It’s all Heart with ‘Butch’
Barry ‘Butch’ Witmitz enjoys a good yarn. He also enjoys engaging with and helping people. The 72-year-old adores the town where he was born, bred and still lives with most of his family – Kaniva.
“I tell you, the best thing about Kaniva is its friendliness. When anyone comes to town we always make them welcome,” he said. “If you can walk to one side of the street without waving or saying hello to someone I’d be very surprised. I think that’s why people come from all over the country to Kaniva to retire. I might be a bit prejudiced, but in my opinion you can’t find a better place in Australia.”
Butch made no bones about how much he supported the west Wimmera settlement.
“You know what? If I was one of those people who won $30-million in Tattslotto, there would be a lot of improvements in Kaniva,” he said.
Butch is this year’s West Wimmera Shire Council Senior Citizen of the Year, but in truth, considering his long-time dedication to provide help and support to individuals as well as groups and organisations, his award could be an annual presentation.
“I’ve always liked to help people. It’s what keeps me going. It’s a natural part of me and I take it for granted that it’s what everyone should do,” he said.
“And I’m not the only one who thinks like this. There are a lot of people who have done as much or more than me in Kaniva.”
Butch’s energy seems to have no boundaries, although he admits he might have to starting ‘slowing down’.
Originally from a farming background, he worked with Kaniva Shire Council for more than 41 years and tells the story of how when he started he had a shovel with a wooden handle, and when he finished he was using a hydraulic shovel.
As well as his job as a plant operator, he also helped put countless people to rest by digging their graves.
“I’ve been digging graves for nearly 50 years. I know where most people from Kaniva are buried. I like to think I have the last say with people in Kaniva,” he said.
“Someone said to me, ‘why are you stilling digging graves?’ I can tell you the cemetery is the most peaceful of places.
“You can talk to a lot of people without getting an argument and I always say that
I’m tucking people into ‘bed’.
“I feel it’s a great privilege to help put someone in their final resting place.” While he suggests that he’s ‘always digging holes’, Butch’s story extends well beyond the shovel and backhoe and Kaniva Cemetery.
He has been a member of Lions International for nearly 37 years where he has been club president, the recipient of a Melvin James Fellowship Award and is the organisation’s regional chairman overseeing 11 clubs.
During his time with Lions he has been involved in many projects, including a trip to East Timor on a project to ‘fix-up schools and hospitals’, describing the experience as an ‘eye-opener’. I really enjoyed going over there and helping. It was one of the better things in Lions I’ve done. I hope to go back one day,” he said.
Butch has also been Kaniva Fire Brigade treasurer for more than 30 years, Kaniva Museum Collection Committee treasurer, been heavily involved with Kaniva district footy club, Kaniva Agricultural and Pastoral Society, Kaniva Car and Bike Show, Kaniva Fauna Park and Wetlands, a Driver Reviver border stop project, Kaniva debutant ball, and since his retirement from the council has been a volunteer driver with a West Wimmera taxi service.
One of his primary passions is driving a Kaniva Men’s Shed project which he helped formally establish in 2013.
“We called a couple of meetings and got a bit of backing from organisations. It’s taken until now to get it flowing,” he said.
“We now get anything up to 20 to 25 blokes there every Tuesday, who basically get together to drink coffee and eat biscuits as much as anything else. My main aim was to promote men’s health. I told them I could carry on with the bulldust if they could carry on with the work.
“It gets gentlemen out of their houses to meet people, to talk to other blokes who might not have been together since they played footy years before. It gives everyone a chance to chat while perhaps making or repairing a few things.
“In my opinion there is nothing better than socialising. If you can talk to someone it’s always going to be good for your health.
“You must freely talk to people to be healthy. The beauty of our shed is that all you need to do is simply turn up.”
Butch said he hoped to continue to help people and be engaged in his community for as long as he could.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time and I hope to be able to do it for a lot longer. The truth is that I could never be as a good a volunteer if I didn’t have other volunteers helping. It’s just a big circle,” he said.
“If you can get up in the morning and have a purpose in life, that’s good enough for me. No one in the world is luckier or better off in the world than I am.
“I do something because I just love to do it. I also know that if it wasn’t for the patience of my wife Libby, and my kids, that I wouldn’t be doing it and couldn’t have done it. But if someone rings up needing help for something,
I find it hard to knock them back – in fact