Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Nola Isabel Barber (1901–1985)

by Ian Cathie

This article was published:

Nola Isabel Constance Barber (1901-1985), mayor and community worker, was born on 27 December 1901 at Woodend, Victoria, daughter of William Oswald Griffiths, a Melbourne-born `student of electricity’ and later estate agent, and his wife Elizabeth, née Dick, who was born in New Zealand. Nola was educated in Melbourne. Graduating from the (Emily McPherson) College of Domestic Economy, she taught at state schools in the city and suburbs, and in Geelong. She attended the University of Melbourne part time in 1926 and 1939 and ceased teaching in 1940. On 12 March that year at the office of the govern­ment statist, Melbourne, she married David Reaburn Barber (d.1971), a law clerk; they had three children and settled at Aspendale.

In 1948-57 and 1960-75 Mrs Barber served on Chelsea City Council, and in 1962-63 held office as mayor of Chelsea, the first woman to do so. As a councillor, she endeavoured to implement her vision of how a civilised society should provide for the needs of its members. Conservative colleagues often opposed her, but she persisted, sponsoring the appointment of a trained social worker, and the establishment of a home-help scheme, Meals on Wheels, kindergartens, a municipal library, a sewerage authority, a spastic centre at Aspendale, and elderly citizens’ clubs. She attended the National Education Congress in Melbourne in 1963 and advocated increased Federal funding for schools.

Well organised and an efficient manager of her household, Barber found time for an extra-ordinary amount of community work. She was president of the Aspendale Technical School council and an executive member of the Technical Schools Association of Victoria. Among other organisations, she was active in the Aspendale Elderly Citizens Club, Chelsea Citizens Advice Bureau, Chelsea Community Health Centre, City of Chelsea Historical Society Girl Guides’ Association, Chelsea Benevolent Society, Australian Red Cross Society and the Victorian Baby Health Centres Association. She also taught children to swim. The Royal Life Saving Society awarded Barber its recognition badge (1963), and the Rotary Club of Aspendale its community service award (1977). She was appointed OBE (1970) and included on the Centenary of Federation Victorian Honour Roll of Women (2001). A kindergarten at Aspendale was named after her. She was the Victorian Council on the Ageing’s inaugural senior citizen of the year in 1983.

Barber had been a co-founder (1951) of the Australian Local Government Women’s Association, which made her a life member (1966). Joining the Australian Labor Party in 1955, she presided over the women’s central organising committee, broadcast regularly on radio-station 3KZ (until 1967) and, as a Victorian delegate, visited China and Japan in 1958. She contested as endorsed Labor candidate the Federal seat of Flinders (1958 and 1963) and the State seat of Mentone (1961 and 1967) at a time when prejudice in the party made it difficult for women to gain preselection.

A member of the Australian and New Zealand Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament, Barber had served on the committee of the 1959 peace congress in Melbourne. She was also a member of the United Nations Association of Australia (Victorian division), the Union of Australian Women, and the Aborigines Advancement League (Victoria), and foundation president (1965) of the anti-conscription organisation Save our Sons. Barber sought peaceful solutions to conflict and fought strongly for human dignity and justice. Maintaining a positive outlook, she preferred to see the good in people. She was a skilled violinist who inherited a love of classical music from her mother. Survived by her daughter and two sons, she died on 29 December 1985 at Colac and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Fabian and M. Loh, Left-Wing Ladies (2000)
  • Australian, 10 June 1965, p 12
  • VCOTA News Bulletin, Feb/Mar 1983, p 3
  • Chelsea City Council, Minute books (held by City of Kingston, Melbourne)
  • private information and personal knowledge.

Citation details

Ian Cathie, 'Barber, Nola Isabel (1901–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Griffiths, Nola Isabel

27 December, 1901
Woodend, Victoria, Australia


29 December, 1985 (aged 84)
Colac, Victoria, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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