THERE isn't much that can shock Jane Barnes. So the woman who has been the rock in Jimmy Barnes's rollercoaster of a life was shaken to her core when her children pointed the finger at her after their father landed in rehab in 2003.

As revealed in Working Class Man - the second memoir from Australia's revered rocker - after years of excess, his wife left him to get her life together in a facility in Tucson, Arizona. He followed her there soon after.

At the end of his treatment, there was a family week and their daughters Mahalia, Eliza Jane and Elly May sat in front of their father and with brutal candour, detailed his failings.

That painful experience kickstarted a healing process for the family.

But as the two women who have stood beside him on stage for decades now attest, it also provoked a blame game.

When the family returned to Australia after living in France in the late 1990s, they moved into Sydney's Eastern Suburbs and Jane found herself partying with the naughty housewives of Sydney.

23/01/2017: Jimmy Barnes at his home in Sydney. He is recieving an Order of Australia award on Australia Day.
Pic by James Croucher
23/01/2017: Jimmy Barnes at his home in Sydney. He is recieving an Order of Australia award on Australia Day. Pic by James Croucher James Croucher

At the same time, her husband slipped back into old habits, taking eye-popping amounts of cocaine, pills and booze. He plumbed new depths to hit rock bottom again and again.


Buy your daily newspaper tomorrow for extracts from Jimmy Barnes's new book.

"When I took myself off to rehab and then Jimmy went, at the end of it they all came over and we did this family week session. And the shocking thing to me was they blamed me," she told News Corp Australia.

"For the first 14 years of their lives, I was totally straight, I didn't put a foot wrong. When they were older and we came back from France, I started partying with old friends, going to dance parties and things like that.

"Jimmy was always the same to them and they said 'Oh Mum changed.' They thought I was the bad influence who had driven him off the edge. That was really shocking to me. Not that I wanted to blame anybody ... I did feel there was an injustice. It wasn't all me."

Mahalia has always given the appearance of a fiercely protective lioness on stage next to her father, even when she was just 15 and starting her professional singing life.

She admits she judged her mother unfairly then and has since come to understand how hard Jane had worked to keep their father alive and their family together over the decades, how she has always been the glue that binds them.

When she had her first child Ruby eight years ago, the relationship with her mother Jane began to shift.

Their eldest daughter, Mahalia was the first person Jane turned to when Jimmy revealed he had attempted suicide in an Auckland hotel room in 2012.

"She needed to share that with somebody and I was glad to be there for her; she knew I would keep an eye on him on the road and not be afraid to say anything. There has never been a culture of silence in this family," Mahalia said.

"In my younger years, I knew Dad was completely out of control and spiralling - and for some reason, I took that out a bit on Mum, which was unfair.

"I thought she should be able to keep everything together because she's so capable and so strong and when things were difficult for her and she wasn't so strong, I was a bit unforgiving of that in my teen years.

"Now knowing everything I do, and knowing what she has survived through as well and how much she has done to keep our family together, our relationship shifted and I realised I should give her a break, that they were both trying their best."

"My little girl's birthday today Happy birthday Mahalia..”

Jane will speak with her husband on 7's Sunday Night tonight. She was Jimmy's sounding board through the excruciating process of detailing the domestic violence, poverty and drug and alcohol abuse of his childhood in the Working Class Boy memoir.

But she hasn't read its sequel Working Class Man - apart from the shocking prologue that revealed his suicide attempt - and won't until their Christmas holidays.

As the second book details their life together from falling in love at first sight at an Angels concert in Canberra in 1979, she didn't want to cloud his perspective with her own memories of events.

After a few minor disagreements on details when he began writing Working Class Man, she left him to it.

"It's a shared experience but it's his point of view of it. I found with this book, we would argue about little things. As you know everyone has different interpretation of the same experience," she said.

Mahalia read it in one sitting. She was extraordinarily sad to discover how much her father hated himself.

"It is incredibly sad to think about anyone feeling that way about themselves, let alone someone who has so much bravado. It's amazing he felt so low and insecure and so down on himself and yet there were so many people, family, friends and fans, who loved him so much," she said.

"His book underlines just how important an issue mental health is, particularly for artists.

"I have so much respect for both my parents and how they have survived such difficult experiences and down times and are so loving to each other and to all of us. They have given us an amazing life."

And she happily reports, Jimmy has also given her many laughs with Working Class Man.

Jimmy Barnes (right)
Jimmy Barnes (right) Mick Hutson

Mahalia says her father's rock'n'roll tales of the early days of Cold Chisel when they lived in a farmhouse outside of Armidale "cracked me up".

"It's bizarre to think of him as an 18-year-old doing all of these things with people I know so well now; they're not the sort of things that pop up in a father-daughter conversation," she said.

"That band and those guys were his family then and you can hear it in his voice in the book, just how close they were, they still are.

"When they fight, they fight like brothers; they still do now, they're like children together when they bicker backstage about little things, arguing about the set list. But there is also so much love and respect there."

Despite Jimmy's five decades battling addiction as he self-medicated away the memories of his childhood, it appears his children have been spared that curse.

His oldest son David Campbell publicly declared two years ago that he had given up drinking to stop the cycle of alcoholism in his family.

And while Mahalia admits to "being no angel" in the past, she said her parents' openness about their struggles with addiction had had a profound impact on herself and her siblings.

"As a family, we have had access to therapy, my parents went to rehab and we have seen both the dark side and the glamorous side of the rock'n'roll life," she said.

"They have always tried to toe the line between making us feel protected and making us aware of the reality of their mistakes.

"And I think that's why I didn't find it so hard to read his books because I know how healing this has been for him.

"I just hope him sharing all of this helps to lose the stigma around mental health issues and around addiction and opens the door for more conversation for the people suffering and the people who love them."

Aussie rock icon Jimmy Barnes pictured on the water early morning at Botany Bay.
Aussie rock icon Jimmy Barnes pictured on the water early morning at Botany Bay. Sam Ruttyn

Working Class Man, published by Harper Collins, is released tomorrow. Tickets for the Working Class Man: An Evening of Stories and Songs tour go on sale from 10am tomorrow.

If you or someone you know is in need of crisis or suicide prevention support, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit

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