From our TV screens to the hit parade, singer Yvonne Barrett was a popular personality in the entertainment scene in the 1960s, but she was murdered.
From our TV screens to the hit parade, singer Yvonne Barrett was a popular personality in the entertainment scene in the 1960s, but she was murdered.

The domestic violence murder of ‘60s starlet Yvonne Barrett

Yvonne Barrett was a teenager with the world at her feet in the mid-1960s, with a singing, recording and television career envied by more seasoned performers.

But her life ended violently in her 30s, a world away from the spotlight.

Barrett is the subject of the latest episode of the free In Black and White podcast on Australia's forgotten characters, out now.

Barrett was born in Perth in 1946 but her family soon moved to the Melbourne suburb of Braybrook.

A precociously talented child, she began ballet lessons at two and, by 10, she was a regular in pantomimes.

2nd Lieutenant Kevin Lunny of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), with singers Pat Carroll (left) and Yvonne Barrett in South Vietnam on New Year’s Eve, 1965. Picture Australian War Memorial.
2nd Lieutenant Kevin Lunny of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment (1RAR), with singers Pat Carroll (left) and Yvonne Barrett in South Vietnam on New Year’s Eve, 1965. Picture Australian War Memorial.

She featured prominently in the prestigious South Street dance competition in Ballarat in the late 1950s and regular appearances in the casts of Swallow's Juniors, a forerunner to Young Talent Time Melbourne TV dancing program My Dance.

Her big breakthrough came at 15 when she starred as Louisa von Trapp in the Australian production of the stage musical The Sound of Music at Melbourne's Princess Theatre from October 1961 to September 1962.

Shew backed up as Bear Girl in another musical, Carnival, at the Princess Theatre from October 1962 to February 1963, then to Sydney's Theatre Royal in February and March 1963.

In a July 1964 profile in the Australian Women's Weekly, aged 17, Barrett said she adored the stage and longed for the bright lights of Broadway, and a meeting with her idol Sammy Davis Jr one day.

 

A story about Yvonne Barrett from the Australian Women’s Weekly, July 1964. Picture: National Library of Australia
A story about Yvonne Barrett from the Australian Women’s Weekly, July 1964. Picture: National Library of Australia

"I think he's brilliant," she said. "His characterisations - his terrific audience appeal - he's a complete star. I want to be a top musical-comedy star, too, of course. And there's one role I'd LOVE to play - Gypsy in the show based on the life of Gypsy Rose Lee."

A month later came the TV show that was a turning point in the young entertainer's life - The Go!! Show, one of new TV station ATV-0s first programs.

The Go!! Show was a teen-oriented hour-long music show that aired three times a week with a live studio audience, new music and contemporary covers from the best Australian artists.

Normie Rowe, Pat Carroll, Olivia Newton-John, Ronnie Burns, "Little" Pattie Amphlett, Billy Thorpe, Marcie Jones, Lynne Randell, The Twilights, The Loved Ones, The Groop and Denise Drysdale were regular guests. It was hosted for most of its three years by young musos Ian Turpie and, later, Johnny Young.

Barrett appeared on the program at least 40 times in its three-year run.

The show had its own record label, Go!! Records, which released Barrett's first single, You're The One, a Petula Clark cover, in October 1965.

It was her association with Turpie that led to a life-changing experience - the first of two tours of Vietnam entertaining Australian armed forces personnel.

November 1965 – Yvonne Barrett (left), Tommy Hanlon Jr, Pat Carroll and Ian Turpie at Victoria Barracks, preparing for their tour of Vietnam. Picture: Michael Coleridge, Australian War Memorial
November 1965 – Yvonne Barrett (left), Tommy Hanlon Jr, Pat Carroll and Ian Turpie at Victoria Barracks, preparing for their tour of Vietnam. Picture: Michael Coleridge, Australian War Memorial

 

Barrett, Turpie, Carroll and entertainer Tommy Hanlon Jr went to Vietnam and Thailand in the first government-sponsored entertainers' tour of Vietnam for a series of Christmas shows in late December 1965 and early January 1966.

They performed at the Australian base at Nui Dat among the shows, just a few miles from the front, and mixed with troops in their messes after the shows, posing for photographs, sharing drinks and accepting gifts from grateful servicemen.

Barrett donated many of those gifts to the Australian War Memorial, including a Vietcong battle flag and her own Vietnam Logistics and Support Medal for touring Vietnam as an entertainer.

Two more Go!! Singles followed - Send Her Away in July 1966 and Don't Bother Calling in October.

All three of her Go!! Singles were minor hits. Her works also appeared on three Go!! compilation albums.

Barrett starred in the finale of The Go!! Show in August 1967 but showed no signs of slowing down.

 

Yvonne Barrett performs for the troops at the 1st Australian Task Force Base, Nui Dat, South Vietnam, in July 1968. Picture: Bill Errington, Australian War Memorial
Yvonne Barrett performs for the troops at the 1st Australian Task Force Base, Nui Dat, South Vietnam, in July 1968. Picture: Bill Errington, Australian War Memorial

She was a firm fixture on the live music circuit, with frequent appearances around Melbourne, regional Victoria and interstate.

In July 1968, again with Pat Carroll, she performed for Aussie troops in South Vietnam, earning a special place in the hearts of veterans who by then were on the wrong side of public opinion fighting an unpopular war.

Barrett became a television mainstay in the golden era of variety programs, with dozens of singing engagements on Bandstand, In Melbourne Tonight, Uptight, Turning On, Adelaide Tonight, The Mike Walsh Show and the ABC's Sounds Like Us.

She guest starred on the music-themed quiz show Musical Cashbox and in specials with Johnny Farnham and entertainer Tommy Leonetti.

As the 1970s dawned, Barrett signed with EMI to release a new single, Lu. In March 1970.

The TV appearances kept coming, with spots on Hit Scene, Happening '71 and Happening '72.

Private Noel Pinch of the 161st Independent Reconnaissance Flight shares a Foster’s with Yvonne Barrett at the 1st Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat, South Vietnam, July 1968. Picture: Bill Errington, Australian War Memorial
Private Noel Pinch of the 161st Independent Reconnaissance Flight shares a Foster’s with Yvonne Barrett at the 1st Australian Task Force Base at Nui Dat, South Vietnam, July 1968. Picture: Bill Errington, Australian War Memorial


Barrett's performing career received a spark with the March 1972 release of her final single, No Longer Part of Your Life, a song recorded through Albert Productions under the management of former Easybeats stars Harry Vanda and George Young, but chart success eluded Barrett.

Live shows and TV guest spots on HSV-7's Penthouse Club and Nine's The Graham Kennedy Show and The Ernie Sigley Show continued but, by 1975, as those TV appearances waned, Barrett switched to session singing at recording studios and shows at pubs and clubs to earn a dollar.

Barrett's showbiz career was all but over by the 1980s. With live gigs drying up, she moved to Perth, where, at a nightclub, she met her future husband and eventual killer - South Vietnamese war veteran Hoang Van Truong.

Just weeks after arriving back in Melbourne from Vietnam, Yvonne Barrett (top left image, right) was pictured with Pat Carroll and St Kilda ruckman Carl Ditterich in an Australian Women’s Weekly in February 1966 on the 16th birthday party for singer Lynne Randell. Other stars who attended include Olivia Newton-John and Ian Turpie. Picture: National Library of Australia
Just weeks after arriving back in Melbourne from Vietnam, Yvonne Barrett (top left image, right) was pictured with Pat Carroll and St Kilda ruckman Carl Ditterich in an Australian Women’s Weekly in February 1966 on the 16th birthday party for singer Lynne Randell. Other stars who attended include Olivia Newton-John and Ian Turpie. Picture: National Library of Australia

The pair married in December 1983 but the volatile union did not survive a year. They separated, Barrett shifting to Sydney, where she lived in a flat in Birchgrove and worked as a waitress.

Truong, 35, stayed the night with Barrett at her flat on September 2, 1985, after returning to Australia from a trip to New Zealand.

Barrett was found dead there the next morning, aged 39.

The NSW Supreme Court heard Hoang had argued with Barrett when she asked him to leave the next morning.

He struck her head with a wine bottle, fracturing her skull, then strangled her with his belt.

Huang's counsel told the court his client had misgivings about the marriage because he was a gambler and Barrett was addicted to prescription drugs and marijuana, but they married anyway.

The court rejected Hoang's claim of diminished responsibility because of his marijuana use at the time of the murder, his war service and traumatic life.

He was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole in August 5, 1986, but remarkably was released from jail in 1995.

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*For 24-hour domestic violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636. The Suicide Call Back service is on  Call 1300 659 467. 

Listen now to the story of Yvonne Barrett in today's new free episode of the In Black and White podcast on Australia's forgotten characters on Apple/iTunes, Spotify, web or your favourite platform.

Originally published as The tragic death of '60s starlet Yvonne Barrett