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Barbara Bolton (1941–1996)

Major Barbara Bolton, quite probably the only Salvation Army officer ever to serve as a reporter on The Sydney Morning Herald, died in Hobart on June 27. Author of a widely acclaimed popular history of the Salvos, Booth's Drum, she was 54.

"Captain Barbara", as she was inevitably nicknamed during her Herald service, was born on August 29, 1941. She entered the Salvation Army's training college in Melbourne in 1964, was commissioned two years later and appointed to work with the army in Adelaide.

In 1967, she was back in Melbourne to serve within the army's editorial department, the first of several such appointments flowing from her skills as a writer of perception and ability.

She spent most of the 1970s writing for the army in Melbourne, working for its welfare services in Tasmania and, for a period, writing and working with its services in Melbourne.

By Salvation Army standards, she was a rebel. With other "young Turks", she founded a youth magazine which swiftly fell foul of the army's policies.

Disappointed, she resigned her rank in 1978 and turned to a short but intense career on the Herald. Hired as Church Reporter, she delved vigorously into social issues. One of her more unusual assignment — she volunteered for it — was to spend a week on the streets of Sydney with just the dole of $51.45 to live on. She wrote a daily report of a bleak and cheerless city unknown to most Herald readers.

While she was working for Fairfax, the army had a change of attitude. She left the Herald in mid-1981, retrieved her commission and was appointed to jobs in Kings Cross and to the command of the Fitzroy Corps in inner Melbourne. In 1983, she was transferred to London, where she worked in various public relations and journalistic positions — including editing All the World — at international headquarters.

By now, the young Turks had turned into the establishment running the army. While in London, Bolton became Major Barbara and acted as an adviser to the army's world leader, General Eva Burrows, also an Australian, who supported her views and became a personal friend.

Also in London, Bolton was diagnosed as suffering from multiple sclerosis.

She returned to Australia in early 1990 to a series of senior appointments and ended her working life, appropriately, on the War Cry in Melbourne. Retiring on August 28, 1993, she lived out her days in Weeroona Senior Citizens' Residence in Hobart.

As her illness grew worse, she was confined to a wheelchair. Early this year, she was still writing articles for her beloved War Cry, although, by then, she was virtually paralysed.

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'Bolton, Barbara (1941–1996)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

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