John Geake: ‘one of the very few absolute best in his field’

Published 23 September 2011

johngeakeProfessor John Geake’s family, friends and colleagues gathered at the University of New England last week to celebrate his outstanding life and legacy. John, who was Professor of Education – Learning and Teaching in UNE’s Faculty of The Professions, has been described as “one of the very few absolute best in his field, who was held in the highest respect because of his wisdom”. He died, aged 62, on the 8th of September 2011.

John Geake received an Honours degree in Physics from the University of NSW, where he was President of the Students’ Union, 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.

His 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.

John joined the hundreds of bright, energetic and progressive young dreamers who went to the Nimbin Aquarius Festival in 1973. In company with friends, he bought the “Paradise Valley” property just out of town, 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.

He 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 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.