Obituaries Australia

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: use double quotes to search for a phrase
  • Tip: lists of awards, schools, organisations etc

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

John Morrison Clarke (1948–2017)

by Tony Wright and Karl Quinn

from Sydney Morning Herald

John Clarke, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1997

John Clarke, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1997

National Lbrary of Australia, 13684291

John Clarke's collaborator for 30 years, fellow satirist Bryan Dawe, has been left devastated by his friend's sudden death on Sunday. 

"It wasn't Clarke and Dawe that was the most important thing for me," Mr Dawe said, referring to the television spots the two men have made for 27 years, first for A Current Affair on Nine and more recently on the ABC.

"It was the in-between. It was the space between our work as Clarke and Dawe: the conversations, the phone calls, the emails, the fun, the empathy, the understanding. The friendship. And all that means.

"John is such a big canvas it is impossible to explain how I feel," Mr Dawe said. "I got to experience this man's humanity, his generosity, his brilliance and above all, his kindness.

"He was such an insightful, generous, gorgeous human being, and I'm so fortunate and honoured to have been his friend and co-conspirator for so long."

It is almost impossible to imagine the Australian political landscape without John Clarke in it, but that's the new reality following his death from a heart attack while hiking in the Grampians in western Victoria on Sunday.

Only on Friday had Clarke, who was 68, filmed his final scenes for season two of Shaun Micallef's​ comedy series The Ex-PM, in which he had a recurring role.

Just the day before that, the most recent of his satirical interviews with Dawe had gone to air on ABC TV, with the New Zealand-born Clarke playing the role of the treasurer.

For decades, Clarke has been there to skewer the pomposity and doublespeak of politicians on our behalf – even if many of them wore that skewering as a badge of honour.

"His laconic wit was rarely wide of the mark. I should know," Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on Monday in response to news of Clarke's death.

"With lethal accuracy he made politicians and prime ministers his prey. With Bryan Dawe, his weekly take-down of the absurdity of political life became required viewing.

"His satire served a noble purpose. It spoke truth to power. It made our democracy richer and stronger. It kept politicians on their toes. And best of all it made us laugh along the way." 

John Clarke made millions laugh countless times with his satirical take on politics and daily life. 

Australian comedy giant Barry Humphries expressed sadness at the death of his friend and fellow comedian.

"How dare he die! John wasn't just funny, he was original and he was very, very nice," Humphries said. "He deserves a state funeral."

Clarke didn't just have the respect of his peers, he was also a mentor to many of them.

Frank Woodley recalled the advice he received from Clarke when the latter served as a script consultant on The Adventures of Lano and Woodley, the sitcom he and Colin Lane made for the ABC in 1997.

" 'Trust your instincts. You boys know what you're doing.' I can still hear John's distinctive dry voice saying that to me as if it was yesterday," Woodley said.

Charlie Pickering, host of the ABC's The Weekly, said Clarke and his writing and performing partner Dawe set the bar against which all other political satire in this country had to be measured.

"John and I once talked about how writing a good comedy script was somewhere between poetry and physics," Pickering said.

"Whatever that middle ground is, John Clarke deserved the Nobel Prize."

Max Gillies, for whom Clarke wrote The Gillies Report in 1984, said his friend and colleague had "an incalculable gift" for comedy.

"At school we were told sarcasm was the lowest form of wit, but John Clarke spent his whole life giving the lie to that. It was in his comic bloodstream, a deep sense of outrage that kept his blood pumping and the electricity in his brain firing."

Clarke, who was born in Palmerston North in the north island of New Zealand, was married to Helen, with whom he had two children, Lorin and Lucia.

The family on Monday issued a statement expressing their gratitude for the words of sympathy that had poured in from all corners. 

"John died doing one of the things he loved the most in the world, taking photos of birds in beautiful bushland with his wife and friends," the statement read. "He is forever in our hearts."

Original publication

Other Obituaries for John Morrison Clarke

Additional Resources

Citation details

Tony Wright and Karl Quinn, 'Clarke, John Morrison (1948–2017)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

John Clarke, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1997

John Clarke, by Virginia Wallace-Crabbe, 1997

National Lbrary of Australia, 13684291

Life Summary [details]


29 July, 1948
Palmerston North, New Zealand


9 April, 2017 (aged 68)
Hamilton, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.