John James

John James O’Neill (1930-2017)
Patricia Mary Boulton (1931-2010)

John James O’Neill is the older son of Russell James O’Neill & Edith May Brain. He was born in Sydney and married Patricia Mary Boulton in 1957.

John story is best told in his own words:

The Early Years

I was born on Christmas Day in 1930.

My earliest memories are of living in a rented house at 79 Torrington Road, Maroubra (a suburb of Sydney). This would have been in the early 1930’s. My mother’s brother Roy, his wife and son Roderick lived there as well (Roderick being slightly older than myself). Uncle Pat (Patrick O’Neill) also lived there for a short period during this time.

I have memories as a small boy of walking along the cliff tops with Uncle Roy. Uncle Roy, who was not comfortable with heights, used bulrushes (a long, coarse grass) to control my wanderings.

Our house was about 50 metres from Marine Parade, the main road which followed the coastline to Maroubra Beach about one kilometre away.

Times were tough during the depression. My father, Russell James O’Neill ‘Bob’, was a policeman. His wages were paid out of the education budget. My brother Russell Barry, better known as Barry was born in 1933.

Numerous woman and their children frequented the beach while their husbands looked for work. It would appear that I would have nothing to do with the girls on the beach.

We were given a tricycle which was too big for me. This problem was overcome by lying on the seat and propelling the bike using my legs. This technique twisted my legs, requiring steel braces to be fitted each morning to correct the deformity. I had to wear these braces for what seemed like 100 years. I remember, while still a very small boy in leg braces, wandering up the street to wait for the bus. Bob, the driver, would say, “Have you a penny?” (which I never had). He would drive me down to our house while I held on to a support bar. About 10 years later I went to the bus terminus to catch the bus home from the beach. I was surprised when the driver said “Hello, I’m Bob. Are your legs OK now?” This episode has stayed firmly in my memory.

John, dressed for his first Communion, with Bob

The sewer system had not yet reached the suburbs and the dunny cart operators removed and replaced the “dunnies” weekly. One particular fellow was always in trouble and blamed for leaving the bolted gates undone, allowing me to wander out of the yard. Eventually, I was caught using a long stick to let myself out. When the sewer was being built the trenches became another easy way of escape.

I attended Saint Peter Clavers, a church school situated about half way to the beach area. My cousin Roderick went to the public school closer to the beach area. The desks for the school, when adjusted, became pews for the Mass. The nuns travelled from Maroubra Junction by bus, then walked up the hill to the school.

As the school day ended we met up with boys walking up the hill from the public school. This frequently ended up in a ‘donnybrook’. Having my cousin Roderick in the other group helped me considerably.

Boys attended Saint Peter Clavers for Kindergarten, first and second class, then passed on to Marist Brothers at Randwick.

At the beginning of WWII my mother decided to take my brother Barry and me away from Sydney due to fears about our safety. We went to a ‘one horse town’ called Burcher, which is in central NSW. We stayed there for 12 months. Mum became a bush nurse. Barry and I attended the local school where we felt out of place at first as we were the only kids in the school wearing shoes.

I remember becoming an alter boy and did what most boys do. I enjoyed swimming, body surfing, rock fishing and climbing rock cliffs. Water activities were always high on our list of priorities. There was a rock pool at the bottom of our street where we learnt to swim by watching the older boys. We considered ourselves ‘expert’ when we could swim approx 15 metres across the corner without stopping or touching the bottom. We played with yo yos, rode scooters down the sloping roads, made our own kites and played marbles by drawing a circle in the middle of the street. We played seasonal cricket, football and rounders (a game similar to base ball).

One of my preferred activities was grass ‘skiing’. This was achieved by bending a fence paling on one end (by leaving it forced between a brick wall and the grass for a couple of weeks). A small piece of wood was nailed on to this ‘ski’ to stop your feet sliding forward. The ‘skis’ were ridden down the slight grassy slopes at the end of Inman Street.

Growing Up – Grown Up

I finished formal school at the end of third year, aged 15. I was apprenticed to welding and boiler making with Australian Glass Manufacturers at Waterloo. I travelled by push bike down Alison Road, passing Randwick Race Course. It was common practice at this time to ride behind the double decker buses, using their slipstream to reduce effort.

It was routine for the boys to go to the pictures on a Friday night. We travelled by bus. On one occasion one of the boys caught the bus accompanied by a girl …. You could not imagine the shock this gave us all! Not a word was spoken in the bus and it completely spoilt our night out.

Although ‘living on the beach’, I never joined a surf club. It could have been that I didn’t drink or that I joined a pipe band of the Irish National Association. A pipe band takes full commitment, dominating one’s interest and conversation. I played with them for years. The left hand photo is of the Cessnock Pipe Band playing in Newcastle, the right hand photo is the Irish Pipe band at Waverly Cemetery:

I bought a two stroke BSA Bantam motor bike which extended my activities until I wore it out. My next bike was an AJS (a larger machine) which I used to ride to work. My first car was a Morris single seat tourer with a soft top that leaked. The bumper bar, at one stage, was tied up with string and the petrol tank leaked. Chewing gum was not very effective in repairing the leak so I could only put a small amount of petrol in the tank and top it up from a reserve container in the car. Around Coogee some of the streets were very steep. The car had to be backed up the hill and I remember on one occasion backing on to a taxi that had stopped on the tram line.(I couldn’t see out of the back window). There were no repercussions from this incident. I traded the Morris in on an Austin A30. The dealer told me later that the gear box fell out of the Morris shortly afterwards.

My beautiful picture

I spent a lot of time attending trade courses, mainly in Tech Colleges, continuing this love of learning to the present day.

I belonged to a CYO (Catholic Youth Organisation) at Randwick which was very active and involved with, amongst other activities, learning to ballroom dance. I attended dances right across Sydney and started meeting girls.

I met my future wife, Patricia Boulton, at one of these dances and married her in 1957. We were piped out of the church by members of the Irish pipes and drums. Pat was not exactly the girl next door but lived within half a kilometer from our home in Inman St.

L-R: Barry O’Neill, Eileen Boulton (Pat’s mum), Sandra (Edith’s cousin), Pat, Edith’s father Cliff (Pardy) Boulton, John and John’s parents Bob & Edith.

We lived for 12 months with my parents, then brought a house at 934 King Georges Rd in South Hurstville where they lived until 1970. Note the old Combi in the driveway which I sold to my brother-in-law Peter who only sold it recently to an avid collector!

Selection of family photos


John with Pat … and with Barry & Bob




Work Wise

I have worked in various fields including metal fabrication, maintenance and ship repair as well as part time TAFE teaching. My last job before becoming a full time TAFE teacher was quality control at a steel pipe construction firm.

I was initially appointed to St George’s College at Kogarah in 1966. One of the requirements of teaching at TAFE during this period was that you had to commit to six years at a country College. I was given the choice of Wollongong, Cessnock , Wagga Wagga and Newcastle. I selected Cessnock and moved the family there in 1970. We never moved back to Sydney. We bought an old house at 108 Congewai Street, Cessnock. The house only had one power point which was attached to the lighting system. We put a lot of loving care and hard work into this house to make it our home.

Hobbies and Interests

I continued my love of the bagpipes and joined the local pipe band in Cessnock. While at my brother Barry’s home at Speers Point one New Years Eve, he decided it would be good idea to take his boat out on Lake Macquarie. Barry took his boat around the foreshore while I played the pipes. I believe that the sound of the pipes carried far in the still evening air. The local ferry stopped and loaded us up with food. Further around the lake a party was in progress to which we were invited. The elderly mother of the host of the party was bedridden and insisted that the pipes be played through the house to her bedroom. This really made her night. We had to promise to return the following year but unfortunately never made it.

One of my hobbies was bee keeping. I had 3 hives in the back yard and I enjoyed watching the bees at work. We collected more than enough honey for ourselves and were able to sell some. One of my neighbours was stung, so I decided to shift them out to an orchard at Broke, a 20 minute drive away. Transporting them in my Kombi Van, I encountered a slight problem as I had not properly secured one of the hives. The whole inside of the van was filled with thousands of bees, and I had no visibility through the front windscreen. After securing the hive many of the bees returned (in time) and although the van still contained many bees, it had sufficiently cleared enough to allow me to see out of the front window.

I was occasionally called upon to collect swarms of bees from people’s yards. I missed the enjoyment of being able to watch the bees in my own backyard. I didn’t miss the lawn mower cuttings spraying on to the hives and aggravating the bees.

I was assistant coach of my son’s soccer team for several years.

I enjoyed working with wood, making small items and woodturning. I also enjoyed home brewing, starting with ginger beer and progressing to beer and spirits.

Pat always enjoyed gardening. Our home was renown for its gardens and vegetable patch which Pat managed with negligible assistance from me.


Both Pat and I spent many years volunteering at St Vincent de Paul. Pat repaired and dressed donated dolls and our clothes lines consistently displayed dolls clothes and soft toys which had been washed. While still teaching I worked on the St Vinnie’s truck of a weekend, after retirement increasing to week days as well.

I have been doing Tai Chi for the last 10 years, and still enjoy it although I don’t get to practice much because I am to busy reading books.


John, John’s brother Barry, Pat and Barry’s wife Pam in 2008.

John and Pat had three children (Helen, Kerry and Stephen).

Travelling Around

After my retirement in 1991, Pat and I, together with my brother Barry and Pam, travelled to Tasmania, Central Australia and most of Western Australia.

After these trips Pat & I decided to travel to Cairns, stopping at various places of interest along the way, enjoying the diversity of people, scenery and experiences.

When we reached Banana, (a cross road whistle stop), we rang my cousin John O’Neill whom I had never met. His wife Del answered the phone, it just so happened that John and his son were currently in Banana loading cattle. After contacting them, we were invited to visit their grazing property ‘Nyanda’ at Rolleston which backs onto Canarvan Gorge.

While staying in the caravan park at Banana, we were unprepared for the cold night weather. I don’t think we have ever been so cold. I remember using the cushions off the caravan seats to try to keep warm.

We spent a pleasant couple of days at ‘Nyanda’, moved on to Emerald to buy blankets, then toured the region hoping to find some sapphires at Rubyvale.

Our travels took us as far west as Mount Isa and as far North as Karumba, near Normanton, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, as I was keen to swim in the gulf. Fortunately someone had placed a sign warning that crocodiles inhabit this estuary, so I changed my mind.

After ten weeks travelling we were keen to get home and see the grandchildren (as seen here with Jackson, and with Alex).

Later Life

My father and mother (Russell & Edith O’Neill) came to live with us in the late 1970’s. We built a larger home at 105 Melbourne St, Cessnock, to accommodate my parents as well as our three children. Pat’s father Cliff, (James Boulton) known as Pardy, also lived with us for several years. Mum (Edith) died in 1980 and Pardy in 1987. Pat and I cared for my father (Russ) over the next 12 years before he was admitted to Allandale nursing home. He died in 1995.

The following group photo shows Pardy (as Pat’s father Cliff was known), Pat, John and Edith outside the Melbourne St house:

My parents enjoyed the more relaxed lifestyle of Cessnock after their more formal life in Sydney. My father, who had worn long pants all his life, actually wore shorts and my mother felt comfortable in slacks.

I had a Labrador dog called Mr Duke who became my father’s (Russ) constant companion. Although quite frail and having poor sight, Russ regularly took the dog for a walk through the bush which was a constant worry to Pat. Mr Duke, the slow and gentle lab, regularly arrived home with a snake. To observe the dog’s technique in killing the snake was quite an education. When Pat went out she always asked on her return if the dog had been on the bed. The answer of course was always no. The visible dog hairs on the bed seemed to disagree.

I also planted from seed the many Jacaranda trees that line the road in Melbourne Street, and used to maintain this area on my ride-on mower. Here are images of before and after the bushfire that encroached on the house in January 2013:

It used to please Dad (Russ) in the cooler months to sit in the car with the windows up, enjoy the warmth of the sun and have a nap. On his walks he would drop in to the local hotel (to rest). He used to say that he always travelled a different route so that the neighbours wouldn’t think he was a drinker.

Pat worked extensively on our family trees and organised the first gathering of descendants of William O’Neill & Johanna Flaherty which was held in Dungog in 1994.

Pat and I enjoyed spending time with our 8 grandchildren, Kate, Danielle, Michael, James, Elizabeth, Alex, Jackson and Hollie.

Pat died in 2010 following a battle with cancer. We nursed her at home with the help of the family and support of palliative care.

My great grand daughter Ellie was born in 2011, so the cycle continues.

John passed away peacefully at home on 20 Dec 2017.

His daughters Helen and Kerry gave the following wonderful eulogy at the Celebration of the life of John James O’Neill at St Joseph’s Catholic Church, Cessnock. The pronouns have been changed to Christian names to clarify the identities for historic purposes:


John would have felt honoured today that his great niece, Jordyn, sang the entrance hymn Amazing Grace. Thanks, Jordy. At Pat’s funeral, seven years ago, we delivered the eulogy. John timed us and critiqued our delivery. We hope to do him proud today.


John James O’Neill was born on Christmas day 1930 in Enfield, Sydney. He was the elder of two boys born to Russ and Edith O’Neill, his brother Russell Barry (known as Barry) following in 1933. Russ and Edith set up home at 79 Torrington Rd Maroubra, moving to a new home they built, just around the corner, at 26 Inman Street when John was about 8 years old. The boys grew up in Maroubra within walking distance of the beach where they spent many enjoyable hours swimming and body surfing. John commenced school at St Peter Clavers in Maroubra before transferring to Marist Brothers Marcellin College in Randwick, where he completed his intermediate certificate, leaving school at age 15.

Their childhood in Sydney was broken with the fear of Japanese invasion during WW2 and Edith, concerned for their safety, took the two boys to Burcher, a one-horse town in central NSW. She worked as a midwife and bush nurse while Russ remained in Sydney working as a policeman. John remembered this period fondly and recalled that that he and Barry were dressed up for their first day at school with shoes polished but quickly adjusted to the norm of bare feet. They enjoyed the freedom of the bush, swimming in the dam, rabbiting and playing on the empty goods trains.

As a young boy in Sydney, John was sent, by himself, on a tram all the way to Central Station to collect a live chicken which was sent every Christmas from Aunt Laura’s property at Ardlethan. One year he was informed by railway staff there was no record of any such chicken. He returned home only to be told by his mum that there was a chicken and to go back straightaway to get it. She was right.

John was apprenticed to Australian Glass Manufacturers at Waterloo, commencing his apprenticeship in welding before transferring to boiler making. He worked for NSW Railways and the Naval Dockyard at Garden Island. John also worked for various factory maintenance companies and structural engineering firms. He rode his pushbike to work for many years. Once he got to Randwick he’d hold on to the back of a bus for a free ride past the racecourse and along ANZAC Parade.

John upgraded to a motorbike, slightly safer than behind the bus. His first motorbike was a two stroke BSA Bantam. He then progressed to an AJS. His first car, an old two-seater Morris had a soft-top that leaked and a bumper tied on with string. It didn’t have enough power to handle steep hills, so John would drive up in reverse. The springs on the car rubbed against the petrol tank causing leaks, which he patched with chewing gum. This wasn’t very effective so he could only put a small amount of petrol in the tank, which he topped up from a reserve container he carried in the car. The old Morris was eventually upgraded to an Austin A30 then an Austin Somerset.

John was active in the labour party and recalled driving Tilly Devine to the correct polling booth on more than one occasion. It was easier to take her there and back than suffer her verbal abuse. Tilly lived up the road in Maroubra and often rang Pop (Russ) in the middle of the night to remove guests that had outstayed their welcome at some of her infamous parties. John met his future wife, Patricia Boulton, at a dance and their relationship blossomed through their mutual love of ballroom dancing. They married on 19th October 1957 and bought their first home at 934 King George’s Rd, South Hurstville. Helen was born in 1959, followed by Kerry in 1961 and Stephen in 1963.

In 1956, John began teaching on a part-time basis at Bankstown Tech College. At times, he was working up to 3 part-time jobs to support his growing family. In 1966 he was appointed as a full-time teacher at St George Tech College at Kogarah, also teaching classes at Gymea and Bankstown. In 1970, as part of his employment conditions, he undertook 6 years country service, choosing Cessnock because of its proximity to Barry’s family in Newcastle.

John had traded in his old Austin for a brand new 1966 Kombi, which served the family well for many years. There was no seat in the back and we kids bounced around on the back ledge. The family enjoyed a wonderful holiday opal mining at Lightening Ridge. All of us slept in the Kombi, Pat and John on two fold-out banana lounges in the middle, Helen across the front seat, Stephen and Kerry begrudgingly sharing a cot mattress on the engine cover at the back. Helen learnt to drive in the Kombi, which was later sold to Pat’s brother Peter. Apparently, after a couple of new motors, the Kombi is still going. John was always happy to transport our friends around, Maitland Show being one of the highlights of the year. A flooded Tester’s Hollow was no barrier for John, as long as we opened the side door to monitor how deep the water was getting.

John and Pat bought a renovator’s delight at 109 Congewai Street, Aberdare for under $4000 with one power point, one fuse and no hot water. They built the current family home in Melbourne Street during 1978 to accommodate John’s parents, Russ and Edith, as well as Pat’s father, Cliff. They cared for their parents for more than 12 years.

Many happy weekends were spent visiting our cousins at Speers Point. Our parents fished, prawned and played 500 while the kids swam in the lake and played stuck-in the mud. One New Year’s Eve, Barry took his boat around the foreshore while John played the bagpipes. The sound of the pipes travelled far in the still evening air. They attracted the attention of “The Wangi Queen”, a local sightseeing ferry, then were invited on board and offered food and refreshments. On their return they were asked to come into a house to play the pipes for an elderly, bedridden woman, which really made her night.

John loved his job in the TAFE system, based at Cessnock but also travelling to other facilities including Kurri, Singleton and Muswellbrook. Some of his students included inmates from Cessnock Corrective Centre, one of which escaped after one of his lessons. Another failed to be picked up by Corrective Services and was left shivering on the TAFE steps until his absence was noted at the 2am rounds. At the end of John’s 6 years country service our parents chose to remain in Cessnock. They had become a part of the community and enjoyed the slower pace of life. John was well respected by staff and students, and was affectionately known as ‘Father John’. He said the staff was excellent to work with and many lifelong friendships were formed during this time. He retired as head teacher of welding during 1991.

Throughout his life, John had many interests. He always maintained his love of Irish music. As a young man in Sydney he learnt to play the bagpipes and played for many years with the Irish National Pipe Band, joining the Cessnock Pipe Band in the early 1970’s. Tuning the bagpipes attracted singing from our dogs, or perhaps, howls of complaint. The bagpipes also came out at night if John thought Helen and Gary stayed too long in the car outside the house.

During the 1970’s, despite knowing very little about soccer, John coached Stephen’s Aberdare Rangers Under 7 soccer team. He also pursued an interest in beekeeping. Once he encountered a slight problem when transporting active hives, as one of them wasn’t secured properly. The inside of the car filled with thousands of bees and he had no visibility through the windscreen. John’s early explosive experiments with brewing ginger beer led him, and Barry, to bigger and better things with the production of home brew in the 80’s and a dabble with moonshine in the 90’s. Visitors were discouraged from using the bathroom at this time due to its resemblance to a distillery.

Pat and John were active members of St Vincent de Paul; John initially working on the truck and in later years joining Pat in the shop. He regularly attended mass and our parents enjoyed many outings with members of the Church’s family group. After retirement, John and Pat spent time travelling extensively around Australia with Barry and his wife Pam. He also enrolled in many TAFE courses, enjoying cooking lessons and struggling with the beginner’s computer course, which he repeated three times. Many enjoyable hours were spent receiving and forwarding emails, which enabled him to keep in contact with friends and family.

When John was in his 70’s Helen introduced him to Tai Chi, which came with the added benefit of meeting new friends. He continued long after she dropped out thanks to the support of Mary Brown who would take him to and from lessons. John has always enjoyed water activities. He taught learn to swim classes during school holidays, and during his 80’s John commenced ‘Robotics’, or as it’s more commonly known, Aqua Aerobics. He very much enjoyed these sessions and the companionship of new friends. He continued ‘Aqua Robotics’ until he was 85 when ill health caused his early retirement.

John loved attending bus outings with Community Transport, especially those involving lunch. He loved all food, particularly anything that should be avoided on a diabetic, weight reduction diet. These trips gave him another social outlet and he very much appreciated the friendships he formed. He quite happily accepted the role of the bus’s alpha male and welcomed the attention of the predominantly female travellers.

John had the perfect men’s shed and never threw anything out in case it might be useful. He was a self-taught handyman and was regularly called upon to make or repair items for family and friends. He could do wonders with wood and metal, anything he made was solid as a rock and built to last.

John was always an avid reader and collector of books. He had an extensive library and enjoyed reading until the end. Helen’s attempts to tidy his library took hours, as he wanted to tell her details about every book.

John was often seen in his favourite position on the front veranda, book in hand alternating reading, admiring the view and having a doze.  He was proud of the Jacaranda trees he had propagated and planted along Melbourne St. He would wave to passers-by, observe the comings and goings of life in the paddock, the encroaching bushfires, the efforts of fire fighters and the frequent roadworks conveniently located in front of his house.

John helped the family to care for his wife Pat during her battle with cancer. Pat passed peacefully at home in December 2010. As roles reversed, he had to learn how to do things that Pat usually managed. He valued his independence and didn’t want to be a burden to others. He did what he could and still enjoyed helping in the garden from the comfort of his scooter.

In recent years life at home meant reliance on family, friends and service providers. To those people, and the many others who helped him, we would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude.

Thank you to Dr Holly and all the wonderful girls at the surgery and Douglas Pathology who have looked after John for so long; as well as Jenny, his house keeper for many years, who somehow managed to get her work done while John was intent on having a friendly chat.

Mary Anne and her late father Tony welcomed John into their circle of family and friends. He very much enjoyed their company and used any excuse to drive his scooter around the corner for a chat. Mary Anne’s dogs Taylor and Tessie regularly came to visit and were content to treat his home as their own, much to John’s delight.

John also enjoyed the company of his neighbour, Bill, and spent many enjoyable hours watching his pigeons circling above.

With the passing of time old friends and neighbours were replaced with new. John always made the effort to welcome people to the area and loved to stop and chat when passing by on his scooter. As his health deteriorated we were blessed that he had such good friends and neighbours to keep an eye out for him and assist in times of need.

John looked forward to Kerry’s visits on Saturdays – because it was ‘Pub Day’. He usually had the scooter out early and greeted her at the door, wallet and keys in hand. John competently negotiated the obstacle course on the way to the beer garden while other vehicles negotiated around his tendency to hog the road. Anyone accompanying them quickly learnt not to walk in front of the scooter.

John loved and was deeply loved by his family. He was a devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Multiple generations remember swimming, sleepovers, feeding the horses, helping in the shed, and driving the ride-on lawnmower and mobility scooter around the yard. He often selected books that he thought his family would enjoy, wanting to share his love of reading.

John liked to keep up with current events and politics, Q&A and the News being his favourite TV shows. He tried to keep his mind active and spent many hours doing Sudoku puzzles, and later as these became more difficult, find a words and simple jigsaw puzzles.  He often won Chinese checkers, his years of playing chess helping his strategic planning.

There was rarely a period in John’s life that he was without a dog. It was only last year that he lost Molly, his beloved companion dog. John inherited the O’Neill trait of knowing exactly what each dog was thinking and voiced their thoughts with an appropriate accent. He was always drawn to dogs and dogs, as good judges of character, were always drawn to him.

Throughout his life John had endeared himself to people with his friendly, helpful nature. Everyone who had the privilege to know him came to love him.  He was a kind and generous man who rarely had a bad word to say about anybody and was renowned for always having a smile on his face. John was a glass half full type of person. He preferred that glass to be half full of red wine and never paid more than $5 for a bottle.

Although his health and memory were failing, he always considered himself to be ‘in perfect health’, even when regaining consciousness after collapsing. For the past few years Helen and Stephen have visited John daily to allow him to continue to live a full and rich life. For this Kerry expressed eternal gratitude. We didn’t expect John to be around in 2017 so, although he didn’t quite make his 87th birthday at Christmas, every day this past year has been a blessing.

A couple of months ago, Kerry dreamt she saw Pat waiting at a bus stop outside their home. When she told John, he said that he’d had a vivid dream about Pat on the same night. John died peacefully at home with the hint of a smile on his face. Perhaps he had caught that bus.



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