Actor, father, salmon fisher, cattle worker, sheep farmer, national parks officer, restaurant manager and now tourism operator, Barrie Cotton has packed more than a few life experiences into his 56 years.

Story + Photos Ken Eastwood

Barrie Cotton has one of those faces that makes you think you’ve met him before. It might be because you’ve seen him in SA road safety advertisements since 2015. Or it might be because his look is considered so quintessentially ‘typical outback bloke’ that he has been selected for roles in a string of movies: as an outback cop, a farmer, an ostrich wrangler, a bad guy, a drunk. With a killer smile and an ability to spin great yarns from his life without big-noting himself, the 56-year-old sheep farmer from Mambray Creek, between Port Augusta and Port Pirie, SA, is instantly likable.

Although his face may say ‘typical’, his self-described “licorice allsorts” of life experience has been anything but, and at times sound like a Boys Own adventure. There are bears, crazy sailors, cattle on the loose in Broome and movie stars.

Raised in Clare, SA, Barrie dabbled in theatre at school, before leaving in year 11. “One of the things I’d always been involved in was entertaining,” he says. “I was a fool at school and made kids laugh, but I wasn’t going to end up in NIDA [the National Institute of Dramatic Art]. Then a local restaurant owner said, ‘Alright Barry, you’ve got a bit of personality, do you want to come and be a waiter?’”

This started a string of hospitality jobs that would take him over many years from a barman at the Glendambo Hotel dealing with shearers and B&S balls, through to donning a tuxedo to serve at the Snooty Fox restaurant in the Old Adelaide Inn. Along the way, there were vineyards and wineries, and a stint at Kim Eldridge Electronics, working on farm machinery.

“My parents said, ‘Do whatever you want’,” he says. “Dad wanted me to join the navy because it was an easy way to get rid of me, but I tried to get in and failed.”

Barrie’s thespian bent kept calling him, though, and he trained and registered with a casting agency. “It wasn’t long before they called me up and put me in commercials as an extra and for some theatre work,” he says. This led to a stint as an actor with the Australian Opera in 1990, when the company toured with Richard Wagner’s 6-hour epic Tristan and Isolde, and a small role with Russell Crowe and Frankie J. Holden in the 1993 film Hammers over the Anvil.

This story excerpt is from Issue #148

Outback Magazine: April/May 2023