Avid Yass Tribune readers would know a bit about columnist David Barnett.
But all his opinions, comments, and views aired in his regular Wednesday column are but a minute portrayal of a man who can easily be dubbed one of the country’s most successful journalists.
David, who was once Malcolm Fraser‘s press secretary during his tenure as Australian prime minister, currently resides on a property on Yass River Road, but he also spends a lot of time with his wife and state MP Pru Goward in her Goulburn electorate.
He can appear stern but also has a clever wit about him and has a clarity with words that translates smoothly from his writing to general conversation.
Because of his parent’s wishes, David moved around a lot when he was young. His family had stints in Brisbane and Gunnedah but he spent most of his schooling years in Sydney. While a student at North Sydney High, David was published several times in the Sydney Mirror.
In 1949 he became a copy boy at the now extinct Sydney Sun and a year later he gained a cadetship at the Sydney Morning Herald.
Five years later David was on a boat on his way overseas and he didn’t return for 13 years.
“I hadn’t saved any money but I got myself a berth on an ocean going tow,” he told the Tribune.
“So I worked my passage to England, as a seaman.”
During his time abroad, he worked in Cyprus, England, Japan and Kenya on various papers. He also worked in France as a copy translator and he can still speak French quite fluently.
“You had to want to do these things,” David said of his time overseas.
“You had to want to be a foreign correspondent, you had to want to be able to speak French, you had to want to go and live in different parts of the world.
“If you wanted to do it, and you did it, you got a great sense of achievement. It was quite a satisfying life.”
David married in London and had children born in England, Kenya and Japan but he stops short of advocating the life that he led overseas.
“I don’t recommend the life I led to anybody, because it’s a completely unsuitable life for bringing up a family.”
In 1969 he arrived back in Australia and worked in Melbourne for Australian Associated Press before eventually moving to Canberra two years later.
(Working with Malcolm Fraser)
Not long after his 40th birthday, he found himself working as the press secretary for the then Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser and he remained in this posting for seven years.
He introduced transcripts, so the prime minister could never be misquoted, ‘doorstops’ so that Fraser was able to address any issue before it ever really got going, and he also abolished the term ‘mister’.
“They were little things that were on the basis of what I had seen around the world in other places.”
David said that one of his best attributes - and one of the reasons he held his job with Fraser - was his strong understanding of policy.
He came to the realisation that he needed to support the decisions that were being made and that his job was to simply serve the prime minister and do whatever it was that needed to be done to keep him favourable to the public.
(John Howard biography)
David’s last major work was published in 1997. He worked alongside his wife Pru and together they put together a biography of former Australian prime minister John Howard.
David considers Howard to be a brave politician and says he was determined that his biography should cover political issues.
“I didn’t want to write about the warm human figure that loved his mother, I wanted to write about what he’d achieved and what he was trying to achieve in the economic reforms. And that’s what I did.”
David, who has now lived in the area for 13 years, said being a journalist all his life was a highlight in itself but he can’t help but wish his beloved mum was alive during his time with Fraser.
“Every now and again, the thought would come to me that I wished I could ring up my mother and say ‘Guess what mum? I’m working for the prime minister of this country’. I don’t think she would have ever dreamed that I would have got a job like that.”
Now 80-years-of-age, David writes solely for the Yass Tribune and when asked why, he could only think of one reason: ”I just can’t help it.”