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Lloyd John O'Neil (1928–1992)

by Jane Sullivan

One of the great pioneers of the Australian publishing industry, Lloyd O'Neil, has died this week after a long illness. Despite health problems he continued until very recently to play an active role as associate director with Penguin Books in Melbourne.

Mr O'Neil worked in publishing for over 30 years and published more than 1000 Australian titles. In that time he helped to transform the national industry from a minor colonial outpost of the British publishing scene to a major commercial and cultural force that produces more than half the books sold in this country. Last year he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his services to publishing.

He began his career at 16, selling books in the Sydney store of Angus & Robertson. Later he worked as a travelling book salesman for Cassells. In 1955 he went into business with one of his Brisbane customers, Brian Clouston, as manager for his new Jacaranda Press. Five years later Mr O'Neil achieved his ambition to start his own company, Lansdowne Press, in Melbourne with the help of a small legacy left to his wife Janet and the sale of their Brisbane house.

Times were tough for publishers in 1960, but Mr O'Neil used his experience from selling books and his philosophy of publishing books about things that interested him to build up a considerable business.

His company went through upheavals first in 1964, when it was bought by the F.W. Cheshire Group, and then in 1969, when the British publisher Paul Hamlyn took over the group. So once again Mr O'Neil struck out on his own, starting the Lloyd O'Neil Publishing Group. After many successful ventures he sold his interests to Penguin in 1987, which created the Viking O'Neil imprint to continue and develop his publishing list.

Over the years Mr O'Neil was responsible for a huge range of innovative, influential and popular Australian books. His first publication was a manual, 'How to Play Aussie Rules'; he went on to produce travel books and atlases, secondary textbooks, sporting titles, dictionaries, historical and political studies, art books, children's books and Australia's all-time biggest selling hardback, 'The Australian Women's Weekly Cookbook'.

His deep involvement in publishing will live on in his family. His second wife, Anne O'Donovan, runs her own publishing company in Melbourne and one of his daughters, Diana O'Neil, is marketing manager for Melbourne University Press.

A memorial service for Lloyd O'Neil will be held at the Merlyn Theatre, the Malthouse, 117 Sturt Street, South Melbourne tomorrow at 3pm.

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Citation details

Jane Sullivan, 'O'Neil, Lloyd John (1928–1992)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 17 June 2024.

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