Austral Hunter BURNS was born in Manly in 1893, the 5th and last child and only son of Charles James BURNS and Beatrice Alice, nee MOORE. His parents divorced by the time he was 3 and his father seems to have had little or no involvement with the family after that. Probably at about this time (1896) he moved from Manly to ‘Roycroft’, a Grace and Favour property owned by the NSW Government at Dawes Point (destroyed when the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built) with his mother and 4 sisters. This was almost certainly arranged by his paternal grandfather who had only left State politics a few years previously and seems to have been still in good favour. His mother died when he was 14 and from then it seems he and his sisters lived alone. According to his daughter Iris, Austral attended Fort Street School, which seems very likely (Cob. Parkes also went there).
In an unpublished manuscript held in the State Library of NSW, Cobden Parkes recalls: “(p31) My sister Aurora had dear friends in the Burns family, 4 girls and 1 boy. They lived in an old stone fortification at Dawes Point. The old battery had been converted into a residence, for the residence next to that occupied by the Burns family was lived in by Dr Paton – the Director of Public health. Presumably the buildings were the residence of the battery Commander, and the Officers’ Mess. I well remember the gun emplacements with the old guns in position and several cannon balls cylindrical in form & in weight more than we could handle. ‘Roycroft’ was a large stone residence of single storey. The girls were Lu Lu, Abby, Nancy, Marjorie. The boy was Austral, about my own age & a handsome lad of likeable disposition. Austral and I became firm friends, and this friendship lasted until his death with the A.I.F. in France in 1916. Whenever possible I would be at ‘Roycroft’ with Austral. I was about 17 years of age at the time. We had built a small canvas canoe, mainly Austral’s skill, and we paddled about the harbour and did some fishing. The residence was very comfortable and the girls’ income was derived from letting some of the rooms. At the time swimming baths existed along the harbour foreshore on the western side of Dawes Point and nearby was a boatshed where we kept the canoe. We frequently rode down the incline from ‘Roycroft’ to the water in a home made trolley cart. Returning from our days outing it would be necessary to pull the trolley cart back up the hill. We enjoyed wonderful weeks at ‘Roycroft’ and often had the company of a couple of the Paton boys about our own age."
Cob. Parkes goes on to recall staying many holidays at "Bonnie Doon" in Rawdon Vale in the Gloucester area of NSW with Austral prior to WW1 where Austral worked as a jackaroo on the property owned by Austral's brother-in-law Alex Laurie (who was married to Austral's sister Nancy).
Austral joined the AIF in 1914 with Battalion No 501 in the 1st Btn. Cob recalls the early Army experience: "Austral had promised to come down to attend the ball with us & stay with us a couple of days. He arrived next morning in error and contacted me about 10 a.m. at the office. After overcoming his disappointment our conversation drifted to the position of the war, and we decided to enlist. It was the 16th August 1914 and I obtained 2 hours leave from the office and actually did not return for over 5 years, apart from calls for a presentation and farewells. Austral and I caught a tram to Victoria Barracks in Oxford St. Paddington and waited our turn for interviews by the Chief recruiting Officer, Lieut-Col Antill. Whilst waiting we filled in the attestation papers – in other words 2 large sheets of questions – on both sides of the sheets. We immediately found some trouble. Whilst both were accepted for overseas service we were marked down for different units. Austral, because of bushman’s experience was put with the Artillery. With my city life I was included with the Infantry draft. The Artillery was initially being assembled at the Royal Agricultural Showground and the Infantry at the Sydney Cricket Ground next door. After our completion of the forms we collected on the parade ground & although raw recruits lined up in some sort of military formation by a Regimental Sergeant-Major who asked if any present had any previous military training. One smart man said he has such experience, a man named Melville. He was placed in charge of about 50 men and ordered to march off to the cricket ground. On arrival we were put through some process of sorting out and were then issued with a uniform. I could not find a suitable pair of boots and wore black patent boots that evening. Late afternoon we had leave until 9 a.m. next morning and according to an earlier arrangement made for our home “Windeslei” in Piper St Lilyfield. There Austral soon arrived to talk over our experience. We agreed to let matter take its course for the present and we would try to join forces at the first opportunity.
We were very proud of our uniforms although in fact we must have been rather comic. What with my black boots, putties poorly rolled on our legs and hats which would not remain in the shape we intended. This crudeness was soon removed as we were taking our first steps to becoming soldiers. We returned together next morning and did not meet again for several days. The Cricket Ground was a type of collecting and sorting out centre. We did very little in the way of parades and slept on the hard wooden bench seats of the pavilion. That next day we were issued with our greatcoat, underwear, badges. Within a few days we were moved to Kensington Racecourse under canvas, and our army life soon began. We eventually had 9 men to a bell tent with our feet toward the centre. Our tent consisted of Corporal Dodds, L/C Cox, L/C Joe (?), Andy Anderson, Austral Burns, Togo (?) Hartford, Tim Rowe and Thomas Hicks. We became part of the 1st Inf Btn and soon changed the formation of companies to the German formation of companies divided into 4 platoons. We became “B” Company under a very fine officer, Capt Pat Maguire. Lieut Les Hempton was our platoon commander but not for long when we changed to a younger man, about 19 years of age, Leiut Phil Price, whose brother did so well in the 3rd Battalion. One day early in our career the whole battalion was called to parade and issued with numbers. My number was 455. Austral , Tom Hicks & Arthur Wither were near me and we received consecutive numbers. Later in life we 4 became firm friends. Austral was killed in action in France with the 53rd Bn in 1916. After receiving numbers we were issued with identity disks, aluminium disks, circular, about 1 ¼ “ dia and containing your number, unit & religion.
Our life now was made up of drill, parades, fatigues & route marches to Long Bay Rifle Range. One of the high lights in this early training was a full dress battalion ceremonial parade through the streets of Sydney –with fixed bayonets. Many thousands gathered in the streets of Sydney to watch the parade and we were told we had acquitted ourselves splendidly. After not seeing Austral Burns during the first week at Kensington we had forgotten him as a soldier when to our amazement he turned up at Kensington late one afternoon with his kit bag & all gear. We asked how he had managed the switch of units, because I was unable to make any headway in my effort to transfer to Artillery and we were flabbergasted as he told his story. Apparently some days previously he asked permission to see the Lieutenant I/C of his section & had explained he and his particular friend had enlisted together with the intention to remain together, but had been separated & he sought permission to transfer to the Infantry at Kensington. The officer said “no”. Austral repeated the performance next evening & the Lieutenant says “Didn’t you ask me this yesterday” & Austral replied “Yes Sir” and the officer says “What did I say” and the reply was “You said no Sir”. The Lieutenant said “It is still no”. Austral went on to tell us he repeated again next evening but did not get far with his request when the Lieutenant said “You have asked me before and I have refused your request and i do so again, go away & do not bother me again.” Austral said he repeated his request twice more when the officer became infuriated and said “Son, I will give you this. You are stubborn. You can go. Yes, you can go to hell for all I care, get your gear together & go before I change my mind & never come near me again”. Austral continued “and so I am here”. I had a friend Pat Kennedy (a public servant) in the Orderly Room and Austral was through the various stages to become a member of the platoon. He immediately became one of our “inseparables” until wounded on Gallipoli. I last saw him when I was in hospital in Alexandria. A great friend.”
Austral married at "Stobo" on 15 Oct 1914 and sailed on the troopship "HMAT Afric" 3 days later, on 18 Oct 1914 bound for Egypt.
Austral was severely wounded at Gallipoli (gunshot wound to the leg)and after recovering in Egypt returned to Gallipoli before returning to Egypt and transfer to the 53rd Btn to serve in France. He was killed in action at Fromelles in France on 19 Jul 1916. At time of death he was a Sgt. Shortly before his death he had been posted to the Paris Exhibition. He has no known grave but is commemorated in VC Corner Australian Cemetery and Memorial, Fromelles, France.
WOMEN AND WAR
Mrs. Alex Laurie, Mrs. Dick Abbott, and Mrs. Grafton Fowler -Smith, all left their country homes to come to Sydney to say good-bye to their brother, Austral Burns, who is leaving with the Expeditionary Force. Austral Burns (grandson of Mr. Burns, who was Colonial Treasurer in the Parkes Ministry) and Cobden Parkes (youngest son of Sir Henry Parkes) have volunteered for the front together. They have always been chums, and they hope to fight side by side, as their forefathers have done.
KILLED IN ACTION.
Sad news comes to hand that Sergeant Austral Burns was killed in action in France on July 19th. He was only brother of Mrs F. C. Abbott, Dungog, Miss Lulu Burns, Sydney, Mrs G. Smith, Munni, and Mrs A. Lawrie, Gloucester, and was the youngest of the family, 22 years of age. Austral was one of the first enlist from Gloucester, where he was engaged in pastoral pursuits. Sgt. Burns was at the landing at Gallipoli and the evacuation and rose from private to sergeant. News was received from him from Egypt in June, and it is thought that he could only have been a short time at the French front. He went away with the 1st Battalion and was transferred to the 53rd as sergeant. Deepest sympathy is felt for the relatives of the deceased soldier.
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