Australian Dictionary of Biography

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James Noel Barrett (1903–1958)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published:

James Noel Barrett (1903-1958), agriculturist and grazier, was born on Christmas Day 1903 at Prahran, Melbourne, second son of (Sir) James Barrett and his English wife Marian, née Rennick, late Pirani. Noel was educated at Melbourne Church of England Grammar School and Trinity College, University of Melbourne (B.Agr.Sc., 1925). In 1927 he bought Yera (1820 acres, 737 ha) at Edgeroi, near Narrabri, New South Wales. On 19 June 1929 at St Albans Anglican Church, Quirindi, he married Nancy Morphett Mair of nearby Colly Creek station; they were to have six children.

Highly energetic and innovative, Barrett devoted his life to the betterment of agriculture and became one of the State's most progressive farmers. Alone or with others, he pioneered wheat-growing on the north-western slopes of New South Wales, contract harvesting of pasture seed (especially curly Mitchell grass), use of pneumatic tyres on farm machinery, bulk handling of wheat, growing and harvesting of linseed and sunflower oilseed, and, in 1947, aerial spraying with insecticides. He adapted and designed new farm equipment, including a system for delivering wheat from his auto-header to motor trucks and bulk railway-waggons. Yera was developed into a highly-mechanized model property: in 1939 it had 1100 acres (445 ha) under wheat and 600 (243 ha) under lucerne, and carried 580 sheep and 120 cattle.

Unremitting in his efforts to improve farming practices, Barrett gave radio broadcasts and contributed numerous letters and articles to the press on subjects such as pasture improvement, soil erosion and fodder conservation. In 1942-45 he was agricultural adviser on farm mechanization and machinery pools to the Federal minister for commerce and agriculture William Scully. After the war Barrett served on the general council of the Wheat and Woolgrowers' Association of New South Wales and, with C. D. Renshaw, was a State delegate to the Australian Wool and Meat Producers' Federation. In 1946 Barrett strongly opposed the Federal government's wheat stabilization plan.

In 1949 he purchased Maida Vale, a run-down 1760-acre (712 ha) property at Ebor, west of Dorrigo; in 1954 he related the story of its rehabilitation in a series of articles in the Pastoral Review. Barrett was a driving spirit behind the Hernani Dog Proof Association in 1953-56 and hoped that this co-operative of landowners from the district near Maida Vale would set a pattern for others in erecting dingo fences. In the late 1950s he planned to irrigate the whole of Yera which, on completion, would represent an investment of £200,000 and make his property 'one of the best and safest in Australia'. These plans were unrealized, but one of his last ventures on Yera was to set up a merino stud founded on Rossmore (Burren Junction) blood.

Tall, with a slightly gangling walk, Barrett was widely admired for his sincerity, thoroughness and ingenuity. He had a good—if unusual—sense of humour and was a delightful travelling companion; like his father, he was also an able and forceful communicator. Overwork and worry, however, undermined his health and affected his hitherto sound judgement. On 6 July 1958 he drove his truck into the Clarence River at Grafton and drowned; the coroner returned a verdict of suicide. Survived by his wife, two daughters and three of his sons, Barrett was cremated; his estate was sworn for probate at £72,817.

Select Bibliography

  • Pastoral Review, May, July, Aug 1939, May 1942, May-Oct 1954, Nov 1955, Feb, July 1956, Jan 1957, Aug 1958
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Dec 1927, 8, 27 July 1937, 29 May, 5 June, 13, 18, 19 July, 4 Aug 1939, 29 Jan, 5, 18 Sept 1941, 14 Jan, 14 Sept 1943, 6 Feb, 8 May 1945, 4 Feb 1946, 28 May, 1 July 1955
  • Land (Sydney), 10 July 1958
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Barrett, James Noel (1903–1958)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 May 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]


25 December, 1903
Prahran, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


6 July, 1958 (aged 54)
Grafton, New South Wales, Australia

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