'I felt like I was dying.' Why Jimmy Barnes abandoned David Campbell when he was born.

Until he was 10, David Campbell thought Jimmy Barnes was just a "family friend".

To him, his mother Kim was ‘his sister’, and his maternal grandmother was the only mum he knew.

It wasn’t until his early teenage years that the singer and Today Extra co-host would come to terms with the fact he was actually the son of the legendary Cold Chisel frontman he’d wanted to see in concert with his friends.

"Lightning struck that day for me," Campbell told The Father Hood.

Although the father and son have since built a close relationship, Barnes’ decision to walk out on his family just after Campbell was born in 1973, and make the trip from Adelaide to Melbourne to play with the band Cold Chisel took a huge toll on them both.

The 67-year-old entertainer and author described the mindset that made him think his newborn son would be better off without him.

Jimmy Barnes (second from the left) with Australian rock group Cold Chisel in 1982. Image: Getty.

"He wasn't a problem, he was a beautiful boy. I guess I ran away from the responsibility of [being a parent]," he told journalist Stephen Downie in 2018.

"I just felt like I was dying. I thought there was no hope... it was just a matter of time before I died. That's why I was trying hard to flee."

What Barnes felt he had to flee from was the abusive upbringing he experienced in the South Australian suburb of Elizabeth. After his parents Jim and Dorothy Swan moved their young family from Glasgow, Scotland to Australia when he was five years old, Barnes' childhood was filled with domestic violence, abuse and alcoholism.

The singer described the street his family lived on growing up as having made him "sick to his stomach", that you could walk down that street and "within 100 yards feel safe or that your life was in danger."

Much like his fractured early experiences of fatherhood with Campbell, Barnes said his parents ran to Australia away from their own problems.


"[My parents] were running away from stuff without dealing with it... they came 12,000 miles and had the same problems [in Australia] they had in Glasgow. If anything their problems got worse," he said.

"I thought it was a normal childhood... it was abusive and violent and frightening, and it was traumatising."

Barnes and his wife Jane are now a large part of his son's life, doting grandparents to Campbell's three children, Leo and twins Betty and Billy Campbell.

Jimmy Barnes and David Campbell. Image: Instagram.


After watching his father's upcoming documentary Jimmy Barnes: Working Class Boy, 50-year-old Campbell told with The Daily Telegraph Barnes deeply regrets missing out on his childhood.

That said, in the joint interview with the publication, Barnes debated whether having him around as a role model would've been the best thing for his son.

"I wasn’t together enough to be present in David’s life when he was born. I wasn’t together enough, even when we did approach it," he said.

"Knowing David as I do and looking at his children and seeing the beauty and the purity of their youth, it’s probably selfish of me to regret not having that time with him.

"When you get down to it, we are who we are now it is difficult to have any regrets because I don’t know if I could love David anymore."

Feature image: Instagram.

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