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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barker, James (Jimmie) (1900–1972)

by Heather Goodall

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

James (Jimmie) Barker (1900-1972), Aboriginal station-hand, was born on 28 July 1900 at Cunnamulla, Queensland, son of William Barker, a German-born pastoral worker originally named Bocher, and his wife Margaret (d.1922), née Ellis, a Murawari woman. His parents separated when Jimmie was 5. Brought up by his mother among his relations on Milroy station by the Culgoa River, New South Wales, he spoke Murawari and learned the traditions of his people; he also developed a keen interest in the engineering technology used on grazing properties.

Following publicity about the Aborigines Protection Board's new powers to remove children from their families, in 1912 Margaret shifted with her children to Brewarrina 'mission', a station administered by the A.P.B. where a restricted primary syllabus was taught in the segregated public school. Appalled by the repressive discipline and by the denigration of Aboriginal culture, they left for the unsupervised camp near Brewarrina. The local public school was also segregated and the family reluctantly returned to the mission. By 1915 Jimmie had taught himself to read. He was 'apprenticed' by the A.P.B. and worked on a sheep-station where he slept in a chaff room and was physically abused.

In 1922 Barker returned as a handyman to Brewarrina station in order to be near his mother. There, on 17 December 1924, he married Evelyn Isobel Wighton (d.1941) with Anglican rites. A central figure in his community, he negotiated between Aborigines and bureaucrats, and attempted to shield his fellow residents from excesses of managerial power. Jimmie opposed the A.P.B.'s concentration of some five hundred Aborigines on the station in housing barely adequate for one hundred. He refused to take part in the enforced relocation of the Wangkumarra people from Tibooburra to Brewarrina in 1938.

Barker openly supported William Ferguson, Herbert Groves and Pearl Gibbs in their campaign to abolish the A.P.B. He described the conditions on Brewarrina station, thereby providing much of the information revealed in 1937 to the Legislative Assembly's select committee on the administration of the A.P.B. Jimmie took his six surviving children to live on the banks of the Barwon River outside Brewarrina in 1942. He worked as a handyman at the town's hospital. Obliged by illness to retire in 1963, he staked an opal claim at Lightning Ridge and mined for some years before returning to Brewarrina.

In 1968 Barker passed on his knowledge of the Murawari language to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. He soon grew interested in recording his life and the history of his community. In so doing, he celebrated the Murawari culture of his childhood and recalled the support, as well as the problems, of Aboriginal community life. At the same time, he relentlessly detailed the oppressions and discriminations of rural racism. Survived by three sons and two daughters, he died on 7 July 1972 at Brewarrina and was buried in the Old Mission cemetery. His tapes, edited by Janet Mathews, were published as The Two Worlds of Jimmie Barker in 1977.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (New South Wales), 1938-39-40, 7, p 597
  • Aborigines Protection and Welfare Boards, minute books, 1900-39, 1940-48 (State Records New South Wales)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Heather Goodall, 'Barker, James (Jimmie) (1900–1972)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

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