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O'Reilly, John Joseph (Jack) (1888–1933)

This entry is from Obituaries Australia

An outstanding figure in the industrial and political Labor movement of Australia, Mr. J. J. [John Joseph] O'Reilly, M.L.C., died at his home in Darby street, Cook's Hill, early yesterday morning.

A victim of the deadly miners' phthisis, contracted many years ago while working in the mines at Broken Hill, the late Mr. O'Reilly had been ailing for a considerable period. However, his indomitable will power and keen interest in his duties as Northern branch manager of 'The Labor Daily' kept him 'on deck' up to a few weeks of his demise.

Many sterling tributes have been paid to him by those who were closely associated with him in the many stubborn and successful fights waged for improved working conditions for the miners at the "Hill."

In recognition of his life-long service to the Labor Movement, the late Mr. O'Reilly was included in the last batch of Ms.L.C. appointed to the State Upper House.

Realising that his condition would not enable him to attend the polling booth yesterday, one of his last acts — typical of the man— was to fill in and record a postal vote

Possessed of amazing virility for one stricken with a complaint that has accounted for so many underground workers, he fought on to the last. Similar to the tenacity he exhibited in the many industrial and political fights waged on behalf of the toilers, he refused to take it 'lying' down' and it was only during the last two days that the final ravages of the disease forced him to take to his bed.

Mr. O'Reilly's record in the Labor Movement is generally known. Before transferring his activities from Broken Hill to Newcastle about ten years ago, he held the following positions: —

Member of the executive and management committee, vice-president, check-inspector, and secretary of the Broken Hill Miners Union, member of the board of control "Barrier Daily Truth," president and vice president Barrier District Assembly of the A.L.P, vice-president Barrier Labor Assembly, secretary 44-hour week campaign, delegate to Miners Central Council, delegate to annual conference A.L.P., delegate in all the principal industrial disputes to mine managers at Broken Hill from 1911 to 1920, representative of miners in the 1917 strike committee at Sydney, representative of miners at the big anti-conscription convention, Melbourne, 1916, and toured Tasmania, Melbourne and Sydney on behalf of anti-conscription.

Two of the most important struggles that the late Mr. O'Reilly was successfully engaged in were the 44-hour week for miners and the anti conscription campaign.

When in reminiscent mood, he would reveal some remarkable happenings in the prosecution of the anti-conscription campaign when its advocates were on many occasions threatened with physical violence by a war-doped section of the community.

On the Coal and Shale Commission he was associated with Mr A. C. Willis, M.L.C., and J. M. Baddeley M.L.A.

In other campaigns in which the miners were interested, he fought alongside Dan Rees, "Bondy" Hoare, A. Teece, A. Lewis, and W. Brennan, M.L.C.

During the never-to-be-forgotten Port Pirie lock-out, in 1909, he figured prominently with Tom Mann in many sensational happenings.

In Newcastle Mr. O'Reilly held every important post in the Labor Movement. He had been secretary of the Federal and State Electoral Councils of the A.L.P., secretary of Newcastle A.L.P., delegate to A.L.P annual and special conference and member of the Clerks' Union.

On his appointment to the Upper House he was the recipient of an illuminated address from the whole of the A.L.P. leagues in the Newcastle district.

Joining 'The Labor Daily' at it initiation, in 1924 he did yeoman service in its interests among the Northern miners. Many miners will recollect his visits to the pit-mouths in the early cold winter mornings when he earnestly and successfully espoused the cause of the paper and the workers' interests for which it stood.

During the hectic happenings prior to the dismissal of the State Labor Government by the Governor (Sir Philip Game) although very ill at the time Mr. O'Reilly was present throughout the many all-night sittings.

On the night when the Mortgagee Bill was before the Upper Chamber, an urgent telephone message was sent to his home at 10.30 p.m. Jumping from a sick bed into a waiting motor car he was rushed to Parliament House and was 'on deck' when the fateful Bill was carried.

As a mark of respect the Labor officials at the polling booths yesterday wore black ribbons with their 'No' campaign buttons.

Mr. O'Reilly, who was 45 years of age, is survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. 

The oldest son, Jack, is engaged in the Chief Secretary's Department.

The funeral will leave his late residence, Darby Street, Cook's Hill, tomorrow (Monday) afternoon for Sandgate Cemetery. 

"In common with all others in the Labor Movement," said Mr Hugh Connoll, M.L.A., to-night, I heard with profound sorrow the news of Mr. O'Reilly's death. ''Since I first met him in Broken Hill I always knew him as a fearless and hard fighter for the cause of the people, which constituted his greatest interest in life."

Mr. Connell expressed his deepest sympathy with the bereaved wife and family in their great loss—a loss which he said, was shared by the whole Labor Movement.

Mr. P. Connolly, M.L.A. said that, as an old friend of Mr. O'Reilly's, he had been associated with him in many political and industrial campaigns. Always a straight-goer, he nevcr swerved from his life-long Labor principles. He had no time for political or industrial humbugs, and always fought on "the level."

Mr. R. Cameron, M.L.A. also added a tribute to the sterling qualities of the late Mr.O'Rilly. "He was always in the vanguard of the fights waged for the workers, and did his part nobly and well," he said.

The president of the Northern Miners Federation, T. Hoare, said: "His indomitable willpower and desire to see a better social order inaugurated, I believe, kept him alive. His historical knowledge, combined with his unconventional ideas, made it a pleasure to converse with him. Mr. O'Reilly's organising ability will most certainly take some replacing.

In a joint reference to-day, to the death of Mr. Q'Reilly, the secretary and president of the Newcastle A.L.P. (Messrs. Babbage and Bass) said: "The death of Mr. O'Reilly has robbed the Labor Movement of one of Labor's outstanding men of the 20th century. Although quite a young man, he was a battle-scared veteran in the movement.

 Mr. A. C. Willis, M.L.C. said last night that the passing of Mr. O'Reilly had left the movement poorer by the loss of one of the best Labor men he had ever known.

"He was a clear thinker, a great fighter, a loyal friend, and an honest and incorruptible worker in the great cause of humanity" stated Mr Willis. "His consistent unselfishness endeared him to all who knew him. It was my privilege to work with him for upwards of 18 years and during that time I came to admire his sincerity and to love him as a man.

My sincerest sympathy goes out to his wife and family, in their bereavement. Of him it can be truly said "he fought the good fight; he loved his fellow-men."

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Citation details

'O'Reilly, John Joseph (Jack) (1888–1933)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/oreilly-john-joseph-jack-33112/text41290, accessed 30 March 2023.

© Copyright Labour Australia, 2012