Reverend Donald McKay Barnet

Reverend Donald McKay Barnet


Photo of man in uniform with medal overlaid.
The Reverend Donald McKay Barnet in the front garden of the Presbyterian Manse, Wollongong, photograph taken by Robert Barnet, 1916; Efficiency decoration presented to Reverend Donald McKay Barnet for service as a Military Chaplain. Private collection. Photo © Jamie North for Sydney Living Museums
The Reverend Donald McKay Barnet (1869–1940) was born in Sydney, the youngest son of Colonial Architect James Barnet. His initial connection with the Thorburn family of Meroogal in Nowra came in the late 1880s through his friendship with Tom Thorburn, the youngest son of Jessie Thorburn, matriarch of Meroogal.

They were fellow students at St Andrew’s College at the University of Sydney and both became ministers of the Presbyterian Church. In March 1894 Don Barnet married Tom Thorburn’s niece Jessie Macgregor at Nowra. Their first child, a son named Robert James Macgregor Barnet, was born at Cambewarra in 1895.

The Reverend Barnet served as Presbyterian minister at Narrandera for ten years, Wollongong for 18 years and Greenwich for 15 years until his retirement in 1936. He was Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in NSW in 1927 and was also a military chaplain, one of the first ‘home chaplains’ appointed following the formation of the Australian Army Chaplains Department in 1913. Following the death of his eldest son, Robert, in Flanders in August 1916, the Reverend Barnet wrote a meditation on his loss that was published in October 1917 as a booklet entitled How to get near our dead: a word of consolation to those who have lost loved ones at the front. The booklet was dedicated to the memory of his ‘soldier son’ and published in aid of the YMCA Field Service Fund, a fund established by the Young Men’s Christian Association to support the work of the organisation in sustaining the morale of young men facing the greatest challenge of their lives. Under the sign of the red triangle, the YMCA set up tents and huts in local recruitment camps in Australia as well as in camps near the battlefields overseas. Here soldiers could sit in relative comfort, write letters home and attend ‘cinematograph exhibitions’, concerts or lectures.

On 30 May 1935, in an investiture ceremony at Government House Sydney, ‘Chaplain 1st Class D. McK. Barnet B.A.’ was awarded the Australian Efficiency Decoration in recognition of more than 20 years’ service as a military chaplain.