Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Clarke, Burnett Leslie (1897–1974)

by Judith A. Nissen

This article was published online in 2018

This is a shared entry with Alexander Howard Clarke

Alexander Howard Burnett Clarke (1923–1994), radiologist, and Burnett Leslie Woodburn Clarke (1897–1974), radiologist and army medical officer, were father and son. Clarke senior was born on 18 January 1897 at Linton Grange, the residence on his parents’ property near Hazel Glen (Doreen), Victoria, eldest of three sons of Leslie Woodburn Clarke, a Victorian-born merchant and grazier, and his Brisbane-born wife Emma Isabella Mary, née Moore; her family were pastoralists from Queensland’s Burnett region. Boarding (1911–14) at Trinity Grammar School, Melbourne, Burnett was a prefect and the recipient of the 1914 honour prize. He played football and cricket and, noted for his rifle shooting, held the rank of lance corporal in the cadets.

Graduating from the University of Melbourne (MB, BS, 1920), Clarke moved to Queensland, where he took up a residency at the Mater Misericordiae Public Hospital, Brisbane. The hospital’s honorary röntgenologist, Dr Tom Nisbet, interested him in the specialty. On 28 June 1922 at Holy Trinity Church of England, East Melbourne, Clarke married Esme Lucy Macfarlane, whose parents were graziers at Arthurs Creek, near Yan Yean. Later that year the couple sailed to England so Clarke could study at the University of Cambridge (diploma of medical radiology and electrology, 1923) under Ernest (Baron) Rutherford. A stint followed at the Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota, United States of America.

In 1923 Clarke returned to Queensland and established a joint practice with Nisbet in Brisbane and at Ipswich. Clarke served as honorary assistant röntgenologist and later as honorary senior radiologist at the Mater Hospital. He was also an honorary radiologist (1924–57) at the Ipswich General Hospital (IGH). A member from 1929 of the Queensland Cancer Trust (Queensland Radium Institute from 1944), he was radium registrar at its clinic, housed at the Mater. After Nisbet departed for Sydney in 1929, Clarke practised alone. In April 1938 he was one of many senior honorary staff who resigned from the Mater, following disputes over their appointments.

While a medical student, Clarke had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) in June 1918 but was not called up for duty and was demobilised in December. In 1921 he was commissioned in the Australian Army Medical Corps, Citizen Military Forces. Following the outbreak of World War II, in July and August 1940 he was in charge of a unit that toured country centres by train, carrying out chest x-rays of recruits. Appointed as a major in the AIF on 1 August 1941, he embarked for Malaya with the 2/13th Australian General Hospital. On the fall of Singapore in February 1942, he became a prisoner of war at Changi. Behind the Wire, the clinical diary he kept in 1944 and 1945 as ‘an attempt to describe skin lesions under my care’ (Clarke 1989, xxiv), documented the all-too-common skin disorders suffered by inmates.

Liberated and repatriated in 1945, Clarke transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 19 December in Brisbane. He continued his army service part time (in the honorary rank of lieutenant colonel from 1951) as a visiting radiologist in Northern Command. After a short period of locum work at Springsure and in Brisbane at Cleveland, he returned to his private practice. He resumed his posts as a visiting radiologist to the Ipswich and Mater hospitals and undertook the same function at the Repatriation General Hospital (RGH), Greenslopes.

Clarke was a foundation member (1935), councillor (1935–40, 1947–48, 1954–56, and 1963–64), and president (1955) of the Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiology (Royal Australasian College of Radiologists), and a foundation fellow (1938) of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. He lectured in radiology at the University of Queensland (1940–41), and was a member (from 1946) of the Medical Assessment Tribunal and chairman (1949–73) of the welfare service of the Australian Red Cross Society, Queensland division. Having joined (1920) the British (Australian from 1961) Medical Association (BMA, later AMA), he presided (1949) over the Queensland branch and sat on many of its committees; he was appointed a fellow of the AMA in 1973, a rare honour recognising his outstanding contribution to the association and to medicine.

Like many early radiologists, Clarke performed both diagnostic and therapeutic work. Constant use of radium and radon needles and moulds caused dermatitis and skin cancers on his hands and necessitated the amputation of several fingers in later life. Still active in medical practice, he died at Greenslopes on 9 March 1974 and, following an Anglican funeral, was cremated. His wife and their two sons and one daughter survived him. The Uhr-Clarke bursary awarded by the Queensland branch of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) was endowed by the two families in 2000 to commemorate the contribution of Burnett Clarke and his fellow Changi inmate Sir Clive Uhr.

Alexander Clarke was born on 27 May 1923 in London and arrived in Australia aged three months. As a child he is said to have frequently accompanied his father on his visits to Ipswich hospital. Alex attended Toowoomba Church of England Preparatory School (1935–37) and Geelong Grammar School, Victoria (1938–40), where he served in the cadets. In 1941 he enrolled in medicine at the University of Queensland (MB, BS, 1949) but interrupted his course to enlist in the AIF on 11 June 1942. He served with the 113th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment in Brisbane (1942–43) and the 56th Composite Anti-Aircraft Regiment at Higgins field, near Bamaga, on Cape York Peninsula (1943–44), before being discharged from the AIF on 29 March 1945 and resuming his studies. On 18 December 1948 at St John’s Church, Mundoolun, near Brisbane, he married Anne Dorothea, daughter of Douglas Martin Fraser.

From 1951 Clarke conducted a general practice at Ipswich. In 1956 and 1957 he trained in radiology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital (member, College of Radiologists of Australasia, 1957). Returning to Ipswich, he provided private and public radiology services and took over from his father as honorary (paid from 1961) visiting radiologist at the IGH. He also worked part time in Clarke senior’s Wickham Terrace practice, and as a visiting radiologist at the RGH, Greenslopes, and the Goodna Mental (Wolston Park) Hospital (1959–94). As his practice grew, partners—beginning with Ian Robertson—joined him. In 1984, however, Clarke gave up private practice and thereafter concentrated on his hospital work. His knowledge, drive, and experience were crucial in planning for the relocating and equipping of the IGH’s radiology department, which began functioning in renovated quarters in 1984.

While a medical student, Clarke had joined the Queensland branch of the BMA (AMA) as an honorary associate in 1946; a full member from 1950, he served on the State council between 1962 and 1966. He lectured in diagnostic radiology at the University of Queensland; sat on the electrical apparatus committee of the Queensland Radium Institute; and served part time as a medical officer in the Royal Australian Air Force Reserve—mostly at the RAAF Base, Amberley—rising to wing commander (1970). A founder (1960) of the Ipswich Hospital Staff Association, he was its first secretary. In 1965 he was appointed corps surgeon, Ipswich Corps, St John Ambulance Association. An active member of St Paul’s Anglican Church, Ipswich, he served on the parish council for many years and, as well, was a church warden, lay preacher, liturgical assistant, and synod representative.

Clarke died at his Karana Downs, Brisbane, home on 14 August 1994 and was cremated. His wife and their son and three daughters survived him. The room holding the Ipswich hospital’s first computed-tomography equipment was named in his honour.

Members of the Clarke family described Burnett as calm, patient, and sociable; and Alex as a quiet man, who delighted in meeting as adults people whom he had delivered as babies. A strong sense of duty had been the motivation for the extensive service father and son rendered to professional and community bodies. Their zealous involvement in the AMA, and Burnett’s in the RANZCR, reflected their determination to preserve the integrity and independence of the medical profession.

Research edited by Darryl Bennet

Select Bibliography

  • Clarke, Burnett. Behind the Wire: The Clinical War Diary of Major Burnett Clarke AAMC. Edited by John Pearn. Brisbane: Department of Child Health Publishing Unit, University of Queensland, Royal Children’s Hospital, 1989
  • Carey, Judith. Personal communication
  • Clarke, Burnett. Personal communication
  • Coates, Alexandra. Personal communication
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX22806
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, QX32693
  • National Archives of Australia. B2455, CLARKE B L W
  • Patrick, Ross. Ipswich Hospital 1860–1991. Bowen Hills, Brisbane: Boolarong Publications, 1993
  • Pearn, John, Alexander Burnett Clarke, and Barton Burnett Clarke. ‘Dr Burnett Clarke: A Short Biography.’ In Burnett Clarke. Behind the Wire: The Clinical War Diary of Major Burnett Clarke AAMC. Edited by John Pearn, xii–xxii. Brisbane: Department of Child Health Publishing Unit, University of Queensland, Royal Children’s Hospital, 1989
  • Peterson, Meredith. Personal communication
  • Peterson, Roy. Personal communication
  • Schubert, F. ‘Alexander Howard Burnett Clarke.’ Australasian Radiology 39 (1995): 102–3
  • Smith, Susan. Personal communication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Judith A. Nissen, 'Clarke, Burnett Leslie (1897–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/clarke-burnett-leslie-18956/text30570, published online 2018, accessed online 19 August 2019.

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