Kathleen O’Neill (1906-2006)

Kathleen O’Neill was the second youngest of five children of Herbert Thomas O’Neill & Mary Jane Thompson. She was born on 01 Dec 1906 in Wingham, New South Wales.

Some of the following is supported by Kath herself in an interview she gave to film/documentary maker and oral historian Louise Darmody, Sound Memories, NSW, Australia (tel. +61 (2) 9925-0492, mob. 0408 630 803, email louised@bigpond.net.au, facebook (https://www.facebook.com/louisesoundmemories). You can hear Kath speak about her past in the next eight links; your mouse left-click should open each link in your default music program, right-click should allow you to save it to your computer (or MAC equivalent):

01. Kathleen’s fine tooth comb
02. School days and the ranch
03. Kicking up your heels
04. Mrs. Lancaster’s fine garments
05. Wedding bells for Jack and Patrick O’Neill
06. Kathleen faces challenging times
07. Fun at the Great Northern Hotel at Chatswood, NSW
08. Kathleen’s wise counsel

When Kath was two, Herb and Mary took over the Australia Hotel in Wingham and Kath was sent to live with Mary’s parents, John & Mary Thompson, in Wingham. Kath later attended the Brigidine Convent in Randwick, but was so unhappy there her parents transferred her to Lochinvar Convent as a border. She recounts the story of her brother Pat writing a postcard to their sister Myra, who was at boarding school in Katoomba, about a prize he won at a fancy dress party. Here is that card and fancy dress costume:

Dear Myra
This is my Fancy Dress that I got the prize in at the Ball. I gave my prize to the wounded soldiers. Kathy was in a set that represented Bridge but did not get the prize. Willy went as an Australian soldier and everybody admired him. We would like to [had] you at home to go with us. Ruby and the baby were here last week. Baby is such a dear little fellow.

and upside down at the top:

Well, I will stop here. I hope you’re quite well. With heaps of love and xxx, your loving brother,
Patrick O’Neill

Kath often went dancing in the mid-north coast with her brother Pat. For example, from the Freeman’s Journal, Thu 04 Aug 1927, when Kath was 20 and Pat 25:

Coopernook Catholic Ball.

The annual Catholic Ball held at Coopernook on Wednesday night, 27th ult., was a huge success, financially and socially, despite the unpropitious weather. The hall was crowded, and over 100 couples danced the light fantastic till early hours of the morning.

The decorations were a feature of the hall interior, and were most pleasing to the eye, quite befitting such a gay occasion and a pleasing environment for the gay dresses of the ladies. The sale of jazz caps, balloons, and confetti was surprisingly successful, and quite a tidy sum was netted from this source, the jazz caps also adding materially to the festive scene. Messrs. L. Tate and B. Weber were M’s.C. and despite the crowd carried out their duties faultlessly. The music, supplied by Bulmers’ Jazz Band, was freely commented on for its excellence. There was keen competition for the waltzing contest, which was eventually won by Mr. Pat O’Neill and Miss Kath O’Neill…

A very grainy wedding photo of Kath (Sunday Times, Sun 24 Nov 1929).

Kath married Lancelot Samuel Devenny, a commercial traveller, in the Catholic Church in Taree on 02 Nov 1929. Her sister Myra, a professional singer (who lived mainly in London between the wars) was a bridesmaid and sang at the wedding. The Port Macquarie News and Hastings River Advocate gave a detailed account of the event on Thu 4 Aug 1927,


By reason of the fact that the O’Neill family is widely known from Maitland to the Queensland border, and of the bride’s popularity in Taree and Wingham particularly, more than usual interest was taken in the wedding which took place at St. Mary’s Church, Taree, on Saturday afternoon, the 2nd November, when the Rev. Father T. Mulcahy united in the holy bonds of matrimony Mr. Lancelot Devenny, of Sydney, and Miss Kathleen O’Neill (younger daughter of Mr. and Mrs. H. T. O’Neill, of Taree). The church which was beautifully decorated by the Sisters of St. Joseph’s Convent with pink and white flowers and palms, was crowded with relatives and friends. The bride looked charming in a medieval frock of white satin beaute, mounted on pale pink georgette. Her veil was of white tulle, embroidered in silver and worn over a massed foundation of pink tulle, with a coronet of orange blossoms and pearls. A special feature of the bride’s dress was a trimming of old Chantilly lace worn by the bride’s mother at the first public function she attended after her wedding. The bride’s bouquet was a beautiful creation of pink and white orchids, lilies of the valley and white gladioli, the work of Searl’s, florists, Sydney. The bridesmaids were Miss Myra O’Neill (sister of the bride) and Miss Eileen Lulham (cousin), who each wore a frock of daffodil georgette with summer felt hat and shoes to tone. They carried sheafs of buttercups, forget-me-nots and pink gladioli. Mr. Pat O’Neill, (brother of the bride) was best man, and Mr. H. Morrison (Sydney) groomsman. During the signing of the register Miss Myra O’Neill sang Gounod’s “Ave Maria,” and Goddard’s “Angels Guard Thee,” with violin obligato by Miss Chrissie Weber.

There was a large gathering at the reception, held in The Bower, where the bride’s mother, wearing a frock of navy georgette and beige and carrying a posy of red rosebuds, received the guests. Amongst the guests were Mr. and Mrs. Finigan, of Bondi, uncle and aunt respectively of the bridegroom, and who are about to sail for England, Mrs. Finigan wearing an apricot floral satin and carrying a posy of buttercups and apricot rosebuds. Rev. Father Mulcahy presided at the breakfast and after the repast the toasts customary to such an event were honored and during the happy gathering many good wishes were showered on the young couple setting out on life’s journey together.

The presents were exceptionally numerous and of more than ordinary value, including cheques and house hold necessities. The gift of the bride’s parents was the furniture for the new home in course of construction at Rose Bay. At 6.30 o’clock Mr. and Mrs. Devenny left by car for Gloucester, where they joined the train for Sydney and Melbourne, where it was intended the honeymoon should be spent.

The house referred to was at Gilbert St, Rose Bay. The couple lived there for some years, where two children were born:

01. Peter Lancelot (b. 22 Sep 1930, d. 27 Aug 1989 in America)

02. Mary Kathleen (b. 21 Aug 1932)

Kath and Lance purchased the the Parkview Hotel in Islington, Newcastle, probably early 1936. However, Kath’s marriage went sour; she took Peter and Mary and sought refuge one night with a first cousin and his wife, James Edward & Annie O’Neill (as Kath explained to the writer, Jim’s grandson Mick O’Neill). James was a teacher who lived at the time in Merewether, Newcastle. The next day he put Kath and the two children on a train for Port Macquarie, where Kath’s parents lived. The two children stayed with Herb and Mary for a few years and went to a local school. Lance transferred the license of the hotel in early 1937 (the Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate, Wed 14 Apr 1937).

The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Kath’s eventual divorce on Fri 2 Aug 1940, giving the grounds as his desertion. The degree nisi was reported on Fri 21 Feb 1941.

Meanwhile, Kath left the children for a couple of years with her parents and went to live in Muswellbrook, ostensibly as a companion to Ruby, a maternal aunt, who had married a Frenchman, Fernald Arnoult (known as Fern). Kath’s brothers Pat and Jack had helped finance Ruby and Fern to purchase Eatons Hotel on the condition that Kath went along as a half partner, taking over the license on 30 June 1938 ((The Muswellbrook Chronicle, Fri 01 Jul 1938; subsequent newspaper references are also from this paper unless stated otherwise). Kath and Ruby’s daughter Moncie became close friends.

During the first couple of years in Muswellbrook, Kath renewed an old friendship with Charles Ernest David Richardson (but known as Harold), a Holden dealer. Peter and Mary rejoined Kath, but both went to boarding schools in Armidale (Peter to the de la Salle Brothers College and Mary to the Ursuline Convent). Harold and Kath married on 22 Feb 1941 at Macquarie St in Sydney. Their return to Muswellbrook was reported on Tue 04 Mar 1941:

Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Richardson returned to Muswellbrook on Friday last, to receive the congratulations of their many friends on their recent marriage. Mr. Richardson will shortly take over the licence of Eaton’s Hotel.

Charles had purchased the license of Eaton’s Hotel earlier that year, as reported on Fri 28 Feb 1941:


RENOWNED among country hotels for its first-class accommodation and outstanding service in bar and house, EATON’S HOTEL is a business of which Muswellbrook is rightly proud.

The proprietor of EATON’S HOTEL, will, at first meeting, make the traveller feel at home. Mr. A. E. Richardson, who will take over the licence at an early date, is well-known in Muswellbrook and district, where he represent ed General Motors-Holden’s, Ltd., for many years.

Truly, the management of EATON’S has set a high standard of service, and although it is one of the oldest hotels in Muswellbrook, EATON’S is most modernly-equipped and up-to-date in every way. For the past three years they have done all they can to make it one of the leading hotels in the Northern districts. The delightfully furnished rooms are kept spotlessly clean by a thoroughly efficient staff, and adequate accommodation is provided for visitors at a rate most moderate in comparison with the outstanding service. These include hot and cold water in every bedroom and most efficient toilet facilities.

EATON’S caters for both bar and house patrons with the same degree of efficiency. All the very best beers, including all interstate bottled ales, wines and spirits are featured, while the bar service is renowned throughout the North. Refrigeration units and the latest equipment ensure a perfect drink at all times.

This hotel has gained the reputation of a really first-class establishment and the management prides itself on its ability to render a service second to none.

For your week-end supplies of your favorite drink, it is only necessary to ring 20 and this Hotel can deliver your order at the shortest notice.

He held the license until April, 1948 (Fri 09 Apr 1948).

Kath was always fanatical about sport, both as a spectator and supporter. Whilst running Eaton’s Hotel the couple donated annual trophies for cricket (Fri06 Feb 1942) and bowling (Tue 14 Jul 1942).

Kath and Harold had two children together:

03. Helen Mary (b. 23 Aug 1943)

04. Charles David (b. 24 Nov 1945)

There were constant visits from both sides of the family. Harold’s father, Mr. C. D. Richardson, was chief officer of the N.S.W. Fire Brigade; Fri 11 Feb 1944:

Happy re-unions have been the order at Eaton’s Hotel during the past few days. Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, parents of Mr. Harold Richardson, are visitors from Sydney. Mr. Richardson, senr., is Chief Officer of the N.S.W. Fire Brigades, and has spent part of his holiday in helping to sow a crop of potatoes on his son’s farm, and says he enjoys the work.

Yesterday, Mr. H. T. O’Neill, father of Mrs. Richardson, arrived from Port Macquarie, and was accompanied by his brother, Mr. P. J. O’Neill, of Long Flat, via Kempsey. Despite his 87 years, Mr. P. J. O’Neill is still at work, and spends three days in the saddle each week on his property, which he devotes to the breeding of beef cattle. Prior to taking up grazing pursuits he was in the hotel business for 35 years. His brother, Mr. H. T. O’Neill, engages in dairy farming, but he, too, was a hotelkeeper for many years up till 1935.

Early 1945 saw the family take some holidays, during which time the hotel was managed by Fern Arnault again (Fri 02 Mar 1945). Soon after, Harold spent some recovery time following an operation performed at Brentwood Hospital (Fri 27 Apr 1945).

In 1946 Harold and Kath made the move to Sydney, the Muswellbrook Chronicle reporting (Fri 11 Oct 1946 on a farewell gesture by Harold’s former Muswellbrook customers:

Mr. Harold Richardson received a pleasant surprise on Wednesday when presented with a fountain pen and gold pencil case by about 30 miners in recognition of courtesies extended to them when the recipient was mine host at Eaton’s hotel. The presentations were made on behalf of the miners by Messrs Cliff Budden and Roy Devine. Accepting the gifts, Mr. Richardson said he greatly appreciated the sentiments expressed by the speakers, and the gifts from his former customers.

For two years they managed the Great Northern Hotel at Chatswood while Pat had a break. Then in 1949 Harold and Kath purchased a hotel of their own, as described on Tue 8 Mar 1949:

Mr. and Mrs. Harold Richardson, who have been conducting the Great Northern Hotel, Chatswood, have taken over the Bridge View Hotel, Willoughby.

Kath describes the hotel as run down at the time, and Harold put a lot effort building it up to the standard it is today. They remained at the Bridge View Hotel until their retirement in 1961. Initially they lived in Middle Cove before moving to a unit in Darling Point.

L to R: Kath’s cousin Maris Storman (née O’Shannessy, whose mother was Catherine O’Neill, Herb’s youngest sister), Kath’s brother Jack, her mother Mary, her brother Pat, her sister Myra, a friend of Myra standing just behind her, and Harold Richardson; the RH part of the photo is below.

same photo, showing Kath’s niece Pauline and Kath’s brother Bill.

Kath and Harold took several overseas holidays together. Kath also holidayed with Myra and her sister-in-law Jess. One one occasion, in 1973/4, Kath and Jess travelled to India to join in the consecration to Bishop of a priest whom Kath had supported financially as a seminarian.

Kath and Jess also travelled to the USA to visit her son Peter, who had married and settled in Washington; back on Fri 18 Jan 1952, The Muswellbrook Chronicle reported:


Mr. Peter [Devenney], ex-Muswellbrook boy, son of Mrs. H. D. Richardson, is now making a fast tour of the world as an officer of the Australian-American Travel Bureau. The trip will extend over six weeks, and will take in Italy, France, Belgium, Germany, England and U.S.A. Inter-Continental jumps will be made by air. Both Mr. and Mrs. Richardson send regards to their many Muswellbrook friends.

Peter made several visits to Australia over the years, and sadly passed away on 28 Aug 1989 in Washington, USA. Kath tavelled to the USA again in 1999 to visit Peter’s family and Peter’s grave. Peter had married Joan G Gossam on 14 Feb 1961 but they were divorced on 17 Aug 1972. Joan was an American, the couple lived in America and had two children.

Harold was heavily involved with bowls in his retirement and passed away in 1974. Kath moved into a unit in Cremorne, and then, as a result of illness, into a self-contained unit in Justinian House at Crows Nest, run by the Mercy Sisters. In the photos below she is with the author, Mick O’Neill and Mick’s wife Christine Wheeler. On one such visit Kath described how her mother, Mary, had purchased the Coopernook Hotel for Kath and her sister Myra, though they never actually managed that hotel themselves. Evidently Mary, who was by all accounts a fine business brain herself, thought that only proper because the “boys” had The Ranch near Krambach.

There are several othere photos of Kath at the Dungog Reunion in 1994.

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