Russell James O’Neill (1901-1995)
Edith May Brain (1897-1980)
Russell James O’Neill, also known as Bob, was the ninth of 13 children of John O’Neill & Minnie Crimmins. He married Edith May Brain (b. 11 March 1897 to George Masters Brain and Mary Clarke McCrea) in Ardlethan on 8 June 1929.
Bob’s story is best told by his sons John and Russell (who is better known as Barry).
Bob was born on 11 Nov 1901 at Metz, a goldfield some 40 kms east of Armidale, close to the Metz Gorge and the village of Hillgrove.
His father John was a hotel keeper. He owned a “spring buggy” pulled by a matched pair of horses for which he was renowned for driving at high speeds. As the gold rush slackened he moved his family to a property he had purchased at Georges Creek, approximately halfway between Kempsey and Armidale. As well as being the local postmaster, he introduced a motorised mail service to Kempsey.
Bob’s father John held a liquor licence and set up a wine outlet at the family home at Georges Creek. A police officer was also stationed in the vicinity which often proved handy. Bob and his sibs grew up with Aboriginals and had a great respect for them.
The property at Georges Creek was situated at the bottom of “The Big Hill” on a single lane road heading towards Armidale. The property was hilly and only suitable for the grazing and breeding of cattle and horses. To get the stock to the Armidale sales the stock had to be driven. Bob often assisted the family with the drive. On one such occasion, as the stock passed through the small village of Wollomombi, Bob’s horse bolted and ran into a chemist shop, stopping with its head over the counter. Bob at age 12, managed to manoeuvre the horse out without any damage.
They also grew quite a lot of corn. They had crushers there and the grain was fed to cattle. The property also had excellent timber – cedar was dominate in the early days. The boys remember their Dad describing how he used to take cats in a bag and let them free when he went up the mountain, and how the brothers used to gallop down the mountain spurs. Bob used to say that the Upper Macleay district produced three or four Superintendants of Police – although in country NSW, because of large families, large numbers of young folk became school teachers, nurses and policemen, probably the same for all of country Australia. Barry remembers Uncle Noel Kirkby trying to get Pop to go in with him with finance to go get the Cedar that was left behind as it was too difficult to get out of the mountains.
Bob recalled one occasion when Bob’s brother Mick had the responsibility of carrying his baby niece Joan Murray (née Rafferty) on horseback to her new home at Georges Creek.
Bob joined the police force in 1924. He was first stationed at Forbes as a mounted policeman. While investigating cattle duffing (rustling), an ongoing problem in the area, he visited Tottenham and met bush nurse Edith May Brain whom he eventually married.
In 1928 he was transferred to the Criminal Investigation branch in Sydney working as a plain clothes detective, working his way up through the ranks to become an Inspector. He oversaw “The 21 Division”, a group formed to deal with problems in the Kings Cross area. One member of this group was “Bumper” Farrell, a huge man who played rugby league as a front row forward. In 1945 “Bumper” was accused of biting off another player’s ear. He strongly denied this saying “he didn’t have his teeth in”. Bob said “If Bumper had his teeth out and you placed a finger in his mouth, you would have lost a finger”.
He was transferred to Lismore as superintendent in 1958 retiring in 1961 due to ill health. This district extended from the Queensland border to just outside Newcastle. Bob told that as superintendent in Lismore it was part of his duties to check the licences from the 17 pubs in the area. He had a reputation as a very sober gentleman as he only had one beer in each pub.
John describes a humorous aspect of Bob while a detective in Sydney:
Tilly Devine controlled half the brothels in Sydney. Tilly also lived several blocks away from our home in Maroubra (about 300-400 m distance) on the corner of Torrington Rd and Malabar Rd. Tilly gave frequent parties at her home. At some time in the night when she was tired of it, or for some other reason, she would ring Dad to come up and clear them out. Always lots of language.
Tilly’s husband was a merchant ship deck hand and I think a very docile person. Tilly also looked after a young girl reputed to belong to her sister or some relation. Every election day the polling booth was about 30 m from her house. Unfortunately, this booth did not include Tilly’s house and she needed to vote elsewhere. Lots of language resulted. I frequently was on duty handing out who-to-vote-for flyers and frequently drove her down to another booth. While in my car she never made objectionable choices of words except directed at the politicians. She could be nice!
Bob was awarded a medal for Exemplary Police Service in 1957 and the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service on 10 June 1961.
Bob & Edith’s family:
01. John James, (b. 25 Dec 1930, d. 20 Dec 2017)
02. Russell Barry, (b. 22 June 1933, d. 20 Feb 2014)
Edith died in 1980 and Bob in 1995 at the Allandale Hospital, Cessnock NSW, and are both in a single grave in the Aberdare Cemetery.
Above. Three early photos of Bob and Edith and their two sons John and Russell (known as Barry):
Bob on duty; and (last 3) an older Bob and Edith: