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Barber, George Phillips (1863–1938)

from Labor Call

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

George Barber, by Regent Studios,  c.1920

George Barber, by Regent Studios, c.1920

State Library of Queensland, 65108022

A life-long worker in the Labor cause, George Phillips Barber, ex-M.L.A. of Queensland, passed away in his sleep at his residence, Earle Street, Toowong, Brisbane, on the night of November 8-9. Few Parliamentarians have had such a versatile career or such varied experience as this staunch Laborite.

He was a native of near Lowestaft, the fishing centre on the coast of Suffolk. England. Young George began his adventures early. When only 13, he ran away to sea on a trawler and spent some time with the world-famed Dogger-Bank fishing fleet in the North Sea. But fishing was too tame for his dynamic energy and he launched out in the merchant service, both sail and steam, spending some time before the mast.

Joining the Clan line he became quarter-master at an unusually early age, and made trips to Australia, South America and other parts of the world. His first voyage to Australia was with a cargo of steel rails, with wheat as the back-loading. Then for three years he traded on the coast of India, but ague and malaria caused a break in his seafaring.

About 1887 he again came to Australia on a brig with a cargo of gunny sacks. Then he decided to remain here. First, he gave Tasmania a trial and next New Zealand, remaining about a year in each place. Queensland attracted him and he made for the Burnett district and engaged in saw-milling. Next we find him as a sugar-worker, being employed at the Milliquin Sugar Refinery, near Bundaberg. It was here that his latent political talents sprang to light and impressed his colleagues.

In India he had been a Salvation Army officer and he joined up again in Queensland. At Millaquin George threw himself heart and soul into the question of the elimination of the Kanakas from the sugar industry. His addresses were so thoughtful and logical that it was soon recognised that the earnest young Englishman was destined to play a greater part in the guiding of the affairs of the great northern State.

He married in 1891 and in 1901 entered the Queensland Legislative Assembly as member for Bundaberg. Immediately he made good and was 14 times re-elected for that important constituency. In 1935, in his advancing years, he was defeated for the plebiscite and retired gracefully and honorably, but did not abate one whit his loyalty or enthusiasm for the cause and gave most generous support to his successor.

When he retired he was the "father of the House," with about 34 years' unbroken service. At his last successful campaign in 1932 it was stressed that in the whole of Australia there were only two State legislators who exceeded his length of service. One was Dan Levy of N.S.W., who had only two days' longer term, and the other was Sir Alexander Peacock of Victoria. Both predeceased George Barber.

In retirement George was still too active to be satisfied merely with his hobbies of reading and gardening. He secured a post in the Forestry Department and was on duty on the last day of his life. His end though sudden, was not altogether unanticipated, as a couple of years previously he had a dangerous "seizure."

Despising oratorical flourish and never loquacious, George Barber was a quietly forcible speaker who marshalled his facts irresistibly, and always made certain he knew his subject thoroughly before venturing to "hold forth." Hence he was always listened to with real interest. He never fulminated nor used an expletive and his innate sincerity earned him the sobriquet of "Honest George"—a proud title which was conceded by his political rivals as well as by his colleagues. Though he did not at any time push his claims for Cabinet rank, for many years he worked assiduously and most efficiently as secretary of the Queensland Labor Party.

It was in the party room that he did his best work and there all were only too willing to profit by his solid advice, based on sound experience. His name will ever be revered, particularly by the timber workers and sugar workers of Queensland. He was 75 when the call came.

Vale! Honest George Barber!

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Citation details

'Barber, George Phillips (1863–1938)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/barber-george-phillips-32041/text39600, accessed 20 October 2021.

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