John Thomas Barnett
- 73Wallaby Number
Far removed from the limited tactical armoury of today's front rowers, John Barnett is as good an example as anyone of the original arts of the front-rankers. At just over 13 stone (83kg) and under six foot tall, Barnett was one of the heaviest forwards of his day. He was adept at any position in the scrum, and “all phases of the forward game”. Possessing good handling and close-passing abilities, he also boasted versatile kicking skills, being adept at “dribbling” (akin to soccer) and long punting. He was equally renowned for his hard tackling and vigorous play in the line-outs. Born in 1881 in Tuena, a now almost forgotten mining town in mid-western NSW between Goulburn and Bathurst, Barnett became an accomplished potter by trade. By the turn of the twentieth century he had settled in inner Sydney, and took up rugby with the Newtown Borough club (equivalent to third grade). Strong performances by Barnett resulted in his selection in a Borough representative team in a match against Combined Second Grade in 1902.
He was then called into the Newtown first grade club for the start of the 1903 season, and within weeks was making his debut for NSW in a victory over Queensland. By 1905 he became a permanent of the NSW team, holding his position in 1906 despite moving back to the bush, where he played for Hartley Valley in the Lithgow competition. During the rest of the decade Barnett was a mainstay of the NSW pack, playing against New Zealand, Great Britain (Anglo-Welsh team) and Queensland. Returning to Newtown in 1907, Barnett played in all three Test matches for Australia against the visiting All Blacks in Sydney and Brisbane. In its wake, The Sydney Morning Herald declared that “Barnett was the best forward in Australia”. During 1908 his efforts were hampered by a nagging leg injury, and it appeared likely that the NSWRU would not risk taking him on the upcoming Wallabies tour of Great Britain, France and North America. Through his dogged determination on the field, he persuaded the selectors that he could more than carry his share, and he left with the team for their inaugural Northern Hemisphere campaign. His toughness and durability shone through, playing in 34 matches on the 1908-09 tour, including the two Tests (England and Wales), and in the gold medal winning Olympic Games match.
Barnett was bestowed the nickname of “Bowser”, which purportedly means a “bustler”, a person who was adept at upsetting or stirring others; in Barnett's case the tag was in reference to his football traits rather than his off-field personality. Soon after returning to Australia with the Wallabies, Barnett was back on the sea again, this time as a member of the Newtown club team on their groundbreaking tour of far north Queensland, with the feature contest a game against Townsville. The tour marked the end of Barnett's rugby union career. Once back in Sydney he aligned himself with thirteen other disaffected Wallabies and signed up for the 100 pounds to take part in a three-match series against the Kangaroos. A number of reports point to Barnett, along with his Newtown team-mate “Paddy” McCue , as being the chief negotiators in the clandestine discussions, and that they persuaded many of the Wallabies to accept the lucrative offers place before them. It was somewhat apt then, given his central role in forming the rebel team, that it was Barnett who scored the Wallabies (more accurately “former Wallabies”) first try in the much anticipated series.
In 1910 Barnett joined the Newtown rugby league club and was a member of the Bluebags inaugural premiership winning team later that season. That winter also saw Barnett play two Tests for the Kangaroos against Great Britain. Barnett became a loyal clubman for Newtown, continuing his career until 1915. His final representative honours came in 1913 when, nearing his 33rd birthday, he toured New Zealand with the NSW Blues. Respected in both codes for his resolute forward play, Barnett passed away in 1951.