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Thursday, 20 June 2013
Page: 6561

Mr NEVILLE (HinklerThe Nationals Deputy Whip) (09:49): I rise to acknowledge the passing of an Aboriginal elder in my electorate of Hinkler—Bernie Johnson of Bundaberg. An elder of the Gurang Gurang community, Mr Johnson was 73 years old, when on Friday last he was unexpectedly taken by a severe stroke.

Best known in the community for his strong advocacy of Indigenous issues, and for performing his welcome to country at various ceremonies—particularly the Bundaberg Regional Council citizenship ceremonies—Burnie also spent many hours visiting schools in the region, giving students lessons on dance, didgeridoo, boomerang-throwing, story-telling, painting and local Indigenous culture.

Never one for hiding behind the victim mentality, he preferred to build bridges. In 2011 Burnie was named Bundaberg Regional Council citizen of the year—an award he richly deserved. His last official function for the Bundaberg Regional Council was his part in the opening of the Bundaberg recreational precinct on 31 May.

Burnie was a man of incredible passion. He loved entertaining, and his wry sense of humour made people laugh and put them at ease. In one particular, very politically incorrect jibe, he said to me one day, 'Do you know why we Indigenous people like barbecued echidna?' As if you could barbecue echidna! I said, 'No, Burnie. I find that fascinating. Why do you barbecue echidna?' He said, 'We like barbecued echidna because it's got built-in toothpicks.'

During his visit to Bundaberg several years ago, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was so taken with Burnie's welcoming words that he contacted Burnie and said, 'Burnie, it's Kevin Rudd here. I'd like to use some of your words at an up-coming Pacific Forum.' At first Burnie thought someone was having a go at him but later discovered it really was Kevin and was very chuffed at the compliment he had been paid.

Burnie loved all forms of sport. As a young man he was also a boxer. He was an avid Rugby League player. He played for a number of Bundaberg clubs and for St George in Sydney. He later became a Rugby League and soccer referee, and coached junior soccer teams. Burnie was president of his beloved Avondale Rugby League club. He was also a volunteer for Drug Arm and YMCA and supported NAIDOC week.

Burnie had a gentle, embracing personality. His was a life well lived. Rest in peace.