Monday, September 26, 2011

UNE passings - death of John Geake


Professor John Geake died, aged 62, 8 September 2011. I did not know John well, but he was obviously a remarkable man whose life spanned aspects of New England's history.

I have not been able to find details of John's early life. The UNE obituary used as a base for this story begins with his Honours degree in Physics from the University of NSW, where he was President of the Students’ Union.  He went on to do an A.Mus.A. from the Australian Music Examinations Board with the flute, a Diploma of Education, a Master’s degree (with First-Class Honours) in Education, and a science PhD.

Now John was clearly something of a charismatic character. Searching around I found this this quote from Graeme Dunstan:   

Returning to the UNSW campus as an arts student in 1970 my Students Union friends welcomed me back and appointed me Chair of the Students Union Council of which John Geake was President. This meant I got to chair the Council meetings (they were wild!) and participate in Executive meetings (radical!). John Geake (now Professor John Geake) was a wiz of a President who in my absence had been an organiser behind the Ian "The Wizard" Channel and the UNSW Play Power phenomenon.

I had forgotten the Wizard. If you click on the above link you will find out more about him.   

John's passion for education led him from university to teach at the Sydney International Independent School, then on to Currumbena, an independent progressive school at Lane Cove. He was clearly a gifted teacher. One of his students wrote:

John taught me science at the Australian International Independent School back in the early 1970's. He was a truly extraordinary teacher - able to take what to me was an incomprehensible mish-mash of unconnected facts called chemistry and give it life, coherence and even beauty thanks to his profound expertise in physics and his rare ability to communicate this expertise. John;'s wonderful lateral mind, his iconoclasm, his kindness and his social idealism were deeply inspiring and rare to find in a schoolteacher. It was obvious schoolteaching was only going to occupy him temporarily, and that he would seek a broader field to endow with his brilliant mind and many gifts. I am sad to hear of his early death, but it is clear that he really was someone who used his gifts and promise to the full, and did indeed leave this planet the better for his passing through. With deep sympathy for John's family and friends, from Jane Crancher, Sydney.

In 1973, John joined the hundreds of bright, energetic and progressive young dreamers who went to the Nimbin Aquarius Festival. This marked the start of John's connection with New England.

In company with friends, John bought the “Paradise Valley” property just out of Nimbin, and was the first of the original communards to relocate from Sydney. First he built a communal space, then his own house. “He was a genius,” said fellow communard and long-time friend Dr Harry Freeman of Lismore. “There didn’t seem to be anything he couldn’t do.”

Turning his attention to the wider community, John teamed up with teacher Dorothy Smith to open the Nimbin Community School, where he taught maths and science.

In the early 1980s John exchanged the hippy mantle for more academic robes and left Nimbin to pursue his own studies, learning to play the flute to concert standard in just two years while gaining further degrees in science, mathematics and education. He performed at many classical concerts in Nimbin, which helped raise funds for the grand piano in the School of Arts.

By the late 1980s John was the Conservatorium director at Lismore and a college lecturer at the University of New England (Northern Rivers). Developing an interest - among his many passions in the sciences - for the teaching of gifted children, he taught at the new Southern Cross University in Lismore, and at the University of Melbourne, where he was a tenured Senior Lecturer. In 2002 he received an Eminent Gifted Educator award from the Australian Association for the Gifted and Talented.

Dr Jurriaan Beek was a fellow student with John at UNSW and then met him again during the Northern Rivers period:

I first met John when as undergraduates at UNSW we both studied physics - way back in 1967.
John was an incredibly bright and gifted person, who I recall involved himself in all manner of UNSW student political activities of the late 1960’s.

We next met up in Lismore, Northern NSW in the early 1980's, where much to my surprise he was then teaching music at the then NRCAE, and much to his surprise I had changed my career to medicine.
He taught my daughter the flute for many years, a skill she has never forgotten.

We were probably amongst the first to make use our Apple IIe computers as a means of sending messages over the phone line to each other. This was way before the dot com and the internet protocols as we know it today had been developed.

I well recall his that his stated desire to teach music was based on not only his love of good music but the need to pass this on so that in his later years there would be musicians around to play the sort of music he loved to hear.

His interest in the field of special education dealing with the intellectually gifted children is well known to educationists. His passing will be sorely missed by all concerned.

John accepted the position of Professor of Education at Oxford Brookes University and lived for eight years in the UK, returning to Australia to take up his post as Professor of Education - Learning and Teaching at UNE in 2008. While in Oxford he conducted neuroscientific research into high intelligence and creativity at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, Department of Clinical Neurology, John Radcliffe Hospital. He co-founded the Oxford Cognitive Neuroscience-Education Forum, and was adviser to the House of Lords All Party Group on the Future of Science & ICT Research for Education.

Professor Geake published more than 60 articles, book chapters and books on a wide range of educational issues, in addition to being a popular keynote speaker at international conferences. His latest publication was his book The Brain at School.

He is survived by his wife Ann, his sister Helen, children Sally and Jonah, stepchildren Paul and Hollie, and grandchildren Tom and Sophie.

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