyclopaedic general knowledge. As becomes a boy from the bush, his scientific, mechanical, practical and gardening skills were developed and profound.
His daughters, Kathleen and Caroline, will cherish always the memory of a totally devoted and loving father. One who, in his family loyally always defended them and took their side - right or wrong
He was always there too as grandfather cum baby sitter to Peter and Julia, especially in their younger years when grandfathers are especially useful and needed.
Bill had an especially close, a uniquely close, relationship with his younger brother, Sandy, and later on with Sandy's wife, Bev, and their three children, Russell, Jill and John. It was a severe blow for Bill when Mary died sixteen years ago. They had just finished travelling to various parts of Australia and they had settled near Kathy and John at Ripplebrook.
As C.J.Dennis would say ":Life mooches on" and mooch on it must. Bill helped John on the farm, cooked meals for his family on Friday nights, and served the choicest white wine, a skill of judgment in which he had developed considerable expertise. Similarly, each week he would visit Sandy and Bev, enjoy the conviviality of their company, and sometimes help them with their fruit trees or in their garden.
Six years or so ago, Bill, somewhat unwillingly because he was fiercely independent and hated to cause trouble, agree to shift into a grandfather flat, adjoining Kath and John's home in Glen Iris.
In more recent times he developed Parkinson's Disease and gradually deteriorated. In January this year he needed constant care so had to move to the Linden Nursing home in Camberwell. He was now on the receiving end - a very distressing and frustrating state for such a giving man. His death on Monday last, 16th May at age 76, has one small consolation . It was a relief from the pain and suffering of his disease
So we meet to pay tribute to a thoroughly good and decent man. A modest way to put it for a thoroughly modest man. A good tree bears good fruit and that is the way of it. He goes on record as a loving husband to his wife, a loving father to his daughters and a loving grandfather to his grandchildren, a loving member of his wider family, and a loving citizen of his country.
His memory and his person lives on in a kind of immortality in every person, inside and outside his family, whom he influenced.