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Kath Buttriss NSW pioneer

14th August 1914 to 17th January 2008

Kath Buttriss was appointed Civil Marriage Celebrant 24th April 1974. A pioneer in the development of celebrant association support in NSW.

Keith Lammond, President of the Australian Marriage Celebrants Inc had a unique friendship with Kath. Keith was honoured to conduct her Funeral Ceremony and to share her Eulogy here so we may have some insight into the calibre of some of our early celebrants.

We are here today to farewell and to celebrate the life of an extraordinary and special lady, Kath Buttriss.  Your presence today is indicative of the love and respect Kath had earned from each of you.  Tiger, Betty and family have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of grief over Kath’s passing and it has been an immense source of pride and comfort to them.  We have people here from far and wide and I can assure you that Kath’s family appreciates very much your efforts to pay your respects to this special lady

On our journey through life we often meet people who touch our heart, and there are some, such as Kathleen Buttriss, we will never forget, even if we never see them in person again. Memories live on - and a person we loved will live eternally because their spirit is alive in our soul. Kath's physical self has left us, but her spirit is very much alive in our memories.

If I was to present to you a detailed history of Kath’s life we would need to bring in the bed rolls, billy cans and cooking stoves because we would be camped here for a week.  So let me give you a broad brush across the life of this incredible lady.

Kath was born Kathleen Lyle Cameron on the 14th August 1914 at Wentworth, New South Wales and was the eldest of three children, Kathleen, Edna and Flora to Andrew and Daisy May Cameron.  Kath was the last surviving member of her family.


Let me tell you a little about Wentworth.  It is a small town located at the confluence of Australia’s two greatest rivers, the Murray and Darling Rivers on the New South Wales /Victoria border.  The town was established in 1840 and boasts a great deal of Australian history.

When I researched the web I found two local treasures of Wentworth listed which were a Ferguson TEA20 tractor and the PS Ruby a 1907 paddle-steamer. 

Now, have I got news for them!  Kath Buttriss was no tractor but she could certainly work as hard as one and her determination meant that throughout her life she sowed much goodness.  She may not have been a paddle steamer but she gave as much joy to those who were privileged to be a part of her life.  So, today we are here to celebrate another Wentworth treasure in our minds, our beloved Kath Buttriss.

Kath would have only experienced a couple of years at Wentworth and probably wasn’t old enough at that time to appreciate the importance of this bustling inland port.  Her father worked for the PMG and eventually the Cameron family moved to the North Sydney area.  North Sydney in the early 1900’s was still a semi rural area where kids could run around and make their own entertainment.  In fact, Kath often reflected that as a young child she survived a snake bite.  It is a very different snake in North Sydney these days.

Education for Kath began at a North Sydney Primary School but her family moved to West Wyalong, in the New South Wales Riverina Area.  Once her primary school education was completed she attended a boarding school, Goulburn Catholic School.  She was a most intelligent young lady at school and enjoyed those days.  She was keen on sports and in particular loved to cycle, but not just your leisurely ride in the park, she loved the track work too.

Kath left school at the age of fourteen and so began a rather hectic and difficult time for her.  Sadly, she was fourteen when her mother died and being the eldest of the children she automatically inherited the responsibility of her younger siblings, Edna and Flora.

It was soon after taking on these responsibilities that Kath met a young local boy by the name of William “Bill” Buttriss.  A special relationship developed and marriage was the natural progression.  Kath and Bill married in 1929, possibly at the local Registry Office, when Kath was just fifteen years of age.  Yes, in those times if you weren’t married by the age of twenty you were regarded as a spinster!  Ironic really, that Kath went on to become a marriage celebrant in a time when the minimum marrying age was sixteen, and with a court order at that.

After marrying Kath and Bill settled at West Wyalong and Bill welcomed Edna and Flora into his extended family as if they were his own so Kath was able to still carry out her responsibilities in their regard.  You can imagine that at such a tender age, married and raising two younger sisters Kath’s hands would be full.  Later in 1929 Kath and Bill’s family was extended with the arrival of their first child, a son Stanley, affectionately known to all as “Tiger”.  Their marriage was blessed with a second son, William “Billy” who tragically died at the age of two years.  Billy’s death had a profound affect on this young mother and is something that she never really came to terms with.

Early in 1939 Kath, Bill, Tiger and Flora returned to Sydney settling above Thompson’s Garage at Bondi where Bill was to work.  It was an exciting change but it didn't’t last long.  In September 1939 World War II was declared.  As a result Bill joined the Royal Australian Air Force and sailed on the Queen Mary for the Middle East and England. 

With a husband in the thick of the War, a young son and a sister to care for ‐ this young housewife was determined not to give up and to play her part in serving her community in such difficult times. She became a transport driver for the Department of Aircraft Production by day and at night she was an ambulance driver for the National Emergency Service. Kath threw herself into her work and was also a driver for the American Army. When not driving she conducted dances every Saturday night at the Masonic Hall in Bondi Road for servicemen and women with all proceeds going to the Eastern Suburbs Ambulance.

When the Japanese shelled Bondi and Sydney, Kath was called out on ambulance duty. With sirens blaring and people panicking, she had only time to pull her uniform over her night clothes. She drove all over Bondi and the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney with an Ambulance officer, attending to people who were traumatised by the shelling. At the end of it all, she would get home and collapse on her bed exhausted, still in her uniform.

After the shelling of Sydney, Kath feared for the safety of her son, Tiger, and she sent him to friends in Cootamundra, her young sister Flora remained with Kath.  World War II concluded in 1945 and Kath eventually met her husband, Bill, at Central Railway Station, when he returned with his unit after five years service to his country.  It was a joyous occasion but unfortunately Bill was not a well man after the years at war. They settled down at Bondi.  Bill talked little of his wartime experiences and eventually he died of war related injuries.  Kath took on casual work to ensure an income and at the same time diligently carried out her motherly responsibilities.

In 1947 Kath packed up and left Sydney for Cootamundra where she settled with a new partner, Dave Batros. There is no doubt that he brought happiness back into her life.   This was the beginning of a most successful period in her life.  Throughout this story we have heard of Kath’s hard work, her determination to get things done and this work ethic continued as she set about establishing herself as a local business woman in Cootamundra. Kath bought a double fronted shop in the main part of town and opened a fruit and vegetable business.  Dave Batros would cover the markets and transport fresh produce back to the store and this business was very successful.  If that wasn’t enough, the energy that Kath had was the catalyst for her to go on beyond the fruit and vegetable store.  She opened a florist business that enjoyed success throughout its years of operation.

Businesses were important to this lady, but so was the welfare of her local community.  Kath set about putting her generous and inspirational spirit to good use by organising charitable events to raise monies for the Smith Family.  In fact, Kath was inspirational in building the first Smith Family Home in Cootamundra. For this she was made a life member of the Smith Family, an honour that she treasured throughout her life.

Her expertise and business management caught the eye of the local health inspector who asked her to stand for council.  It was unheard of for a woman to stand for council, never mind being elected. Her opposition were big names in the community and Kath didn't think she had a chance. When the voting began she left her polling booth and went home, not dreaming she could be elected‐but elected she was, topping the poll along with the Mayor.  As Alderman Kath Buttriss she was the first woman to serve on the Cootamundra Municipal Council but there is more so let me outline the magnificent achievements of this special lady when it comes to local politics.

From a certificate proudly displayed on her wall I learned of Kath’s service to her local community.

Local Government Association NSW Certificate of Appreciation of:
Twenty-one years service to local Government.
Cootamundra Municipal Council 1956-1977 and during that time as Deputy Mayor in 1959.
Local Government Association Executive Member 1967-1975
Northern Riverina County Council Delegate 1964-1971

Kath was in fact the first woman to be elected to the New South Wales Local Government Association Executive. She served as the first woman also to serve on the Northern Riverina County Council at Temora ‐ representing Cootamundra for eight and a half years. For twenty years she served on the Australian Local Government Women’s Association as President, vice President and Treasurer and was made a Life Member.

During her twenty‐one years as an Alderman ‐ she organised dances in the Town hall, raised enough money to buy a complete catering equipment to seat six hundred people.  Then came the famous Cootamundra Scots Ball held each year and organised by Kath who also trained the debutantes. Sixteen police pipers would come down from Sydney (with the blessing of the Police Commissioner), pipe the Scottish dancers and pipe in the Debutantes. This went on for fourteen years with the Police pipers attending every year. Proceeds went to the Scots Church.  When Kath left the scene what happened – sadly it faded away.  You know the expression, when you want something done, give it to someone who is busy and Kath was the epitome of this.

Sadly, in 1974 Dave Batros died and this was a great loss to Kath, but she was a fighter.  Over the ensuing years, Keith Turner entered her life and he has been a constant and special companion of Kath's ever since.

Despite some difficulties in her personal life, the early 1970’s was a very special time for Kath.  It was in 1973 that the then Attorney General Lionel Murphy (sadly now deceased) fought to introduce Civil Marriage Celebrants to Australia.  His aim was to give couples an alternative to church or Registry weddings.  He wanted them to have a choice and flexibility in their vows and the location of their marriage ceremony.  In fact, as a result, couples can marry almost anywhere, yes, even in hot air balloons, under water or on the top of a mountain, each being as special as the next.

It was not an easy passage but he was determined to do it, and do it he did.  As a result Kath was appointed as one of the first Civil Marriage Celebrants on the 24th April 1974. Her association with Lionel Murphy was indeed a close one and he, along with Kath, was inspirational in the formation of a Marriage Celebrant Association.  Sadly, we do not know too much about this, but we do know that in 1979 Kath was a founder member of the Society of Civil Marriage Celebrants of NSW.  As a result of that it is believed that the National Federation of Associations of Civil Marriage Celebrants was also formed. 

Kath’s passion for the Marriage Celebrant profession is legendary.  She formed the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of Australia NSW & ACT.  When talking to her friends from the Riverina, and in particular to Lorraine Gawne, Kath formed a sub-group in Wagga as the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants of Australia NSW & ACT Southern in 1992 to ensure that country fellow celebrants would benefit from such an organisation.

I was appointed a Marriage Celebrant in 1994 after waiting ten years.  There was no such thing as training before appointment as there is today, I arrived home one day and out of the blue on the front door step was my starter pack as a Marriage Celebrant together with a letter of appointment from the Attorney General’s Department in Canberra, a Celebrant manual and some stationery.  I dare not say what I thought at the time but it was similar to, “What the hell do I do now?”  Eventually, I searched the Yellow pages for an Association and sticking out in that book was the Association of Civil Marriage Celebrants Australia and the name of Kath Buttriss.  I don’t know what it was but I was drawn to that number and the rest is history as they say.

Since Kath’s passing I have been inundated with e-mails and messages from celebrants across the country who, throughout the years, were all the beneficiaries of Kath Buttriss’s willingness to openly welcome new celebrants to the Association, to be there for them to guide and advise.  Yes, I was one of them and I have to tell you that I owe Kath Buttriss an incredible debt of gratitude.  When the system changed four years ago and we experienced an influx of new celebrants, many of the existing celebrants just wanted to criticise and refused to help any new celebrant.  I have to tell you, if it wasn’t for Kath Buttriss many of those very celebrants at that time would not have been around.  Some people have very short memories.

Many here from the celebrant world will be aware of Kath’s constant commuting from Bondi to Cootamundra, yes even up to two years ago and she was in her early nineties, she would make that long trek to ensure that her couples in Cootamundra were not left out.  This drive and energy continued to her dying day.  I spoke to her daily and gave her an update as to what was happening in her celebrant world – Vodafone will be going out of business now!  She always questioned, she would suggest things and if things weren’t to her liking she would begin to raise her voice and demand that it be put right.  That was Kath Buttriss.  I know that she travelled from Cootamundra to Yass to do a wedding when she was ninety and the same day came back to do a wedding at Temora.  I can tell you that in April 2006 she solemnised a marriage in Cootamundra, she was ninety-two years of age.  I can also tell you that in her Marriage Register there is a wedding written up that she should have solemnised in August of last year, just a week before her ninety-third birthday.  Sadly, by then Kath’s body was beginning to answer her back and she was not able to do it and boy was she cranky and frustrated.

To many of us, Kathleen Buttriss was our matriarch.  She could be described as stubborn, powerful, domineering, manipulative but also sincere, kind and inspirational. I am sure there are many other superlatives that could be used to describe this incredible lady.  Let me share with you some special words that, in my mind say it all,

“Time is Not Measured by the Years
by Helen Steiner Rice

Time is not measured by the years that you live,
but by the deeds that you do, and the joy that you give.

Each new day as it comes brings a chance
for each one of us to love to the fullest,

leaving nothing undone that would brighten the life
or lighten the load of some weary traveller on life's road.

So, what does it matter how long we may live,
if as long as we live, we unselfishly give?

Kath Buttriss unselfishly gave throughout her life and her generosity of spirit will never be forgotten by the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people whose life she touched in such a unique and powerful way.

Editor's Note:
I too was the beneficiary of Kath Buttriss work. Appointment in October 1989, I received a letter from Kath inviting me to a NSW Celebrant Association Meeting at Carlingford. We spent the afternoon being shown how to do the paper-work and Kath generously answered questions I had.

Reading Keith's Eulogy brought the realisation that Kath must have been 76 years old when I first met her. And yet to my eye, I would have said no older than 55!

Rona Goold
ATCN Director

Last modified on Friday, 29 June 2012 20:24