Detailed Pedia

John Burton (diplomat)

John Burton
John Wear Burton.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
Parent(s)Rev. John Wear Burton

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

Early life

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.[4]

Public service

In 1937 he 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.[5] He joined the Department of External Affairs in 1941 and served as private secretary to Herbert Vere Evatt. In 1947, aged 32,[6] he became Secretary of the Department of External Affairs and held that position until June 1950.[7] At the beginning of 1951 he took up the position of Australian High Commissioner to Ceylon,[8] but resigned to return home and contest the Federal election of that year in the electorate of Lowe. As ALP candidate he was beaten by William McMahon, a future Prime Minister of Australia.[9]

Academic career

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.[10]


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."[11]

John 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[12]

Scholarships, fellowships and grants


  • "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. ^ "Death notice". Canberra Times. 25 June 2010.
  2. ^ Thornley, A.W., "Burton, John Wear (1875–1970)", Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian National University
  3. ^ Register of Past Students 1863–1998, Sydney: Newington College, 1999, p. 26
  4. ^ "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Canberra Times", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University
  5. ^ Brown, Malcolm, "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Sydney Morning Herald", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University
  6. ^ Steketee, Mike, "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Australian", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University
  7. ^ CA 18: partment of External Affairs [II], Central Office, National Archives of Australia, retrieved 9 December 2013
  8. ^ "Dr. Burton's new post". The West Australian. 13 February 1951. p. 2.
  9. ^ McDonald, Hamish, "Burton, John Wear (1915–2010): From Sydney Morning Herald", Obituaries Australia, Australian National University
  10. ^ National Library of Australia
  11. ^ ABC Radio National
  12. ^ Tillett, Gregory (2006). Resolving conflict: A practical approach. Melbourne; oxford University Press. ISBN 0195517539.


Government offices
Preceded by
William Dunk
Secretary of the Department of External Affairs
1947 – 1950
Succeeded by
Alan Watt
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Charles Frost
Australian High Commissioner to Ceylon
Succeeded by
Alex Borthwick
as Chargé d'affaires

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