Comment

Save
Print
License article

John Clarke: words and ideas were his delight; nature his sustenance

John Clarke seemed to operate at a higher plane than the rest of us.

His eyes twinkled with secret mischief, as if life never stopped showering him with a stream of lunacy that only he could interpret satisfactorily.

Up Next

Private Sydney: Nobody gives a speech like Perdis

null
Video duration
02:17

More Entertainment News Videos

John Clarke: the best of

A look back on the hilarity that was the late John Clarke's comedy career.

He neither drank nor smoked: his vice - better to call it his delight, for there was an attentive elegance about him - was observing.

Watching him surrounded by friends at his dinner table at the terrace house he and his wife Helen shared in Fitzroy was to study an artist at work.

As the guests - a barrister here, a landscape painter there, characters of note and not, friends from the inner city and from the country - stoked themselves on wine and launched themselves with a little of their host's dexterous prodding into increasingly unrestrained conversation, John Clarke, utterly sober, grew intoxicated, the eyes dancing.

He was drinking in voices, words and ideas.

Advertisement

These were the things that energised an intellect that made him the most acute humorist of his generation, certainly in Australia and his native New Zealand. He was, to both countries, a natural treasure.  

And yet, though Clarke and his immensely talented co-impaler of the preposterous for 30 years, Bryan Dawe, were forever using their shared recognition that life, particularly political life, was so absurd it must be exposed in all its silliness, Clarke took shelter in the quiet.

Off camera, he might be found treading around a remote wetland, a windblown beach, a cliff above the ocean or a range of mountains, aiming his own camera at the birdlife that lent him some deep satisfaction, far from the targets of his wit.

If words and ideas were his fuel, nature was his sustenance.

He was forever taking himself out of contact  (he had a mobile phone, but he never seemed to use it) and communing with the natural world. He was an uncommonly talented photographer of wildlife, mostly birds, and he shared his discoveries - brolgas here, seabirds there - with fellow twitchers on Flickr.

I once accompanied John and Helen along cliffs above a wild ocean to Australia's only onshore mainland gannet colony, near Portland in far-western Victoria. Clarke was as excited as a child, astounded that there could be such a place that was not overrun with tourist coaches.

"How could we be the only people here?" he cried. "This place is...is...is..."

It must surely have been among the few times John Clarke became lost for words. Out there, beyond the self-important and the self-servers he skewered, he found no need to satirise.

And now, having lost his life within another of his much-loved sanctuaries, up on the quiet and majestic slopes of the Grampians, we are to be denied forever of John Clarke's words, treasures of wise drollery from a higher plane.