The electro-chemical, hydraulic, computer controlled carbon based machine I had been wearing for so many years had finally reached its use-by date. It had been repaired many times but it eventually broke down and I had to leave. And leaving was a wonderful relief for me.
This little excerpt from Barry’s last message gives a sense of the practicality, curiosity and happy attitude with which this unique man approached his life and which helped him face his death. Some of the following words are his also (gathered from documents on his computer and from his memoirs) and some we have written to celebrate him.
Barry’s journey began on the 15th of September 1931, before the harbour bridge was finished and, as he used to say, when planes still had outside toilets.
He was the first child of Franziska and Viv, and elder brother to John.
Being an only child for five years, then waiting for his brother to be old enough to play with, it was up to him to make his own fun. With his thirst for knowledge, love of science, powerful imagination and passion for explosives the days were never dull!
Barry regarded school as an unwelcome interruption to his important work and disliked being taught to memorise facts rather than being educated. His interest in science stood him in good stead as he was often called upon help explain things to his class – the beginnings of Barry the educator.
In 1949 Barry went to The University of Sydney. He had hoped to become a surgeon but his father convinced him to study architecture so he could join his business.
After graduating in 1953, early career highlights included a commission to make a photographic record of early Colonial architecture around Sydney and outlying areas (“The Wollaston Collection”, Historic Houses Trust of NSW) and being offered a job by Jørn Utzon, designer of the Sydney Opera House.
Together with his brother John, Barry travelled and worked for several years across Europe, the UK and America, covering more than 37,000km. Their adventures included attending the Rome Olympic Games, sailing up the west coast of Italy, flying by helicopter to visit Saarinen’s Eidelwild airport (later J.F. Kennedy Airport) which was under construction and where they, as visiting architects from Australia, were given a tour of the project, attending a session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York and finally returning to Australia via the Pacific Islands in 1961.
Because of his wide experience, in 1965 Barry was offered a lectureship at the University of NSW. While teaching, supervising (with a particular interest in projects involving Feng Shui and Building Biology), directing studies and designing subjects, he introduced innovative hands-on learning methods, created associative images to support his topics (a favourite being cartoons of Snoopy and Woodstock to illustrate structural principles), created the School’s first technology slide library and photographic lab and trained technicians to run it, established a student darkroom and designed a remote-controlled projection facility for lectures.
He devised a means of taking and projecting 3D images for teaching, using standard equipment, and published on this. His Masters thesis pioneered the idea of creating facilities where sophisticated teaching materials in various media could be produced by communication experts. His later research included solving problems of domestic waterproofing, resulting in an Australian Standard. He also served on the Australian Standards committee dealing with protective coatings for steel.
Nicknamed ‘Superbaz’ by his students, Barry was a talented, patient and caring educator. He was a natural communicator and enjoyed teaching and helping students. His theatrical style ensured that his lectures – which became known as ‘the Barry Wollaston Show’ – were always well attended. He told his students not to remember anything that he said, but instead to try to understand it.
He told them that it was his intention to plant seeds of knowledge in their minds where they would grow differently in every student and that the only fertiliser that could be used was their attitude to their studies. He was highly regarded and in 1995 was affectionately lampooned in the UNSW students’ Architecture Review with the song ‘I am the Wollaston’ (sung to the tune of The Beatles’ ‘I am the Walrus’.) Throughout his life he was often stopped in the street by former students who would greet him enthusiastically with a quote from one of his lectures.
In 1966 Barry married Roslyn Clarke. They travelled extensively in Europe and the UK, bought their first home on Bushlands Avenue at Gordon on Sydney’s North Shore, and had four children – Alessandra, Gerard, Georgina and Charles.
Barry was a kind, loving and generous father. He encouraged his children to think for themselves, fostered their unique talents and supported their creativity and individuality. Barry could make, fix and do just about anything. He created many fabulous toys and puzzles and was always inventing new games. He loved music and dancing and his stories always fell upon eager ears! Barry’s knowledge was vast and he gave his children the freedom to explore, investigate, get dirty, make, break and try new things.
Of course there were also some hard times, and Barry and Roslyn divorced in 1990. After many years they were able to put past pain behind them and reconnect with a friendship that lasted the rest of his life.
Barry retired from teaching in 1995. In a speech at his farewell a colleague described him as “no ordinary person!” and praised the high quality of his work, “Barry wrote extraordinary Construction lectures that could almost go directly into print. They were so good that they actually gained attention from his students. Not a mean feat in this subject area.”
The affection of his colleagues is evident in the conclusion of the speech, “We owe you a debt of gratitude for your enrichment of our individual professional lives. Your extraordinary gift of giving of yourself, your breadth of knowledge, your seeming tireless energy, boundless sense of fun and good humour, have been a source of inspiration to those fortunate to have known you. Of all your achievements I would place high on the list your unflagging optimism…Thank you Barry! For sharing over the years your fine mind, your wisdom and humour. We wish you well in your future pursuits, whatever they may be. They’ll be very interesting!”
After his retirement Barry spent his time happily – undertaking further research and consulting, travelling the world (including attending international conferences on stereoscopy, visiting CERN and researching the family history), pursuing his interests in gardening, photography and languages, making musical instruments and toys and enjoying life with family and friends. He was overjoyed when his grandchildren started arriving and loved being their Poppi, Papa and Opa.
Barry was larger than life. A shining star of positivity, creativity, exuberance and warmth. A self proclaimed “shy extrovert”, Barry made friends wherever he went, greeted everyone with a smile and always left an impression! He was a unique man who faced life with positivity and determination and encouraged others to do so.
He had an enduring fascination with space, aliens, the mysteries of the universe, pendulums and pyramids, science and spirituality, photography, art and music. He loved dancing and was a great conversationalist who captured everyones interest and imagination.
He will always be with us as we remember his wacky jokes, shaggy dog stories, universal theories and a smile that could light up a room.
He is dearly missed by his family – Roslyn, Alessandra, Gerard, Ania, Magnus, Astrid, Georgina, Matt, Zach, Elyse, Charles, Rhianon, Annabelle, Aria and Amelia, and by his brother John’s family.
Some fitting final words come from his favourite TV show:
“I am and always will be the optimist. The hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of improbable dreams.”
– The Doctor
(Dr Who, Season 6, Episode 6)