Guide to the Papers of John Barrett

MS 9453

National Library of Australia

Collection Summary

Papers of John Barrett
Date Range
Collection Number
MS 9453
1.68 metres (12 boxes)
Language of Materials


Scope and Content

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 (

Copying and Publishing

Copying and publishing of unpublished manuscript material is subject to copyright restrictions.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 Copying of unpublished material for research purposes is permissible 50 years after the death of the creator of the material.

Preferred Citation

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.

Biographical Note

Date Event
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
1990 Retired
1997 Died, 17 February

Item Descriptions

Series 1. Family and friends, 1905-1997 Show allonly 1

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).

File 1_3. Letters from Mona Muriel Brash (mother of John Barrett), 1948-1985 Show allonly 1

File 4. Letters from Beatrice Smith to Mona Brash, 1961-1975; Laurel Bilney, 1993-1994; Dickson family papers, 1905-1994, including notes from World War I diary of D.E. Dickson Show allonly 1

File 5. Papers regarding John Cleveland Barrett (father of John Barrett), 1962-1965, including army records, 1919-1975 Show allonly 1

File 6. Letters from Rose Barrett (stepmother), 1965-1995 Show allonly 1

File 7_8. Letters from Maxine Audrey Bruff (sister), 1963-1996 Show allonly 1

File 9. Family tree, birthday cards, including letters from Hugh Stretton and Allan Martin on the occasion of Barrett's 60th birthday celebrations Show allonly 1

File 10. Nieces, nephews, in-laws, 1963-1996; Susan Barrett (daughter), 1972-1997 Show allonly 1

File 11. Clare Barrett (daughter), c.1973-1996 Show allonly 1

File 12. Graham and Jenny Lang, 1996; Edna March, 1985-1994; Don Dennis, c.1993-1996 Show allonly 1

File 13. Bruce Dorwood, 1994-1996; Ethel and Lloyd Gare, 1971; Shirley and V.L. Harry, 1983-1995; Charlie Newton, 1968 Show allonly 1

File 14. Dorothy Pemberthy, 1996-1997; G.P. Shepherd, 1994-1995; Dorothy Stagg, 1981-1991; Colin Thiele, 1979-1985; Goodwood Methodist Church, 1964-1996; Lyall Chittleborough, 1980-1994 Show allonly 1

File 15. Bronte and Judy Bunney, 1959-1996 Show allonly 1

File 16. Kevin Gilding, 1953-1993; Phyl Mitchell, 1965-1993; Isabel Scott, 1963-1965; E.E. Morris and Alice Dermott, 1973-1996 Show allonly 1

File 17. Chamberlain family, 1975-1976 Show allonly 1

File 18. Letters received on cancer diagnosis, 1995-1996 Show allonly 1

File 19. Miscellaneous letters, 1961-1993 Show allonly 1

File 20. Miscellaneous letters, 1973-1994 Show allonly 1

File 21. Miscellaneous letters, 1978-1996 Show allonly 1

Series 2. The Methodist minister, 1949-1997 Show allonly 1

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.

File 1. Amy Wuttke, 1963; Wal and Colleen Fraser, 1961-1994; Glen Davidson, 1961-1987; Gordon and Joan Scott, 1962-1996; Graham and Joan Barnes, 1968-1996 Show allonly 1

File 2. Leo and Kath DeGaris, 1969-1991; Jim Kelly, 1982-1997; Dorothy and Trevor Rowe, 1989-1996 Show allonly 1

File 3. Other former parishioners, 1957-1996 Show allonly 1

File 4. Rev. A.D. Hunt, 1981(?)-1996; Deaconess Bernice Rolland, 1966-1996 Show allonly 1

File 6_7. Other letters from ministers, 1949-1997 Show allonly 1

File 8. Miscellaneous Methodist papers, 1957-1966 Show allonly 1

File 9. Methodist circuit plans and other papers, 1957-1968 Show allonly 1

File 10. Correspondence regarding invitation to Naracoorte, 1962-1964 Show allonly 1

File 11. Naracoorte Methodist news sheets, 1964-1968 Show allonly 1

File 12. Vietnam discussion paper, 1966; sermons, 1966-1967; unpublished article 'Growing up Methodist', 1990-1991; resignation from Methodist ministry, 1967-1968 Show allonly 1

File 13. Marriages conducted, 1964-1967 Show allonly 1

Series 3. The historian, 1962-1997 Show allonly 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.

File 1. La Trobe University, 1967-1990 Show allonly 1

File 2. Manuscript of Red barrister : a biography of Ted Laurie QC by Peter S. Cook and associated correspondence, 1992-1994 Show allonly 1

File 3. Administrative papers, 1965-1992 Show allonly 1

File 4. Administrative papers, 1986-1995; La Trobe University afternoon party correspondence, 1978 Show allonly 1

File 5. Review of Lords of death : a people, a place, a legend by Suzanne Welborn, 1982-1986 Show allonly 1

File 6. G.C. Bolton, 1966-1995; Manning Clark, 1980-1994; 'Manning Clark as teacher' by Susan Davies and associated correspondence, 1993-1994 Show allonly 1

File 7. Inga Clendinnen, c.1982-1997 Show allonly 1

File 8. Peter S. Cook, 1980-1991; David Denholm, 1980-1991; John Graham, 1975-1992; W.K. Hancock, 1963-1984; J.S. Gregory, 1993-1997 Show allonly 1

File 9. A.P. Haydon, 1973-1983; J.B. Hirst, 1975-1997 Show allonly 1

File 10. K.S. Inglis, 1978-1997 Show allonly 1

File 11. Roger and Barbara Joyce, 1974-1990; A.W. Martin and Beryl Rawson, 1969-1997; Patrick O'Farrell, 1976 Show allonly 1

File 12. Scott Kershaw Phillips, 1980-1984; W.W. Phillips, 1969-1996 Show allonly 1

File 13. Hugh and Pat Stretton, 1969-1995; Alex Tyrrell, c.1985; Russel Ward, 1972-1994 Show allonly 1

File 14_15. Miscellaneous academics, 1962-1996 Show allonly 1

File 16. Application for position as Australian War Memorial official historian, 1982; La Trobe University correspondence, 1973-1989 Show allonly 1

File 17. La Trobe University correspondence, 1973-1989 Show allonly 1

File 18. That better country : the religious aspect of life in eastern Australia, 1964-1975 Show allonly 1

File 19. Research material relating to John Davies Mereweather, including photographs and a photocopy of his Diary of a working clergyman in Australia and Tasmania, kept during the years 1850-1853 with notes made by Barrett Show allonly 1

File 20. Photocopied wills of John and Ann Mereweather, together with photocopied publications by John Mereweather and associated correspondence, 1975-1979 Show allonly 1

File 21. Correspondence with Claes and Rolf Arfwedson, Ole Pein, 1976-1997; annotated typescript of unpublished manuscript 'From Bristol trades to a gentleman of Venice : the story of J.D. Mereweather 'by Barrett and associated correspondence, 1976-1996 Show allonly 1

File 22. Photocopy of Life on board an emigrant ship, published diary of John Davies Mereweather, 1852 Show allonly 1

File 23. Sample history lectures, La Trobe University, c.1977-1987 Show allonly 1

File 24. Correspondence with David Finlayson regarding guide by Ross Bastiaan Gallipoli plaques: a guide to the ANZAC battlefield, 1989; Turkish contacts, 1990-1994 Show allonly 1

File 25_26. Journal of Australian Studies, 1977-1995 Show allonly 1

File 27. Leonie Foster, 1982-1997; R.K. Haldane, 1991-1997 Show allonly 1

File 28. Gwynned Hunter-Payne, 1991-1996 Show allonly 1

File 29. Other former students, 1969-1996 Show allonly 1

File 30. Michael Piggott, 1988 (includes comments on C.E.W. Bean); Nancy Renfree, 1985-1997; P.A. Ryan, 1969-1992 Show allonly 1

File 31. 'No straw man: C.E.W. Bean and some critics', 1987-1988, article by Barrett published in Australian historical studies; letters concerning We were there : Australian soldiers of World War II, 1987-1997 Show allonly 1

File 32. Reviews of We were there, 1987-1996 Show allonly 1

File 33. Reviews of That better country : the religious aspect of life in eastern Australia, 1835-1850, 1966-1968 and Falling in : Australians and 'boy conscription', 1911-1915, with associated correspondence, 1979-1981 Show allonly 1

Series 4. Sundry documents, records and artefacts, 1919-1997 Show allonly 1

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.

File 1. Photograph of John Barrett, c. 1985; biographical chronology, 1991 Show allonly 1

File 2. Miscellaneous Christmas cards and other cards, c.1980-1991 Show allonly 1

File 3. University of Adelaide history essays, c.1950-1954 Show allonly 1

File 4_5. Application for Commonwealth scholarship, 1959-1960; Australian National University PhD scholarship, 1960-1964 Show allonly 1

File 6_7. 'Lost causes (1)', 1962-1995 Show allonly 1

File 8. 'Lost causes (2)', 1996-1997; tobacco, 1984-1996 Show allonly 1

File 9. Mementos, 1919-1993, including a letter from Norah Stretton Show allonly 1

File 10. Unpublished literary reminiscences, 1967-1993; Barrett Reid and Overland, 1988-1991, including notes exchanged with Shelton Lea Show allonly 1

File 11. Mary Martin booklists, 1965-1968, together with letter from Max Harris, 1968 Show allonly 1

File 12. Unpublished letters to the Melbourne Age, 1988-1997 Show allonly 1

File 13. Published articles, reviews, and letters to the editor, 1956-1989 Show allonly 1

Series 5. Letter to daughter Clare, 1996 Show allonly 1

File 1. Copy of a letter from John Barrett to his daughter Clare, written on 13 August 1996, six months prior to his death Show allonly 1

Container List

Series File/Item Box
1 1-8 1
9-15 2
16-21 3
2 1 3
2-8 4
9-12 5
13 6
3 1-4 6
5-12 7
13-19 8
20-26 9
27-33 10
4 1-6 11
7-13 12
5 1 12