Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Barry, Keith Lewis (1896–1965)

by Clement Semmler

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

Keith Lewis Barry (1896-1965), by May Moore

Keith Lewis Barry (1896-1965), by May Moore

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an3085079

Keith Lewis Barry (1896-1965), medical practitioner, musician and journalist, was born on 11 September 1896 at Parramatta, New South Wales, son of native-born parents Alfred Barry, musician, and his wife Ruth Ann, née Meads. Alfred was a teacher and organist who inculcated in his young son a love and appreciation of music. Keith attended Hayfield and Sydney Grammar schools. At the University of Sydney he enrolled in medicine, held the Busby musical scholarship and was a committee-member of the glee club. Having been refused enlistment in Australia, Barry sailed for England in 1916. Commissioned in the Dorset Regiment on 30 May 1917, he served on the North-West Frontier in India, and with the Royal Flying Corps in India and Egypt. He was promoted lieutenant in November 1918, sent on special duties to Ireland and demobilized in 1919.

Back in Sydney, Barry entered Wesley College and graduated from the university (M.B., Ch.M., 1924). After studying in England, he became a doctor at the Newcastle coalfields, New South Wales, and in 1927 bought a busy practice at Dee Why. Intensely active and versatile, he presided over the university musical society, organized and conducted a local choral society, became organist of the Mosman Presbyterian Church and music critic for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, and began writing anonymously a weekly column, 'The Diary of a Doctor Who Tells', which was to be syndicated throughout Australia for thirty years.

On 19 February 1929 Barry married Gladys Ada Price at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Sydney. Late in 1930 he was found to have contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and was immediately sent to a sanatorium in the Blue Mountains. Barry stoically accepted the apparent end of his medical and musical activities, but continued his 'Diary' and wrote Music and the Listener (1933). Against all expectations he recovered from his illness by 1934. As a ship's doctor, he worked his passage to Britain where, in addition to gaining further medical experience in various hospitals, he studied developments in radio in England and Germany. He regularly broadcast for the British Broadcasting Corporation.

On his return to Sydney, Barry resumed as music critic for the Daily Telegraph, and wrote and broadcast for the Australian Broadcasting Commission. He was invited to become its part-time programme adviser and in October 1936 was appointed controller of programmes (assistant general manager—programmes from 1958); he fostered the growth of the A.B.C.'s music, concert and spoken-word broadcasting. Level-headed and diplomatic in many early crises over broadcasting policy, Barry impressed his colleagues with his affability, sense of humour and indefatigable nature. He made frequent overseas visits for the A.B.C. and represented Australia at meetings of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and of the International Music Council. He was a federal vice-president of the Arts Council of Australia.

Although he no longer practised, Barry managed to keep abreast of medical developments, as reflected in his weekly 'Diary' and in his work from 1948 as State and later federal president of the National Tuberculosis and Chest Association. He also helped to organize tuberculosis conferences in Sydney in 1955 and 1960 which were opened by Sydney Symphony Orchestra concerts in the university's Great Hall. Throughout his life he remained a member of the State branch of the British Medical Association, the postgraduate committee in medicine at the University of Sydney and the Australian College of General Practitioners.

Of shortish stature and inclined to rotundity with age, Barry nevertheless possessed remarkable agility as a sportsman: he was a low-handicap golfer and, as an A-grade tennis player, regularly defeated younger colleagues to win the annual A.B.C. tennis championship. He belonged to the New South Wales Lawn Tennis Association, and to the University, Journalists' and Leura Golf clubs. Having retired from the A.B.C. in 1960, he continued energetically and enthusiastically his music and cultural activities, launching the first Sydney Northside Arts Festival in 1963 and journeying abroad several times. He died of coronary vascular disease on 14 January 1965 at his Wollstonecraft home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife and son Graham, who became a leading medical practitioner in the Bahamas, survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • G. E. Hall and A. Cousins (eds), Book of Remembrance of the University of Sydney in the War 1914-1918 (Syd, 1939)
  • Home (Sydney), 1 Oct 1933
  • ABC, Radio-Active, Mar 1949, Oct 1960, Jan 1965
  • New South Wales National Tuberculosis and Chest Association, Report, June 1965, p 9
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 21 Aug 1965
  • Bulletin, 17 Mar 1927, 23 Nov 1960
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Jan 1965
  • ABC Archives, Sydney.

Citation details

Clement Semmler, 'Barry, Keith Lewis (1896–1965)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/barry-keith-lewis-9443/text16603, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 November 2017.

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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