Albert Bernard O’Brien and Bertha Ann Dunn

Albert Bernard O’Brien

Albert Bernard O’Brien, commonly known as “Johnny O’Brien,” was born on September 12, 1917, in Ettrick, a town near Kyogle, New South Wales. He was the youngest son of James Joseph O’Brien and Lena Noonan, who were share farmers that had relocated from the NSW South Coast in 1908. Due to his father’s struggles with alcohol, the family frequently moved around, residing in places like Boorie Creek near Lismore and Upper Mongogarie near Kyogle.

Despite the challenges posed by his family’s frequent relocations, Johnny was a hardworking individual and held various labouring jobs, including at the Broadwater Sugar Mill, during his early working life. In 1935/1936, the family finally settled in a house at 21 Kyogle Street, South Lismore, which remained in the O’Brien family for the next 50 years.

During his early years in South Lismore, Johnny met and fell in love with Bertha Ann Dunn, who was also known as “Betty” or “Toby.” It is said that he initially dated Bertha’s sister, Eunice, which led to their introduction.

Albert Bernard O'Brien and Bertha Ann Dunn
Albert Bernard O’Brien and Bertha Ann Dunn, Bertha’s sister Eunice is on the left.

Bertha Ann Dunn

Bertha Ann Dunn, known as “Betty” or “Toby,” was born on February 7, 1922, in Bombala, a town in New South Wales. She was the eldest child of Charles Henry Dunn and Bertha Rixon. Charles, who had fought in the First World War, worked as a linesman for the Post Master General in different locations, including Orange, NSW.

As a child, Bertha had the opportunity to see snow on the ground, which she fondly remembered and recounted to her family as one of her earliest memories.

Baptism Certificate for Bertha Ann Dunn
Baptism Certificate for Bertha Ann Dunn

In the mid-1930s, Bertha’s family relocated to Lismore on the North Coast of New South Wales. According to electoral rolls, they lived in various locations in the area, including 37 High Street in Lismore Heights, 8 Baillie Street in North Lismore, and Ballina Street in East Lismore. However, they finally settled at 13 Union Street in South Lismore, near the railway viaduct, around 1941.


Johnny O’Brien and Bertha Ann Dunn met, fell in love, and started a family of four daughters and one son. Their children were Margaret (1940-2015), Gloria (1944-2010), Nancy (1945-2021), Lynette (1948-), and James (1965-). However, the family also experienced the heartbreak of losing a stillborn child, Joan Kathleen O’Brien, who passed away on July 9, 1953 (21816/1953) and was buried in an unmarked grave in the East Lismore Cemetery. As per the Lismore City Council website, it was customary to bury stillborn babies in unmarked graves.

Johnny and Bertha lived with their family in the O’Brien family home at 21 Kyogle Street, South Lismore. Lena, Johnny’s mother, also resided in the same house until her passing in 1953.

1954 Lismore Flood

The family has several compelling stories, many of which revolve around floods. One of the most memorable recounts the events of the 1954 flood. At that time, the family, along with Bertha’s mother, sought refuge on the roof of their low-set house as the floodwaters surged below. As there was no State Emergency Service in place, everyone had to fend for themselves. Initially, my mother and grandmother perched on chairs on the kitchen table until the water rose too high, forcing them to find higher ground. However, they quickly realized that my overweight grandmother wouldn’t fit through the manhole leading to the roof. To solve this problem, they had to enlarge the manhole with a saw, which allowed my grandmother to climb through. For almost a week, my parents, uncle, four sisters, and grandmother waited on the roof while the floodwaters swirled beneath them.

During the 1954 flood, Lismore was completely isolated from the outside world. According to a media release by Telstra a few years ago, my Uncle Alf was recognized as “Bigpond’s Oldest Customer” because he provided the only communication with the outside world for telegraphs, police, and councils.

Bertha Ann Dunn and Uncle Barney Rixon, presumably in the 1950s


In 1959, Bertha’s mother, Bertha Rixon, and her brother Leslie John, who worked as a wardsman at St Vincent’s Hospital, moved into the family home on Kyogle Street. By the mid-1960s, three of their daughters had already married and moved away. Margaret relocated to Sydney, then Hong Kong, and finally Brisbane due to her husband’s job in the army. Gloria moved to Brisbane and later got married, while Nancy had stints of living in both Sydney and Brisbane.

On November 9, 1965, Bertha and Albert welcomed their youngest child, James Charles John, into the world – that’s me!

From left to right, the O’Brien Girls of South Lismore: Lynette (Patsy), aged 15, Gloria (Bluey), aged 19, Margaret (Tootsy) aged, 22 and Nancy (Tiny) aged 18 at Margaret’s wedding in 1963.
1968 Gloria’s Wedding: Margaret, Gloria, Nancy and Lynette, with Young Margaret in front.
James Charles John O’Brien and Albert Bernard O’Brien at 21 Kyogle Street, South Lismore.
Bertha O’Brien (Dunn), James O’Brien, Bertha Dunn (Rixon) at Lismore Show, 1960s.
Albert O'Brien, Bertha Dunn, Bertha Rixon 1968
Albert O’Brien, Bertha Dunn, Bertha Rixon 1968


In the early 1970s, the land at 21 Kyogle Street was sold to make way for the construction of a weighbridge. To preserve the family home, it was relocated to 195 Casino Street, South Lismore, where it was raised to avoid the risk of future flooding.

In 1970, to make way for a weigh-bridge in Kyogle Street, the house was relocated to 195 Casino Street, South Lismore.
Albert O'Brien, Bertha Dunn, Nancy O'Brien 1973
Albert O’Brien, Bertha Dunn, Nancy O’Brien 1973

There is a harrowing family story that stands out, involving the 1974 flood. The entire family, along with other residents, was stranded for several days. Fortunately, unlike the 1954 flood, the water did not penetrate the house. It was a Sunday night when South Lismore was flooded, and my father must have sensed that the levee bank was about to break. In anticipation, we spent most of Sunday afternoon securing everything under the house. We lifted the washing machine three or four feet off the ground and moved the family car to the higher block of land next door. With everything in place, we settled in to watch our usual Sunday night tradition, “Disneyland.” However, by the end of the program, almost six feet of water had engulfed our home. Both the washing machine and the family car were submerged in water, as the floodwaters had surged below. Despite the inconvenience, the family stuck together and waited until the floodwaters receded.

The flood markers of South Lismore, not far from where my sisters both live.
The flood markers of South Lismore, not far from where my sisters both live.

As our house was elevated on stilts, we were fortunate to avoid flooding in the house during the 1974 flood, only in the yards. However, our neighbors, the Jobsons, who lived across the street, had to be evacuated in the middle of the night. The floodwaters surrounded our house for several days, and once the waters receded, we walked around the neighborhood to check on our family and friends. In those days, telephones were not yet a household staple, and communication was limited. We were particularly concerned about my sister Pat and her infant child, who lived opposite a fuel depot. She recounted her fears during the night, hearing the floating fuel drums banging into each other while her husband was out volunteering for the State Emergency Service.

After checking on our loved ones, we walked across the Ballina Street Bridge to survey the damage in the CBD. Before the levee bank was built, many families, including Aboriginal families, lived along the riverbank. From the bridge, we saw the water rushing rapidly, carrying livestock with it. I distinctly recall a distressed cow mooing mournfully as it floated under our feet.

The floodwaters brought chaos and devastation to the town. Homes and businesses were destroyed, and the landscape was unrecognizable. It took months for the town to recover fully. In response, the government built the Wilsons River levee bank, which has since protected (generally speaking) the town from future floods.

1975 family photograph in the front yard of 195 Casino Street, South Lismore
1975 family photograph in the front yard of 195 Casino Street, South Lismore. Michelle, Patsy holding Karran, Margaret, Julie, David, Peter, Jimmy, Johnny, Sharran, Nancy


I’m not exactly sure how long Albert worked as a plumber at the Lismore Base Hospital. In 1981 however, due to ill-health, he was forced to retire medically unfit.

Dad worked at Lismore Base Hospital for many years. Boiler attendants certificate

Upon retirement, he performed some voluntary work for Meals On Wheels. Soon afterwards, he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a form of cancer.

Bertha Ann Dunn and Albert Bernard O'Brien 1982
Bertha Ann Dunn and Albert Bernard O’Brien 1982

For the final twelve months of his life, he was weak and spent a great deal of time in bed. He spent almost all of the last month of his life in hospital. In the early hours of the morning of June 22, 1982, he suffered a stroke which caused his death . The indirect causes were Multiple Myeloma, Cachexia and Cerebral Atrophy . He was buried on June 24 at the Lawn Cemetery, Goonellabah. The funeral announcement appeared in “The Northern Star” on June 23 and 24, 1982.

O’BRIEN – The funeral of Mr. Albert Bernard “Johnny” O’Brien, beloved husabnd of Mrs. Betty O’Brien of 195 Casino Street, South Lismore, loved father and father in law of Margaret and Ray Hyland (Brisbane), Gloria and John Pepper (Brisbane), Nancy and Alf Keaton, Lynette and Jack Bobbin and James (all of South Lismore) and fond Granded of their children, loved son-in-law of Mrs. Bertha Dunn, loved brother of Meg (Mrs Alf Webb) (Lismore) and Bib (Mrs. Brown, Brisbane), loved brother-in-law of Arthur and Francis and John Dunn, Joan and Don Connor and Edna and Ossie Ianna, will leave Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church, South Lismore TOMORROW (THURSDAY) after prayers commencing at 12 noon for the City of Lismore Lawn Cemetery, Goonallebah. WILLIAM RILEY & SON, FUNERAL DIRECTORS, AFDA Member Ph 212237

In the following two years, Betty’s health deteriorated rapidly, as she battled heart disease and asthma. On November 7, 1984, at approximately eight o’clock in the morning, she suffered a fatal heart attack, and despite attempts to revive her, she passed away. The next day, she was laid to rest at the Lawn Cemetery in Goonellabah.

O’BRIEN, BERTHA ANN – “Betty” – At Lismore November 7, 1984, late of 195 Casino Street, South Lismore, widow of the late Albert Bernard “John” O’Brien, loved mother and mother-in-law of Ray and Margaret Hyland, Gloria and John Pepper (all of Brisbane), Nancy and Alf Keaton, Pat and Jack Bobbin and James (all of Lismore) and loved grandmother and great grandmother of their children, loved daughter of Mrs. Bertha Dunn (Lismore), loved sister and sister in law of Edna and Ossy Ianna, Joan and Con Connor, Arthur and Frances Dunn, John Dunn and Eunice (dec.) and Len Adams. Relatives and friends are invited to attend her funerla which will leave Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church, South Lismore, TODAY (THURSDAY) after prayers commencing at 11.45am for the City of Lismore Lawn Cemetery, Goonallebah. WILLIAM RILEY & SON, FUNERAL DIRECTORS, AFDA Member Ph 212237

10 Replies to “Albert Bernard O’Brien and Bertha Ann Dunn”

  1. Hi James,

    Re: Charles Arthur Dunn (known as Arthur) was born in 1923.
    I found Service record in WWII Nominal Roll where Charles served in New Guinea and noted his birthdate in 1922.

    Service Record
    Australian Army
    Service Number
    NX110023 (N166292)
    Date of Birth
    7 Jun 1922
    Place of Birth
    Date of Enlistment
    25 Jul 1942
    Locality on Enlistment
    Place of Enlistment

    Next of Kin
    Date of Discharge
    16 Nov 1944
    Posting at Discharge
    WW2 Honours and Gallantry
    None for display

    Prisoner of War

    1. Thanks Judy for the info. It kinda complicates the info re their marriage date (confirmed), birthdate of first child (needs re-confirming) and his birthdate. Another mystery to be solved. James

  2. Hi James
    I am still plodding on with my story of the Descendants and Associated families of John and Martha Love for the reunion next year. I now have an ISBN no and have chosen a printer to do the job. Still lots of editing to do.
    Would you approve/edit the following please. Also could I use the photo of the wedding of Albert and Bertha for the book. If so, can you send please.
    Registration form for the reunion will be sent ou in January.
    kind regards
    Margaret & Lyle Cooper Bertha (Betty) Ann Dunn born Bombala on 7/2/1922 and died Lismore on 7/11/1984. She married Albert (Johnny) Bernard O’Brien in Lismore in 1943 and had five children. Albert was born Kyogle on 12/12/1917 (a twin whose sister died after birth) and died Lismore on 22/6/1982, youngest son of James Joseph O’Brien and Lena Noonan. Margaret O’Brien married Ray Hyland. Gloria O’Brien married John Pepper. Nancy O’Brien married Alf Keaton. Lynette O’Brien married Jack Bobbin James Charles John O’Brien born in 1965.
    O’BRIEN (James O’Brien website) – It is thought the first James O’Brien to Australia came from Ireland with his wife Mary Ann Smith and eight children enroute to the Darling Downs in Qld. Apparently as the ship Great Victoria approached Port Phillip Bay on 8/9/1864 it was discovered their daughter Ellen had Typhus. She was put off the ship and sent to the Quarantine Station at Portsea. Reportedly they stayed in Melbourne until she recovered and in early 1865 travelled by boat to Eden and then by bullock dray to ‘Kameruka’, Candelo where they settled with his wife Mary’s brother, Bernard Smith at Wollumla. James worked in the area and eventually selected 200 acres (81 ha) near Bembooka called ‘Slane Park’ (Kirby’s). Over a period of 20 years he increased the dairy farm holding to 800 acres (324ha). James died on 17/5/1894 and Mary in 1911.

    1. Hi James there is a lot of Charle’s in the family .
      have leant a lot I didn’t know, remember a lot of the old house both of them.
      Saturday Race Day the highlight (NOT.)
      All the best, Peter Charles.

  3. Hi James
    I hate to push – but am doing final edits for the book – can you email me a better quality image

  4. Hi James
    I believe that my mother is the theresa O’brien that is commented in this website
    Please write back

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