Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sullivan, Michael Joseph (1894–1974)

by Cathy Chua

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Michael Joseph Sullivan (1894-1974), bridge player, publicist and administrator, was born on 9 August 1894 at Christmas Creek, near Beaudesert, Queensland, elder son of Irish-born parents Martin Sullivan (d.1904), farmer, and his wife Mary, née Smith. Educated at Christmas Creek State School and St Joseph's College, Nudgee, Brisbane, Mick topped the senior commercial class in 1908 and gained first place in the Queensland shorthand examination. He then worked on the family farm. At St Joseph's Catholic Church, Christmas Creek, on 25 June 1919 he married Catherine Honora Cahill. In 1922 the farm was sold. He opened a furniture and sports store at Southport in partnership with his brother and became president (1924) of the local chamber of commerce. An able administrator, he helped to found the United South Coast Rugby League competition and the district tennis association.

Sullivan's wife died in 1930, leaving him with four children to raise. His business failed during the Depression and he moved to Brisbane. Unable to find permanent employment, he took a string of odd jobs. To sustain his spirit, he began to play auction bridge, and then contract bridge. In 1932 he and W. F. R. Boyce formed the Brisbane Bridge Club. A strong player, Sullivan won many State and national championships, including the Australia and New Zealand Olympiad (1937 and 1939) and—with Harold Hiley—the Australian open pairs championship (1943, 1950 and 1956). His articles in Brisbane and provincial newspapers, and his weekly radio programme with Boyce in 1941, helped to promote the game at the local level, and to provide him with a small income. He also ran a café in Brisbane for some years.

Tournament director of the Queensland Bridge Association in 1938-52, Sullivan aimed to bring Australia into international competition. Although 'world championships' were occasionally held, participation was confined to a few select countries. Sullivan was convinced that Australian players could compete at international level. His articles in the American Bridge World, the British Bridge Magazine and the European Bridge Review urged the establishment of a genuinely international bridge organization and a genuinely open world championship. To demonstrate the level of skill of Australian players he organized a world par contest in 1951 in conjunction with the fiftieth anniversary of Australian Federation. Prepared in advance with particular problems to be solved, hands were sent to venues in Australia and overseas to be played simultaneously. The standard of hands came as a revelation to foreign contestants, though typical of those used locally. Australian players won first, second and fourth places.

In 1958 Sullivan represented the Australian Bridge Council at a meeting in Oslo that led to the formation of the World Bridge Federation. Appointed to its inaugural council, he chaired the constitution committee. In 1960 he helped to set up, and played in, the international bridge Olympiad at Turin, Italy. He was involved in planning the W.B.F. par championships in 1961 and 1963, and was joint-formulator (1963) of the rules of par point contract bridge. In July 1974 he was made an honorary life member of the Australian Bridge Federation. Survived by his son and two of his three daughters, he died on 29 December 1974 at Beaudesert and was buried in Christmas Creek cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • Golden Jubilee of St Joseph's College, Nudgee, 1891-1941 (Brisb, 1941)
  • C. Chua, The History of Australian Bridge 1930-1990 (Canb, 1993)
  • C. Masters (ed), Mind Games (Brisb, 1999)
  • Australian Bridge, 6, no 1, Feb 1975, p 2
  • Northern Star (Lismore), 1 May 1939
  • private information.

Citation details

Cathy Chua, 'Sullivan, Michael Joseph (1894–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sullivan-michael-joseph-11801/text21113, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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