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Death of Clarrie Burke - teacher, academic and humanitarian

Dr Clarrie Burke - a  prominent educator and a tireless activist for human rights


BRISBANE - Clarrie Burke, known to many former educators and senior public servants in Papua New Guinea during the 1960s and 1970s, died in Brisbane on Sunday.  He had incurable cancer.

Clarrie was born in Port Moresby, his family evacuated to Australia shortly after the Japanese invasion of PNG in 1942.

The family settled in Brisbane but later moved back to Samarai. Clarrie and his brother Eddie completed their primary and secondary education as boarders in Brisbane and Toowoomba.

In 1957, Clarrie worked as a clerk at the District Education Office in Port Moresby and the following year he took up a two-year education cadetship at the Australian School of Pacific Administration (ASOPA) in Sydney to train as a primary teacher.

His postings as a teacher were to Lae and then Port Moresby as headmaster of the well-known and highly regarded Hohola Demonstration school.

Clarrie later was appointed principal of the Education In-Service College which had the formidable task of upgrading teachers’ credentials and identifying high level training for senior PNG administrators in the lead-up to independence.

He mentored and guided many of PNG’s early administrators.

It was during his first posting as headmaster, in 1963, that he met and married his late wife Gail who was a Grade 6 teacher at the school.

In 1974 Clarrie gained his PhD in the philosophy and psychology of education from the University of Michigan in the United States.

After independence in 1975, he was awarded the Independence Medal for his services to education.

Following independence, Clarrie returned to Australia and became a senior lecturer in teacher education at Brisbane College of Advanced Education where he was later appointed head of education studies.

His final appointment before retiring in 1998 was as associate professor and director of the Research Centre for Leadership and Policy Studies in Education at Queensland University of Technology.

After his retirement Clarrie was a tireless activist in the field of human rights and he was published widely online and in influential publications. He was also a long-time supporter and committee member of Amnesty International.

Clarrie’s humanity, kindness  and wisdom will be greatly missed by his friends. He was a true gentleman and role-model to all who knew him.

Vale Clarrie Burke.


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Kelly Zachary

A life spent in the service of educating and uplifting others is always well spent. Clarrie must have had many dear friends in both Australia and in PNG.

Education that gives hope can help us all cope when a loved one dies. I love the scripture that says God views death as an enemy as 1 Corinthians 15:26 says, "And the last enemy. death, is to be brought to nothing."

Job 14:14, 15 shares the beautiful feeling God has about resurrecting our loved ones, "If a man dies, can he live again? I will wait all the days of my compulsory service until my relief comes. You will call, and I will answer you. You will long for the work of your hands."

Jan Hurwood

Clarrie became our friend when he married my very dear friend Gail and I have always valued that friendship.

I am very grateful that he invited me to be one of the editors of 'St. Peters - not just a School'.

I will always remember his loving and devoted care of Gail during her long illness.

Rest in Peace my friend.

Noel Henderson

I’ve been reading some of Clarrie’s writings. I think you will be charmed by this extract from his piece in,‘Meeting the Challenge’ referred to in a previous tribute.

New arrivals from the Anglican Mission….

My initial task was to enroll the new students in the class register. I called them to over to my table and, without prompting, they dutifully lined up in a queue so I could obtain their details.

I thought at the time that I would ask for each of their names before seeking personal details. This gave me the opportunity to introduce each student to the class and at the same time register the name.

‘First boy, your name please?’ I asked. ‘My name is Simon Peter, sir’ he replied. Class, this is Simon Peter, welcome him to our class.’

I went on. ‘Next.’ ‘My name is Luke Mathew, sir. What followed gave me cause to wonder if the rest of the boys in line recognized I was in my first year of teaching and choose to have a little with the class at my expense.

‘Next.’ ‘My name is Francis Drake, sir’ the next boy answered My ears pricked up at such a distinguished English name after two biblical names.

‘Next.’ ‘My name is William Wordsworth, sir.’ ‘Really?’ I queried. ‘Yes sir.’ A little taken aback I decided to press on to the next boy without question.

Without having to be prompted he was he was about to say his name when I suddenly interrupted him. Jokingly I said ‘And I suppose your name is William Shakespeare?’ ‘No sir, my name is Isaac Newton. That’s William behind Charles Dickens.'

I first read Clarrie’s story at the draft stage and tried to persuade Gail to name the book, ‘Teaching Shakespeare in New Guinea’, but Clarrie was too modest even to contemplate his story being given top billing.

Gillian Boulton-Lewis

I am very sad to hear of Clarrie's death. I have known him for over 60 years since he was at ASOPA, in Port Moresby and as a colleague at QUT.

I caught up with him recently a few times and we were planning to get together again soon.

As others have said he was a very good person in his working life and in his care for Gail. It is a pity he didn't get to finish his last book.

Ian Robertson

I met Clarrie at the commencement of the 1958 ASOPA Cadet Education course and remained in contact for the next 60 years. He was a valued friend to me and to all of the 1958 group.

Clarrie will be sorely missed at our now very infrequent gatherings but when we do gather again we will raise an SP or Green Ginger Wine & Lemonade to his memory.

Vale Clarrie.

 Richard (Dick) Arnold

Murray, you have done a great job of summing up a remarkable life for a remarkable bloke.

Clarrie stood out for the fact that he achieved so much so very well, without blowing his own trumpet.

I sadly regret not having kept in touch with such a super bloke.

Geoff Hancock

Rugby league fans may regard Clarrie's greatest achievement in PNG as being a member of the Kone Tigers team that won the grand final against DCA in 1960.

Roger Hunter

I'm so sorry that Clarrie has left us. I appreciate very much the commentaries already provided - they capture very well the life force of justice and fair play that illuminated his life.

He and I worked together, initially in House O'Malley, close to Konedobu, with ace colleagues such as Theodore Woods, Shirley Bricknell, Hank Schaafsma, Murray Bladwell, Gan Donker, Bill Magnay, Jim Farrell and Loa Reva.

Forty years on, one extraordinary highlight of Clarrie's commitment to supporting [all] others was his full time care of his wife, Gail.

Not only was this care in a medical sense, Clarrie also developed successful projects which he designed so that Gail could take the lead.

My favourite is a book that Clarrie arranged for Gail to edit [and had published] entitled 'Meeting the Challenge: Australian Teachers in PNG Pre-Independence 1955-1975' [2005, 222 pages].

Clarrie's profound care and support of Gail were truly unforgettable.

Ed Brumby

I had many interactions with Clarrie in POM during the early '70s and was impressed, always, by his quiet but always confident demeanour. He was a true gentleman of the old school and a great friend of PNG.

Clarrie's brother, Ed is trying to contact friends and colleagues of Clarrie to advise re funeral and associated arrangements. Ed can be contacted on 0405 617 676

Francis Nii

I didn't know the late Clarrie Burke but as a Papua New Guinean I would like to convey my condolences and thank you to the children and family of the late Burke for their father and grandfather's services to the people of PNG especially in the nation's education in its formative period.

Thank you and may his soul rest in peace.

Nicky Boynton-Bricknell

Clarrie was a true friend to the St Peters Old Scholars Association (SPOSA), because his wife Gail was an Old Scholar.

After Gail's sudden and unexpected passing, he approached SPOSA with the suggestion that together we could put together the book Gail had planned on compiling - the stories of Old Scholars who too felt that St Peters was more to them than "just a school".

I was then president of the Association, and embraced the task with joy.

The ensuing book 'Not Just a School - St Peters Lutheran College From the Beginning - the Lived Experience of Old Scholars' was compiled and co-edited by Clarrie who not only did a great deal of the interviewing, but who paid for the printing and donated 1,000 copies to SPOSA to sell as we wished.

The first project was to establish a 'Performance in Drama' award in Gail's name; the second was to raise funds for the St Peters' Helping Hands project.

To acknowledge Clarrie's generous contribution, he was made an Honorary Life Member of SPOSA.

During the project, both Clarrie and second co-editor, Jan Hurwood, Gail's dear friend, became my dear friends. It was an honour to work alongside such a talented man so devoted to fulfilling his wife's dream.

St Peters, SPOSA and I have lost a true friend.

Richard Jones

I knew him reasonably well during his Moresby days.

How old was he when he passed away?

Bob Elliott

I knew Clarrie for over 30 years as a QUT colleague. We worked together within the University but very closely on the AusAID funded PNG teacher education project - which he directed.

This project produced graduates for the PNG education department and provided in service education for teacher education staff there.

In every way he insisted on full commitment to improve teaching and teacher education in the country. He worked tirelessly for good outcomes and always stood up for equity and justice in the project.

He believed in promoting these values through living them in his own professional life and life outside the academic bubble.

He promoted humanitarian values of loyalty, fair play and human worth in every dimension of his life- in his management style, his teaching and his interactions with colleagues. He brought similar qualities to life outside of his work - amongst friends and family.

His care and concern for Gail was indeed remarkable. He lived and promoted those human values quietly steadfastly and forcefully in a way the earned the utmost respect from all those who knew him.

He was a unique force in the world and the place is poorer for his leaving it.

Daniel Doyle

During the 1980s Clarrie provided advice and mentoring for PNG teachers undergoing the final year of their split campus, UPNG/QUT, Bachelor of Education (Teacher Education) program.

In the early to mid 1990s Clarrie returned to PNG twice, by invitation of the then Secretary of Education, as the guest speaker at two Senior Education Officers Conferences.

His presentations were well received as he had been fondly remembered and respected by most of the participants.

I would appreciate any available information about funeral arrangements.

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