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Barbour, Peter Robert (1925–1996)

A former director-general of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Peter Barbour, died in Canberra on November 7 after a long illness. He was 71.

He spent more than 20 years with ASIO, succeeding to its top job in 1970 until he was replaced by the Whitlam government in 1975 during an administrative overhaul and sent to New York as consul-general, and later to Los Angeles. He served as ambassador to Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador until his retirement.

Mr Barbour was educated at Scotch College, Adelaide, Geelong Grammar and Trinity College, University of Melbourne, from where he graduated with first-class honours in Latin and German. He served in the AIF in World War II, seeing action in New Guinea where he worked as a Japanese linguist. After the war he served as an interpreter at the war-crimes trials in Rabaul before returning to postgraduate studies with an idea of studying in Germany.

He joined ASIO in 1951, working in various areas of security, including three years overseas screening prospective migrants, before moving to Canberra in 1959 where he was closely involved in events leading to the expulsion of the Soviet first secretary, Ivan Skripov. He became director of the Canberra office in 1964 and deputy director-general of ASIO in 1965, eventually succeeding Sir Charles Spry as chief.

He was in charge of ASIO at the time of the infamous Murphy raid in 1973 when the then Labor attorney-general, Lionel Murphy, and some aides burst into the Canberra headquarters demanding to see files, and the next day doing the same in Melbourne.

Mr Barbour is survived by his widow, Penny, three of his five children, and eight grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Canberra Times, 27 November 1996

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Citation details

'Barbour, Peter Robert (1925–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/barbour-peter-robert-29669/text37412, accessed 8 July 2020.

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