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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

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John Seymour Monahan (1933–2020)

by Katherine Bourke

John Seymour Monahan (“Ginge”), Bar roll number 666, died on February 20, 2020, aged 86. Son of former Supreme Court Justice Sir Robert Monahan, John’s future at the Bar was guaranteed. Living in Glenferrie Road, Kew, with his two brothers and sister, John was educated at Xavier College where he boarded for the last three years of secondary school.

John was revered by his siblings, to whom he was a mentor, protector and father figure. His younger brother, Brian, recalls: “Whenever I was wound up in a predicament at school, John was my first port of call as he would invariably know just what to say or what course of action to take. This carried over well into our adult lives and I certainly wasn’t the only one regularly seeking John’s counsel – of which he was always more than happy to give.”

John began a law degree at the University of Melbourne as a resident at Newman College. Part way through this course, he was offered the role of associate to Sir Richard Kirby, CJ of the Court of Conciliation and Arbitration. This involved a move to Sydney and finishing his degree through the articled clerks’ course.

His first job in Melbourne as a solicitor was with Maurie Brophy. He read with Sir Ninian Stephen QC and signed the Bar roll in June 1962.

He was one of the first members of the Hyland List formed in 1960 and fellow list members included silks Jim Merralls, Howard Fox, Pat Dalton, and Jack Keenan and Brian Bourke.

John’s practice was predominantly in personal injuries, representing mostly injured plaintiffs. In his early days, he also practised in crime. A brief to appear before the VRC committee or any racing tribunal was a highlight for him. He was a great circuiteer in the courtroom and socially. His work extended as far as PNG and Nauru and was the first Australian admitted to practice there. John was a passionate man who took a genuine interest in the plight of every one of his clients.

John mentored four readers: Joe Lenczner, Gabrielle Morgan, Peter Duffy and me. Joe read with John in 1975 and was his first reader. The main highlights of Joe’s time with John were an introduction to horse racing, telephone betting in a booming voice, and John’s greatest passion the Melbourne Football Club, which Joe still describes as the Melbourne Club.

I began reading with John in 1989. He was a close family friend having met my parents in Newman days.

Reading with John was a marvellous experience, being at the little desk in his very spacious chambers on the ninth floor of Owen Dixon Chambers East, with his devoted secretary Barb on the manual typewriter in the entrance to chambers.

My time with John went far beyond the time allowed, staying a further four years or so enjoying his generosity and good humour. Ultimately, I had to get chambers of my own as John’s booming voice placing bets on his phone account was often confusing to the injured workers with whom I was conferring. The Supreme Court jury in Geelong in the early 1980s who overhead John on the public phone after he had been allowed a short break by the presiding justice, had a similar bemused response. His honour also wished John good luck with his investment.

I was opposed to my former master once, shortly before he retired. Judge Coish found for the plaintiff.

John may have retired from the Bar in July 2008, but he was a regular attendee at the Essoign Club for lunch where he caught up with the current legal gossip and any other racing and footy news at the time. His numerous – and convoluted – stories of betting disasters and close misses were legendary.

He was a life member of the VRC and Moonee Valley Racing Club. He raced weekly, missing the track only to watch his beloved Dees. Notably, he never missed the May Warrnambool carnival and was a familiar face walking up the big hill with thousands of others to watch the jumps, carrying a can of liquid refreshment in one hand.

John was also a life member of the MCC and probably the most devout fan of the Melbourne Football Club in living memory. He attended every game possible and frequently went to training. He was always seen bedecked totally in the “red and the blue” at “The G”, often carrying a trident. For many years, he ran the Red Legs Social Club hosting post-game celebrations or mostly, commiserations.

John died in Noosa in February where he was holidaying before going to a 50th birthday in Brisbane. He had been to Sydney a couple of times earlier in the year to see his sister. He was booked to fly to Sydney and the Gold Coast to watch the Dees later in the year, and of course his Warrnambool accommodation had been arranged. In the words of his son Peter: “Not sure dad would have gone very well is isolation, doesn’t quite fit in with his approach.”

Although John was 86 when he died, his death was a shock. He was a doer and a goer, a generous, warm-hearted and loving man who had always been a very close friend, but particularly in later years after my parents died.

As the packed church at his beloved Sacred Heart in Sandringham read in the mass-book before John left the church to strains of “It’s a grand old flag”.

“He was kind, he was non-judgmental of class or position, he had a strong sense of justice, he was great at a debate, he was generous to a fault, he was a passionate supporter of anyone who needed his help, he was a punter, he was almost universally loved, and he almost universally loved.”

John was predeceased by his beloved wife of 48 years, Gabrielle. He is survived by his sons Robert, John and Peter and daughter Jane, and was a loving grandfather to his nine grandchildren.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Katherine Bourke, 'Monahan, John Seymour (1933–2020)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 15 April 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


25 June, 1933
St Kilda, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia


20 February, 2020 (aged 86)
Noosa, Queensland, Australia

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