Frank
Frank "Bombshell" Barnes (right) was always the showman, and his regular dress code was a white suit and pith helmet. He was Member for Bundaberg from 1941-1950. Courtesy of John Oxley Library.

Goodbye and buggywheels: The story of Bundy’s eccentric MP

NOWADAYS we have plenty of outspoken politicians who are no stranger to making headlines.

It seems every other day there's someone with something shocking to say or antics that either make us gasp, cheer or debate some kind of hot topic.

But colourful, larrikin politicians were just as much a part of olden day politics as they are today.

One of the most fascinating examples is the former Member for Bundaberg Frank Barnes.

John Francis Barnes was born on October 4, 1904 in Gympie, Queensland, the son of George Daniel (a miner) and his wife Bridget Maria (nee Gorey).

Barnes died in Bundaberg on May 12, 1952 and was buried in the Bundaberg General Cemetery.

He was just 47 when he passed away, but his bold and unusual conduct as a citizen and a politician saw him remembered as one of the most interesting personalities the state had ever seen.

His death notice, published in the Courier Mail, listed Barnes as having been in "ill health" and suffering severely from kidney trouble.

Before being elected to represent the state in 1941 when defeated Labor veteran Barney McLean, Barnes had been a commercial traveller and a publican.

It was his experience as a publican that led to him running for parliament.

Running a pub in Bundaberg, he was prosecuted for selling liquor on a Sunday, but the case was dismissed, according to reports at the time.

Feeling a little annoyed, Barnes retaliated by bringing private summons against every other publican in town.

Barnes would later go around to other Bundaberg pubs on weekends, disguised in a fake beard, trying to catch them selling alcohol out of hours.

In his youth he was an accomplished sportsman, becoming a champion runner and enjoyed football and rifle shooting.

Later on in life he took up big game fishing.

Papers at the time referred to him as a "lonely independent" in his political days, who attacked other parliamentarians, judges and public servants.

Perhaps showing he was quite ahead of his time, he consistently argued for free medicine and sexual education.

In Parliament he wore a white suit and outside of the building he topped his outfit off with a pith helmet.

 

Frank Barnes smiles as he’s being led away.
Frank Barnes smiles as he’s being led away.

 

In 1946, Bombshell Barnes spent quite some time in court appealing decisions in the upper and lower courts and by Parliament.

Barnes was upset that a magistrate had nonsuited an assault action he had lodged against a police sergeant for an incident in December, 1945.

A later appeal ruled that Barnes had in fact been assaulted, and while Barnes had sought 200 pounds compensation, he only received 25.

Then on March 22, 1946, Barnes was fined 30 pounds for refusing to attend the bar of the house after he was judged guilty of contempt in Parliament.

Mr Barnes had left the Chamber a few minutes earlier after shouting "goodbye and buggywheels" at members.

It was a move that saw him labelled as "offending against the dignity of the house".

The contempt verdict was reached after Barnes called three other men in Parliament "three of the biggest crooks in the state".

Barnes said the court could fine him if it wanted, but he would not apologise for his remarks.

He was fined, but didn't pay and instead had the money deducted from his salary.

He had also argued against not being paid during times he was suspended from Parliament. There were several.

Later, Mr Barnes lodged a complaint with Speaker Sam Brassington that he was assaulted in the members' dining room by Health and Home Affairs Minister Mr Thomas Foley, who punched him on the chin.

The incident followed Mr Foley's statement to the house about the seizure of 242kg of contraband tobacco found in the garage of his Camp Hill home.

After a stormy all-day debate on November 13, 1946, Parliament agreed to appoint a Royal Commission to investigate the tobacco seizure.

Mr Foley apologised to the house but said he had been provoked and lodged a counter complaint against Mr Barnes who refused to apologise.

Barnes was suspended for a fortnight on November 14 for refusing three times to apologise for his part in the "dining room incident".

Five days later the Full Court unanimously upheld his appeal against being deprived of salary while suspended from Parliament and ordered that he be paid and that the clerk of the Parliament pay the costs.

The NewsMail reported on November 21 that two policemen had been stationed around the clock outside the padlocked door of Mr Barnes's room at Parliament House to stop him from using it.

The next day he was served with an eviction notice to vacate the Country Members Lodge. Barnes admitted he owed 12 pounds, or almost a year's rent, but said he had not paid rent because the Government had unconstitutionally denied him his salary.

The controversial topics didn't stop there, however.

At one stage Barnes spoke in Parliament about the disappearance of Marjorie Norval, one of Bundaberg's most enduring mysteries.

 

Courier Mail front page 23/11/1938 Marjorie Norval missing
Courier Mail front page 23/11/1938 Marjorie Norval missing

 

Marjorie Norval, 30 at the time she disappeared, was from a well-known Bundaberg family.

Miss Norval was a public service typist who helped the wife of the then Queensland premier William Forgan-Smith with her social arrangements.

On the evening of November 11, 1938, she was last seen walking up the steps of the Brisbane Central Station.

No one knows what happened to Marjorie, though a message in a bottle had washed up on a Queensland beach last year, containing a note from someone confessing they'd been paid to dispose of her body.

Barnes claimed in Parliament that he knew what had happened to the young woman, that she had gone to California, but refused to reveal his sources.

The man who dressed in an iconic white suit lasted nine years in his seat before being ousted by then treasurer Mr Walsh.

During his career, Barnes had eight suspensions and was fined once.

An old article listed Barnes as "one of the most unorthodox members in the state's history" who became known as Bombshell Barnes.

After his defeat in Parliament, and until his death in a private hospital, Barnes lived with his wife Evelyn Buchanan and two daughters at Sandhills Rd, near Bundaberg.

His wedding to Evelyn, in 1943, was the first wedding reception held on the terrace of Parliament House.

 

 

One of the last known photos of Frank Barnes.
One of the last known photos of Frank Barnes.