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O'Malley, Louis James (Jim) (1912–1975)

by Chris Ballard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Louis James (Jim) O'Malley (1912-1975), public servant and explorer, was born on 23 January 1912 at Hunters Hill, Sydney, youngest of the three sons of native-born parents John Joseph O'Malley, storeman, and his wife Amelia Henrietta, née Nattey. His mother died in 1913. With his brothers, Jim was raised in Sydney by an aunt brought from Perth by their uncle James Thomas O'Malley, later commissioner for native affairs in Papua. The three boys attended Holy Cross College, Ryde, after which Jim worked briefly as a jackeroo near Orange.

Following an offer from Sir Hubert Murray, O'Malley visited Papua in 1929 and took up a temporary position under his uncle as inspector in the Department of Native Affairs. At Kikori in 1931 he met Jack Hides, who was gaining a reputation as an energetic 'outside man'. When O'Malley was appointed patrol officer in the magisterial branch in 1933, he was immediately assigned to accompany Hides to Kairuku. Their first patrol together that year, in the Kunimaipa Valley, won them commendations from Murray and the Prime Minister's Department, Canberra. In 1934 Murray chose Hides and O'Malley to explore the large region between the Strickland and Purari rivers.

The two explorers complemented each other: Hides was slight, O'Malley strongly built; Hides 'restless, impulsive and dashing', O'Malley calm and methodical. The patrol through the southern fringes of the Central Highlands endured harsh conditions and considerable loss of life, capturing the imagination of the press, which lionized Hides and O'Malley on their return to Australia. The quieter O'Malley shied away from the attention. Yet he showed enduring loyalty to Hides, who enjoyed the public adulation, though it was to earn him detractors in Papua.

O'Malley's postings to the stations from which he patrolled the difficult Kukukuku, Goilala and Kunimaipa areas in 1935-38 indicated the esteem in which his superiors held him. Between 1938 and 1940 he was transferred in turn to Misima, Samarai and Baniara. In 1941 he returned to patrol in Goilala, where he remained as assistant resident magistrate until he was mobilized in the Militia on 21 March 1942 as acting lieutenant, Australian New Guinea Administrative Unit. He patrolled extensively in the Kairuku and Kunimaipa areas, and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in 1943. Promoted major in March 1945, he was placed on the Reserve of Officers on 16 November.

After World War II O'Malley was appointed district officer and magistrate in Port Moresby. There, on 23 June 1949 at the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, he married Vere Pauline, whose father John Esmond Brien had been Murray's private secretary. Following his marriage, O'Malley was posted to Gulf District as district officer. He served at Kerema and Kikori. In 1958 he was appointed district commissioner, Manus District. He stayed there until he retired to Sydney in 1968. Survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, he died of acute myocardial infarction on 10 February 1975 at his Killarney Heights home and was buried in Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. P. Sinclair, The Outside Man (Melb, 1969)
  • F. West (ed), Selected Letters of Hubert Murray (Melb, 1970)
  • E. L. Schieffelin and R. Crittenden, Like People You See in a Dream (Stanford, California, US, 1991)
  • Pacific Islands Monthly, 22 May 1936, June 1942, July 1949
  • O'Malley's patrol reports (privately held).

Citation details

Chris Ballard, 'O'Malley, Louis James (Jim) (1912–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/omalley-louis-james-jim-11303/text20173, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 16 July 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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