From Russia with Love
Acknowledge: Newcastle & Hunter Valley Racing Association Publication ‘From the Track’
Fore Note (WPH): I think this story rivals ‘A Town Like Alice’? Are there any emerging Neville Shutes out there?
Jamie Barnes may be a familiar face around Hunter & Central Coast race courses but his amazing heritage would be a surprise to most.
The Broadmeadow-based vet is the son of a champion Australian rower and a world famous Russian Ballerina, whose remarkable love story is an amazing tale in itself.
His mother, Anna Barnes nee Volkova, is now 93* and living in a retirement village in Sydney. His father, Jim Barnes, passed away several years ago.
“When I was younger, I didn’t think much about the achievements of my parents, but in recent years, I have taken greater interest. I didn’t appreciate what they had done”, Jamie told From The Track.
“Now, when I think about what they both achieved, particularly my mother, I get very inspired. She is still so alert and can recall many wonderful stories about her years in the ballet.”
Jamie’s mother Anna was a principal dancer with the legendary Ballet Russes. She had come under the eye of the famous troupe in Paris in the late 1920s where she had begun lessons aged 11.
Anna’s family had been members of Russian aristocracy and extremely wealthy. They were left penniless after fleeing Moscow and settling in Paris during the 1917 revolution. Anna was only able to attend dance lessons through the generosity of an old friend who offered to teach her for free.
The talents of the beautiful young Russian were soon evident and Anna was invited to join the troupe at 15. In the ensuing years, she performed in many countries from Cuba to England, living for months on end out of a suitcase.
In 1938 and 1939, Anna toured Australia with the Ballet Russes and with her fellow ballerinas, wowed the culturally-derived audiences. It was on her return trip to England following the 1938 tour that she mey a dashing young rower, Jim Barnes. Jim was part of the Australian rowing team travelling to Henley for an international competition and the pair fell in love during the five week trip.
Jim proposed to Anna while still in England but she said no because of the imminent onset of war. Jim enlisted and fought in the South Pacific, while Anna continued to tour with the ballet troupe. She was in Rio six years later when she received a telegram from Jim, who was in the jungles of Bouganville, again asking her to marry him. This time she said yes and the pair were reunited in Sydney in 1946.
“I don’t know if Mum realised what she was getting herself into,” Jamie said. “She had had this wonderful life with the ballet and then ended up as a farmer’s wife on a sheep property at Boorowa. I don’t think she ever regretted the choice she made and eventually her mother came out and lived with them until she passed away in her 80’s.”
Jamie said it was difficult for his mother to gain entry to Australia and they had to “pull some strings” for her to be admitted. He said his parents remained on the property at Boorowa, not far from Canberra, for many years before retiring to Sydney where his father passed away six years ago.
His mother ran ballet classes in Boorowa for a time and is still involved in consulting with the Australian Ballet.
Surprisingly, Jamie possesses no great love of animals and admits it was through his father’s urgings that he became a vet.
“Dad was wrapped up in animals, particularly horses. He was big in the equestrian world and competed as a show jumper for Australia in the 1950s. He managed the Australian Team for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964.
“He had an owner/trainers licence for a while and I used to ride track work on his horses when I was home from boarding school. When I was finishing school, I wasn’t at all sure what I wanted to do and Dad suggested I become a vet.
“After University, I decided I wanted to move away from Dad’s influence, because everyone knew him, and I took a job at a veterinary practice at Traralgon in Victoria. I got down there and while I enjoyed the work, I was the loneliest I’d ever been. I had this little bedsitter and would go home to that every night. Coming from boarding school and then university where there was always someone around, I found this really hard. After some time, an opportunity came up to go to Scone and I jumped at it.”
It was here in the Horse Capital in 1974 that Jamie commenced a strong association with thoroughbreds, working with Morgan, Howey and Fraser. He had been seven years in Scone before returning home to Boorowa for a time then working in New Zealand for a short period before arriving in Newcastle.
“It was my father who suggested I come to Newcastle. I’d been in New Zealand and loved it there but there was no opportunity for full time work. I had committed to start work in Newcastle when I was told a job was available in New Zealand but it was too late because I’d given my word.
“I arrived here in 1985 and have been here ever since. It was big step launching my own business and in hindsight I don’t think I would do it again. I had no clientele and an unreliable Land Rover was all I owned in the world.
“It took a long time to build up the business. Philip Adams was an enormous help to me. Kevin Fahey was the vet employed by the Newcastle Jockey Club around that time but he had some dramas and I was offered his job. That involves working for them at Broadmeadow and Cessnock on race days and trials. I also did the same thing for Gosford Race Club and still work at the Wyong Meetings.
“On top of that I still have my practice and that keeps me busy. For a while, I had four other vets working for me and it really did get quite busy. They all went their separate ways and now it is just me again. I used to do a lot of stud work but the travelling got to me and I have cut back on most of that now.
“It is still a very demanding job and I am on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That restricts you socially and I haven’t had many real holidays over the years. On the upside, I have met so many wonderful people and characters associated with racing.”
Jamie’s main interest outside of work has been rugby and he played the sport for an astounding 46 years, from age nine to 55, only hanging up his boots five years ago. He still has an acy=tive involvement in local rugby as a committeeman with Hamilton.
“Dad had been a rugby player and wanted me to follow suit. I was around eight when he took me to Mosman for my first game. They put me on the wing and during the game when another boy was running toward me, I just stepped aside and let him run through. I figured there wasn’t enough in that space for both of us and never thought about tackling him. That shattered Dad’s dreams because I didn’t really have a clue,” Jamie laughingly recalled.
(Author’s Note: There was an ugly rumour about a professional colleague having referred to Jamie having thrown to the dam’s side (ballerina) in rugby; but that would be both unkind and churlish? How do I know all this?)
“I played right through school and even got into some serious stuff when I was in college. I played for far too long really and towards the end played a lot of lower grade stull and coached. The great thing about rugby is that it is a sport for everyone and I loved being involved in it.
“Horse and rugby have been a he influence in my life. I don’t know where I would be without either for both the experience they have given me and the great friendships they have brought into my life.”