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Todds Barrett

My life has fallen into a few stages.

As a child, I lived in Box Hill when it was village. I then became pastor to the slums of inner Melbourne for eight years. I was then a country parson and a teacher at a one teacher bush school out at Jackson Creek in Western Victoria and then for 13 years, I was a suburban minister in one of Australia’s largest suburban ministries.

And then, for more than 27 years I’ve been Superintendent in Sydney of Wesley Mission, Australia’s largest church ministry.

I’ve told you stories of people in each of these places.

Tonight I want you to come with me into the heart of the city.

Recently, I attended a funeral service at the Eastern Suburbs Crematorium to honour the life of Mrs Todds Barrett of Randwick. Todds was born in the early days of the beginning of the 20th century, and therefore lived through most of the century. Her father, Franklyn Barrett, is regarded as one of the three greatest cinematographers in Australian history, and in the first three decades of the 20th century, made a whole series of remarkable films.

I used to visit Todds in her house, called Barrett House, in Barrett Place, Randwick. On the walls were many certificates from organizations who honoured her with life membership and certificates of appreciation, and included in them, was a photograph of a young Todds with her parents in London when Franklyn was making a film there in 1912. There is another photograph showing her a few years later, skating in Central Park, New York.

I came to know Todds over 20 years ago through that friendship. She became a donor to our Wesley Hospital in Ashfield. After a time, she was more than a donor, and we called her a benefactress to the hospital. Under the leadership of our Director of Nursing, Peter Johnson, and then subsequently, Bernard McNair, members of the staff of the hospital took great personal delight in having this regal elderly lady attending the hospital and joining in many of our activities. In more recent years, another member of my staff, Brian Banfield also supported Todds in having many of her wishes carried out. Our staff would frequently visit her, and one of her favourite past times on a visit would be to be taken down to the harbour for a fish and chip lunch, which she shared with one of her pet dogs.

Dogs filled a large part of Todds Barrett’s life. Although she married 80 years ago, she never had any children. But she had a remarkable succession of dogs. Most of the dogs in latter years were called either Henry or Lady. At the Wesley Hospital, we have a beautiful, large floral garden where patients can come quietly and sit and relax, and in that garden, there is a statue of one of her dogs, Lady. There are regulations about the burial of deceased dogs in hospital grounds. So we quietly buried the dog and put up the memorial plaque which says:” In memory of Lady Barrett”. No inspector thinks Lady Barrett is the dog belonging to “Lady” Barrett. Patients are bought into contact with animal life and the beauty of the garden and find the whole area relaxing and serene. Her interest in dogs led her to support the work of the RSPCA. She was one of the major donors over the years to support of animals of all kinds throughout Australia through the work of the Royal Society of Protection of Cruelty to Animals in fact, the recent CEO of the RSPCA called her “Australia’s saint for animals”, and indicated that Todds “gave millions of the dollars for animals welfare.” At her funeral we sang “All things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small”. It was most illustrative of Todds’ life.

Todds was not only the daughter of a famous filmmaker in Australia, but she was a great businessman in her own right. I say businessman because she took up the challenge of developing a heavy industry based around the Port Botany, Mascot and Randwick area, which included the removal and sale of sand from quarries, the filling of quarries and the development of heavy vehicle industries. No other woman in Australia was engaged in this business, and Todds was often the target for men who would seek to take her down. But she was a match for every one of them, and turned her heavy equipment business into extraordinarily successful business. This led her in turn to use her accounting skills for investment, so she built up a very strong portfolio of shares and investment.

Some of that money was used to build the Franklyn and Mabel Barrett wing at Wesley Private Hospital in Ashfield. Some of that money also went to build the Todds Barrett building in Ashfield, named after her, which becomes a home away from home for patients undergoing mental health treatment at Wesley Hospital. She was utterly proud of her parents and thought to involve their names in many of her benefactions. She was a very generous donor to the University of Sydney, St Vincent’s Hospital, the Prince of Wales Hospital, as well as Wesley Private Hospital. At St Vincent’s, she took a great interest in the work of the Parkinson’s Centre. Her mother Mabel Barrett had died of Parkinson’s Diseases, and she supported the Research Institute and medical photography which of course caught up her fathers interest on photography, and today there is the Franklyn and Mabel Barrett Trust for Parkinson’s Research at St Vincent’s Hospital. She was an extraordinary businesswoman who used her assets to help other people.

It was because of this that I was pleased to belong to a small group of people to recommend that she receive a national honour, and a few years ago, she received the Medal of the Order of Australia.

At her funeral, someone said that “she was the most practicing Christian lady that I had ever met.”

It is often easy for people to say that they would be a great benefactor if they had a lot of money. But usually when people get a lot of money, they don’t become great benefactors. Todds Barrett was a lady who started with little, who studied much in accountancy and business management, who built up a large business and share portfolio and then who was willing to use her resources to help other people.

At Wesley Hospital in Ashfield, we are most concerned that some of the patients who come to the hospital have an environment where they can relax and have happy memories of years gone by. In order to honour Franklyn Barrett and to help patients, we built on the third floor of Wesley Hospital a wonderful lounge where patients could sit and relax and look at the tops of trees. But around the walls of this lounge would be a whole lot of memorabilia. That memorabilia came from Todds’ home and represent the Australian film stars, starlets and pictures and promotional items of some of Australia’s early films. That gallery is a tribute to one of Australia’s pioneer cinematographers.

Walter Barrett, as he was known in the industry, was responsible for producing more than 25 feature films, including films such as “The Mutiny on the Bounty”, “The Pioneer”, and “The Girl of the Bush.”

Throughout the lounge and gallery, there are remarkable stills of the film industry in its earlier days. Many people suffering mental illness find it relaxing to sit in this lounge and to look at the gallery of old films.

One of his best films was “The Girl of the Bush” in which one paper, which reviewed it in 1921 said, “she might not be a classical beauty, but she is still good to look at. This story was about a young girl who became mistress of an outback farm station, where she fell in love with an unscrupulous two-up fiend while her real love was a steady young engineer.”

Franklyn Barrett made an interesting film in Australia in a time when America was in love with the wild west. He brought to Australia a large number of real North American Indians from the Navaho and Hopi tribes. It was in Australia he filmed “The Vanishing American”, which is a story about the American Red Indians. There is a photograph in the hospital gallery of the Indians plus a TV sitting around a campfire which was actually set up in the foyer of Sydney State Theatre. That film was screened widely across America, but I would guess that the Red Indians looked rather strange dashing around with their war dances beneath Australian gum trees. However, the Red Indians thought of Franklyn Barrett so highly, they made him a blood brother at a peace pipe smoking ceremony.

I used to visit Todds regularly, and I was always amazed at what a powerful influence a mother and father could have upon a young woman. To the last day of her life she thought of her parents.

Among her books on the table beside her bed, I noted a book of Rudyard Kipling’s work. It was a gift to her as a girl in 1916, and in the front Franklyn Barrett had written of his pride in her as a young girl, and underneath he had written a code to live by. It was entitled – “Twelve things to remember.” I thought in many ways they summed up Todds Barrett’s life, and in fact, provides for all of us some food for thought. On that fly leaf of that birthday book in 1916 it had simply:

Twelve things to remember:
1.The wisdom of time.
2.The success of perseverance.
3.The pleasure of working.
4.The dignity of simplicity.
5.The worth of character.
6.The power of kindness.
7.The influence of example.
8.The obligation of duty.
9.The wisdom of economy.
10.The virtue of patience.
11.The joy of originality.
12.The beauty of cheeriness.

They certainly exemplified the friendly, smiling elderly lady who would sit for hours by her front gate in Randwick and greet everybody who walked by. She was a remarkable practical Christian who made a great contribution to the lives of other people. Her 95 years will live on through the ongoing work of the Royal Society of the Protection of Cruelty to Animals, her interest in Parkinson’s Disease and the care and research done at St Vincent’s Hospital, and in the ministry to the mentally sick at Wesley Private Hospital. It was for this reason that a well attended dinner in the Hilton Hotel, Wesley Mission presented Todds Barrett with its most prestigious “Spirit of Mission” Award. It was displayed with pride in her home alongside her Order of Australia medal.

The city of Sydney would grow to be one of the world’s great cities and Wesley Mission would grow to be one of the world’s great churches and I was privileged to spend each day in the heart of both.

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