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O'Halloran, Michael Raphael (1893–1960)

by J. C. Bannon

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Michael Raphael O'Halloran (1893-1960), politician, farmer and storekeeper, was born on 12 April 1893 at Yanyarrie, near Carrieton, South Australia, only child of South Australian-born parents James Andrew O'Halloran, farmer, and his wife Mary Catherine, née Brown. Mick attended Pamatta Provisional and Red Hill Public schools before working on his parents' mixed farm. Meeting 'a fine old Englishman' with 'a library of early Fabian publications', he 'read every one of them' and joined the Australian Labor Party at the age of 15.

After his father died in 1910, O'Halloran supported his mother on the farm at Belton. He won the House of Assembly seat of Burra Burra in 1918, lost it in 1921 and regained it in 1924. Defeated again in 1927, he served as State organizer for the A.L.P. and entered the Senate in 1928. He was deputy-leader of the Opposition in the Senate from 1932 until his defeat at the elections in 1935.

With Labor reduced to a rump of the assembly in the 1933 South Australian elections, O'Halloran was recalled to State politics and won Frome in 1938. Re-elected seven times, he held the seat until his death. At St Gabriel's Catholic Church, Cradock, on 14 May 1924 he had married Mary Frances Rowe; they were to remain childless. Mary handled her husband's electorate work from their Peterborough home during parliamentary sessions. The O'Hallorans ran their own organization, and the party was forbidden to campaign in the vast country electorate which virtually became his private fiefdom. For more than forty years he was Labor's key country advocate, described as 'a bell wether . . . an old and tractable sheep whose services are requisitioned to lead his fellow sheep [the farmers] into the muster yard' of the A.L.P.

In November 1949 O'Halloran became the first Catholic to lead the State parliamentary Labor Party. He consistently rejected sectarianism. His close ties with the Catholic Church and Archbishop Matthew Beovich were important in preventing a split in the State branch of the A.L.P. in the 1950s. The rock-solid support of the branch for Dr Bert Evatt did much to help him retain Federal party leadership. O'Halloran confronted (Sir) Thomas Playford's ascendancy in South Australia: while often gaining a majority of the popular vote, he lost four general elections. Despite this record, his leadership remained unchallenged.

An effective orator, O'Halloran was a better performer on the stump and in the House than the premier, but seemed content to leave it at that. Playford appreciated his policy of constructive opposition, and consulted and negotiated with him; they sometimes made common cause against Playford's conservative colleagues in the Legislative Council. Reflecting on the progress of the State under his premiership, Playford acknowledged that 'in all those advances Mr O'Halloran played a conspicuous part'. O'Halloran claimed that, given the circumstances, he was able to achieve more of Labor's objectives in opposition than in government. Most of his party concurred.

Of middle height, with a plump face and genial manner, O'Halloran enjoyed a drink, smoked a pipe and spoke in a 'strong, resonant voice with a touch of Irish brogue'. He made no enemies, and was universally liked and respected. This he prized more than office. Survived by his wife, he died of a pulmonary embolism on 22 September 1960 in Calvary Hospital, North Adelaide; he was accorded a state funeral and buried in Centennial Park cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Dunstan, Felicia (Melb, 1981)
  • J. Moss, Sound of Trumpets (Adel, 1985)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (Adel, 1991)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 15 Aug 1918, p 247, 4 Oct 1960, p 1092
  • Parliamentary Debates (Commonwealth, Senate), 4 Nov 1929, p 36
  • News (Adelaide), 22 Aug 1950, 22 Sept 1960
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 Sept 1960
  • J. Medwell, Personalities Remembered (radio talk, 5CL, 12 Dec 1971, State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

J. C. Bannon, 'O'Halloran, Michael Raphael (1893–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/ohalloran-michael-raphael-11292/text20151, accessed 22 November 2017.

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