NSWPL Stories: Edna Burton

Edna Burton

It’s all about the family. It’s always been about the family. This becomes clearer the longer I talk to Edna Burton. Fame, fortune – even golf! – take a distinctly backseat. The famous elephant in the room is of course Edna’s son Phil (AKA one quarter of Human Nature; Aria Hall of Fame Inductee; multi-million album seller; OAM), who we are delighted to announce will be performing at the Blue Ribbon Ball in March. However, this space is for the stories of our Police Legatees, so let’s begin there. 

Edna joined the Police Family when a mutual friend introduced her to a young man named John, arriving off the boat after a tour with the Australian Navy. “He was quite shy,” says Edna. But she left with a good impression and made plans for a second meeting. They were married soon after.

John left the Navy when Edna became pregnant, wanting to be around for his new family. He was keen to go into the Police straight away, but Edna encouraged him into the building trade first, having “had enough of uniform life” for a while. Once their two children were a little older, she told him to follow his dream. John attested from the Police Academy in 1975, starting in general duties and moving towards his speciality of fingerprints, medically retiring at the age of fifty after a dedicated career.

During this time Edna developed a lot of “police friends” – people with young families who understood what shift work meant, or who wouldn’t bat an eyelid when John had to fly back from a long-planned-for holiday in Queensland because he’d been summoned to give evidence. And the kids both knew that their father was a gentle and loving family man, despite sometimes having to be away.

Things changed in 1998, when John discovered a melanoma on his leg. That was treated, but two years later he found another one, and this time the cancer had spread. The family lost him when he was just 54 years old. It was a huge loss for the family, but Edna’s family have always been open about their feelings – good or bad. “We’re the kind of family who can talk about him every day,” she says, and they do. Even her new partner, Brian, is perfectly comfortable with this.

After John’s death, Edna had “amazing” contact with the Police chaplains, one of whom became so close that he’s still doing their Christenings and weddings 18 years later. She didn’t turn to Police Legacy, however. “Not because Legacy wasn’t doing a good job!” she hastens to add, but because she felt there were people who needed the services more than her. Recently, however, she’s become involved in Police Legacy’s “Buddy System”, a program designed to combat social isolation. Edna’s buddy, a 94-year-old who lives on her own, always tells her how grateful she is to receive Edna’s calls. “But I say I’m so grateful that I can get enjoyment out of it!” says Edna.

There’s a definite fringe benefit for us with family ranking so far ahead of fame in the Burton’s value system. When I ask Edna how she went persuading Phil to honour us by performing at the Ball she laughs. “He’s not so famous that when his mother says you should do the Legacy Ball he says no!” (She hastens to add that she really didn’t say he had to. But he did say yes.)

Edna was thrilled when Phil moved back to Australia – thrilled to have him around, and the grandkids too. And she wants to make sure that I know she’s equally thrilled to have her daughter Michelle living nearby, with her own two kids. Family. It’s what it’s all about.