In a city of forums and monuments, Mick O’Brien was a true institution. He typified the national spirit and was the quintessential Canberran.
O’Brien’s sports store and hairdressers at Manuka was a magnet for Canberrans for more than six decades.
With his family, Mick O’Brien built that store on the Lawns into something that far transcended a simple business. People kept coming back – for expert fishing advice or for a smart haircut, and the pleasure of seeing Mick O’Brien, Mattie, his wife of 59 years and their son Bill.
Stepping into the sports store and into the barber’s section was like entering a very Australian kind of sanctuary.
Harold Francis O’Brien was born in Hall, a great grandson of Thomas Southwell, who pioneered much of the Ginninderra area. He was the ninth student at Telopea Park School and rang the bell – and, in his white coat, pumped the organ – for St John’s Church, Reid.
Giving his mates lollies with express instructions that they give them to Mattie Beadman, the girl next door when he lived at the Causeway, was the start of a union that would have reached it’s 60th anniversary this year. The O’Briens were only the second couple to be married in St Paul’s, Manuka.
That team shared everything in life and, where all Canberra knew them, in business.
Mick O’Brien’s dry sense of humour added something to everyone’s visit to the store. Every visit was an experience.
He could converse with anyone about anything. He followed both rugby codes closely, loved the cricket and backed the horses, especially enjoying the recent return to the track of champion jockey Darren Beadman, who is Mrs O’Brien’s great nephew.
One of the many stories about the shop is the appearance of a Menzies’ Cabinet Minister (perhaps the Treasurer himself, Arthur Fadden) who arrived for a haircut at 3.30pm one weekday only to be confronted by many young faces from St Christopher’s. With haircuts then costing sixpence, the minister proceeded to offer each boy a whopping two shillings, ensuring his spot not only at the head of the queue but in Manuka legend as well.
Away from the store and family, Mick O’Brien’s great loves were fishing (especially for trout) and gardening.
He is survived by his wife, Mattie, son Bill, daughters Joy and Julie, six brothers and sisters, eight grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Andrew Fraser, 'O'Brien, Harold Francis (Mick) (1913–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/obrien-harold-francis-mick-15162/text26351, accessed 22 May 2013.
photo supplied by Jennifer Beresford