Eric Keast Burke (1896–1974) was born in Christchurch, New Zealand. His family moved to Sydney in 1904 and Burke was educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School and the University of Sydney. During World War I he was in the Signal Corps and in 1917 enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces, serving in Mesopotamia, Persia and on the Kurdistan frontier. He later wrote a history of his unit, With horse and morse in Mesopotamia (1927).

In 1920 Burke joined his father Walter Burke as associate editor of Australasian photo-review, which was published by Kodak (Australasia) Ltd. He became editor in 1946 and held the post until the journal came to an end in 1956. He retired from Kodak in 1960 and edited Australian popular photography from 1961 to 1969. An outstanding photographer himself, his work was exhibited in Australia, Britain, Europe and North America and he was elected an associate of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain in 1938. His writings were also important in publicising the work of early Australian photographers, such as W.S. Jevons, J.W. Lindt and C.H. Kerry, as well as that of many of his contemporaries. In 1953 he discovered the Otto Holtermann collection of photographs of the Hill End and Gulgong goldfields, some of which he reproduced in articles and later in his book Gold and silver (1973).

Burke was a man of wide interests and great enthusiasm. He was an indefatigable collector, not only of historical photographs but of books, journals, catalogues and other works that were illustrated with fine photographs or engravings. From 1956 to 1974 he worked closely with the Library, writing hundreds of letters with suggestions about possible acquisitions. In 1964 he was appointed its Consultant on Photographic Collections and held this position until his death. He purchased items at auctions on behalf of the Library and encouraged the owners of collections to offer them to the Library. Some of the collections acquired through his efforts were the photographs of the Strzelecki Ranges of John B. Eaton, the ship photographs of E.M. Humphery and Edward Searle, the bromide and bromoil landscapes of H.D. Dirks, the stereoscopic collection of H.A. Tregellas and photographs of Charles Harper Bennett, Monte Luke and Norman Deck.


The Keast Burke Collection was purchased by the Library in 1963. Burke continued to donate material to the Library until 1972. Further photographs and magazines were donated by his widow Iris Burke in 1975. In 2001 their daughter Sandra Piggott presented the correspondence between Keast Burke and Jack Cato.


Printed Materials

The Keast Burke Collection contains many books, journals, booklets, exhibition catalogues, scenic views and other printed items that he had acquired either because they dealt directly with the history of photography or because they contained illustrations of particular historical, technical or aesthetic interest. They include both Australian and overseas publications. The following are a few examples:

Australian men of mark (2 vols, 1889)

Estabrooke, Edward M., The ferrotype and how to make it (1872)

Fauchery, Antoine, Lettres d’un mineur en Australie (1857)

Furniss, Harry, Australian sketches made on tour [1899]

George, Hereford B., The Oberland and its glaciers, explored and illustrated with ice-axe and camera (1866)

Halleur, G.C. Hermann, The art of photography (1854)

Hardwich, T. Frederick, A manual of photographic chemistry, theoretical and practical (1864)

Hepworth, Thomas Cradock, The book of the lantern (1888)

Hingston, James, The Australian abroad: branches from the main routes round the world (1879)

Hurley, Frank, Gems of Jenolan [192–]

Luke, Monte, Under sunny skies: a magnificent pictorial (1931)

Mason, George, Pictures in black and white [189–]

Men of mark: a gallery of contemporary portraits of man ... (1877)

Tilney, F.C., The principles of photographic pictorialism (1930)

Vincent, J.E. Matthew, The Australian irrigation colonies on the river Murray in Victoria and South Australia [1888]

Walch, Garnet, Victoria in 1880 [1880]

Waldack, Charles, Treatise on photography (1865)

Wilson, Frederick John, Typographic printing machines and machine printing [1879].

Among the many photographic journals in the collection are:

Australasian professional photographer (Sydney, 1916–21)

Australian journal of photography (Sydney, 1933)

Australian photographic journal (Sydney, 1886)

Interpress—foto (Halle, 1960)

Photograms of the year (London, 1895–1957)


The scope of the photographic collection assembled by Burke is very broad, ranging in time from about 1850 to 1950 and including daguerrotypes, ambrotypes, cartes de visite, bromides, lantern slides, glass slides, photo-lithographs, stereo-photographs and albumen prints. They include European, Asian, North American and Australian works. There is a substantial group of New Zealand and Pacific Island photographs by Burke’s father, Walter Burke. Other photographers represented in the collection include J.W. Beattie, Frank Hurley, Lionel Lindsay, J.W. Lindt, Monte Luke, Henri Mallard, W.H. Moffitt, W. Frank Moore, George J. Morris, C.P. Mountford, J. Murray, Herbert Ponting, E.A. Robertson, Julian Smith, James Stenning and W. Thatcher-Brown. There are several albums, including views of Sydney, Geelong, Hobart, Launceston, Adelaide, Scotland, Italy, Genoa and the Middle East.

Personal Papers

The personal papers of Burke consist of correspondence, including editorial correspondence, newspaper cuttings relating to photography, drafts of articles, notes, circulars, brochures, exhibition catalogues and other printed items. The correspondence with Jack Cato dates from 1948 to 1955 and documents the research that led to the publication of Cato’s book The story of the camera in Australia (1955).


Most of the printed material in the Keast Burke Collection has been catalogued individually and integrated in the Australian and general collections. The photographs, together with a small quantity of printed ephemera, are held in the Pictures Collection at various locations. They have been catalogued at the collection level, but only a few items have been individually catalogued. The manuscripts and personal papers are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 9582. A finding aid is available online at


Ennis, Helen, Integral to the vision: a national photographic collection, in Remarkable occurrences: the National Library of Australia’s first hundred years 1901–2001, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2001, pp. 199–211.

Gold & Silver, Australian photography, vol. 24 (7), July 1973, pp. 32–7.

Obituary of Keast Burke, Australian photography, vol. 25 (5), May 1974, p. 20.

Kimberley Webber, Eric Keast Burke, Australian dictionary of biography online

First posted 2008 (revised 2019)