Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barnes, John Francis (Frank) (1904–1952)

by B. J. Costar

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

This is a shared entry with Lewis Gabriel Barnes

John Francis Barnes (1904-1952) and Lewis Gabriel Barnes (1907-1983), publicans and politicians, were born on 4 October 1904 and 13 January 1907 at Gympie, Queensland, second and fourth sons of Queensland-born parents George Daniel Barnes, licensed victualler, and his wife Bridget Maria, née Gorey, late Moore. After their parents separated, the children were raised by their father and educated at Christian Brothers' High School, Gympie. Frank was a commercial traveller in wine and spirits, before becoming licensee of the Commercial Hotel, Bundaberg, in 1937. A failed police prosecution for selling liquor after hours was to launch him on an extraordinary political career. Passionately convinced of widespread police and political corruption, he initiated numerous, successful prosecutions for breaches of the liquor laws that earned him the soubriquet 'the Bundaberg Bombshell'. An 'able bush-lawyer', he lost only one of thirty-one applications to the Supreme Court of Queensland.

In 1941, as an Independent 'Andrew Fisher Laborite', Barnes won the Legislative Assembly seat of Bundaberg from the Australian Labor Party. In his maiden speech on 2 September he declared himself opposed to the Forgan Smith government, opined that 'the most important question in life is sex', described the liquor issue as 'filthy and disgraceful', denounced Jewish financial domination and revealed his sympathy for Social Credit economics—although he always claimed to be a follower of the policies of his friend King O'Malley. This speech marked the beginning of a 'nine years war with parliament' during which Barnes was suspended from the House eight times.

A robust public speaker, given to extravagant language, he was placid and kindly in his personal relations. Always sartorially splendid in a white suit and pith helmet, he was a political showman, never above stage-managing incidents to attract publicity. Humour was part of his political style: when rebuked by chairman of committees Sam Brassington in October 1943 for not apologizing to the House 'in a decent and manly way', Barnes knelt on the floor, clasped his hands, and intoned, 'I humbly withdraw the statement'. He was suspended for two weeks.

In late 1942 he had claimed that the mysteriously missing Marjorie Norval (former social secretary to Mrs Forgan Smith) had been 'shanghaied to California'. When he refused to reveal his source to the police, the government amended the Coroner's Act (1930) to make it an offence to withhold such information. After Barnes declined to name his source a second time, the coroner jailed him. In court on 1 June 1943 Barnes impenitently named his informants as 'Detective Smith' and 'Citizen Jones', but later conceded that he had been duped. On 20 January 1943 Frank had married a munition worker Everleen Dorothy Buchanan at the General Registry Office, Brisbane.

His litigiousness was a persistent irritant to the government. Having ruled that suspension from parliament precluded Barnes from occupying a room at the country members' lodge, the Speaker directed the police to evict him. In May 1946 Barnes, in the Full Court of Queensland, won his case for assault against a policeman on the grounds that the lodge was no part of Parliament House. He was less fortunate that year when the government legislated to garnish his salary to retrieve a £30 fine, imposed for a breach of parliamentary privilege. While often scandalizing his colleagues, Barnes managed to retain his Bundaberg seat until defeated by Labor's E. J. Walsh in April 1950.

Frank had been joined in the assembly by his brother Lewis who, as a 'King O'Malley Laborite', won a by-election for Cairns in October 1942. Like Frank, Lou was a commercial traveller for a brewery before becoming manager of the Queen's Hotel, Maryborough. On 21 April 1934 he married 33-year-old Muriel Eileen Burke at St Mary's Catholic Church, Beaudesert.

It was as a farmer from Beaudesert that Lou won his northern coastal seat, following a two-week campaign in which he was assisted by Frank. One effect of his surprising victory was the government's amendment of the Electoral Act (1892) to replace contingent with plurality voting. Less flamboyant and controversial than Frank, Lou lost Cairns to Labor in May 1947. He then established a menswear store at Southport and served (1949-52) on the South Coast City Council, from which he resigned in protest at the cost of a mobile library.

Lou was six feet (183 cm) tall, studious in appearance and prematurely bald, while Frank was a little shorter, with olive skin and a mop of dark, curly hair. Both were skilful amateur conjurers and each was an accomplished sportsman: Lou shone at lawn bowls and Frank at game fishing. Towards the end of Frank's life they had a serious falling out over Lou's return to the Catholic faith, which both had rejected in their youth. Frank was reduced to straitened financial circumstances. After suffering from chronic renal disease for several years, he died of coronary embolism on 12 May 1952 at Bundaberg and was buried in the local cemetery with Anglican rites; his wife, daughter and infant son survived him. Lou died on 2 June 1983 at Southport and was buried in Musgrave cemetery with the forms of the Jehovah's Witnesses; his wife and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Lack (ed), Three Decades of Queensland Political History, 1929-1960 (Brisb, 1962)
  • I. Moles, A Majority of One (Brisb, 1979)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 2 Sept 1941, p 149, 14 Oct 1943, p 918, 19 Aug 1952, p 9
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 8 Nov 1942
  • Truth (Brisbane), 17 July 1943
  • South Coast Bulletin, 1 June 1949, 7 May 1952
  • Bundaberg Daily News, 13 May 1952
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 13 May 1952
  • private information.

Citation details

B. J. Costar, 'Barnes, John Francis (Frank) (1904–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barnes-john-francis-frank-9437/text16591, published in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 25 October 2014.

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

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