by Alison Cassell
IT IS with deep sadness that I share news of the death of my uncle, Austen Whitaker, aged 91 years and nine months.
Regular NewsMail readers will be familiar with his frequent offerings.
His love of language kept ever-astute Austen happily engaged with prolific contributions, be it as a reviewer of local cultural performances, his strident letters to the editor submitted since 1996, historical contributions, or Prime Time and Word Play columns.
Moreover, the depth and breadth of Austen's incredible local knowledge, and the richness of his own personal history, led to him interviewed as part of the Bundaberg Stories project. These fascinating tales are now available on YouTube.
As recognition of Austen's exceptional commitment and contribution within the artistic and cultural sphere, he received the 2008 Bundaberg City Council Australia Day Senior Cultural Award.
In 2011, he was bestowed life membership of the Bundaberg Arts Society for his leadership, hard work, and personal and financial support of its activities over many years.
From Bundaberg South School dux in 1937 and his King's Scout Award, through Leading Aircraftman Whitaker's time in the air force during the Second World War, to his exemplary, fulfilling 40-year career in the Department of Forestry, and volunteer roles at Meals on Wheels, the Tourist Information Centre, the Hinkler House Memorial Museum and the Bundaberg Arts Centre (now Brag), Austen was indeed an extraordinary man. He was passionate, intelligent and articulate, with a razor-sharp wit. He was warm, friendly and outgoing, community-spirited and generous, with a genuine love of life and people.
Austen's positive, fun-loving attitude, his dedication and tenacity, his impressive endeavours, astounding knowledge and extraordinary experiences will not be forgotten.
Widely-known, well-liked and highly respected, Austen was a proud ambassador for Bundaberg, and an exceptional elder statesman and patron of the arts.
Truly, he was an inspiration for us all.