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Roderick John Charles (Rod) O'Loan (1915–1992)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published:

Roderick John Charles O’Loan (1915–1992), retail executive, footballer, army officer, and community worker, was born on 26 March 1915 at Katoomba, New South Wales, fourth of six children of Queensland-born parents Patrick Francis Charles O’Loan, commercial traveller, and his wife Kathleen Rose, née O’Beirne (d. 1926). Frank O’Loan later bought and managed the Criterion Hotel, Narrandera. He and his wife were prominent in charity work. Educated by the Christian Brothers at Waverley College, Sydney, Rod was an outstanding schoolboy athlete and sportsman: State junior 100-yards champion in 1931; a good hurdler, high-jumper, hand-baller, and swimmer; and a member of the college’s first XI (cricket) and first XV (rugby union). After leaving school, he played first-grade rugby league for two clubs:  University (1933–34) and Eastern Suburbs (1935–41). A clever and elusive winger, he scored prolifically—seven tries in one match in the 1935 season—but regretted not being selected for the Australian team. He had joined David Jones Ltd in 1933 and he travelled for the firm, selling school uniforms. At Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Randwick, on 23 March 1940 he married Mary (Molly) Patricia Croke, a clerk.

Having enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces on 16 August 1939, O’Loan began full-time duty in 1941 and transferred to the Australian Imperial Force in July 1942. By then he had risen through the ranks to captain and was serving with the 2nd Air Liaison Section, attached to No. 4 Squadron, Royal Australian Air Force, an army cooperation unit. In the Papuan campaign from November, he worked on the ground at Dobodura, relaying target information from the squadron’s aircrew to the artillery. He was mentioned in despatches for his efforts. Back in Australia next year, he was appointed officer commanding the 45th Air Liaison Section and in 1944 was promoted to major. The section served in New Guinea (1943–45) and Borneo (1945) with No. 4 Squadron. O’Loan often toiled sixteen hours a day, coordinating close air support for the army. He flew as an observer in low-level sorties over enemy territory and performed his staff work with tact and vigour. His superiors noted his strength of character and devotion to duty, and he was appointed MBE (1946). He transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 11 September 1945.

Returning to David Jones in Sydney, O’Loan rose rapidly in the firm, which flourished in the years of national prosperity after World War II. By 1951 he was an associate director. While manager of the men’s store in Market Street, he was sent to the United States of America, Europe, and Britain to study men’s fashions in 1956. The following year he was appointed a cavaliere of the Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana for promoting an exposition in Sydney of Italian products. In 1958 he was transferred to Brisbane as managing director of David Jones’s operations in Queensland (formerly Finney Isles & Co.). He oversaw the opening of new stores throughout the State and the construction and running of the company-owned Garden City shopping complex at Mount Gravatt.

Planning and attention to detail characterised O’Loan’s management. He had been close to Sir Charles Lloyd Jones and, like the chairman, was a considerate and approachable boss. One of his strengths was in identifying and mentoring bright young men, who later rose to high executive positions and remembered him affectionately. In his own career he made the most of every opportunity that came his way. He served his firm loyally but his wife wished for less dedication, on occasion increasing the volume of the popular song ‘Sixteen Tons,’ to ensure he heard the words ‘I owe my soul to the company store.’

O’Loan supported a large number of industry, cultural, community, charitable, and sporting organisations, his choices reflecting his tastes and convictions as much as his business responsibilities and social position. He held office as president (1961–63, 1975–77) of the Retailers’ Association of Queensland Ltd; a trustee (1963–90) and deputy chairman of trustees (1983–90) of the Queensland Art Gallery; deputy chairman (1978–91) of the Queensland Performing Arts Trust; member (1964–74) and chairman (1972–74) of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s Queensland State advisory committee; director (1972–89) and councillor (1989–92) of the Warana Festival; member (1971–85) and deputy chairman (1977–85) of the Queensland Consumer Affairs Council; member (1971–84) of the Salvation Army’s Brisbane advisory board; and trustee (1978–88) of the Brisbane Cricket Ground Trust. For his community work, he was elevated to CBE (1978).

Affable and sociable, O’Loan was a member of service, sporting, and private clubs in Brisbane and Sydney.  In 1970 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.  He retired in 1980. His tall, athletic figure became portly in middle age, despite regular exercise, swimming and surfing. Skin cancers blighted his last years. Survived by his wife, three sons, and one daughter, he died on 19 February 1992 in Brisbane and was buried in Mount Gravatt cemetery. He had been an exemplary senior executive of an enterprise that tempered the pursuit of profit with civic values.

Research edited by Malcolm Allbrook

Select Bibliography

  • Campbell-Ryder, Graham. Personal communication
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane). ‘Death of Retail Leader.’ 21 February 1992, 2
  • Freeman’s Journal (Sydney). ‘Christian Brothers’ College, Waverley. Promising Athlete R. O’Loan.’ 19 March 1931, 28
  • Gould, Tony. Personal communication
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, NX100720
  • O’Loan, Tony. Personal communication
  • Sydney Morning Herald. ‘Scored Eight Tries. F. Burge Holds Record.’ 14 May 1935, 16

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'O'Loan, Roderick John Charles (Rod) (1915–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2016, accessed online 23 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

View the front pages for Volume 19

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