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Reid, Barrett - Librarian, Poet, Artist

From Paper Boy to University

Grade 5 at Chermside State School in June 1937. Barrie in top left corner and Rona lower front.

Barrie had a good family life even though his mother died when he was only 3 years old. His two sisters Coral and Rona and father, George, provided a hard working and intellectually stimulating family life.

Like the other members of the family, Barrie, helped in the business by delivering papers around Chermside. He received three pence (3cents) per dozen.

Barrie went to Chermside and Windsor schools and then to State High where, at the age of 14 he founded the literary magazine, Barjai, which published the work of young poets and artists. They used to meet at the Lyceum club opposite the GPO in Queen St, attracting contributions from all over Australia, continuing until 1947.

His work attracted the attention of John and Sunday Reed in Victoria who developed the Museum of Modern Art. At the time they were publishing the avant-garde literary journal Angry Penguins and he became the Queensland representative for the magazine.

The Reid home in Chermside was a week-end meeting place for young writers and artists; his sister, Rona, commented that it was nothing to wake up of a morning and find one of them sleeping on the veranda having arrived during the night. Their father, George Barrett Reid, encouraged the young people and made them welcome, assisting them where he could. Sometimes he would drive some of them out to the dump and they would scavenge for materials on which to draw and paint; the Reid children grew up in a literary, artistic atmosphere, visiting the Art Gallery, Orchestral Concerts and performances by visiting celebrities.

Visitors included Sydney Nolan, who started his Ned Kelly series there and, later painted Barry's portrait that now hangs in the Queensland Art Gallery, Judith Wright, Joy Roggencamp, Earnest Briggs, Charles Osborne, Laurence Hope, Charles & Barbara Blackman.

Barrie completed Senior at the age of 15 and, although considered rather young to go to University, at 16 he was accepted and completed a Commerce degree. After working in the Brisbane Public Library for some years he accepted an appointment to the Melbourne Public Library in 1952. This decision was influenced by his friendship with the Reeds and other members of the Melbourne literary world;he had found his place in modern Australia.

The Library of Victoria

Barrie Reid at 21in 1947 when he was working with the State Library in Brisbane. In 1952 he went to Melbourne with the State Library of Victoria.

At Barrie's funeral, in 1995, Jane La Scala outlined his work with the Library of Victoria in Melbourne where he had spent the rest of his life. She met Barrie in 1970 when she joined his department at the State Library of Victoria and worked with him till his premature retirement in 1982 at age 56 years which followed the diagnosis of Hodgkin's Lymphoma.

He joined the Library of Victoria in January 1952 and during the next 5 years he worked in most departments of the library gaining a reputation for initiative and flair.
1957 he became Field Officer for the Free Library Service Board and convinced most municipal councils in Victoria to establish free public library services in all but 4 of the 211 public libraries.
1961 he became the Chief Cataloguer
1967 he became the first Executive Officer of the Public Libraries Division and remained there till he retired in 1982 supervising the development of Public Libraries in Victoria.

During this time he was responsible for developing the talking books technique to assist people whose sight was impaired; also, he pioneered the concept of a Children's Corner in libraries where their reading needs were met and travelled widely, visiting libraries throughout the world to bring back the best speakers and ideas for use in Victoria. He was a guest speaker at many universities, libraries and art galleries. Barry published several books on poetry and art; he also judged the book of the year awards in Victoria.

Other Commitments

He was vice-president of the Contemporary Art Society, Co-Editor of Ern Malley's Journal, and wrote for the Museum of Modern Art and Design of Australia, Chairperson of Australian Book Review, Co-Founder of the National Book Council and Editor of Overland. He edited numerous poetry journals, was a book critic commenting on the ABC radio and television, founded the National Book Council Literary Awards and wrote booklets on writers and painters for the Council of Adult Education. This only represents a fraction of his interests and activities. His last book of poetry, "Making Country", was launched in Melbourne and Sydney a few months after his death.

His personal library was huge and the envy of his friends, as Professor John Philip commented at his funeral "I have always envied Barrie his magnificent and ever-growing personal library and felt humble in the presence of his vast and labyrinthine learning. He must have been, by far, the best read person of my acquaintance."

Museum of Modern Art, Victoria

John and Sunday Reed, no relation, owned 'Heide' named after the nearby Heidelberg, a large acreage on the Yarra River out of Melbourne which was a meeting place of young Australian artists such as Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd, John Perceval, Daniel Vassilieff and Sam Atyeo. Visitors to the house also included poets, writers, jazz musicians and intellectuals such as the Labor leader Dr H V Evatt; here the Reeds developed the Modern Art Gallery of Victoria.

Barrie was a frequent visitor and member of the governing Council and when the Reeds died in 1981, he made his home there until his death, in 1995. He bequeathed his large art collection to the museum.

Public Appreciation

Barrie maintained contact with his family and in this photo he is with his sister Rona on a visit. (Photo courtesy of Francis Reiss)

For public service, especially in the field of librarianship, Barrett Reid was awarded the Order of Australia in 1983. This startled some of his friends as he had been a harsh critic of such public recognition.

The State Library of Victoria, in recognition of his work, sponsors the annual Margaret C Ramsay and Barrett Reid scholarships, each worth $30,000, for the professional development of Victorian public library staff.

When Barrie was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws by Melbourne University in 1995, part of the citation read:

Barrett Reid's breadth of interests, taste and activities have affirmed the values of an accessible culture of the highest standards. He has sought to make books and ideas and works of artistic creativity available for the widest audience. His support for young artists, writers and librarians is legendary. Selflessly and often unobtrusively, he has…….. enriched the life of all Australians.

According to Phillip Jones, Barrie felt his life was a failure but at the same tim he worked hard to promote the work of other authors. Jones continues "Like his great mentors, John and Sunday Reed, his life gained cardinal significance from his creative influence on the artists - especially poets - of his time".

Thea Astley's Revery

Photo taken shortly before Barrie's death in 1995. Here he is showing the ravages of the Hodgkin's Lymphoma which caused him much suffering and finally ended his life at 67. (Photo courtesy of Francis Reiss)

Thea Astley wrote the following revery for Barrie's 60th Birthday in 1986. It aimed to catch the freshness and enthusiasm of the early days in Brisbane when they were all youths; she succeeded.

At Barrie's funeral in 1995 Vida Horn added to it and at the end and included "all those others who, in memory at least, are not yet twenty-one."

Hello Barrie. Hello Laurie
We're meeting for the first time. You're sixteen and seventeen. I'm eighteen. It's Saturday morning, 1944 Brisbane time, and there we are outside Barker's Bookstore in Adelaide Street with the trams clanking at our backs. You're both wearing shorts, I remember, and my convent school background is not quite up to assessing bare male legs. I'm shy. We're all shy. Hello.

Clem Christensen has organised this meeting. He's a sub on the Courier Mail with my dad and thinks I might be interested in meeting a group of young people who are publishing a magazine for young writers under twenty-one. The very name of the magazine is Barjai, an aboriginal word meaning 'a meeting place for youth'. I'm under twenty-one. I'm eligible. So hello.

My life changes. I live through the teaching week for those Sunday afternoon meetings at the Lyceum Club where we talk books and poetry and drink tea and eat Sao biscuits topped with tomato and cheese. Barrie reads his own poems. He reads Rimbaud. He is the young Rimbaud. I bring a friend, Vida Horn, and hello. We sit in the upstairs Astoria Cafe in George Street and drink coffee until it's nearly time for the last tram. We go for hikes into the hills near Mt.Coot-tha. We go down the bay to Shorncliffe. We're young and we talk and talk and talk.

Writers are invited to our meetings. Judith Wright attends. Paul Grano. We eat at each other's homes. Laurie plays a Debussy record, Clair de Lune, at his parents' Kangaroo Point flat. The music floats across Brisbane River and the rest of my life. We run an exhibition for Sid Nolan at the South Brisbane Library Basement. There we all are trying to tack sketches and paintings to concrete pillars. The paintings cost five pounds. Who has five pounds? If only, if only.

My parents worry. 'Are they left-wing?' they ask anxiously.
Poetry readings might lead to communism.
Worse, communism might lead to poetry readings!

We drink coffee at the Pink Elephant, Brisbane's first bit of bohemia, next to Fox's Buy and Sell Anything. The candles are sitting in their own melted wax. Marvellous! I'm nearly nineteen and there are words out there and people who like words and my whole life, hello and hello, changes course.

We go to plays and films and concerts. There was the night we couldn't get seats at the Town Hall and they allowed us all to sit on the floor. Maybe we have brought the proms to Brisbane. We hike out to the site of the new university at St. Lucia and Edward Segmund brings a delicious fruit torte for lunch: Cecelen fruchtik,he tells us. Cecil's breakfast. We admire a brilliant green grass snake.

Hello all of you. You never bored me. Not once. And when I read of today's youth agonising with ennui, I can only wish they had what we had. We had no trannies, no telly, no cars. We had our eyes and minds and hearts and the good-will of knowing each other.

Hello Barrie, Hello Laurie and Cecel, Thea, Vida, Patricia, Barbara and all those others who, in memory at least, are not yet twenty-one.

I wish we could go back in time and have it all again.