Alf Burton was one of Norwood’s finest defenders of the 1880’s. He played in two premiership sides (1887 and 1888), and was a member of the 1888 Championship of Australia team. A younger brother, William Burton, also played for Norwood in 1885.
Alf was born in Norwood in 1865, in the family home at number 8 Elizabeth Street. He was educated at Norwood Model School and St Peter’s College.
In 1892, he moved to Geraldton in Western Australia, to take up work as an accountant with the Wittenoom pastoral company. He subsequently decided to join the Anglican ministry, and after a sustained period of private study he was ordained, on 17 May 1895, by Archbishop Riley at St George’s Cathedral, Perth.
After a brief term at Geraldton, Alf served in quick succession as minister at Esperance, Norseman and Southern Cross. Then, in 1899, he became minister of Middle Swan, on the north eastern outskirts of Perth, where he remained for 24 years, until 1923. His ministry at Middle Swan included the management of three separate orphanages and the Redhill Industrial School.
Following his retirement from Middle Swan, in October 1923, he was appointed Canon of St George’s Cathedral, marking 28 years of faithful and valuable service to the church.
Nevertheless, his clerical career was not without controversy. In particular, he was accused of mismanagement of the Swan Boys’ Orphanage in 1911, for which he was heavily criticized by sections of the Perth media.
This ordeal was followed by great personal tragedy, when his son Harry Pether Burton was killed during the First World War. Harry had joined the AIF in December 1915, and embarked for the western front, where he died of wounds on 24 April, 1918.
Alfred Burton continued to work as a minister, both in the country and in the Perth metropolitan area. However, from the mid 1920’s, he began to combine his clerical duties with an increasing passion for undertaking historical research.
In what was almost a second career, Alfred became a noted amateur historian, writing a number of books and papers on the early history of Western Australia, with particular emphasis on the role of the Anglican Church in the development of the state.
So determined was he to consult all available sources, that he travelled twice to England during the 1930’s to search for documents held there. He also served on the council of the Historical Society of WA, and came to be regarded as an authority on Western Australian history.
It was not until 1944 that Alf was forced by illness to curtail his busy round of activities. He died three years later, in December, 1947, at the age of 82.
C Lane March 2018