Rural Queensland has lost one of its strongest advocates with the death on Monday of Eric Charles ‘Bunny’ Powne MBE.
The architect of the Western Outreach Camps scheme and inaugural president of the Queensland council of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, Bunny passed away in Toowoomba after a long illness.
Past state Primary Industries Minister and the Member for Burdekin from 1983 to 1998, and a staunch friend, Mark Stoneman described Bunny as a great thinker who always had the welfare of bush kids and their mums and dads at the forefront of his mind.
“Right around Australia he was so highly respected,” he said.
“His work on the WORC scheme was a continuation of his care for the people of the bush.
“Wherever you looked, Bunny was there. He was the ideal person for that scheme because of the care and knowledge he brought to it.”
Another of his attributes, according to Mr Stoneman, a past Queensland ICPA president, was his rapport and respect among public servants in the education department.
“He opened doors and kept them open for us, to go and talk to the engine room.”
He was the only ICPA member in Australia to have been awarded life membership of his local branch as well as state and federal councils, and was patron of the Charleville School of the Air from 1977 to 1988.
While he was deputy chairman of the Queensland Corrective Services Commission, the 1990 floods in Charleville were the trigger to establish WORC camps, which, thanks to Bunny’s promotion, resulted in 11 permanent camps in western Queensland towns that are still delivering beneficial outcomes today.
Among Bunny’s other achievements were serving as a Balonne shire councillor and deputy chairman, and chairing the Balonne shire’s SES group, from where he was able to help establish national disaster assistance guidelines.
A staunch National Party advocate, he became a Queensland vice president for a period in the 1980s, and ran campaigns for Toowoomba MPs Graham Healy and Mike Horan, as well as standing for pre-selection for Balonne and Maranoa electorates and the Senate.
Rural telecommunications went ahead in leaps and bounds thanks to Bunny’s knowledge, including chairing a committee that successfully advised the Queensland government on leasing space on a first generation satellite in Australia to bring commercial television to remote viewers.
Thoroughly immersed in rural life, Bunny was born in Charters Towers in 1929, being schooled through correspondence before boarding at Toowoomba Prep and Toowoomba Grammar School.
When he left school he worked at Moreheads in Brisbane, then graduated as a woolclasser from the School of Technology, and jackarooing for FS Falkiner and Co at Jerilderie for two years.
He went to Aramac to work for his father at Tremere, meeting and marrying his wife Eileen, before an agistment deal saw him move to the Bollon district.
They eventually built a service station and home in Bollon, which they operated until retiring to Toowoomba.
Bunny’s comprehensive rural knowledge saw him appointed to an advisory committee in 1989 that oversaw the implementation of uniform guidelines for the establishment and operation of feedlots in Queensland.
In 1995 he was one of 13 finalists in the Queensland Country Life’s Outstanding Rural Achiever Award, with the aim of finding the person with the most outstanding contribution to the state’s primary industries over the past 50 years.
He was also an accomplished sportsman, playing in the Australian junior tennis championships in Toowoomba in 1948, with Charlie Moore, where they were beaten in the semi-finals.
Before that, at school, he captained the shooting team, broke swimming records and ran the fastest 220 yards ever recorded on the school oval.
While living at Aramac, he helped establish the Pelican Creek Gun Club at Myross Station, and competed in the inaugural competition at the forming of the Barcaldine Gun Club, winning the main event.
Along with an Aramac bank manager, they formed the Aramac Swimming Club before going on to establish the Central West Swimming Association.
In 1955, Bunny won the Central Queensland 50 yards swimming championship at Blackall.
His legacy was also evident in Bollon, where he was a foundation member of the local bowls club, had involvement in the cricket and tennis clubs, was the inaugural chairman of the Bollon P&C, and helped establish the Bollon Preschool.
He received an MBE in the Australia Day honours in 1977.
Bunny’s wife, Eileen pre-deceased him and he is survived by his three children, Ian, Susan and Peter.
Details for his funeral are currently being finalised.