It’s all Heart with ‘Butch’

LifeStyle Wimmera - - INSIDE - By Dean Law­son

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.

Men’s Shed

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

I can’t.”

Libby Wit­mitz

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