BARNES, John (1868-1938)

BARNES, John (1868-1938)
was born at Hamilton, South Australia, in 1868. He was educated at a primary school, and subsequently worked as a farm labourer, shearer, miner and general bush worker. In his swag he carried copies of works by Henry George, Robert Blatchford and other writers on economic and social questions and he thus became largely self-educated. He was an early member of the Shearers' Union, afterwards the Australian Workers' Union, became general secretary in 1908 and afterwards president. He was secretary of the Victoria-Riverina branch for a period, and held that position when he was elected a federal senator for Victoria in 1913. He was defeated at the general election held in 1919 but was again elected in 1922 and in 1928. He was assistant minister for works and railways from 22 October 1929 to 3 March 1931 and then vice-president of the executive council and leader of the government in the senate until 6 January, 1932. He was then leader of the opposition in the senate until 30 June 1935. Though he held his seat until this date he had been defeated at the general election held in 1934. He was re-elected to the senate in 1937 but died at Melbourne on 31 January 1938. He married and left a widow, one son and five daughters.
Barnes was a man of strong personality who never entirely lost his boyishness; he was the most notorious practical joker in federal politics. But his strong sense of humour, which helped to prevent him being an extremist, went hand in hand with complete earnestness and belief in the cause of Labour. He could fight hard and speak bluntly, but there was no malice in his bluntness, and he was probably the most loved man in the house. He was a leading spirit in union circles for many years before he entered politics, and his political sagacity, complete honesty, and unswerving loyalty made him a power in the Labour party for the last 25 years of his life.
The Age, Melbourne, 1 February, 1938; The Argus, Melbourne, 1 February 1938; Commonwealth Parliamentary Handbook, 1938.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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