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O'Bryan, Norman Michael (1930–2013)

by Norman O'Bryan

Norman Michael O'Bryan was born in October 1930 in Melbourne, the first child of Norman (later Sir Norman) O’Bryan, and his wife, Violet (later Lady) O’Bryan. His father was then a barrister and was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1939. There were in due course 6 children in the family, 4 others from this union (Nanette, Richard, Edward and Peter) and their older sister Bernadette, who was the only surviving child of Norman’s father’s first marriage to Violet’s older sister, Elsa Duncan, who died in childbirth in 1928. 

Norman was educated at Xavier College, Kew, where he excelled in sports, especially rowing. His 1948 crew, which contained a number of famous Australian oarsmen, including Jim (later Sir James) Gobbo and Brian Doyle (stroke of the medal winning Australian VIII at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics), won the Head of the River, a feat which Xavier would not repeat again for more than 50 years. 

He studied law at Melbourne University, where he met his future wife, Margaret Uniacke, who was studying Arts and Education. After completing his articles of clerkship at the law firm established by his brother-in-law, Frank Galbally (who married Bernadette in 1948), Norman signed the Victorian Bar roll in 1954 and also married Margaret in that year. He had a very wide and busy practice as a junior barrister and Queen’s Counsel (appointed 1971), which included cases in every jurisdiction concerning a variety of legal subjects, including criminal law (mostly prosecuting), personal injuries, industrial accidents, commercial disputes and a number of commissions of inquiry, including that into the 1975 Tasman Bridge disaster in Hobart. 

Norman was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1977 and was tasked in 1979 with overseeing the commencement of the Commercial Causes List, the forerunner of today’s Commercial Court and then a new development, designed to encourage the speedy resolution of commercial disputes in the Supreme Court. He was the ideal judge for this task, being a firm believer in efficiency and economy in the resolution of legal disputes, no matter how large or complex. He presided over many famous trials as a judge and developed a reputation for firm but fair and, most importantly, speedy and efficient dispatch of Court business. He also sat on many appeals. He especially enjoyed annual trips to Warrnambool as the Supreme Court circuit judge, which enabled him to spend time in and around Port Fairy, where his Irish ancestors first settled upon their arrival in Australia in the 1840’s. He retired as a permanent judge of the Supreme Court in 1992 but remained on the list of reserve judges until 2004, thereby completing the same 27 years of service to the Supreme Court of Victoria that his father had also completed in 1966. In his later years he served mainly on the Court of Appeal, especially in criminal appeals. 

Norman served on a number of charitable and not-for-profit boards, including St Vincent’s Hospital and the Old Xaverians Association. He was a very keen (tho’ not talented) golfer and was in due course both the president and a life member of Peninsula Country Golf Club (now Peninsula Kingswood). He was also a very enthusiastic traveller and spent much time in Europe, especially in his ancestral Ireland, researching and investigating the O’Bryan family history. He proved an important fact that his father had long denied – that the original Irish family’s name was not O’Bryan at all, but Bryan. This enabled him to make and retain contact with members of the Bryan families who live in and around Kilkenny in Ireland still today. He wrote and published a number of histories of the O’Bryan and Gleeson families, based on the extensive research which he had conducted in Australia and in Ireland. 

Norman is survived by his wife, Margaret, 6 children, 15 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren.

written by his son, Norman, with assistance from friends and family.

Additional Resources

Citation details

Norman O'Bryan, 'O'Bryan, Norman Michael (1930–2013)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/obryan-norman-michael-27605/text35003, accessed 16 December 2018.

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