David Burnett (BA 2007) 1985 - 2008

David Burnett (BA 2007) 1985 - 2008

The tragic accident at Petra, Jordan in which David Burnett (BA 2007) died at the age of 22 has snuffed out a life of extraordinary gifts and promise.

Dave Burnett was an outstanding student, a youth leader, an organiser and political activist, and a dedicated community worker who won international prizes for his achievements.

Born in Sydney, he was the only son of Dr Leslie Burnett (BSc Med '78, MBBS '80, PhDMed '86) and his wife, Ruth Pojer (BSc '73).

He went to Killara High School, where he excelled at history. He was a peer support leader, the Senior Prefect, and took the school Honour badge and Outstanding Achievement Award. For his main work for History Extension, he interviewed former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser about the 1975 dismissal.

A regular blood donor, Dave organised the school's Red Cross blood drive. He became involved with Jewish youth groups and a visit to Israel after his HSC exams led him towards community service.

While studying for an arts/law degree at Sydney, Dave became state president and national vice-president of the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS); was on the board of the Shalom Institute, which provides education programs for the Jewish community; on the Executive Committee of the Students' Representative Council of the University of Sydney and a board director of the University of Sydney Union. He was also a judge of the University's TheatreSports competition.

In 2005, Dave became the first Australian, and the youngest person so far, to receive a Charlie Award from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, an American group supporting programs that spread the joy of Jewish living. These annual awards are for achievement and vision. He also worked for the State Zionist Council of NSW.

As a convener for Young Labor NSW, Dave helped in both the 2006 Queensland and the 2007 Federal elections. He had also recently been elected to the University of Sydney Union board as an independent, on a campaign slogan of "Dynamite Dave - hitting the Union with a bang" and he worked to revitalise the clubs and societies program, and expand access to campus services.

A sociable person who hated seeing others alone or not involved, he greeted everyone enthusiastically and pulled everyone he could into a group.

He was visiting Jordan after a six-week program as a volunteer youth-group leader in Israel during the university summer holiday. He was standing on a viewing platform at the archeological site of Petra, when a part of the platform gave way and he fell to his death. He was about to start the final year of his law degree.

Said his father, Dr Leslie Burnett, "Although David worked for all students through his efforts at AUJS, the reality was that Sydney was 'his' university and he was extraordinarily proud to be a student (and in the final weeks before his departure overseas, a graduate) of Sydney. He probably had no choice: we have constantly talked about University and Union life since he was a small child.

"Our small family now has three generations who have studied at Sydney, and we have completed eight degrees there (11, if you count David's and his sister Debbie's degrees), and I've been a Life Member of the Union for more than 25 years. But Dave eclipsed us all, and we were enormously proud of his commitment and contributions."

The Jewish community, supported by the University of Sydney and the Burnett family, is setting up the David Burnett Foundation. Based on plans found on his computer, it will provide training for students entering community service and politics, make awards to young people in community work and organise civic leaders to mentor promising students.

David Burnett is survived by his parents, his sister Debbie, and three of his grandparents.

In 2010 the family of David Burnett established the David Burnett Memorial Scholarship in Social Justice at the Faculty of Law in recognition of David’s commitment to promoting and acting upon principles of social justice, tolerance and inter-community harmony.