Tuesday, June 6, 2017


With a prodigious knowledge  of  the  Northern Territory's early  history , its public service  over  more  than   half  a  century ,  full of   fabulous anecdotes  ,  a relentless researcher  ,  Vern  O'Brien  is  a  true North Australian  treasure . Now  he  lies  enfeebled  in  palliative  care  in  Darwin .  
Vern  is on the extreme  right  of this photograph  at  the  unveiling of a  cemetery plaque  at  Stapleton  , south of Darwin ,  with information  about  people buried   there , the research for it  carried  out by  him .  Closely involved with the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory (GSNT), where he was  its  researcher   and cemetery coordinator  , he  was  a  regular  face there in his so called retirement  and  when  prevented   from driving  there   because  of his  health ,  caught  the  bus .

Many of his research  books , which  survived   Cyclone Tracy , are  in the   GSNT   library where  Ms June Tomlinson , in the above photograph,  is  the secretary .   

One  of  four young  surveyors, he  came to the Territory and worked in  the  Lands  Department. His contribution to the Territory in so many areas  has been  massive ; his wife Jacqueline  has  been  deeply  involved in  researching  and  gathering artefacts  for the Darwin Nursing Museum  ,  Charles Darwin University .

In 1949,  when Vern  was on leave    from the Territory  with another  longtime Darwin identity , Creed Lovegrove,  the two  described in recent years  as  Territory  elder statesmen , attended  a  performance  of    Sumner Locke Elliott's play , Rusty Bugles ,  based on the playwright's experiences  in  the  Northern Territory  Army   camp    at  Mataranka , which was  censored  in New South Wales because of  the "bad"   language .  
Vern commented the language did not seem  unusual for the Northern Territory .   He and  Creed  also  went  ice skating  in Melbourne and there is supposed  to be  a  photograph of  that event somewhere  in  Darwin . 

During the  war  Communist  author Frank Hardy   also served  at Mataranka  where he contributed to  the subversive   Troppo Tribune with  wild yarns  and jokes  .   Sumner Locke Elliott  went to America after the war and  was  successful  in  television drama  production ; he came back to  Australia  , with an American accent , when his autobiographical  book , Water Under the (Sydney Harbour )  Bridge , was made into  a television series . 

 Melbourne journalist  Kim Lockwood, who spent time in the Territory , today described   Vern  O'Brien  as a  walking  encyclopedia   who  had provided him with  helpful   information .