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Canberra's oldest couple celebrate joint 100-year-old milestone

"She's the boss," says George Barlin with the dead-pan face that always draws a laugh. "She pulls seniority on me all the time."

It is true that George's wife Iris is a massive 22 days older. She turned 100 on January 27, while the youngster will not make his century until Thursday. Iris can still recall the wonder of seeing her first motor car and, says George, "I remember my mother speaking of a mysterious invention called wireless. I couldn't imagine what she was talking about."

George and Iris Barlin are turning 100 in quick succession and will celebrate the occasion with family at a party on Sunday.
George and Iris Barlin are turning 100 in quick succession and will celebrate the occasion with family at a party on Sunday.  Photo: Jay Cronan

Any who know them well will be quick to tell you that it is not so much the number of their days as the quality of their contribution that counts. Because the Barlins are considerable figures in the story of the region.

Iris was only four when the Taylor family moved from Bega to Queanbeyan, where her parents opened a clothing and haberdashery store. "Dad would put stock in a horse-drawn wagonette and travel to Canberra, Molonglo, Westlake and the Causeway on selling trips," she remembers.

After a fire had gutted their premises in 1923 and the great Queanbeyan flood of May 1925 had swept through their home, Iris' father decided to move to the burgeoning town of Canberra. His store in Giles Street Kingston (called Eastlake then) was well established by the May day in 1927 when the first Parliament House was opened. The Taylor girls were among Canberra's schoolchildren in the crowd.

By early 1933 the now teenage girls were intrigued by the arrival of a new boy in town. Young George Barlin, fresh off a North Coast dairy farm, came as the first broadcast cadet to the newly hatched radio station 2CA. The proprietor, operator and owner was A.J. (Jack) Ryan, who had set up transmitter and studio in a tiny room behind his Giles Street Radio and Electrical store.


Sixteen-year-old George arrived in Kingston one Friday night, a complete novice. Three days later he was running the radio station solo, from switch on to closedown. He remembers that "Mr Ryan told me 'learn it fast mate, because I want to go to Rotary on Monday night'."

The boy did learn fast. When Jack Ryan left 2CA early in the war, George was told there would be no release for enlistment (he was heading for the RAAF), because now he was to become station manager at 24. Under his stewardship the station grew to become the jewel in Macquarie's regional network, and he was soon in charge of a growing number of country stations. When television arrived later in the 1950s, it was George Barlin's vision that brought CTC 7 to Canberra.

None of this he achieved alone. The missing link in this story is the great day in March 1938 when he married the girl from the corner of Tench and Giles streets. "Iris once put a trip wire across the footpath on my way to work," jokes George. "That was how she caught me." Nearly 78 years, five sons and about four lifetimes later, the partnership lives on.

A retirement of 38 years has been almost as crowded as the working life. Full involvement in their large extended family, positions in various organisations and the communal-scale vegetable garden they have maintained until a year or so ago, have made for the fullest of lives.

And are there any secrets to two centuries of life lived to the full? "Choose your parents well," says George, "and go fishing often." And Iris adds quietly "Yes, and remember a full and happy home life."

In 2001 George Barlin produced a fine memoir of his life – a book which quickly sold out. An expanded version, Two Lives Lived to the Full, has been produced in a limited edition celebrating their centenaries. It will be launched at The Paper Chain in Manuka next Sunday 21st February at 3pm.