John Thomas Barnes was, put simply, a well known, much-loved and respected member of our community.
In the lead up to Anzac and Remembrance Days, John would be out selling badges and poppies, always assisting Ted Roberts – the president of Red Cliffs RSL.
John had been a welfare officer, and a strong advocate for gaining more support for returning service personnel particularly those who served in post-Vietnam conflicts, many of whom weren’t aware of the entitlements available to them from the Federal Government such as rental and family assistance.
John was often asked to speak at different clubs and would talk about his time in Vietnam and his other interesting career highlights and community work.
John, who was born in Nambour in Queensland in 1943, was a highly decorated soldier who was a member of the Australian Army for more than 20 years, serving in Malaya in 1962, Malaysia from 1964 – 1965, Sarawak, Borneo 1965, Vietnam 1970-1971 and Papua New Guinea 1966 and also from 1973–1975.
Following his overseas postings John was based at 1 Battalion Royal Victoria Regiment and the Headquarters of 3 Cadet Group.
John was part of the AATTV − the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam − known as the ‘The Team’ − it was the most decorated unit to serve in Vietnam.
The Team was originally fewer than 30-strong, but would swell to just over 200 personnel and it was the first Australian unit to go to Vietnam and the last to leave − 10 years, four months and 18 days later.
Perhaps one of John’s proudest moments was his awarding of the American Bronze Star with ‘V’ which he received for rescuing an American pilot after his helicopter had been shot down. John was presented with the medal on the last day of his military service by the American Ambassador.
John then attempted to get in touch with the American who instigated the bestowing of the honour, but sadly he wasn’t able to track him down.
When he was discharged in 1981, he had risen to the rank of Warrant Officer 2.
In 1968 John married his sweetheart Cheryl, whom he had met while they were both serving in the Army, at which point, under the rules at the time, Cheryl was required to leave the Army.
When John returned to civilian life, he took up the role of School Marshal at Ballarat and Queens Anglican Grammar, a position he held for 10 years.
Following this John joined a four wheel drive tour company located in Wauchope in New South Wales and drove tours from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra and he also did an around Australia tour with a coach load of German tourists.
In 1992 John became a security guard with Wormald Security and then in 1994, he and Cheryl moved to Queensland where John would become involved in many community organisations, including the Redcliffe TPI Social Club and a group called ‘The Post 55’, who ran raffles to raise money for charities, mainly to help veterans − always wanting to help out others, he soon became a very busy boy!
In 2000, the Barnes family sold their home in Queensland and moved to Mildura. Upon arrival John joined the Mildura RSL and became president of the Mildura TPI Social Club and he later also joined the Red Cliffs RSL.
In Mildura John was also an active member and office bearer in a number of clubs including, Probus, the Philatelic Club and John would go on to be acknowledged for his years of service to the RSL.
John’s involvement with service organisations makes for an almost endless list, including volunteering for the Red Cross and the Salvation Army appeals and he also enjoyed speaking to school groups which did on a number of occasions.
Meanwhile, Cheryl helped establish the Mildura Chapter of the Parkinson’s support group, something that she, who suffers from Parkinson’s herself, still runs today.
Cheryl said that John put a lot of time and effort into the bus trips he organised.
“He organised every aspect of the bus tours – everything from the accommodation, the meals and itinerary.”
He organised many trips to Portland, Hamilton, Ballarat, Seymour, Swan Hill and a variety of different areas across the state over those 20 years.
“There was one trip I recall that John organised and that was to Gawler in South Australia. The ladies still laugh about it because the accommodation was dreadful,” Cheryl said with a chuckle.
In an effort to keep the cost of the trips down to an affordable level, John would apply for a grant and he was fortunate to receive them on many occasions, but it involved a lot of hard work on his part.
He did that for nearly 20 years and last year there was a trip to Canberra planned. Unfortunately, COVID-19 stuck and that had to be abandoned.
Following that John became unwell and he passed away in November. He had been looking forward to that trip but sadly it wasn’t to be.
John was nominated for Australian of the Year on two occasions, for the 2013 and 2021 awards, and also for an OAM − Order of Australia Medal in 2020.
As John’s wife Cheryl said with great pride … “You wouldn’t find John at home very often!”