Australia trailed for most of the match and found themselves four points down, before two yellow cards in three minutes gave them a two-man advantage and Stephen Moore immediately took advantage to steal the game for the Aussies.
Australia may be without two of their rising stars on the Spring Tour, though, with Jack Dempsey (leg) and Lukhan Tui both in doubt after injuries.
Tui was off in the 35th minute with a hamstring concern, while Dempsey had his leg twisted in a tackle in the 74th minute, unable to stand up on the sideline, forced to wait until the game finished to go into the rooms.
Both have been immense for the Wallabies in recent weeks, Dempsey especially.
Ben McCalman and Queensland teenager Liam Wright could find themselves in the mix for the tour with the duo’s absence, after stints against the Barbarians on Saturday.
Camped in their attacking territory early, it was flyhalf Duncan Paia’aua who claimed the first score, dragging Barbarians flanker Matt Hodgson over the line with him in the ninth minute.
Barbarians no. 8 Wycliff Palu wasted little time in making his mark on the contest, in his first rugby match in close to 10 months, lining up young Wallabies hooker Jordan Uelese twice in the opening 10 minutes.
Tighthead Taniela Tupou tried to bring back some old school Barbarians tricks, crashing over with the ball up his jumper, but was ultimately denied the score, before three Barbarians tries in five minutes put the Wallabies in a 14-point hole half an hour in.
Andrew Ready opening the scores for the Baabaas, with two-Test Wallaby Taqele Naiyaravoro proving the most damaging, finishing with two tries for the day.
Naiyaravoro streaked away in the 28th minute, finishing off a Tim Nanai-Williams no-look pass, before setting up winger Tom Banks two minutes later.
Wallabies winger Henry Speight made the most of his first real look at the ball, closing the gap just shy of half-time, with Australia’s second.
For much of the game, the Wallabies looked like exactly like what they were - a side that had barely played together.
They reverted to a more familiar backline combination after half-time, Samu Kerevi coming off, replaced by winger Izaia Perese, with Karmichael Hunt into the centres and Israel Folau back to 15.
Australia were the first to score in the second half, with flanker Dempsey fending off a defender on the way to the try line to narrow the margin to four points.
It was only two minutes later that Billy Meakes was replaced in the centres by his Force teammate Curtis Rona, as the Wallabies looked to turn the scoreboard around.
Rona was instrumental in the Wallabies taking the lead for the first time in the 61st minute, with a 30-metre break falling just short of the line, before his offload landed perfectly in Paia’aua’s hands.
They lost that lead in just five minutes, when a Quade Cooper cross-kick landed in Banks’ hands and then in those of Naiayaravoro, who finished for his second and a four-point advantage.
Just as quickly the hulking back was in the sin bin, after what was deemed a deliberate knock down, giving Australia a one-man advantage for the remainder of the match.
Cooper had a rare perfect day off the kicking tee, booting four-from-four conversions for the day, but he too was sent in the 73rd minute, after a careless tackle on Israel Folau.
Moore’s try sealed the game and saved the Wallabies from the potential embarrassment of losing a game they were widely expected to win.
The Wallabies head to Japan on Tuesday for a four-week Spring Tour, against Japan, Wales, England and Scotland.