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O'Neill, Josephine (1905–1968)

by Julia Horne

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

Josephine O'Neill (1905-1968), journalist and film critic, was born on 15 December 1905 at Dunedin, New Zealand, eldest of four children of Eugene Joseph O'Neill, a New Zealand-born medical practitioner, and his wife Josephine, née Monaghan, who came from England. Young Josephine was educated at St Dominic's College (until 1916) and the University of Otago (B.A., N.Z., 1927). In 1929, soon after her arrival in Sydney, she published nursery rhymes and short stories in local newspapers. She contributed a short story in 1932 to the first issue of Ink, edited by Constance Robertson to raise money for the friendly fund of the Society of Women Writers of New South Wales. O'Neill was appointed a reporter on the Sun newspaper that year and moved to the Telegraph in 1934.

From 1936, when Consolidated Press Ltd relaunched the Telegraph as the Daily Telegraph, intending it to be a serious newspaper 'with an independent policy and modern outlook', Josephine O'Neill began to develop her style as a critical reviewer, analysing films as an art-form different from books or the theatre. While she continued to provide unsigned book reviews and items for 'entertainment news' columns, in her critiques she considered whether a film—within its particular genre—succeeded on the levels of plot, structure, subject matter and the development of its characters. She was forthright about actors' performances, interested in the use of special cinematographic and production techniques, and aware of one film's legacy to another.

Active within the Australian Journalists' Association, O'Neill was, at various times, a member of its house committee at the Daily Telegraph, and of the State branch of the A.J.A.'s ethics committee which adjudicated on complaints against member journalists who breached the association's code. She was invited to speak about films to many groups, including radio and television audiences and the Workers' Educational Association. In 1951 she wrote for the short-lived Melbourne magazine, Woman's Day and Home. With three others, among them the journalist Elizabeth Riddell, she sat on the panel in Harry Dearth's radio programme, 'Leave it to the Girls' (1951-55): they offered solutions to problems and questions sent in by listeners. Moving to the Sydney Morning Herald in 1957, O'Neill reviewed films and theatre; she also wrote an annual critique of the year's best movies, substantial articles on a range of issues not always to do with cinema, and a regular column, 'Show Business', in the Sun-Herald.

Noted for her intelligence, erect posture and dull, plain clothes, Josephine O'Neill made people feel that they had to behave in her company. She wore very thick glasses—her trademark—which led her friends to quip that she was the 'only blind film critic in Australia'. She collapsed and died of myocardial infarction on 28 February 1968 in Castlereagh Street, Sydney, and was buried with Catholic rites in Northern Suburbs cemetery. One obituarist noted that she had been 'something of a legendary figure as a film critic'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Collins, Hollywood Down Under (Syd, 1987)
  • I. Bertrand (ed), Cinema in Australia (Syd, 1989)
  • Journalist, Apr 1968
  • Australian Journalists' Association (New South Wales), Annual Report and Balance Sheet, 1930-68
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 Feb 1968
  • private information.

Citation details

Julia Horne, 'O'Neill, Josephine (1905–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 5 December 2020.

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

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