John O'Grady, brother of Frank O'Grady (q.v.), was the eldest of eight children born in Waverley, Sydney to John Edward O'Grady and Margaret nee Gleeson, both of Irish descent. His father quit his job as editor of the New South Wales Agricultural Gazette and moved the family to a remote New England farm. O'Grady had no formal education until he was twelve years old. He later went as a boarder to St. Stanislaus College at Bathurst, his father's school, and decided to become a doctor. Drought caused his family to leave the land and prevented O'Grady doing a medical degree. He attended the University of Sydney and gained a Certificate in Pharmacy in 1928. He managed pharmacies, married Lorna Schreiber in 1930 and was soon living in Ballina with three children. Dissatisfaction with pharmacy led him to become a commercial traveller in 1936, selling medical goods across three states for an American firm.. He was also writing short stories, plays and poems; some were published in the Sydney Bulletin. One-act plays were written for the Sydney Repertory Theatre, including 'Mr Slattersby' (1950), co-authored with John Conroy (q.v.). O'Grady was also a co-author of the play 'Basically Black' (1972).
O'Grady enlisted in the Australian Army on 22 January 1942 and served with the Army Medical Service in New Guinea and Borneo before being discharged on 5 April 1950. He had a tour of duty in Japan. O'Grady worked again as a pharmacist until, tiring of the work, he became a builder's labourer in 1954. He had always been interested in people and languages, speaking Malay, Japanese, Samoan, Italian, French and Spanish. His interest in Samoan and Polynesian culture led him to New Zealand in 1955 and a position as a pharmacy teacher for the New Zealand Government in Western Samoa.
While waiting for the position in Western Samoa, O'Grady wrote half of They're a WeirdMob (1957) in Auckland, New Zealand, and completed it in Western Samoa where he resided until he went on a trip to Europe in 1959. By 1962 O'Grady's first novel had earned him over thirty thousand pounds with 300,000 copies sold in the first three years. It was during the European trip that the material for the sequel, Cop This Lot (1960), was collected. The success of the Nino Culotta novels allowed O'Grady to become a fulltime writer who published eighteen works, mostly humorous novels, stories and anecdotes. David Carter in 'O'Grady, John see "Culotta, Nino": Popular Authorship, Duplicity and Celebrity' (AustralianLiterary Studies 21.4 (2004): 56-73) observes that 'O'Grady's success almost immediately turned into celebrity. There were features in the Australasian Post, Australian Home Beautiful, Walkabout, and Women's Weekly; an advertising contract with the New South Wales Milk Board...regular television appearances and newspaper columns; a celebrity recipe - for spaghetti marinara - in the Sunday Sun; and photo-features in Il Progresso, a magazine for Italian migrants to Australia...' As Carter claims, O'Grady had pioneered popular humorous books about Australian English and Australian customs.
(Source: John Hetherington, 'John O'Grady Nino Culotta's Prisoner', Forty-Two Faces (1962): 97-102; John O'Grady, There Was a Kid (1977); The Oxford Companion to Australian Literature (1994)).