Sir Kerry Burke

Member of Parliament, Speaker of the House, History teacher



This biography was written by:Ken Bye

Why have I donated to the Linwood College Foundation?

Linwood was one of the cornerstones of my life. I advocated for a Foundation many years ago and I’m really happy that one has now been established. I want to help create opportunities for current and future students to have access, on-campus and beyond, to the range of assets which the Foundation will provide.

Memoirs, Some Linwood High School Memories

Linwood High School was just a year old when I and more than 300 other new pupils arrived for our IQ tests early in February 1955. It was exciting, the first new high school in the South Island since before World War 2, drawing students from across the city, from Diamond Harbour or Sumner to Upper Riccarton, from Cashmere to Southshore.

Linwood also drew great teachers who hadn’t had an opportunity to advance past incumbents in the conservative, established schools, teachers who scrambled for the newly available senior and staff positions. Basil Wakelin was appointed Headmaster ahead of 91 other applicants and the Head of Department appointments went to professionals with both talent and enthusiasm for the adventure and challenges the new school offered. There were many of these as the school’s roll exploded and the campus remained a construction site building new facilities to cope with the growing numbers.

There were two professional courses available, as well as general, commercial and technical courses. I was headed for a professional course which, I hoped, would lead to University, but which one, French or Maths/Science? I soon discovered the disadvantage of neither parent having been to high school as my Mother (Peggy) said that she was sure the French course would be no good because in France they spoke a different type of French. Quite where she got that from I don’t know, but the result was that, despite my natural inclination for the humanities, I ended up in 3M1, with its concentration on Maths, Physics and Chemistry.

Tom Penny, later Principal of Rangiora High School when I taught there, was our form teacher as well as taking us for maths. I was OK with arithmetic, geometry and, later, trigonometry, but must have been looking out the window when the mysteries of algebra were revealed to the class, all of which meant that I didn’t perform well at maths.

I was something of a square peg in a round hole and didn’t do well in either that year or in 4M1 in 1956, except for English and Social Studies. I also didn’t get to make too many friends in class as Peggy insisted that I have lunch at home, so otherwise valuable socialising lunchtimes with classmates was lost. Bike stand places were in such demand that they had to be rationed. Only students who lived more than a mile away were eligible and 44 Tabart Street was 1.1 miles from the school gate, so I qualified and home on the bike for lunch and back to school for afternoon classes was how it was for my first two years.

I was also in a physical growth spurt in 1956, gaining 20 centimetres of height in one year, going from being one of the smallest in class in our Form 3 photo to one of the tallest in the Form 4 edition. This was important as it meant that when I went into Form 5 in 1957 I could wear long trousers (plus a white shirt and school tie).

What course should I take in the important School Certificate year? Although my cousin Janet Porter had won high New Zealand honours in her commercial (typing/shorthand) exams from Sacred Heart College in Barbadoes Street, nobody in the entire family had ever obtained School Certificate. It was a dream goal and I wanted to go for it so I decided to finish stumbling on with the Maths/Science course and took the opportunity to change going into the School Certificate Form 5 year, 1957.

I grasped the opportunity and joined a course with a greater focus on the Humanities, a class I probably should have been in since the third from. It had top stream ‘G’ students and some who had missed in the School Cert exams at their first attempt, so were having a second crack at it. The bonus was, with no more biking home and back for lunch, I formed great, lasting friendships with boys like Murray Rowlands, Max Barber, Brian Mooar and Gordon Bennett.

We had Ed Brewster as both our Form Teacher and our very fine History teacher. We nicknamed him Disraeli. Like Basil Wakelin before him, Ed went on from Linwood to be Headmaster at Nelson College. Ernie Poole, who had taught me Social Studies as a student teacher on section in 1955 and as a permanent staff member in 1956, was our Geography teacher. I enjoyed Geography very much and Ernie had excellent knowledge and communicated very well. Ernie was, at that stage, a Captain in the Army and arranged for a group of us to work as ‘slushies’ at Burnham one May holidays, helping out in the kitchen serving and cleaning up after the current intake of Compulsory Military Trainees.

The class put a proposal to Ed Brewster for a field trip to Wellington, up by ferry one night, a day in the Capital and back overnight to Lyttelton at the end of the day. We suggested activities which could be connected to school curriculum contents, such as some industrial or manufacturing activities like the Austin car assembly plant in the Hutt, and a visit to Parliament. Most of us had never been out of the South Island and Ed must have got our enthusiasm because he agreed. It was great, the highlight for me being the visit to Parliament.

We were met at the steps by Jock Mathieson, MP for Avon which, in those days, included the Linwood campus. It wasn’t all that blustery but the thing I remember most about Jock was that he was constantly combing his hair back to keep it in order. He escorted us inside, conducted a short tour and then took us all to the Speaker’s Gallery to watch question time. For the first time ever I could gaze down at people who had just been household names till then. On the Government side there was Holland, soon to be of unsound mind and confined to Cherry Farm, Holyoake and our Lyttelton MP, Harry Lake, who was defeated later that year by Kaiapoi’s Mayor, Norman Kirk.

On the Labour side there was the aging Walter Nash, bald Arnold Nordmeyer, Sydenham’s increasingly eccentric Mabel Howard, New Lynn’s Rex Mason and others. They all looked so old, something Kirk fixed when he became Leader in the mid-1960’s, by which time Labour’s front bench was dominated by octogenarians. I was excited to be in the theatre of our democracy, however, and the hope of being there as an MP in due course stirred in me.

Our class then had a bit of a look around downtown Wellington before heading back to the ferry and the voyage south. A very excited but tired 5G group got the train from Lyttelton back to town and still managed to last the next day’s classes. Apart from the experience and knowledge gained from a day in a new environment the great thing about the trip was the collective feeling that our class was a team, friends together then and afterwards. It was such a contrast with my first two years and I grew more into my studies as the year went on, with the School Cert exams in November the big goal for all of us.

School Cert could make or break one’s ambitions. Getting to 200 or more based on the sum of the four best results from five compulsory subjects was the goal. Scoring 200 led on to a crack at UE (University Entrance) and glory. A score of 199, however, meant either another year in Form 5 or leaving school and finding another career, which wasn’t such a difficulty in those full employment days. I recall the joy of a school friend a year ahead of me, later to become one of the country’s leading economists and businessmen, jubilantly exalting on the first day back in 1957 that he’d passed with a score of 201. He was en route to success.

My exams went well I thought, except for Maths. I felt confident that my other subjects would get me through, and so it transpired. On results day my name was amongst those who had passed. I was on my way!

There were sufficient School Cert passes as well as some students having a second try at UE to make four Lower Sixth Form (6B) classes. I was placed in 6B4, the bottom one, probably because of my poor School Cert English result as well as a less than stellar overall total. Being in 6B4 only applied to my official Form Class and to my English class. For my other subjects I was often with many different classmates and made new friends such as Freddy (aka Alf) Johnson from Sumner, but originally from Dublin.

I was also lucky enough to again have Ed Brewster for History while my Geography teacher was Alan Britton, yet another Linwood teacher who went on to become a Principal, this time at Hornby. He had also had the bad luck to have been the Canterbury cricket team’s wicketkeeper, which gave him the ‘pleasure’ of watching Bert Sutcliffe’s back for all of Bert’s 385 runs five years earlier. I did well in both History and Geography and got average results for English and Biology, enough to be awarded UE by accreditation when the results were released in November 1958. It was another big step on the way.

Teenage high school years also saw me doing lots of jobs in and around Opawa. A small group of us from Linwood – Bill Sinclair, Mel Robson and me – got August holiday jobs in 1957 at the Marathon where, like many work places, a serious ‘flu epidemic had temporarily decimated the workforce. Rita Mauger, who worked there, mother of my Opawa school friend Ivan, brought me up to date with his speedway activities in Britain.

When it was time to finish, we went into the office of, the manager, who wanted to thank us, and I was astonished to see a large photo of Michael Joseph Savage on the wall. I later learnt that the establishment of the Skellerup businesses (and many others across the country) had been part of the Savage Labour Government’s industrial policy to help pull New Zealand out of the Depression.

There were two Upper Sixth classes, 6A1 and 6A2 and, because I had done well in my 6B year, I was placed in 6A1 with several 6B History and Geography classmates and others who became new friends. Ernie Poole and Ed Brewster were again my Geography and History teachers, about which I was really happy, prospering to the point of being awarded the class prize for Geography at the end of year assembly in the Civic Theatre.

I was headed to University, but what career lay ahead? My Mother said that a teaching qualification would enable me to work anywhere in the World. She also said that I’d have to pay board when I went to University, to help with the family finances. The Government had introduced a teacher training scheme called Division U, designed to relieve the shortage of high school teachers, where students were formally in the teacher training system but were actually at University and, importantly, paid to do their degree studies. That seemed to tick all of the boxes, so I applied and was one of about a dozen successfully recruited from Linwood.

Apart from class work, 1959 was dominated by two other great occasions, the rugby union tour of New Zealand by the British Lions and the school’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” in which I played a policeman. Linwood had already staged successful Gilbert and Sullivan performances of “Trial by Jury” in 1957 and “The Mikado” starring Rodney McCann in the title role in 1958. Live performances and quality music became things for which the school became a leader in and around Christchurch.

The “Pirates” was a wonderful show and played several nights to a packed Linwood Intermediate Hall (LHS didn’t get its own hall till 1960). John Ainsworth was the Pirate King, Freddy Johnson the Major General, Joyce Fletcher was a perfect Mabel, Murray Rowlands was the police sergeant and Doug Scott played Frederic, who had to remain an apprentice pirate until he was 21. Unfortunately for Frederic, he was born on February 29th so, in theory, he’d need to be 84 before becoming a fully-fledged pirate.

When it was the turn of Christchurch to host the third Lions Test, a massive crowd was expected. Lancaster Park’s groundsman, Cyril Barnes, contacted Percy Hickling, Linwood High’s Principal, to see if some senior boys could help in our August holidays by putting out the temporary seating for several thousand spectators in what was called ‘the enclosure’ and I was one who was selected. It was paid work and Percy’s selection was (I think) based, in essence, on who he thought might come from homes where the money would be most needed. Ours definitely met that criterion.

Our group put the seats out over the week and paused to watch the All Blacks train. We could hear them calling to each other and learnt that Kelvin Tremain was nicknamed “Bunny” and Don Clarke was “Camel”. We also got free front row tickets in the enclosure, on the Embankment side and at the southern end. The only downside to the week was that one of our Linwood group, Noel Spiers, introduced me to smoking, a habit I finally kicked after many unsuccessful attempts in 1973 after the birth of my second son, Connell.  

After the brief job at Lancaster Park, it was back to school for the final term of what had been five wonderful years at a great school. My mind also turned to a summer holiday job and I got one as a chain labourer at the Pareora freezing works. After the final school break-up and prize giving, I got a crew cut on the way home, a big surprise to my Mother, and, next day, caught the train for Pareora. My life at Linwood had finished but my affection for the school has remained with me all my life.