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Tributes flow for Newcastle sporting icon Paul Burke


The Waratah-Mayfield District Cricket Club (WMDCC) – and the greater Hunter community – is in mourning today following the passing of sporting icon Paul Burke at the weekend.

The man affectionately known as “Burkey” not only cut a fine figure on the Newcastle pitches during an illustrious playing career, he was well-known in local rugby circles, too, thanks to his association with The Waratahs.

Born at the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Waratah, he was the third son of Cyril and Marg of Woodstock Street, Mayfield.

He attended Waratah Infants School located on Turton Road from 1966 through to 1968 and then onto Waratah Public School from 1969 to 1972.

In his last year there, Burke was school captain alongside Tracey Williams (dec).

“Paul was always a very level-headed individual,” his long-time friend Ian Liddell said.

“And, in his role of captain in 1972, it was clearly visible that leadership was inside his DNA.

“He went onto Newcastle Boys High in 1973 and was in the last years’ intake of selected students.

“As such, Paul finished his schooling in 1978 and then went on to the Newcastle College of Advanced Education to study physical education.

“While at Newcastle Boys High, he enjoyed many sporting representative honours including selection in the NSW Schoolboys Cricket XI and NSW Schoolboys Rugby, as well as the Australian Schoolboys in 1978.

“Paul left high school with only 2 Unit Table Tennis credentials, which was below some of his best friends.

“His elder brothers Bruce and Colin had both attended Newcastle Boys High and Paul’s younger sibling Ross attended when it had been changed over to Waratah High School.”

While undertaking his physical education course, Burke met Sussan Cotterill who was also studying at the same campus.

They got married on 29 December 1984, in the Christmas break, so he did not have to miss a match.

Burke’s time at WMDCC started brightly, winning the Bert Gibson/Alf Morris Trophy for best under-23 player in 1975/76.

He then made his first-grade debut in the 1976/77 season as a 16-year-old.

All up, he took the field on 314 occasions (14th all-time WMDCC), scoring 4.965 runs (17th all-time WMDCC) and capturing 661 wickets (seventh all-time WMDCC).

Club president Josh Brackenbury led the tributes on Monday 18 October.

“Paul earned the respect of the entire Newcastle cricketing community – both as a talented all-rounder in his playing days, and as an administrator and leader later in life,” he said.

“He had Waratah in his blood, following his father Cyril into our playing ranks.

“His dad, perhaps more famous for his 91 caps as a Wallaby, was also a keen cricketer and played first-grade for WMDCC in the 1950s.

“During the very strong 1980’s era of Newcastle cricket, Paul was selected in local rep sides, rubbing shoulders with NSW and Test players.”

Burke’s best season came in 1985/86 – winning the NDCA Player of the Year, leading WMDCC to both the NDCA Club Championship and a first-grade premiership.

To cap it all off, he snared the WMDCC Club Person of the Year award in recognition of the work he was already performing as a volunteer.

Brackenbury said Burke’s overall contribution to Waratah cricket and rugby off the field was perhaps even greater.

“Paul continued building a WMDCC legacy, first taking office as president for the 1991/92 season, before being made a Life Member in 1993,” he explained.

“In 2010, he returned to the Waratah committee to assist in what was a tough time for the club.

“He took office as president that season and remained there until 2019 when he had to step back from the role due to his illness.

“During this term he acted in many positions far beyond just the presidency, and was ever-present at Waratah Oval on a Saturday, be it as a canteen manager, scorer, selector or just as a keen observer of his beloved Tahs.

“On a personal note, Burkey was a friend, a fundamentally kind man and fantastic role model for myself during the past decade and I will miss him greatly.

“I know I speak for all members of the Waratah family when I express our deepest condolences to the Burke family – wife Sue, children Jono, Kristen and Melissa, and his three brothers Bruce, Ross and Colin.”

The late, great Paul Burke in his rugby playing days.

The Waratahs leader Alex Robson was also quick to praise Burke, who died at the age of 60.

“Paul had a wide and distinguished playing and coaching career with the club and most likely would have gained high senior representative honours had he not suffered a serious knee injury in his early senior playing years,” he said.

“He was named in the Australian under-17 team as Number 8 in 1977 and had a promising career ahead of him, especially as his father was former Wallaby, Cyril Burke BEM.

“Paul played 198 games for The Waratahs and was the club’s inaugural club captain in 1981 before being appointed again in 1982.

“His passing will impact many members and supporters of The Waratahs Rugby Club, the cricket club and the Lake Macquarie Rugby Club where he had a stint as coach.

“He was very knowledgeable about the game of rugby and regularly attended home matches at Waratah Oval to be involved with the club.”

Burke’s rugby record includes being a member of The Waratahs first-grade team in 1979 and 1980 as a No.8 before suffering the knee injury in 1981.

The 1979 outfit was joint major premier with Merewether Carlton after a tied grand final.

He won a number of Best and Fairest awards, including Best Back in reserve grade in 1985 and 1987.

As a result of his playing prowess, Burke was named as lock (Number 8) in the club’s Team of the Decade 1976-85 – the sheet describing his playing style as “wonderful hands and skills for a big man. Good vision.”

Robson said Burke entered the coaching ranks as captain-coach of reserve grade in 1984 before being appointed The Waratahs senior mentor for four consecutive years between in 1993 and 1996.

His honours include being named as Coach of the Year in 1994 by the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union.

He was also a successful junior rugby mentor at club and representative level.

Burke coached at Lake Macquarie from 2002 to 2007, too, and shared that position with Danny Maiava in the last two years of that stint.

Fittingly, the last words belong to Mr Liddell.

“Paul suffered a lot of pain with his struggles with the ‘Big C’ and now can Rest in Peace,” he said.

“Loved by his family and all members of his various clubs, he will be sorely missed.

“His ability to debate any topic and make careful judgements is a rare thing.

“His life ended early at 60 but his output and commitment were huge.

“He was always great to have a chat with over a cold beer, which Paul loved.

“Best wishes and condolences to the family. RIP Burkey.”

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