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First Italian to step foot on present day Mackay

Updated: Nov 1, 2021

A large headstone with writing so faded, there is no possible way of deciphering who lies in the grave it guards. The only hint is a name listed on the index board at the eastern side of the neat little cemetery in the historic township of Uralla, just outside of Armidale, NSW. The name is Giovanni Barbieri.

Giovanni Barbieri's gravestone with the markings worn down. His name is on an index list at the entrance of Uralla cemetery. Photo: Samantha Elley

Usually visited by tourists for the final resting place of notorious bushranger Fred Ward, better known as Captain Thunderbolt, the cemetery is also the home of the remains of this Italian man who went on an expedition with Australian pioneer John Mackay.

Barbieri was born around 1830 in Genoa, Sardinia in Italy. Whatever his purpose, he arrived in Australia in 1855, at the age of 26. He wanted to make this new land his home and applied for naturalisation in 1858. At the time he was living at Rocky River, just 5km out of Uralla.

On 16 January, 1860 he joined an expedition with Scotsman John Mackay to travel from Uralla looking for more grazing land. He was in the company of John McCrossin, Andrew Murray, John Mulldoon, Donald Cameron and Hamilton Robinson as well as an Indigenous Anewan man known as Duke, a son of King Brady and Queen Mary Ann, born on 7 October, 1839. Giovanni anglicised his name to John Barber, and is recorded as being a quiet man and a former ship's carpenter. The men nicknamed him 'Chips'. Each man on the expedition provided two horses and provisions.

The party travelled north through the Darling Downs, across the Burnett River and arrived in Gladstone on 22 March. Nearly two weeks later they arrived in Rockhampton on 2 April.

At this point Mulldoon and Cameron left the party while the others continued north across the Broadsound Range and up the Isaac River. On their way they encountered many communities of Aboriginals, warning some with their guns and interacting on friendly terms with others.

The approximate route of the Mackay expedition. what would normally take nearly 17 hours in a car today, took five months for the small party of explorers. Picture: Google Maps.

Turning north-east across the range, the party travelled through a coastal valley where they eventually came across a large river. Mackay named it after his father George, but found out there was another river with the same name. Today it is better known as the Pioneer River.

The team followed it north, then east to discover large grassed plains where the town of Mackay and surrounding suburbs now stands. They had reached this point by 23 May, having suffered sickness along the way. Duke died nearly a month after reach the plains and as they were returning to Rockhampton. They buried him in a 'decent grave' on the west bank of the Isaac River about 12 miles above the entrance of a large sandy creek coming from the north west.

Before this, the men had marked lots for their runs. Giovanni and Andrew Murray marked out their land closest to the coast. Giovanni marked his land out on the north side of the river. However, sadly he would never take up his run. According to records he died a year later and was buried in Uralla cemetery.


  • 'Giovanni Barbieri', New South Wales, Australia, Certificates of Naturalization, 1849-1903, accessed online via on 9th October, 2021

  • 'John Mackay (Australian Pioneer) explained, Everything Explained Today, accessed online 10th October, 2021, John Mackay (Australian pioneer) explained

  • J. A. Nilsson, 'Mackay, John (1839–1914)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 10 October 2021.

  • John D Kerr, BSc, 'Rediscovered route of the Mackay Expedition, 1860', presented to a meeting of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland on 24 July 1980, accessed online 10th October, 2021, s00855804_1979_80_11_1_70.pdf (

  • 'New book tells Italian familie's stories, The Courier Mail, October 27, 2018, accessed online 10th October, 2021, New book tells Italian families’ stories | The Courier Mail

  • 'Giovanni Barberrie', Births Deaths Marriages, accessed online 10th October, 2021, Family History Search Results (

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