David John Harding Barlow (1928 – 2002) – admired psychiatrist at Larundel

Dr Barlow came to work in Australia in 1966 having been recruited from the UK where he had studied psychiatry after training in Medicine in Johannesburg South Africa. He was born in Southern Rhodesia (known now as Zimbabwe) in 1928, one of several children of the magistrate Mr Murrell Harding Barlow and Isobel Florence (Norvall). David Barlow married Deidre Imogen (Landless) in 1953. Deidre was from neighbouring Zambia, the other side of the famous Victoria Falls.

With their first child Jennifer, they went to the UK in 1955 for David to further his studies and gain experience in several psychiatric hospitals. Three more children were born in England. They chose not to return to Africa because of the unstable, threatening political situation and investigated re-locating to the USA or Australia. They decided to take up an opportunity in Australia and the young family enjoyed a month’s travel from the UK on the P & O liner ‘Himalaya’, via the Suez Canal and Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

Dr Barlow initially contemplated working at Janefield, but then decided in 1966 to take up the position of Psychiatric Superintendent at Hobson Park Hospital in Traralgon, which had opened in 1964. At Traralgon the family was welcomed into the community. This was a small hospital with places for about 30 residents and about 300 admissions per year, with patients staying on average about one month. Many suffered from alcohol dependency and most came to be successfully treated as outpatients. When he first arrived in Australia, Dr Barlow was also commissioned by Dr Eric Cunningham Dax (the Chairman of the Mental Health Authority at the time) to help design training programs for the medical staff at Colac and other regional mental health facilities.

Dr Barlow started as Psychiatric Superintendent at Larundel in 1967

Dr Barlow’s professional expertise was soon recognised and he was transferred to the much bigger suburban Larundel Hospital– to be the Psychiatric Superintendent. This hospital had about 1000 residents in the 1960s and 1970s, with 3000 – 4000 admissions each year, many clients being voluntary and ultimately attending as outpatients. Together with reporting on patient care, he was required to report to the State Government on the needs of the staff – of which there were about 20 psychiatrists, 250 nurses and 200 trades people and 25 other ‘non-medical’ staff (administration, social workers and occupational therapists).

Dr Barlow initially spent one year at Larundel and then was seconded temporarily, from 1968 to 1970, to be Deputy Chairman of the Mental Health Authority for Victoria under the Chairman, Dr Eric Cunningham Dax (see also https://www.montparktospringthorpe.com/profile-dr-eric-cunningham-dax/). Dr Barlow then returned to Larundel and worked for the Mental Health Authority until his retirement in 1987. He also fulfilled roles at the Pleasant View Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre Preston and the Ernest Jones Clinic Preston. In 1975 he was appointed Director of Mental Deficiency Services for Victoria.

All recorded mentions of Dr Barlow’s professional life are very positive, from his devoted and distinctive work as Deputy Chairman to his ‘amazing’ influence on the training and performance of staff, as occupational therapist Iliya Bircanin comments on this website, see https://www.montparktospringthorpe.com/profile-iliya-bircanin/Several patient blogs also mention Dr Barlow’s innovative approach to psychiatry and encouragement of the patients to equip themselves to return successfully to the community. He was a ‘humane and progressive’ doctor who assembled teams of staff including Dr John Lloyd, Dr Harry Derham, nurses, social workers and occupational therapists. These teams were all concerned with promoting the patients’ emotional recovery through counselling sessions, vocational training programs, art and music therapy. Dr Barlow loved his daily work and was friendly with all the staff, although they were careful to never try his patience by a lack of punctuality when it came to meetings!

David and his wife and their four children lived contentedly at Larundel for many years in a house on Plenty Road opposite what later became the site of the Smorgy’s family restaurant. During the years that Dr Barlow was Deputy Chairman, they lived in a large house near the entrance to Mont Park Hospital. The children could make their way to the local schools through the Larundel and Mont Park grounds. They were thoroughly familiar with their surroundings where their mother also worked at Gresswell Tuberculosis Hospital for a time in radiography.

The Barlows moved to Eltham in 1981 and he retired in 1987

Dr Barlow and his wife bought a house in Eltham in 1981 and moved from the hospital site. Many of the doctors and nurses and administrators initially lived in houses on site. A few of the Nursing Homes remain in the Springthorpe and Polaris Shopping Centre areas, now refurbished as La Trobe University student accommodation or private townhouses.

In Eltham, the Barlows continued to enjoy visits from their children and grandchildren and remained firm friends with Dr Cunningham Dax and Dr Lloyd. Dr Barlow officially retired in 1987 although he continued to fulfil an important and purposeful role with the Mental Health Review Board for another 15 years. Dr Barlow had pursued a passion for gliding which he found fascinating from his first glimpse of this in the Cotswolds in the UK. Dr Barlow along with Dr Lloyd learned and polished his skills in aerial acrobatic manoeuvres at Benalla airstrip from 1978 to 1986, where Dr Barlow also acted as an instructor.

The family remember Dr Cunningham Dax (1908 – 2008) attending Dr David Barlow’s funeral in 2002. Mrs Barlow died in 2015 at 85 years of age.

Larundel and Mont Park Hospitals were always important employers in the local Bundoora area, with families moving to live in close proximity to work. Many people stayed in the area, with their children’s schooling and study, developing lives shaped by their parents’ influence.

Several of the newer streets off Grange Boulevard honour the dedicated staff from Larundel – Barlow Rise, Bircanin Close (Iliya Bircanin – occupational therapist), Gonella Cres (Sister Joanna Gonnella – charge nurse) , Kahans Place (Dr Daniel Kahans – psychiatrist) and Oldmeadow Crt (Dr Donald Oldmeadow – psychiatrist ).

With many thanks to Dr David Barlow’s family for their invaluable contributions to this Biography.

Compiled by Kathy Andrewartha 2019


Bircanin, Iliya and Short, Alex (1995) Glimpses of the past: Mont Park, Larundel, Plenty. The Authors, Melbourne

Distressed, desperate and depressed – a memoir of personality disorder


Down the Rabbit Hole: a closer look at Larundel – James Button https://www.darebinarts.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/2018-335-City-Of-Darebin-This-Place-Proof04-1.pdf

Prabook https://prabook.com/web/david_john_harding.barlow/3614356

Reports of the Director of Mental Health/Mental Hygiene Authority/Mental Health Authority/ H