National Library of Australia
Barrett's life, friendships and dual careers as an historian and minister in the Methodist church are comprehensively recorded in the papers. After completing his doctoral thesis on the religious aspects of colonial life, his research interests focused on the social history of war in Australia, including conscription. Through his academic work Barrett established contacts with many prominent historians, and numbering amongst the correspondents are Russel Ward, Hugh Stretton, Douglas Pike, Manning Clark, Allan Martin, Roger Joyce, John Hirst, Ken Inglis, Peter Cook, Sir Keith Hancock, W.W. Phillips, Leonie Foster and Inga Clendinnen. Collectively the letters reveal much about 20th century Australian historiography, as well as the politics of university history departments.
The papers also provide a detailed account of Barrett's work as a South Australian country minister during the 1950s and 1960s. Letters from former parishioners and other ministers, and parish newsletters from his period at Naracoorte provide insights into both church affairs and to life in rural South Australia generally. A further body of correspondence and reviews relate to Barrett's membership of the editorial board of the Journal of Australian Studies.
Access conditions may apply to this collection, please refer to the collection's catalogue record for further information (http://nla.gov.au/nla.cat-vn2076528).
Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions. For such material, written permission to publish must be obtained from the copyright holder(s). Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.
Items from this collection should be cited as '[Title or description of manuscript item], Papers of John Barrett, National Library of Australia, MS 9453, [series and/or file number]'.
The papers were donated to the National Library by Barrett's widow Margaret in March 2000. They form an exceptionally orderly collection, characterised by a large body of sustained correspondence, and reflect both Barrett's flair for letter writing and his meticulous approach to record keeping. Series 5 (a letter to his daughter Clare) was added on 3 October 2001.
It is evident that Barrett was methodical in keeping the letters he received and recording background information about the writers. This care was carried over to his retirement when he set about listing and documenting the collection. The arrangement of the files, according to the four subject groupings devised by his wife, has been retained in their transfer to the National Library. For the most part file titles are those supplied by Barrett, with additional information provided by Library staff in a few instances for purposes of clarification. Many of the individual items bear Barrett's annotations, including contextual information, explanatory notes, dates and later reflections on earlier happenings.
A copy of Barrett's doctoral thesis 'Church, state and people in eastern Australia, 1835-1850' has been separately accessioned at MSD 275. In addition to the materials held by the National Library, data sheets collected for Barrett's study We were there : Australian soldiers of World War II are housed in the Research Centre of the Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
|1931||Born Yorketown, South Australia, 23 January|
|1936-1937||Alma State School, Broken Hill|
|1937-1939||Balaklava State School|
|1940-1946||Port Lincoln State School and High School|
|1946-1947||Adelaide High School|
|1948||Shop assistant at Clarkson's hardware store, Rundle Street, Adelaide, whilst undertaking matriculation studies at night school and studying for a provisional library certificate|
|1948-1950||Assistant, South Australian Parliamentary Library|
|1951-1955||Undergraduate studies in history and political science, University of Adelaide, including one year residency at Wesley Theological College, Wayville; external studies towards partially completed Bachelor of Divinity Degree, University of Melbourne|
|1953||Co-President, Student Christian Movement, University of Adelaide|
|1956||B.A. (First Class Honours), University of Adelaide, under supervision of Douglas Pike and Hugh Stretton|
|1956||Probationary Methodist minister, West Hindmarsh|
|1957||Married Margaret Sexton|
|1957-1960||Methodist minister (ordained 1958), Snowtown|
|1961-1963||PhD, Australian National University|
|1964-1968||Methodist minister, Naracoorte|
|1966||Publication of That better country : the religious aspect of life in eastern Australia, 1835-1850|
|1968||Resignation from Methodist ministry|
|1969||Appointed Lecturer, La Trobe University|
|1971||Appointed Senior Lecturer, La Trobe University|
|1979||Publication of Falling in : Australians and 'boy conscription', 1911-1915|
|1979-1990||Member Editorial Board, Journal of Australian Studies|
|1981||Appointed Reader, La Trobe University|
|1987||Publication of We were there : Australian soldiers of World War II; establishment of the John Barrett Award for Australian Studies, La Trobe University|
|1997||Died, 17 February|
Barrett was a natural letter writer with a wide circle of correspondents. Included in this series are letters from many members of his family, and from old friends in South Australia where he grew up and where he was a Methodist minister. Of special note amongst the many correspondents are the writer Colin Thiele, Barrett's former teacher at Port Lincoln High School, and historians Hugh Stretton and Allan Martin with whom Barrett maintained long friendships. The correspondence also reflects a number of lapsed contacts, which Barrett renewed following his cancer diagnosis in 1995. Also of interest are some genealogical papers relating to the Dickson family (beginning with Barrett's maternal great-grandparents), incorporating notes from the World War I diary of his uncle D.E. Dickson, written at Boulogne, France. (Dickson was awarded the Military Medal and later became a Methodist minister).
As the son of a South Australian Methodist minister, Barrett had an early introduction to the church, and spent his formative years growing up in manses at Yorketown, Broken Hill, Port Lincoln and Goodwood, a suburb of Adelaide. At the University of Adelaide he was Co-President of the Student Christian Movement, and spent a year during his Bachelor of Arts degree as a resident at Wesley Theological College, Wayville. He also undertook two or three units of an external Bachelor of Divinity degree from the University of Melbourne while at Wesley College, but did not complete it. During this period he was an active member of Pirie Street Methodist church, the main centre of Methodism in South Australia. After graduation from the University of Adelaide he resumed theological studies during his appointment as a probationary minister, initially in West Hindmarsh, then at Snowtown. Once ordained, he continued as Methodist minister to the circuits of Snowtown, 1957-1960 (including the towns of Lochiel and Condowie) and Naracoorte, 1964-1968 (incorporating Lochaber, Wrattonbully, Kybybolite and Keppoch). Included in this series are sermons, parish newsletters, and letters exchanged with former parishioners and fellow ministers, of which some ties extended over many years.
Barrett gradually became disaffected with the itinerancy of circuit work, and of the workings of the Methodist Church in general, and briefly considered transferring his ministry to the Presbyterian faith before resigning from the church altogether in 1968. Amongst his grievances, Barrett was critical of the Church's failure to take an active stance on the preachings of Billy Graham, and on Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, on which topic he wrote a discussion paper in 1966.
Additional papers relating to the Goodwood Methodist Church are filed in File 19 of Series 1.
Barrett's second career as an academic and historian began whilst still a Methodist minister, with his doctoral studies at the Australian National University (1961-1963) under the supervision of Manning Clark and Sir Keith Hancock. The resultant thesis was published in 1966 under the title That better country : the religious aspect of life in eastern Australia, 1835-1850 by Melbourne University Press.
In the 1970s and 1980s as lecturer and reader at La Trobe University, Barrett specialised in 20th century Australian history, particularly national involvement in the world wars. During these years he prepared Falling in : Australians and 'boy conscription', 1911-1915, and undertook further research on wartime emergency measures, the Australian National Defence League and soldier attitudes to W.M. Hughes. In 1982 he embarked with Professor R.B. Joyce on an Australian Research Grant-backed social survey of thousands of Australian World War II soldiers. The resulting analysis of their pre-war background, reasons for enlistment, army experiences and effects of war were published in 1987 under the Viking imprint as We were there : Australian soldiers of World War II. Through his war investigations he became interested in the Australian historian C.E.W. Bean, about whom he published an article 'No straw man : C.E.W. Bean and some critics' in 1987.
In addition to his scholarly works, Barrett contributed papers to a number of academic journals including Historical studies : Australia and New Zealand, Meanjin quarterly and the Journal of Australian Studies, the latter of which he became a member of the editorial board. He also prepared a number of entries on historical figures for the Australian dictionary of biography, including G.M.C. Bowen (1803-1889) and John Kenny (1816-1886). Also filed in this series are research materials and a manuscript entitled 'From Bristol trades to a gentleman of Venice' on the life of clergyman John Davies Mereweather (1816-1896), for which Barrett was unable to find a publisher. Late in life he lodged a short version of the Mereweather story with John Ritchie, editor of the ADB, for possible inclusion in a revised edition of the appropriate volume.
Correspondence in this series reflects friendships formed with Douglas Pike and Hugh Stretton whilst a student at the University of Adelaide, as well as contacts later established with eminent historians at the Australian National and La Trobe Universities.
This series brings together papers documenting Barrett's personal life and interests. Included amongst the materials are an informal biographical chronology prepared for daughter Susan in 1991, a 1972 letter from Norah Stretton (mother of Hugh), correspondence with Barrett Reid (editor of Overland magazine) and some unpublished literary pieces and writings for newspapers.
There are also a few files named by Barrett 'lost causes', which comprise letters to various organisations and government authorities on matters of personal interest, ranging from local development plans and aircraft noise to smoking. File 8 includes records of his unsuccessful attempts to give up the habit, and some lively correspondence with the anti-smoking lobby, whose claims he questioned. File 11 contains a set of early Mary Martin Bookshop booklists, with an accompanying letter from Max Harris dated 1968.