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Professor Rob Barrett (1949-2007)
Papers on ethnographic research conducted with the Iban people of Sarawak

Also in secondary storage. Please contact Special Collections beforehand: 08 8313 5224

MSS 0134

Biographical Note

Rob Barrett was an outstanding scholar and clinician, a gifted teacher and a wise mentor, who made a substantial contribution to the disciplines of medical anthropology, psychiatry and medical education.

His unique training as both a clinical psychiatrist and as a social anthropologist allowed him to blend medical and anthropological observations in a way that reviewers of his writings have described as masterful. It is rare for a scholar to be able to straddle two quite different ways of approaching knowledge and Rob did so with aplomb.

Rob went to school at King's College in Adelaide (which later became Pembroke School) and was admitted to the Medicine program at the University of Adelaide in 1967. He was awarded his MBBS in 1973 with a number of distinctions and student prizes.

Following graduation in 1973, he served as an intern at the Royal Adelaide Hospital (RAH) and then had a brief foray into general practice before being admitted to the training program in psychiatry at the RAH. There he served as a junior registrar between 1976 and 1979.

Rob obtained his membership of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists (RANZCP) in 1979 and was awarded the Maddison Medallion for topping this examination nationally. His FRANZCP was conferred in 1983, the same year he completed his Diploma in Psychotherapy.

Visiting Consultant appointments to a number of hospitals followed, as did the very prestigious Neil Hamilton Fairley Fellowship awarded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, enabling Rob to spend time at the Harvard Medical School in Boston. In 1988 he was awarded his PhD by the University of Adelaide.

Rob was appointed Senior Lecturer in the University Department of Psychiatry and a Consultant Specialist to the RAH in 1990, and was also made the Director of the Eastern Community Mental Health Services. In 1998 he was appointed Professor of Psychiatry at the RAH.

Rob's written work crossed a number of different areas but he was probably best known for two major ethnographic studies in the area of schizophrenia, one conducted in a psychiatric hospital here in Adelaide, the other in Borneo with the Iban people. His research involved pursuing the most basic theoretical concepts in anthropology back to their historical origins, and applying these theories in new ways to clinical psychiatry.

He had, in recent years, commenced an ambitious new project that attempted to marry the disciplines of social anthropology and genetics, to try to understand the heritability of schizophrenia.

Rob drew upon his research in the delivery of his teaching to medical students and trainee psychiatrists. He also taught, as an invited lecturer, to anthropology and psychology students. His teaching was mesmerising - students were enthralled and captivated not only by his novel material, but by his quirky sense of humour, his dynamic delivery and his passion for his disciplines of medicine, psychiatry and anthropology. His students' world views were often permanently changed by his teaching.

His personal gifts were a boon to his research. The tremendous listening, observation and communication skills Rob possessed were invaluable to both his psychiatric practice and his anthropological research. His formidable intellect, however, did not prevent him being a very skilled and caring medical manager of his psychiatric patients.

He contributed greatly to the work of the Mental Illness Fellowship (formerly the Schizophrenia Fellowship), Amnesty International and Nunkuwarrin Yunti.

Rob is survived by his wife Mitra and daughter Githie and will be greatly missed by his family, his many friends, his colleagues and his patients.

Contributed by Derek Frewin
and Anna Chur-Hansen

About the Papers

The papers represent ethnographic research conducted with the Iban people who live in Sarawak in Borneo. Data collection began in 1986 and continued until 2006.

The archived materials are divided into two main waves of data collection:

  • First Study: “A Genetic Study of Schizophrenia in the Iban of Sarawak” – investigators Dr Bryan J Mowry, Dr RJ Barrett, Dr Derek J Nancarrow. The first phase, encompassing the 1980s and 1990s, is material for a series of NH&MRC supported comparative studies of schizophrenia that combine anthropological and clinical research techniques – essentially 50 case studies of Iban people suffering from what we would call “schizophrenia”. Included in the research papers are Professor Barrett’s ethnographical notes, his transcribed interviews, and videotapes and CDs of individual patient cases. The 50 case studies were expanded to 65 during the course of the study, recorded using a double number sequence.
  • Second study: The second set of NH&MRC funded research began in 2002, and represents a continuation of the first studies. Professor Barrett again collected case records, combining these with cases of non-psychotic spiritual experiences and blood analyses in an attempt to determine genetic influences upon psychiatric illness.

Unless otherwise indicated, these papers are embargoed from general use until 2058. Access will only be granted by the Special Collections Librarian upon presentation of written permission from the Head or Deputy Head of the Discipline of Psychiatry and with ethics approval.


Contents Summary

Held in old strong room - RESTRICTED

Boxes 1-13
Box 14
Boxes 16-40
Boxes 41-42
Boxes 43-50


Contents Listing

Series 1: First study - Iban patient data

Boxes 1-13  -  RESTRICTED

Notes, quantitative data sheets and summaries. Notes folders include cassette tapes of interviews (in Iban language), case reports and photographs.

A Special List of Iban patients included in Series 1 is available for consultation by researchers who have written permission of both the University of Adelaide Dept of Psychiatry and the Ethics Committee

Box 1: Index, Patient files [01]2 – [04]5
Box 2: Patient files [05]6-[07]/9
Box 3: Patient files [08]10-[12]14
Box 4: Patient files [13]15-19
Box 5: Patient files [16]20-[18]23
Box 6: Patient files [19]24-[22]27
Box 7: Patient files [23]28-[27]32
Box 8: Patient files 33-[30]39
Box 9: Patient files [31]40-[36]45
Box 10: Patient files 46-50
Box 11: Patient files [40]51-[43]55
Box 12: Patient files [44]56-[48]60
Box 13: Patient files 61-65, and first drafts of transcripts?


Series 2: First Study - Preliminary ethnographical analyses based on patient cases


3 volumes plus index volume
Second copy of index in folder


Series 3: First Study - Background information, statistics etc


3.1    Interview schedules: SANS (Scale for the Assessment of Negative Symptoms); SAPS (Scale for
         the Assessment of Positive Symptoms); Identifying data; DAS Overall behaviour
3.2    NH&MRC Project Grant 1988: Sarawak correspondence 1986-1991. Includes proposal for
         study, report on field work and interim report to State Secretary
3.3    Sarawak. Medical and Health Dept. reports/extracts from reports 1947-1985
3.4    Statistics: Sarawak population figures; article on Iban migration / J.K.T. Hock 1985
3.5    Sarawak: psychiatric patient statistics


Series 4: Second study - Iban patient (probands) data

Boxes 16-39  -  RESTRICTED

Notes, quantitative data sheets and summaries arranged in alphabetical order. Notes folders include mini DV cassette tapes/CDs of interviews (in Iban language), case reports and photographs.

A Special List of Iban patients included in Series 4 is available for consultation by researchers who have written permission of both the University of Adelaide Dept of Psychiatry and the Ethics Committee


Working notes, including queries concerning individual cases, and lists of probands in pedigree order

Genealogical tables (2004)
Additional DV cassettes/CDs

  • Interview tapes not matched with proband files
  • Unlabelled subject interview
  • Year-end party Faber Medi-serve Sri Aman 2/11/2002
  • Mini-cassette set ‘Lemanak’ and CD copies of some volumes


Series 5: Second study - Rob Barrett's ms field notebooks (English & Iban)

Boxes 41-42  -  RESTRICTED

5.1    Field notes vols 1-8 1988-1989
5.2    Index to ms field notebooks
5.3    Data extracted from Rob Barrett’s computer    4 CD-ROMs


Series 6: Background information, statistics etc (including some material from first study)

Box 43-50  -  NOT RESTRICTED

6.1    Mini DV cassettes

  • Consents for taking blood samples (5 cassettes & 1 video CD)
  • Lecture on the Genetic Project (1 cassette)
  • Head cleaning tape

6.2    Cost projections 2004-5
6.3    Map of operational areas of Klinik Kesihatan, Batu Lintang, Sri Aman; also detailed maps
         and patient locations for data collection (oversize)
         Some maps restricted by the Government of Indonesia. Access only with the permission of the
         Government of Indonesia or their representative

6.4    Diagnosis and drugs: charts, notes and references
6.5    Display and promotional material: includes test and photographs about the research project,
         the Iban and their genealogies, and the Iban treatment of illness

Box 44
6.6    Photocopied ms notebooks (in Iban language)
6.7    Belian rites – preliminary notes on
6.8    ‘DIGS and FIGS”

  • Diagnostic Interview for Genetic Studies (DIGS) – prototype forms
  • Reprint: “How diagnostic concepts of schizophrenic differ” TE Gilt et al J. of Nervous & Mental Disease 168:1 (1980)
  • Family Interview for Genetic Studies (FIGS) – prototype forms and manual

6.9    Ethics (Human Research Ethics Committee approvals and consent forms)

  • A genetic study of schizophrenia in the Iban of Sarawak 1998
  • An ethnographic study of mental illness amongst the homeless in inner city Adelaide 2003

6.10   Official correspondence (Sarawak) 1998-2002
6.11   Official letters (Sarawak) – Genetics Iban study 2001-2002
6.12   Official letters (Malaysia) - Genetics Iban study 1999-2002

Box 45
6.13    Correspondence with Dr Bryan Mowry (2002-3)
6.14    Reprints on diagnostic criteria for psychiatric research/schizophrenia
6.15    Typescript “A case-study of schizophrenia in the Iban of Sarawak” / Peter Loa [nd]
6.16    Miscellaneous papers: correspondence, reviews and drafts of articles concerning
           schizophrenia among the Iban
6.17    Proposal and NH&MRC Project Grant application
6.18    Reprints of articles about schizophrenia
6.19    Assessment tools

  • Psychiatric assessment online forms
  • Reprints on genome-wide linkages for schizophrenia/bipolar disorder
  • Evaluation scales/tests: forms, correspondence & reprints
  • Reprints/form: assessment, markers

Box 46
6.20    Research schedules

  • Clinical Assessment Protocol for Affected Individuals
  • RDC (Research Diagnostic Criteria)
  • SCAN

Box 47

6.21   Bibliographies/references

  • Card file of bibliographic references
  • Bibliographies
    • Iban
    • Sarawak Museum Journal
    • Shamanism
  • References
    • Adat
    • Batu
    • Bejalai
    • Bilik
    • Colour
    • Environment
    • Headhunting
    • Kinship & marriage
    • Manang
    • Mimpi
    • Mythology, legends and stories
    • Pagar Api
    • Pemali
    • Penjakit
    • Personhood
    • Plants
    • Rabat
    • Religion
    • Ritual
    • Rumah Panjai

Boxes 48-50
6.22    Reprints of articles/notes – files arranged by Rob Barrett
           See Special list

Additional reprints are held in Series 6.8, 6.9, 6.14, 6.15, 6.18, 6.19

University Library

Barr Smith Library
South Australia 5005


Phone: +61 8 8313 5224