John Burton (diplomat)

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John Burton
John Burton (diplomat, born 1915).jpg
Born(1915-03-02)2 March 1915
Died23 June 2010(2010-06-23) (aged 95)[1]
EducationNewington College
University of Sydney
London School of Economics
OccupationPublic Servant, author, academic

John Wear Burton (2 March 1915 – 23 June 2010) was an Australian public servant, High Commissioner and academic.

Early life[edit]

Burton was born in Melbourne, the son of the Rev John Wear Burton, a Methodist Minister.[2] He was educated at Newington College (1924–1932)[3] and went on to graduate from the University of Sydney in 1937.[1]

Public service[edit]

In 1937 Burton became a member of the Commonwealth Public Service from where he was granted a Commonwealth scholarship to pursue a doctorate at the London School of Economics.[4] He joined the Department of External Affairs in 1941 and served as private secretary to Herbert Vere Evatt. In 1947, aged 32,[5] he became Secretary of the Department of External Affairs and held that position until June 1950.[6] At the beginning of 1951 he took up the position of Australian High Commissioner to Ceylon,[7] but resigned to return home and contest the Federal election of that year in the electorate of Lowe. As the Australian Labor Party (ALP) candidate he was beaten by William McMahon, a future Prime Minister of Australia.[8]

Academic career[edit]

While writing his first book, The Alternative, Burton farmed outside Canberra and in 1960 was awarded a fellowship at the Australian National University. Two years later the Rockefeller Foundation awarded him a grant to study neutralism in Africa and Asia. In 1963, while a Reader in International Relations at University College University of London, he established the Centre for the Analysis of Conflict. He then went on to hold fellowships at numerous universities while living in Canberra.[9]


Burton died in a Canberra hospital on 23 June 2010 after suffering a stroke. He was survived by his third wife, Betty, and three children from the prior marriages. Another daughter predeceased him.[1]


In introducing Burton as a guest on Radio National, Phillip Adams said; "John Burton was probably the most controversial and visionary public servant of the 20th Century. Branded a pink eminence of the Labor Party by conservative critics, he was clearly one of the most important intellectuals and policy-makers associated with the Curtin Labor Government of the 1940s. As a close associate of 'Doc' Evatt and head of the department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs) he did more to shape Australian foreign policy towards Asia and the Pacific than any other person before or since."[10]

Burton's theoretical work on conflict resolution has been highly influential in setting up conflict resolution as an academic discipline in its own right, which is very much needed in the modern globalised world because of the greater potential for disputes between different ethnic and religious communities. In Australia, Burton's work greatly influenced the pioneering course in conflict resolution at Macquarie University, Sydney.[11]

Scholarships, fellowships and grants[edit]


  • "The Alternative" (1954)
  • "Labour in transition" (1957)
  • "International relations: a general theory" (1965)
  • "Controlled communication" (1969)
  • "World society" (1972)
  • "Internationale politiek" (1974)
  • "Deviance, terrorism & war: the process of solving unsolved social and political problems" (1979)
  • "Resolving deep-rooted conflict: a handbook" (1987)
  • "Conflict resolution as a political system" (1988)
  • "On the need for conflict prevention" (1989)
  • "Conflict: resolution & provention [The Conflict Series vol 1]" (1990)
  • "Conflict: human needs theory [The Conflict Series vol 2]" (1993)
  • "Conflict: readings in management and resolution [The Conflict Series vol 3]" (1990)
  • "Conflict: practices in management, settlement and resolution [The Conflict Series vol 4]" (1990)
  • "Conflict resolution: its language and processes" (1996)


  1. ^ a b c "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Canberra Times", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University, p. 3, 3 July 2010, retrieved 24 April 2020
  2. ^ Thornley, A. W. "Burton, John Wear (1875–1970)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Melbourne University Press. ISSN 1833-7538. Retrieved 24 April 2020 – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University. Hardcopy 1979, Vol.7. Nb. His fathers bio
  3. ^ Register of Past Students 1863–1998, Sydney: Newington College, 1999, p. 26
  4. ^ Brown, Malcolm, "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Sydney Morning Herald", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University
  5. ^ Steketee, Mike, "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Australian", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University
  6. ^ CA 18: partment of External Affairs [II], Central Office, National Archives of Australia, retrieved 9 December 2013
  7. ^ "Dr. Burton's New Post" (digitised). The West Australian. 13 February 1951. p. 2. Retrieved 24 March 2020 – via Trove.
  8. ^ McDonald, Hamish, "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010)", Obituaries Australia, Sydney Morning Herald – via National Centre of Biography, Australian National University
  9. ^ National Library of Australia
  10. ^ Phillip Adams (25 June 2004). "John Burton". Late Night Live. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 24 April 2020.
  11. ^ Tillett, Gregory (2006). Resolving conflict: A practical approach. Melbourne; oxford University Press. ISBN 0195517539


Government offices
Preceded by Secretary of the Department of External Affairs
1947 – 1950
Succeeded by
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by Australian High Commissioner to Ceylon
Succeeded byas Chargé d'affaires