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David John O'Keefe (1864–1943)

by Scott Bennett

This article was published:

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

David John O'Keefe (1864-1943), by Swiss Studios, 1915

David John O'Keefe (1864-1943), by Swiss Studios, 1915

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23379178

David John O'Keefe (1864?-1943), politician, was born probably on 21 August 1864 at Longford, Tasmania, son of David John O'Keefe, farmer, and his wife Mary Ann, née McCullagh. Educated at Carrick State School, O'Keefe left at 14, working first as driver of a horse-team in a road-gang, and later as labourer and farm-hand. At 17 he moved to Beaconsfield, where he worked for four years as miner and quartz-battery operator. He purchased a small stationery, tobacco, jewellery and newsagency business, which he lost in a fire but was able to rebuild. He was also Beaconsfield correspondent for Launceston's Daily Telegraph, and in 1891 he sold his business when he moved to the new mining town of Zeehan as the newspaper's special representative. In 1892 he joined the Zeehan and Dundas Herald staff and was its editor in 1894-99. O'Keefe made a study of mineralogy and put his learning to good use by writing many articles on west-coast mines for Tasmanian and mainland newspapers, as well as examining and reporting on many mining propositions. In 1899 he reported for the Melbourne Argus on the Chillagoe and Mount Garnet copper-fields in North Queensland.

On his return O'Keefe engaged in various business pursuits in Zeehan until his election as a Labor senator to the first Commonwealth parliament. In a patchy Federal career he served as senator in 1901-06 and 1910-19 (chairman of committees 1910-14), and later as member for Denison in 1922-25, defeating Laird Smith. Each term ended in defeat.

In January 1926 O'Keefe went to Western Australia, where he managed the Perth branch of the real estate firm of T. M. Burke Pty Ltd. He returned to Tasmania in 1931 to contest unsuccessfully the Senate election, then managed Launceston's Terminus hotel for two years, before securing election to the House of Assembly as member for Wilmot in June 1934. He held the seat until his death, serving as Speaker in 1934-42. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1941.

Apart from his varied employment and parliamentary careers, O'Keefe was active in many other areas: Australian Workers' Union organizer, delegate (seven times) to Labor Party federal conferences, secretary of the Ancient Order of Foresters friendly society and of the Beaconsfield rifle club, and work in amateur theatre. In Zeehan he had been a member of the town board.

Dave O'Keefe married twice. His first wife Sara Frances, née Wilson, whom he married in Melbourne on 17 June 1897, died in 1921, and on 14 October 1924 he married Mrs Agnes Hughes, née Blong, also in Melbourne. He died at Brighton on 21 July 1943, during a trip to Melbourne. His body was returned to Hobart for a state funeral before burial in Cornelian Bay cemetery with Catholic rites. His wife and a son and three daughters of his first marriage survived him. Frank Forde described him as 'a forthright man who had strong convictions but who was tolerant of the views of others'.

Select Bibliography

  • Examiner (Launceston), 22 July 1943
  • David John O'Keefe (typescript, probably by himself, privately held).

Citation details

Scott Bennett, 'O'Keefe, David John (1864–1943)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 20 May 2024.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012

David John O'Keefe (1864-1943), by Swiss Studios, 1915

David John O'Keefe (1864-1943), by Swiss Studios, 1915

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23379178

Life Summary [details]


21 August, 1864
Longford, Tasmania, Australia


21 July, 1943 (aged 78)
Brighton, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.