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Ernest Herbert (Ernie) Barker (1871–1941)

Ernest Herbert Barker (1871-1941) engineer, Labor party secretary 

Birth: March 1871 in Hilgay, Norfolk, England. Son of Thomas Barker, agricultural labourer, and Emily, née Eatson. Marriage: 19 January 1898 at Wesleyan chapel, Bolton Brow, Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, to Nanny Stott, worstead spinner. Death: 8 July 1941, Mount Lawley, Perth. Religion: Methodist. 

  • Apprenticed in engineering; studied economics and trade union principles at Ruskin College, Oxford; member of Amalgamated Society of Engineers (ASE) in England.
  • Migrated from Yorkshire to Australia, first connected with the ASE Fremantle branch. 1898 worked in railway workshops in Midland WA and was an active trade unionist. 1913 District Secretary Amalgamated Engineers Union (AEU) and first full-time organiser.
  • From 1911 involved in arbitration, spent three years away from Western Australia. Arbitration Agent for AEU, conducted the first general case before Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration, Melbourne, obtained a 44-hour working week and generous margins for tradesman. Suppressed Tom Walsh. June 1924 resigned position.
  • Member, Metropolitan Council of ALP [Australian Labor Party]; General Secretary, ALP W.A., 1924-33; Trustee, Perth Trades Hall.
  • ALP Candidate for WA in elections for Commonwealth Senate in 1925[1] and 1928[2] and Legislative Assembly candidate for seat of Marylands in 1930.
  • Member, State Licensing Bench to 1939.
  • Trustee Public Library, Museum and Art Gallery. Member, Faculty of Engineering and Adult Educational Board, University of WA.
  • Obituarists recalled him as ‘intensely studious’ and a ‘gentleman’ who ‘during his long career forfeited no man’s respect’. Hasluck recalled Barker as epitome of respectable, largely self-educated upper working-class tradesman whose socialist roots had nothing to do with Marxism and had no time for labour ‘extremists’.

J. Gibbney & A. G. Smith, A Biographical Register 1788-1939, vol 1 (Canberra, 1987); Sir Paul Hasluck, Mucking About (Melbourne, 1977); AEU Silver Jubilee Souvenir, 1 July 1945; Westralian Worker, 19 Oct 1923; 20 June 1924; 6 Nov 1925, 11 July 1941; Battye Library Biog Index.

[1] Daily News (Perth), 16 October 1925, p.7

[2] West Australian (Perth), 7 August 1928 p.16 [with photograph]:

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Citation details

'Barker, Ernest Herbert (Ernie) (1871–1941)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 12 July 2024.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


March, 1871
Hilgay, Norfolk, England


8 July, 1941 (aged 70)
Mount Lawley, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

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