Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barker, Keith Austin (1898–1993)

by Shelley Barker and Adrian Monger

This article was published online in 2017

Keith Austin Barker (1898–1993), businessman and sportsman, was born on 26 September 1898 at Cottesloe, Perth, younger son of Scottish-born Edmund Shelley Barker, company secretary, and his Victorian-born wife Beatrice Ethel Austin, née Woods. Keith grew up in the riverside suburb of Peppermint Grove where the family occupied Chanonry, a large home on a five-acre (2 ha) block. Educated at Scotch College (1906–17), he was head prefect (1917) and an outstanding all-round athlete. In his last year at school he played Australian Rules football for the Subiaco Football Club. He was commended in 1917 for rescuing two girls from the river near his home.

After finishing school, Barker worked for an accountancy firm until he became State agent for the sporting goods company A. G. Spalding & Bros (1924), a role which complemented his sporting interests as a player and administrator. With his brother, Tom, he won the State tennis doubles championships in 1923. Partnering Harry Hopman, he was again doubles champion in 1931. He was president of the Royal King’s Park Tennis Club in 1936 and club captain in 1940, and a member of the Tennis Umpires Association (honorary life member, 1948). As an amateur golfer, he was a successful suburban and country competitor and was twice runner-up in the State championships (1926 and 1932). He was president of the Western Australian Golf Association in 1931 and again in 1949, and helped to establish three golf clubs in suburban Perth.

In 1925 Barker had joined his uncle Henry Barker’s ship insurance and broking business. On Henry’s death, he purchased the company, renaming it to form Keith Barker Pty Ltd and expanding its activities into chartering. He was appointed State representative of the ammunition division of Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) in 1935, a role he was to fill for twenty-seven years. On 5 January 1938 he married Corrie Hay-MacKenzie Cornish (d. 1992) in a Church of England service at Christ Church, Claremont.

Having been commissioned in the Citizen Military Forces in 1937, Barker was serving part time with the 16th Battalion when World War II broke out in September 1939. He began full-time duty as a temporary major on 1 October 1941. In November 1942 he was seconded to 4th Division headquarters to learn staff work. The division moved to North Queensland in May 1943. He returned to Perth in September and transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 9 October.

Returning to civilian life, Barker sold his business but retained his Spalding and ICI agencies until 1965. Sport remained his ‘main thing in life’ (Barker 1982); he won the State intermediate trap-shooting championship in 1959, and was president of the Perth Gun Club in 1969. A growing interest in local history, particularly of Peppermint Grove, was heightened when his mother bequeathed him a large number of family photographs. He used many of these in reminiscences he wrote for local newspapers.

Known for his debonair appearance and passion for sports of all kinds, Barker had a ‘sparkling personality and zest for life’ (Clan 1993, 20). He died on 8 January 1993 at Dalkeith, Perth, survived by two sons and a daughter, and was buried in Karrakatta cemetery.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Barker, Keith. Interview by Susan Byrne, 22 June 1982. Australia 1938 Oral History Project. National Library of Australia
  • Clan (Scotch College, Swanbourne). ‘Keith Austin Barker.’ No. 60 (May 1993): 20
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, WX32985
  • State Library of Western Australia. Acc7586A, Keith Barker Papers

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Shelley Barker and Adrian Monger, 'Barker, Keith Austin (1898–1993)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barker-keith-austin-18152/text29727, published online 2017, accessed online 29 June 2017.

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