Ron Barnett, a final year student of Parade in 1950, Secretary of the Association in 1956-’57, and part of Rene Stella’s planning team for the building of the Bundoora campus, has died after a long illness. He was 86.
Born in June 1933, Ronald Frederick Barnett completed his matriculation at the ‘Old Bluestone Pile’ through 1949 and ’50, earning passes in Pure Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry in ’49 - and he topped the class in Physics the following year.
A prefect in 1950, Ron capably supported the Captain Kevin Barham and fellow prefects, amongst them Gerald Cudmore, Hilton Deakin John Mackey, Noel Purcell and Maurice Tarrant.
Ron was a member of the 1949 1st XVIII which included in its ranks future League footballers Owen Abrahams, Kevin ‘Whacker’ O’Brien, Tony Ongarello and Brian Turner. Ron was listed in The Paradian’s ’49 team report as “half-back flanker, our most reliable and hard-hitting defender”.
The following year, he captained the 1st XVIII – a year in which his sporting prowess was also on show for Parade’s 1st XI (captained by Laurie Wakeling and including fellow team members Brian Hill, Frank McClements and Denis Wheelahan) and its athletics team (captained by Peter Box).
An engineer by profession, Ron’s lifelong friends from the College were Ian Dunne (later best man at Ron’s wedding), John Mackey and Ian Leach, who with Ron and others was an active participant in the building of the Old Paradians’ Association’s Ski Lodge (OPAL) at Mt Buller.
“Ours has been a lifelong friendship really,” Ian Leach said recently. “We were at school, we played in the same football team and we ran St Pat’s Ballarat to a point.
“Ron became an engineer who worked for the government and was involved with projects like the construction of the airport at Tullamarine, and various other building works.
“When we started the Old Paradians’ ski lodge - Kevin Johnston, Barrie (Williams) and myself - we thought about who could help us out with the engineering side of it ... and that was obviously Ron.
“Ron was somebody who, if he made up his mind to do something, he’d get in there and keep at it until it was done.
“He was also a great family man.”
Two years ago, in what the 50th anniversary of the formal opening of the Bundoora campus in 1968, Ron and Michael Renehan (1948) were acknowledged for their contributions to the building of Bundoora as members of chief architect Rene Stella’s extensive planning team through the mid-1960s. Ron is pictured at right with his certificate following the presentation, together with the then Old Paradians’ Association President Lewis Derrico and the other recipient Michael sporting the bow tie.
At the time, Ron reflected on his involvement with the project at what was a particularly trying time in his life.
“It’s a long time ago and my memory is not clear, but I can include a personal memory of my own from that time,” Ron said.
“In February 1966 my wife Judy died at the age of 31, and I put in a request to Rene (Stella) to resign from the design team. He mumbled, said no, and told me that I didn’t have to do any work for the design team for a little while.
“I kept working full-time as an engineer, but I stopped working on the Parade project - and yet I did come back later to finish some of the work with which I was involved. I had actually deferred the grieving because I had four little kids under eight, one of them five weeks old who was placed into a baby home at Footscray for three months, and I did what I could do to best look after the two kids at school and the toddler.”
Ron recalled that the Old Paradians Planning Team, whose members also came up with the designs for the Association’s Ski Lodge on Mt Buller, was initially convened to investigate extensions of the ‘Old Bluestone Pile’.
“That was the initial brief,” Ron said. “I remember we looked at building on the grounds there, but gosh there was only a little bit of asphalt and the handball courts and that was it. We also looked at putting intermediate floors in the very high ceilings of the existing classrooms and building on the side of the old stable which was a gymnasium if I remember rightly, but I don’t think it was treated terribly seriously.”
As for the Bundoora project, Ron remembered heading down to Rene’s Carlton office on Lygon Street after working hours to complete his designs. Heading bush to Bundoora was also commonplace for Ron in those early years, and as he dryly suggested: “It was a long way from civilisation”.
“Bundoora was just a big paddock and I can remember heading out fairly often when we were getting the surveyors to provide information. I can also remember going out to see the completed building, although I wasn’t involved in the construction management side of it,” Ron said.
“Let’s be clear here, there was a stage 1, that was the sum total of my involvement, and it just grew and grew - but the experience was exhilarating, demanding, challenging, all of the above.
“I can remember going to the authorities asking ‘Where are you sewer drains, where are your water drains and where’s your water supply?’ and them telling me ‘Oh they’re miles away. We can put them in for you but you’ll have to pay for them’. These were mind-boggling problems, but in the case of the sewerage issue we overcame that by building our own sewerage treatment there and we built a reservoir for storm water.”
For Ron, the Campus’s steady growth vindicated the forward-thinking of Rene Stella’s team, and he was immensely satisfied that the campus carries his thumbprint.
As he said: “I’m certainly proud of it. I believe it’s there for the next generation, the next and the next.”
The Old Paradians’ Association expresses its deepest sympathies to all members of the Barnett family on the passing of Ron – amongst them Ron’s sister Aileen whose late husband Vin Powell and sons John and Bernard all attended Parade.