Remembering John Lindley Barnet

John was the last Barnet editor of The Bunyip newspaper before it was sold in 2003. PHOTO: Supplied

Words supplied by Robert Laidlaw

The great grandson of the original Bunyip ‘mastermind’, John Lindley Barnet, truly captured and enhanced the essence of his heritage, and left the paper in great shape when it was sold in 2003 to the Taylor family.

William Barnet, John’s ancestor, started The Bunyip in 1863, and after his death in 1895, the following eulogy was recorded in the local paper:

“Only those who know the peculiar difficulties attendant on the establishment and conduct of a provincial journal can appreciate the special qualities which such an undertaking requires. Only a man of indomitable perseverance, wealth of patience, and variety of resource has the slightest chance of success. And such qualities would be more profitably exercised, perhaps, in almost any other department of life than in journalism.

“But the true journalist is inspired with the thought that he is in the service of his fellows, and although it may be pleasant for him to achieve a modicum of material success as the result of his endeavors, it is infinitely more gratifying to him to possess the knowledge that his efforts have in a manner contributed to the well-being of his fellows.”

More than a century later, this eulogy almost perfectly could be given to John.

The eldest son of Ken Barnet, (William’s grandson), John was ‘born’ into the family business, but he was so much more, as he, the eldest of four sons – with Anthony, Craig and Paul – embraced the traditions of the newspaper and enhanced its standing in the community.

Born at the Hutchinson Hospital, Gawler East on October 23, 1945, to Ken and Daphne Barnet, John Lindley Barnet attended Gawler Primary School and Gawler High School, before continuing his education at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide.

An economics degree at Adelaide University was started but soon abandoned, as John could not resist the call of journalism, and decided to take on a cadetship at The News in Adelaide, where he met life-long friend Julian Swinstead – a top footballer with Central District.

Having undertaken various duties at The Bunyip while at school, John was well-grounded in the industry and thrived in the environment at The News, which was Rupert Murdock’s first newspaper.

As for John and his ‘mate’ Julian, they were like a pigeon pair and got on like a house on fire.

One Friday evening after a couple of beers at the Strathmore Hotel on North Terrace, John and Julian were walking back to the car, which was parked near the Memorial Drive tennis courts.

John offered Julian 10 quid if he would jump into the Torrens from the bridge, which was accepted.

But just when Julian was at the point of no return, John yelled out, “Swinny stop, the Popeye is coming”. Fortunately it wasn’t, but Julian needed the money to dry clean his suit afterwards – such was the start of their wonderful 50-plus years of friendship.

In 1968 John’s ‘number’ was called in the National Service Lottery – based on the birthdays of young Australian men of the time – and he served two years with the Army, training at Puckapunyal in Victoria.

Although he was only based in Australia through his time in the Army, John had a taste of travel and was attracted to Sydney, where he worked for The Daily Mirror as a sub-editor, which also led to meeting the love of his life, Rosemary Stephens.

And what a first date the couple had. After being introduced to Rosemary, John decided to ask her out for a date, to the movies, to see the film ‘Deliverance’!

The couple became inseparable and, after John re-located back home to work with his father at The Bunyip, regularly corresponded with quick-stop visits, eventually marrying on November 24, 1973.

John thrived in married life, with Rosemary also taking up various roles at the paper, while also having three daughters, Belinda, Jodie and Meg. When the couple’s first grandchild was a boy, there was plenty of happiness, while the next seven were all much loved granddaughters, and, with twin girls soon due – it will be nine!

With the strong background knowledge of his father Ken to guide him, John continued to uphold the Bunyip traditions through his editorship and made necessary changes to update and keep the paper rolling through modernisation techniques.

But the heart of any country paper is community, and John never lost sight of this fact, becoming a fantastic ambassador for Gawler.

To put it into perspective, John knew just about everyone in the town, and further afield, with his regular lunchtime catch-ups on Wednesdays after the paper had hit the streets, and Friday lunches in the Barossa.

The fact that John understood the importance of networking was a major reason for his successful longevity as an editor. It underpinned how he ran the paper, while also demonstrating how much of a ‘chip off the old block’ he was to Ken.

Having the finger on the pulse was an extremely valuable aspect John embraced and encouraged in others to adopt. He treated everyone as individuals and always endeavoured to help each person to be the best they could be.

John’s editorial desk at the Bunyip was at the bottom of the stairs, which led to the advertising and editorial areas, so nothing got past him! He was the gatekeeper and ran a tight ship.

While there was plenty of vision in how John took The Bunyip forward, he was also old school and liked to ‘seal the deal’ with a handshake.

For many years, working with brothers Craig and Paul helped John become the great leader he was, as their skills complimented each other. The family connection spread, as everyone who worked at The Bunyip became part of the extended family.

Another aspect where John followed family tradition was in playing football for Gawler Central, although not with the same success as his younger sibling Craig – still, he gave his all for the team when on the oval, a trait he exhibited with panache in the newspaper game.

It was a day filled with mixed feelings when The Bunyip was sold – there was sadness that the business had been relinquished, while also plenty of optimism of what lay ahead in the future.

In 2007 John and Rosemary signed on as volunteers at the Adelaide Zoo, a role relished by them both, with John loving any opportunity to host a tour, while Rosemary eventually joined the staff, giving the couple the full experience from both aspects.

Last week John’s funeral was held at Taylor & Forgie’s chapel, across from the Gawler Racecourse, with Mark Forgie using a heritage hearse to drive John’s casket to outside of The Bunyip office before finishing the journey to Willaston Cemetery.

RIP John.


The Barnet’s Bunyip story

THE last of the Barnet dynasty at The Bunyip, John Lindley Barnet, was the final editor of the paper before it was sold to the Taylor family in 2003.

John’s great grandfather William Barnet started The Bunyip in 1863, with first his third son Robert Henry Barnet taking over management, then his fifth son Frank Lindley Barnet became owner from 1917.

Between 1945 and into the early 1970s, Frank’s son Kenneth Lindley Barnet took the reigns at The Bunyip, with the transition of editorship to Ken’s son John Lindley Barnet being complete in 1974.

Some of The Bunyip editors under the Barnet’s ownership included George Nott (a Gawler Mayor), Edward Grundy (a parliamentarian) and George E. Loyau (who wrote the Gawler Handbook in 1880) and E.H. Coombe (who produced ‘The History of Gawler, in 1908).

William Barnet started a printing and stationery shop in Gawler in 1857, with his social involvement with other ‘characters’ in the town helping to form “The Gawler Humbug Society”, which was the impetus for the original Bunyip starting on September 5, 1863.

Originally an eccentric monthly quarto-sized satirical pamphlet, The Bunyip grew into a more traditional-type newspaper four months later, then become a fortnightly edition before finally coming out weekly in 1866 – for a short time it was also produced twice a week.

There was competition for The Bunyip in the 19th century, from 1869 to 1885 but all three newspapers were unable to be sustained and eventually were absorbed into the The Bunyip.

Over the final 29 years before The Bunyip was sold on March 31, 2003, John was editor, while two of his brothers played a major part in the business.

Craig was a journalist, focusing on sport and social activities in the town, while Paul first started in advertising before his great work as a photographer took him in another direction.

Of course, there was Barnet women involvement at various times, with William’s wife Hannah running the management after her husband’s death for a period, and daughter Emily running the stationery department – one of the roles later undertaken by John’s wife Rosemary.