Also writes as: M. (fl. 1906-1913)
Born: Established: 29 Oct 1862 Bendigo ; Died: 31 Mar 1927 South Melbourne
J. B. O'Hara, son of P. K. O'Hara (q.v.), was educated at George Street State School, Fitzroy, Carlton College and then at the University of Melbourne where he had a scholarship at Ormond College. O'Hara graduated with third class honours and later received a Master of Arts degree. He then taught briefly with the Christian Brothers before being offered a lectureship in mathematics and natural philosophy at Ormond College. O'Hara's association with the College admitted him into the ranks of Melbourne's cultural and academic establishment to which few Irish Catholics had access, but it did not bring enough money and O'Hara built up a private coaching business and published examination guides. In 1889 he accepted the offer of a partnership from Thomas Palmer, the owner and principal of South Melbourne College and in 1894 he became sole proprietor.
Under O'Hara's leadership the South Melbourne College was co-educational, its curriculum academic and its ethos competitive. Its students prided themselves on being an educational elite. Girls and boys were encouraged in similar ambitions and competed on equal terms. The senior classes were taught by specialists and all students came under O'Hara's personal care and influence. Though traditional in his methods, he was an outstanding teacher. Affectionately nicknamed 'Teddy', the short, stout and lively O'Hara inspired his students and tempered his discipline with humour. Katharine Susannah Prichard (q.v.) remembered how he recorded her unsuccessful bouts with arithmetic: 'Miss Prichard - a duck'. She also remembered the pains he took to coach promising students individually outside class hours. Elsie Cole (q.v.) was another of his students and proteges. The college's record in matriculation examinations was remarkable and its students won numerous scholarships and exhibitions. By 1917, when ill health forced O'Hara to close it, hundreds of its pupils were occupying important positions in the professions, universities and politics.
Meanwhile, O'Hara had developed his literary gifts. In 1880 he won the poetry prize in a competition associated with the Melbourne Industrial Exhibition. In 1891 he published his first book of poetry, Songs of the South. Eight volumes followed to 1925 including The Poems of John Bernard O'Hara (1918). He was joint vice-president of the Australian Literature Society from 1904 to 1911. Critics praised his perfect metrical ear, his melody and his mastery of form, but noted a lack of depth and a tendency to concentrate on manner rather than matter. While the Bulletin writers sought to develop a native idiom, O'Hara remained attached to the English romantics and expressed his new-world experience through a derivative medium which was ultimately inimical to it.
O'Hara's best known poem, 'Happy Creek', was set to music and became familiar to two generations of Victorian schoolchildren. An outstanding district cricketer in his youth, O'Hara listed tennis, billiards, cycling and sea travel as recreations. He had little opportunity to indulge them in his retirement which was overshadowed by kidney disease. It ended his life on 31 March 1927. He was buried in Brighton cemetery in Melbourne, Victoria. His wife, Agnes Elizabeth, née Law, an ex-student whom he had married at Collingwood on 3 December 1910, and their four children, survived him.
(Source: Adapted from Margaret M. Pawsey, 'O'Hara, John Bernard (1862 - 1927)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, M.U.P.,1988, pp 72-73).