Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Aylwin (Harry) Barrenger (1900–1976)

by Ian Carnell

This article was published:

Henry Aylwin (Harry) Barrenger (1900-1976), public servant, was born on 31 May 1900 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of Thomas William Charles Barrenger, jeweller, and his wife Anne, née Aylwin, both Victorian born. Educated at Hawksburn State School, in 1915 Harry joined the Postmaster-General's Department as a messenger. Two years later he was appointed clerk in the Department of Home and Territories. On 23 February 1924 at All Saints Church, St Kilda, he married Lily Adelaide Danson with Anglican rites; they moved to Canberra in 1927 with the first relocated Federal public servants and their families.

Advancing steadily within the Department of the Interior, Barrenger was involved in the administration of the Northern Territory and made frequent visits there. His responsibilities included Aboriginal welfare policy and he served as secretary to the initial conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal authorities, held in Canberra on 21 to 23 April 1937. Among other duties in the 1930s, he acted as secretary to the Commonwealth Literary Fund and to the oil advisory committee. In 1938 he became an associate member of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants. He was promoted chief clerk in Interior's central administration branch in 1945 and assistant-secretary next year. As first assistant-secretary from 1948, he oversaw the substantial expansion occasioned by the transfer of most of the remaining government departments to Canberra. Barrenger acted as secretary of the department. On one such occasion in January 1949 there was controversy over the enforced removal to Adelaide and Alice Springs of Aboriginal children who had been evacuated to Penrith, New South Wales, in World War II; he dismissed protests against the move, arguing that the children had to obey the orders of their legal guardian, the Northern Territory director of native affairs.

In 1954 Barrenger became a nominated member of the Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council. Although the council exercised no power and had only limited influence on parliamentary ministers, he insisted that community concerns voiced at its meetings be taken seriously by the Department of the Interior. A member of the Police Arbitral Tribunal and of the Commonwealth Stores Supply and Tender Board, he was a director and an active chairman (1965-72) of Commonwealth Brickworks (Canberra) Ltd. Aboriginal bark-painters at the Maningrida settlement in the Northern Territory benefited from his efforts to establish a forest reserve to provide a future source of bark. Respected for his hard work and integrity, Barrenger was never ruffled and had an 'unfailing sense of humour'. He related well to others, and was noted for his sympathy and compassion. Accessible to and supportive of his staff, he improved morale in his department and stood up to the permanent head William McLaren when necessary. Barrenger was appointed O.B.E. in 1964; he retired from the public service and the advisory council in 1965.

He was active in the Barton Tennis, Canberra Bowling and Manuka Cricket clubs, and also interested in films and philately. Predeceased by his wife, Barrenger died on 26 August 1976 at Woden Valley Hospital and was buried in Canberra cemetery with Baptist forms; his daughter and son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • Aboriginal Welfare. Initial Conference of Commonwealth and State Aboriginal Authorities (Canb, 1937)
  • E. Sparke, Canberra 1954-1980 (Canb, 1988)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Jan 1949
  • Australian (Canb edn), 15 Apr 1965
  • Canberra Times, 15 Apr 1965, 1 Sept 1976
  • Canberra Courier, 22 Apr 1965
  • Australian Capital Territory Advisory Council minutes, 12 Apr 1965 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Ian Carnell, 'Barrenger, Henry Aylwin (Harry) (1900–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


31 May, 1900
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


26 August, 1976 (aged 76)
Garran, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.