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John Xavier O'Driscoll (1903–1977)

by J. Neville Turner

This article was published:

John Xavier O'Driscoll (1903-1977), barrister, judge and sporting administrator, was born on 6 September 1903 at Coburg, Melbourne, second child of Eugene Andrew O'Driscoll, a clerk from Ireland, and his Victorian-born wife Gertrude Hannah, née Harnetty. John was educated at Christian Brothers' College, East Melbourne, and the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1923; LL.B., 1924; LL.M., 1926).

In 1921 O'Driscoll won the intervarsity mile (1.6 km) in Brisbane (in a time of 4 minutes, 42 seconds) and competed for the combined universities' team against South Africa. While living at Newman College, he won the Dixson scholarship in pure mathematics (1923), a Blue for athletics and the college debating prize. From 1925 to 1933 he was a resident tutor at Newman in pure mathematics and in law; he was president of the Newman Old Boys' Association (1935) and of the university's Newman Society.

Having been articled in 1925 to Luke Murphy & Co., O'Driscoll was admitted to the Victorian Bar on 2 March 1927 and gradually built up a varied practice. On 5 January 1933 at Newman College chapel he married Marie Bridget Canny. He enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force on 30 March 1942 and was commissioned two months later in the Administrative and Special Duties Branch. For his work as a judge-advocate at courts martial in the R.A.A.F.'s North-Western Area, he was mentioned in dispatches. He was demobilized from the air force on 2 April 1946 as acting squadron leader. Back in Melbourne, he tutored (1947-49) at the university's law school and took silk in 1948. He was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1934 and to the Tasmanian Bar in 1953, and was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple, London, in 1952. A popular barrister, he specialized in common law and helped to establish Sir Owen Dixon Chambers.

O'Driscoll also developed a particular expertise in licensing law: with (Sir) Kevin Anderson, he revised (1952) J. S. Meagher's book, Licensing Law and Practice in Victoria (Melbourne, 1935). In 1963 he was appointed a judge of the County Court and chairman of General Sessions. Two years later he was gazetted chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board. As chairman (from 1968) of the newly established Liquor Control Commission, he was asked by Sir Arthur Rylah to visit every hotel in the State. The commission was largely responsible for reforming Victoria's liquor laws after the abolition of the 'six o'clock swill'. Empowered to order publicans to make improvements, the commission did much to transform the appearance and cleanliness of hotels throughout the State.

A tall and fit man, O'Driscoll retained his interest in sport: he was a fine golfer and an A-grade tennis player. He chaired (1928-57) the Victorian Amateur Athletic Association, and was active in the Lawn Tennis Association of Victoria (member 1932-62) and the L.T.A. of Australia (member 1963-68, vice-president 1966-67). In addition, he was a founder (1938) of the Victorian State Council for Physical Fitness (later National Fitness Council of Victoria) and a member (1948 and 1954-77) of the Australian Olympic Federation.

At the request of the lord mayor of Melbourne, O'Driscoll had been an observer at the Olympic Games in Helsinki in 1952. He sat on the committee which oversaw Melbourne's hosting of the games in 1956 and, with his support, the modern pentathlon was included in the programme. In 1960 he captained (as a non-competitor) Australia's modern pentathlon team at the Olympic Games in Rome. Appointed O.B.E. in 1959, he was awarded the International Modern Pentathlon Union's medal of honour in 1966. During his presidency (1954-69) of the Australian M.P.U., the world pentathlon championships were held in Melbourne in 1966.

A devoted Catholic, O'Driscoll retained his love of Newman College, served (from 1955) on its council and rarely missed an old boys' function. In July 1975 he retired from the bench. Survived by his wife and daughter, he died on 19 June 1977 at Toorak and was buried in Springvale cemetery. He bequeathed part of his law library to Newman College. Paul Fitzgerald's portrait of O'Driscoll is held by the family.

Select Bibliography

  • E. E. Hewitt, Judges Through the Years (Melb, 1984)
  • K. Anderson, Fossil in the Sandstone (Melb, 1986)
  • H. Gordon, Australia and the Olympic Games (Brisb, 1994)
  • Australian Bar Gazette, Oct 1963
  • Australian Law Journal, 37, 1963, 49, 1975, 51, 1977
  • Herald (Melbourne), 4 Sept, 3 Dec 1975, 20 June 1977
  • private information.

Citation details

J. Neville Turner, 'O'Driscoll, John Xavier (1903–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (Melbourne University Press), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


6 September, 1903
Coburg, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


19 June, 1977 (aged 73)
Toorak, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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