Born: Established: 3 Sep 1903 Hartley ; Died: 20 Jan 1975 Beaudesert
O'Reilly, bushman and author, was the son of Peter Luke O'Reilly, grazier, and his wife Jane, née McAviney. Second youngest of a large family, O'Reilly went to school at Cullenbenbong then boarded at St. Canice's School, Katoomba. The oldest boys left to engage in dairying on the MacPherson Ranges on the border of New South Wales and Queensland. In 1916 the family moved to Brisbane. From 1917 to 1926 O'Reilly worked in the family dairy and as a ranger explored the Lamington National Park. In 1926 formal guest-house accommodation was established for the growing numbers of visitors to the Park. O'Reilly married Viola Gwendoline King on 20 August 1931.
O'Reilly became a national hero overnight in 1937 when he singlehandedly discovered the survivors of a crashed plane on the Lamington Plateau and brought a rescue party to carry them out. O'Reilly was awarded the Albert medal, second class, for civilian bravery. This event was to precipitate his career as a public speaker and author with Green Mountains (1940) followed by a stream of tourist pamphlets, narrative works on country life and a volume of poetry. The Charles Chauvel (q.v.) film, Sons of Matthew (1949), was based on his first work, Green Mountains (1940). In 1942-1945 O'Reilly served with the 9th Division, Australian Imperial Force, in the Middle East, New Guinea and Borneo. After the war he worked, at times, for the family guest house, the Department of Forestry, the New South Wales Railways and from 1957 to 1963 ran his own guest house unsuccessfully at Lost World.
David Stove's 'A Hero Not Of Our Time', Quadrant 32.5 (May 1988): 40-43 is the most perceptive comment on O'Reilly's life and literary efforts. He argues that 'The autobiography of R.M. Williams, Beneath Whose Hand, is well worth reading. That of A. B. Facey, A Fortunate Life, is much more so. But O'Reilly's autobiography - meaning by this, his trio of books - is far better still.' Stove sees O'Reilly as the poet of the Great Dividing Range 'and he had enough inner life and education to do something like justice to that subject'. A Celtic dreamer who meditated on his mountains, O'Reilly never found his place in the modern world as guesthouses and tourism replaced the early pioneering efforts to settle the MacPherson Ranges. A television documentary on his life was made in 1975.
(Source: Adapted from R. W. Carter, 'O'Reilly, Alfonso Bernard (1903 - 1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, MUP, 1988, pp 92-93; The Oxford Companion To Australian Literature ed. William H. Wilde et.al., 1994)