Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Philip Walker Radcliffe (1884–1956)

by Doris H. Swan and Geoffrey Swan

This article was published:

Philip Walker Radcliffe (1884-1956), teacher and lecturer, was born on 16 June 1884 at Goodna, Queensland, second of five children of Oliver Radcliffe, an Australian-born teacher and later chief inspector of schools, and his wife Janet Wilson, née Walker, from Scotland. After attending Breakfast Creek State School, where his father was head teacher, Philip won a coveted state scholarship and entered Brisbane Grammar School in 1897. He passed the Sydney junior public examination and in 1900 became a pupil-teacher at Sherwood State School, Brisbane. In the minimum time, he completed the requirements to become a classified teacher in 1903.

On 7 May 1904 Radcliffe married Grace Kidston Macfarlane at the district registrar's office, Toowong. After working briefly in one-teacher schools at Plainview and then Thargomindah, he returned to Brisbane and was an assistant teacher at Milton then Manly. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 18 January 1916, was promoted to acting lance sergeant with the 8th Training Battalion in England then, reverting to private, served with the 31st Battalion in France. In September 1917 he was wounded in action, and was discharged in Brisbane on 6 July 1918. He returned to teaching at Manly and then Taringa. In 1919 Radcliffe taught in the high school section of the Central Technical College. He moved in 1921 to the recently opened State High School, South Brisbane. A talented teacher, he received outstanding inspectors' reports.

Although enrolled at the University of Queensland in English I, Latin I, logic and psychology I in 1913, Radcliffe did not sit the examinations until 1919. The requirements for promotion to teacher class I satisfied, his formal education ceased. His personal library attested to his abiding love of literature—Greek, Latin, English and Australian. He was also a brilliant mathematician. Colleagues and students always found him a gracious, knowledgeable and generous mentor. In May 1933 he was appointed lecturer at the Queensland Teachers' Training College, later becoming senior lecturer and occasionally acting principal.

'Raddie' was remembered as a short, slighty humped man with closely cropped grey hair and nicotine-stained (crooked) teeth, brown hair and hazel eyes, clad usually in an ill-fitting, crumpled suit. He lacked self-importance ('please stay seated I'm not royalty'), and addressed staff and students alike with unhurried courtesy. Whether the enquirer was seeking help on teaching the use of the apostrophe to 10-year-olds or translating a passage of classical Greek, serious attention was assured. In his English classes at the college many students discovered for the first time that a poem might be memorized for pleasure, not simply to pass an examination. He often introduced poetry that was not widely known. His delivery was unaffectedly eloquent ('no Elocution please').

Radcliffe was responsible for the first Queensland school radio broadcasts by the Australian Broadcasting Commission in 1937. He also compiled the splendid Queensland School Reader for different grades, containing much literary content—prose and poetry alternating—which encouraged many children to learn to read and to love reading. In World War II he served part time as a lieutenant in the Volunteer Defence Corps. He retired from the teachers' college in 1954. Radcliffe died on 11 March 1956 in Brisbane General Hospital and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife, two sons and a daughter survived him. In 2004 facsimile copies of his Readers were still being printed and sold to former students.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Pechey and P. Thomas, Telling Tales (Brisb, 1992)
  • N. Kyle et al, A Class of its Own (Brisb, 1999)
  • Friends of Antiquity, University of Queensland, NOVA, vol 1, no 4, 2002, p 6
  • P. W. Radcliffe, staff card, Education Dept (Queensland State Archives)
  • B2455, item Radcliffe P. W., and B884, item Q200379 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

Doris H. Swan and Geoffrey Swan, 'Radcliffe, Philip Walker (1884–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 19 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 June, 1884
Goona, Queensland, Australia


11 March, 1956 (aged 71)
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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