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Cameron, Burgess Don (Burge) (1922–2020)

by Selwyn Cornish

Burgess Cameron, c.1970s

Burgess Cameron, c.1970s

ANU Archives, ANUA 225-183

Emeritus Professor Burgess Don Cameron, former Professor of Economics and Dean of the Faculty of Economics (now The Australian National University’s College of Business and Economics), died in Canberra on 22 July 2020, aged 98.

Burge, as he was known to his family, friends and colleagues, graduated with first-class honours in economics from the University of Sydney in 1943 and was awarded the University Medal. He spent the next two years in the Australian Imperial Force (2nd AIF) and served overseas. In 1946 he was appointed Assistant Lecturer in Economics at Canberra University College, and was subsequently promoted to Lecturer, Senior Lecturer, Associate Professor and Professor of Applied Economics. In 1949 he was awarded the degree of Master of Economics from the University of Sydney.

He was an early recipient of an ANU Overseas Scholarship, supplementing it by winning the Rouse Ball scholarship awarded by Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he embarked on a doctorate, choosing inter-industry (input–output) analysis as the subject area for his thesis. His supervisor was Sir Richard Stone, later the winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. Burge’s doctoral thesis, completed in 1952, was published by Cambridge University Press and won the Harbison-Higginbotham Prize awarded by the University of Melbourne in 1953.

Burge was first elected Dean of the Faculty of Economics in 1960 and was appointed Head of the Department of Economics in 1963 when Professor H.W. Arndt moved to the Research School of Pacific Studies. Meanwhile, he was publishing articles in local and overseas journals, including the Review of Economic Studies and the International Economic Review. He also published a number of books on Australian economic policy and wrote articles for the Australian Financial Review. His formal training in mathematics and quantitative techniques led him to develop within the Department of Economics a strong theoretical and mathematical approach to the subject. Gathering around him a number of distinguished colleagues with similar interests resulted in the department’s recognition as the leading centre in the nation for mathematical economics.

On his return to the ANU from Cambridge, Burge was elected to represent non-professorial staff on the Council of Canberra University College. Later, as Head of Department and Dean of the Faculty of Economics, he served on the board of the School of General Studies. The then Vice‑Chancellor, Sir John Crawford, invited him to take the position of Deputy Chair of the board, in effect the Chair of the board. Much to Sir John’s disappointment, Burge declined the invitation on health grounds.

In March 1979, after several bouts of ill-health, including heart disease, the Commonwealth’s Chief Medical Officer informed him that, at age 57, he ‘must retire immediately’. At its meeting on 27 April 1979, the board of the School of General Studies recorded that Burge’s ‘scholarly strength has been an ornament of the University’. It acknowledged its ‘gratitude for Professor Cameron’s services to the University’, and its ‘regret at his early retirement’. The ANU Council approved Burge’s appointment as Emeritus Professor on 11 May 1979. The Vice-Chancellor, Professor D.A. Low, wrote to him saying that at the meeting of Council ‘there were warm expressions of appreciation for all you have done over so many years’. He added that the Economics Faculty’s ‘strength owes so much to all that you have done for it over the years’. The minutes of the faculty meeting on 9 April 1979 noted that Burge had ‘gained a reputation as a brilliant leader, and the author of many articles and texts, and played a prominent part in the development of the Faculty’.

The great economist John Maynard Keynes held that economics was an ‘easy subject at which very few excel!’ Burge would have agreed with Keynes on the second point but not on the first. His former students recall that, in the first lecture in Economics 1, Burge would ask them to note the students sitting on their right and on their left because it was possible— indeed probable—that they would not be doing Economics 11 the following year. Economics 1, he told them, was not a pushover and students would have to work exceedingly hard if they hoped to pass.

As well as a brilliant economist and academic administrator, Burge was a man of great personal style, always immaculately dressed, his hair carefully brushed, and his moustache neatly trimmed. Often he sported an elegant cravat. He was sometimes likened to a Hollywood movie star of the 1940s and 1950s. He helped to put the ANU on the map and deserves to be remembered by the University with abiding affection and gratitude.

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Citation details

Selwyn Cornish, 'Cameron, Burgess Don (Burge) (1922–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/cameron-burgess-don-burge-32553/text40404, accessed 7 July 2022.

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