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Barber, John Andrew (1873–1958)

by F. Maxwell Bradshaw

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

John Andrew Barber (1873-1958), Presbyterian minister, was born on 4 March 1873 at Ellerslie, Victoria, eighth child of Alexander Barber, farmer, and his wife Sarah, née Esler, both from County Antrim, Ireland. Barber was educated at a state school and at Scotch College, Melbourne. An undergraduate from 1892 at Ormond College, University of Melbourne, he studied arts (B.A., 1898) and theology. After assisting at Scots Church, Melbourne, he was ordained and inducted as minister at Beaufort on 5 June 1900. On 31 October that year at Elsternwick, he married Maggie Rorke, daughter of a Presbyterian clergyman.

In 1904 Barber was called to the important congregation of Hamilton where, due to his efforts, a new church was built in 1907. In November 1909 John Flynn joined him briefly as an assistant to the shearers' mission Barber had founded. The two shared an interest in the inland and Barber helped Flynn to write his Bushman's Companion (Melbourne, 1910).

In 1915 Barber was transferred to Woollahra, New South Wales, and thence to West Hawthorn, Victoria, in 1918. When Flynn, now with the Australian Inland Mission, began his campaign for a wireless service and flying doctor scheme, Barber as convener of the Presbyterian Church's Inland Mission Council of Victoria took up the cause. Energetic and practical, he organized the funds required to launch the scheme successfully. In 1927 he accepted the post of patrol organizer for the mission and in June left Melbourne with Dr George Simpson on a motor tour of central and northern Australia, inspecting hospitals and arranging for the establishment of an aerial ambulance at Cloncurry. On his return to Melbourne an aerial medical advisory committee was formed, with Barber as chairman. He made similar patrols each year until 1933 when, desiring semi-retirement, he accepted a call to Gisborne. Besides overseeing the work of the travelling padres, Barber had also acted as superintendent of the mission while Flynn was overseas in 1929-30.

In July 1935 Barber's organizing skills were enlisted again when he was appointed administrator for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. He sought complete retirement in 1939 but in 1941 accepted a call to Richmond where he remained until 1947. After some casual ministerial work, he took charge of the Moreland congregation in 1951 and became chaplain at Pentridge gaol, work which he greatly enjoyed.

Barber had a flair for setting people at ease and enthusing them with any task he had on hand; he was a splendid public speaker and raconteur. Of large physique, in his youth he had been an outstanding sportsman; he was a keen huntsman and a good shot. He bred Irish setters and on country rounds of the parish was usually accompanied by gun and dog. He always wore clerical garb, however, even in the outback. He combined a deep religious faith and a theology that verged on the fundamentalist with a tolerance and broadmindedness that made him a popular figure throughout the inland. Barber had much to do with the promotion of the Flynn legend, and had himself suggested the title for Ion Idriess's book published in 1932. But while Flynn was the visionary, Barber's business acumen and common sense were vital to the implementation of the flying doctor service.

Barber died at East Melbourne on 7 January 1958, and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and two sons, of whom the elder (Sir) Edward Hamilton Esler became a judge of the Victorian Supreme Court.

Select Bibliography

  • I. L. Idriess, Flynn of the Inland (Syd, 1932)
  • G. Simpson, Australian Inland Mission Personalities (Gisborne, 1958)
  • W. S. McPheat, John Flynn, Apostle to the Inland (Lond, 1963)
  • Argus (Melbourne), 10 Sept 1926, 18 May, 3 June, 17 Aug 1927, 3 July 1935
  • private information.

Citation details

F. Maxwell Bradshaw, 'Barber, John Andrew (1873–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barber-john-andrew-5124/text8569, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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