Isobel Barr

Isobel was born in 1928 in Leighton, Western Australia and grew up in Glen Forrest. After receiving her junior certificate in 1943 from Midland Senior High School, she attended Underwood Business College to complete her commercial training. After completing her course, Isobel began work in the public service at the age of sixteen, following in the footsteps of her two older sisters.

Isobel started her career in the Department of Agriculture providing typing and clerical services. The Department was part of the old Parliament House. “We worked on the ground floor and there must have been about 20 or 30 people all working together… record clerks, people that handled the postage and mail deliveries and typists and shorthand writers”.

Isobel fondly remembers the social aspect of the Department “every lunchtime we would grab our sandwiches and rush over to the ballroom to play our table tennis and we even used to have competitions with various other offices in Perth”.

Isobel was promoted to a secretarial role at the Treasury Department, working directly to Mr Reid (later to become Sir Alex Reid) the Under Treasurer. Working for Sir Alex Reid, Isobel remembers “he was a very good dictator so that was very good for my shorthand skills… he was the Premier’s right hand man as far as financial matters were concerned so a lot of the work that I did for him was in turn for the Premier”.

At the age of 29, Isobel was asked to apply for the position of personnel officer at the Public Service Commissioner’s Office, responsible for the employment of female staff for all public service departments. Isobel interviewed women and tested their short hand and typing. She would then appoint them to a vacant position in a department if they were successful.

“When I started as the personnel officer my classification was lower than my counterpart who interviewed males and we were both doing practically the same work, I was interviewing girls and he was interviewing men but anyway some time later the Civil Service Association campaigned to have equal pay brought in for equal duties so my pay was increased… my classification was the same as the male, my male counterpart”.

After her retirement in 1984, Isobel received a Medal of the Order of Australia on 13 June 1988. Isobel was nominated by several Public Service Commissioners for the Medal, acknowledging her forty years of long and faithful service to the public sector. Isobel comments “I still use my shorthand to take down messages but because of arthritis in my right hand I’m no typist anymore. As far as the computer is concerned I can play Solitaire on it”.

portrait of Isobel Barr

The day Isobel received her Medal of the Order of Australia. 13 June 1988.

Photo courtesy of Isobel Barr

old building

At the beginning of her public service career, Isobel was working for the Department of Agriculture. The offices of the Department were part of the old Parliament House.

Photo courtesy of the Legislative Assembly, Western Australian Parliament









Page last updated 7 December 2012