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Burke, James Wallace (1930–1979)

by W. F. Mandle

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

James Wallace Burke (1930-1979), cricketer and stockbroker, was born on 12 June 1930 at Mosman, Sydney, second son of Frank James Burke, motor engineer, and his wife Madge, née Easton, both English born. Madge was a notable club golfer who passed on her skill and love for the game to Jim. He made his mark as a cricketer at Sydney Grammar School (1945-47) and with the Manly club's senior XI when he was only 15.

A right-hand batsman, Burke first played for New South Wales against Western Australia in December 1948, making 76 not out. He was selected for Australia in 1951 for the fourth Test against England at Adelaide and scored 101 not out in the second innings. Dropped after only one Test against the West Indies in their 1951-52 tour of Australia, he worked as a stockbroker's clerk and married Barbara Phyllis Hogbin on 1 May 1952 at St Andrew's Anglican Church, Wahroonga. Omitted from the State side in 1954, Burke adopted a stodgy batting style that annoyed spectators, but got him back into the Test team in 1954-55 after a season in England in the Lancashire Cricket League.

He was chosen for the 1956 tour of England where his dour batting gained him top position in both the tour and Test averages, and inclusion as one of Wisden's 'Five Cricketers of the Year'. By now a fixture in the Australian side, Burke made the then slowest Test century ever recorded by an Australian, 161 against India at Bombay in October 1956, the first hundred taking 368 minutes. At Cape Town on 1 January 1958 in extreme heat he completed 189 in 578 minutes. He broke a rib on this tour and retired, aged 28, after moderate performances against Peter May's England team of 1958-59.

Burke had played 24 Tests (14 against England) and scored 1280 runs at 34.59, including three centuries; in first-class cricket he made 7563 runs at 45, with twenty-one centuries and a top score of 220. His suspiciously flicked off-breaks brought him 8 Test and 101 first-class wickets, both at 29. He took 59 catches. No great stylist, especially once his batting became so determinedly costive, he nevertheless helped Australian cricket through the depressed mid-1950s to its revival against May's side. A touch under six feet (183 cm) tall and slimly built, he wore his cap slightly askew (somewhat like his backlift); his presence at the wicket, particularly overseas, gave Australian batting an assurance sadly lacking at other times.

His value, again particularly on tour, was enhanced by his off-field talents as a boogie-woogie pianist, humorist, singer and mimic. After retiring from cricket he became a businessman and a part-time Australian Broadcasting Commission cricket commentator. Divorced in August 1967, he married 26-year-old Judith Anne Cameron on 4 September at the registrar general's office, Sydney. Burke managed the Sydney office of the Melbourne stockbroking firm, Vinton Smith, Dougall & Co., and was elected to the Stock Exchange of Melbourne in 1976. Depressed by marital problems, by ill health and by the loss of some $153,000 in a 'disastrous gamble on the gold futures market', he shot himself in the heart on 2 February 1979 in the grounds of St Patrick's College, Manly. Following an inquest, he was cremated. His wife survived him, as did the two daughters and two sons of his first marriage.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Pollard, Australian Cricket (Syd, 1982)
  • D. Frith, By His Own Hand (Syd, 1991)
  • Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, 1957, 1980
  • People (Sydney), 21 Mar 1958
  • Sun (Sydney), 12 Oct 1959, 13 June 1979
  • Herald (Melbourne), 3 Feb, 12 June 1979
  • Age (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1979
  • National Times, 17 Feb 1979
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 24 Aug 1979.

Citation details

W. F. Mandle, 'Burke, James Wallace (1930–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/burke-james-wallace-9629/text16983, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 16 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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