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Autobiography details one man’s pension experience

Social services impacted people in different ways. This excerpt from Jimmie Barker’s autobiography details his experience of having to stop work and beginning to get the pension.

It was only six weeks after I left the hospital that my first pension cheque arrived, and it has been coming regularly ever since.

Jimmie Barker, 1977, p 170
About the artefact

When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people gained access to government payments, it affected individuals in different ways. Jimmie Barker discussed his experience in his autobiography.

Barker was a Muruwari man from northern New South Wales. His autobiography was based on recordings he made about his life, his knowledge of Muruwari culture, and his research of the history of Brewarrina Mission and surrounding areas.

While most of the book is about his early life, this excerpt is about Barker’s later experiences getting government payments in the 1960s. As an older man, his reflections on Aboriginal people’s relationship to work, money and payments show his grief over the loss of Muruwari ways of life.

Experience of moving from work to a pension

Barker first got a government payment when his doctor said he wasn’t well enough to continue work. Barker had worked as a handyman at Brewarrina Hospital for 17 years. He recalled he was often unwell. Still, ‘it was a shock when the doctor told me that I was not well enough to continue with my job,’ he said.

His doctor suggested that he apply for Invalid Pension. Barker was reluctant, thinking he would work until he could get Old-age Pension instead. His doctor assured him that ‘there was no disgrace in taking the Invalid Pension when it was essential’.

Barker said it was hard to adjust to not working, saying ‘I think I had expected to work [at the hospital] for ever’. He said he felt ‘horribly lost and bewildered’ and found it ‘hard … doing nothing’. Over time, he focused on activities like fishing and opal mining.

Reflections about the impact of payments

Barker said he did not worry about money in general. ‘It is good to have enough is the main thing.’ But elsewhere in his reflections, he worried about the impact of pensions on other Aboriginal people at Brewarrina. ‘When the cheque arrives regularly, they do not try to work again,’ he said (Barker 1977:146).

These excerpts are one example of the differing perceptions of payments and how payments affected individuals. They show Barker’s reflections on his own pension, as well as how he thought payments affected other people in his community.

Other autobiographical pieces, for example activist Shirley Smith’s account, suggested that a lack of work opportunities meant that people could become stuck receiving payments and that this had a negative impact on them.

Source details

Barker had made various sound recordings throughout his life and had bought his own tape recorder. Barker’s recordings on over 100 tapes contain important cultural information and Muruwari language, as well as reflections on his life experiences. 

Janet Mathews first met Barker in 1968 during her field research for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, now AIATSIS. Barker, supplied with tapes, took numerous recordings, which were sent to AIATSIS. Matthews transcribed and compiled selections of the recordings into this book, which was published soon after Barker’s death.  

This excerpt was supplied by AIATSIS, who hold many recordings by Barker in their collection. Search for copies of The two worlds of Jimmie Barker held in Australian libraries through the National Library of Australia's online Trove catalogue.


Permission to reproduce this excerpt was granted by Roy Barker Jnr and the Barker family.


Barker J and Mathews J (1977) The two worlds of Jimmie Barker: the life of an Australian Aboriginal 1900–1972 as told to Janet Mathews, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra.