Vale Warren Barry
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 7, 8 October 2021, page no.6
Life member, legendary QTU Organiser and rabble rouser Warren Barry has passed away peacefully after an action-packed, eventful life.
Warren was the youngest of three brothers born in three years into a family with Irish heritage. After signing up for a teacher’s scholarship in 1955 at the tender age of 14, Warren began teaching in 1959, first at Proserpine State School and then, in 1962, Edge Hill SS in Cairns.
He took up a full-time position with the QTU as an itinerant Industrial Officer in 1973 and set about transforming the Union’s image, from a conservative association to an industrial union that was a force to be reckoned with. The main area of disputation was the mining fields of Central Queensland, where the state government had absolved itself of responsibility for teacher housing. Teachers were not only the lowest paid workers, but also paid the highest rents.
Warren was one of three Organisers in Queensland at that time (the others being John Rockett and Keith Storey), who along with four internal officers served around 30,000 members. Based in Rockhampton, Warren covered the area from Gympie to Proserpine and west to the border. Sometimes he also had to look after the area up to Thursday Island.
He continued in this role until late 1979, when he decided that he could no longer juggle his family commitments and the rigours of life on the road. He returned to teaching at Proserpine High, where his Union experience helped in our battle to get reasonable accommodation for our young teachers (before 1977, in many provinicial areas teachers had to find their own).
Warren was also instrumental in the Leading Schools campaign, doing interviews and media, commenting that principals who nominated their schools for the program “compared to Judas Iscariot make Judas look like an angel”.
Perhaps the proudest moment of his life came when he was given Life Membership of the QTU at the 2005 Biennial Conference, during which one of his successors, Robbie Schwarten, gave an impassioned speech. Warren was later taken on as a senior advisor when Robbie went into state politics.
In his acceptance speech, Warren said: “As we collected dues, under an insurance kind of agreement, we were licensed to carry concealable firearms. The penalty for misuse or loss was very severe for these firearms, so I used to sleep with mine under the pillow. One night after a combined union seminar, I retired early to the unit that I shared with Bill Kohlmann. At some ungodly hour, Bill and mining union officials came back to the unit to party on. Someone touched me because I woke up with a start and when my eyes focused there were people with their hands over the heads. I looked up and released I had my revolver in my hand. It took a few drinks for me to settle them down again.”
There are many more stories, tall tales and true, that could be told about Warren Barry, many of which are unsuitable for public consumption. His experience and determination, his quick wit and thirst for justice never abated.
Warren will be remembered as a staunch unionist and dedicated family man, and an inimitable force to be reckoned with.
One of the most valued partnerships was his enduring relationship with Louise Comino, which began in 1994 after Louise was appointed South Coast Organiser in 1990. Our thoughts go out to Louise, to his family, friends, colleagues, and comrades across the state who will mourn his loss. Rest in peace, Warren.