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Barclay, Aubrey Colville Henri de Rune (1880–1950)

by Richard M. Strauss

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Aubrey Colville Henri de Rune Barclay (1880-1950), journalist and conservative campaigner, was born on 20 January 1880 in County Down, Ireland, youngest of six sons and brother of three daughters of William Malo de Rune Barclay, army officer, and his wife Harriet Jane, née Leslie. In 1881 the family moved to Tauranga, New Zealand, where William took a position with the Department of Lands and Bridges. Aubrey attended Woodcote House School, Wellington, where he won the first form mathematics prize. About 1903 he joined the Evening Post, Wellington; from 1905 he worked with the Southland Times, Invercargill, of which he became acting editor. He also contributed to the Australasian Accountant and Businessman's Journal (1906) and produced satirical magazines, the Tickler and the Rag. His early writing included poetry, social commentary and an essay on 'The Literaryness of [Henry] James'.

On 17 September 1903 at St Paul's Church, Thorndon, he married Alice Anne, daughter of Sir Edward Osborne Gibbes. Barclay worked with the Daily Telegraph in Sydney from 1913, and then became editor-in-chief of Hugh D. McIntosh's Sunday Times and Referee. About 1921 he quarrelled with McIntosh and resigned. In 1923 he established Pacific, a short-lived magazine devoted to regional current affairs and lifestyle. He contributed prose and verse to the Bulletin as 'Inver G.'.

Increasingly concerned at the threat posed by international communism, Barclay founded the Sane Democracy League in 1925. As full-time secretary he organized and participated in public speeches and radio broadcasts, placed newspaper advertisements and edited the journal Sane Democracy. He maintained contact with right wing groups, including the British Economic League. Also targeting J. T. Lang, the S.D.L. was active in the 1932 State election. Distressed by the Depression, having met unemployed or underemployed 'good men', Barclay made efforts to find work for them and felt that capitalism was fighting a rear-guard action. In the 1930s he developed an interest in fascism, maintaining an amicable—though not entirely credulous—correspondence with Chicago-based anti-Semite Harry Curran Wilbur and contact with the All for Australia and the Australian Unity leagues.

Ambivalent about the Spanish Civil War, Barclay was opposed to Italian aims in North Africa, outspoken against the Japanese annexation of Manchuria, concerned by the aggression of Nazi Germany and critical of the 'ourselves alone' policy of the United States of America. He worried at rumours of Sydneysiders greeting each other with Nazi salutes and questioned the patriotism of some on the political right. He was most unsettled by a visit from Adolf Mills, publisher of the Angle and National Socialist, whom Barclay thought to be a Nazi agent. In conjunction with other members of the S.D.L., Barclay began a 'Crusade for Democracy' culminating in the formation of the National Defence League, of which he was acting honorary secretary.

Despite Australia's alliance with the Soviet Union, Barclay reminded listeners in radio broadcasts of Australian communists' complicity in the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact. Towards the end of World War II his attention broadened to include the likely extension of wartime planning to peacetime governance. In 1945 his efforts attracted retaliation from the Federal parliamentarian D. A. Mountjoy who, under parliamentary privilege, accused Barclay of running a propaganda campaign against the Labor Party. Finance allegedly came from companies such as Commonwealth Steel Pty Ltd and the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd, solicited by senior military intelligence personnel through a 'select house of assignation'. This was denied in the press and in parliament and was never substantiated.

Athletic and wiry, known as 'Barc' to his friends, he was an active member of Manly Golf Club and tended the family vegetable garden but grew no flowers. He would rise at 5 a.m. to buy a copy of the Sydney Morning Herald, make tea for the household and eat yeast extract on toast. In the evening he repaired to the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club or the Neutral Bay Club, where he enjoyed a drink, a pipe and conversation. Brought up within a strict Protestant household, he sent his children to Sunday School but encouraged them to be independent thinkers. He did not attend church but studied the Bible closely.

Barclay's son Captain Aubrey Geoffrey de Rune (Peter) was killed in action on the Kokoda Track, Papua, on 23 October 1942. Barclay died of cancer on 4 March 1950 in Royal North Shore Hospital and was cremated with Methodist forms. His wife and their daughter (who had married Russell, the son of F. M. Gellatly) survived him. The Sane Democracy League did not long outlast him.

Select Bibliography

  • Sane Democracy League, Sane Democracy (Syd, 1926)
  • A. Moore, The Right Road? (Melb, 1995)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth), 181, Mar 1945, pp 612, 620, 720, 760, 772, 776
  • Journal of Australian Studies, no 1, June 1977, p 70
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 6 June 1932, p 8
  • 13 Dec 1932, p 8, 1 Feb 1933, p 17, 17 Mar 1945, p 5, 5 Mar 1950, p 1, 6 Mar 1950, p 3
  • Truth (Sydney), 25 Mar 1945
  • C. Priday, Sane Democracy in New South Wales 1920 to 1940 (B.A. Hons thesis, Macquarie University, 1975)
  • personal papers (privately held).

Citation details

Richard M. Strauss, 'Barclay, Aubrey Colville Henri de Rune (1880–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barclay-aubrey-colville-henri-de-rune-12783/text23063, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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