Record Rewind: One of the good guys

Graham Barnett spent 30 years teaching and ministering to young people before a tragic accident claimed his life.

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Graham Barnett.

Graham Barnett was born in Kingaroy, Queensland, on February 4, 1945. After completing his teacher training at Avondale College in 1968, he married Jan Elizabeth Durbridge before entering the organised work of the Church at the beginning of 1969. In 1973 daughter Liesl was born followed by her sister Piari in 1975.

Graham’s first posting was to a teaching position at Wanganui in North New Zealand followed by two years as principal of the boarding junior high school at Paglum in the Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea (PNG).

From the beginning of 1974 he was supervisor of the 100 schools in the primary (elementary) education program for the Papua New Guinea Union Mission, most of which were difficult to access in that mountainous country with few roads. He was also a relief pilot in the PNG aviation program. At the beginning of 1980, Graham and his family returned to Australia where he became principal of Toowoomba Adventist School, remaining in Queensland until he was called to work in Western Australia from the beginning of 1988.

For several years in Western Australia Graham was both the director of education and youth director—in terms of workload an almost impossible combination of roles. Furthermore, if such a person had a ministerial background the teacher workforce did not see him as much of a professional support. If in such a combined role one had an educational background he could relate to the young people but there were gaps there in his preparation for the youth role too. Either way, when holding this blended office one worked seven days a week and right through the summer with the camping program. It must have been exhausting and hard on the family. Graham handled the workload with his usual aplomb but was enormously relieved when in 1995 the youth leader role was passed on to someone else. Clearly he worked well under pressure.

In 1993 Graham completed an MA degree in educational administration with the La Sierra University extension campus program sponsored by the South Pacific Division.

In 1997 the family returned to PNG where Graham headed up a teacher training program at Pacific Adventist University (PAU), and his wife did some teaching there too.

Tragically, Graham suffered serious burns to more than 80 per cent of his body on October 2, 1998, while refuelling generators providing temporary electricity for the Education Department at PAU. Initially treated at Port Moresby General Hospital, he was subsequently evacuated by aerial ambulance to Australia where he struggled for three-and-a-half weeks before losing the battle for his life on October 28.

Graham was one of the “good guys” and we miss him still!


Dr Lester Devine is director emeritus of the Ellen G White/Adventist Research Centre.

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