After Dick O’Neill and his older brother Jim finished their modest football careers at Norwood, they spent the rest of their days and achieved a fair measure of fame prospecting for opal and gold in Outback Australia.
They made headlines in 1908 when, with a younger companion, Fred Blakeley, and a savage three-quarter-dingo pup called Jethro, they cycled for two months across difficult country from the NSW opal fields of White Cliffs to Darwin. Jethro trotted alongside them some 2,400 km, killing sheep and goats along the way, only to expire when run over by the wheel of a traction engine while asleep in Darwin.
In 1915, Dick and Jim arrived at Coober Pedy with their two horses, dray and 100 gallons of water, just in time to rescue pioneer prospectors who had failed to find opal and whose camels had run away. The brothers were far more successful. They pegged out a claim and became the first gougers at the field, where their method of living underground would earn them more headlines as “the moles of the desert”. In nine months they made a princely £17,000. Ten years later however, the wise cracking, cigar-smoking Dick was dead and Jim, his fortune gone, was off on the trail of gold.
Records are deficient but it would seem that Dick was the 11th and last child of Arthur O’Neill – the surname was spelled various ways, often O’Neile – and his wife Esther, née Barry. Esther died on 4 January 1876 at Halifax Street, Adelaide, after the birth.
More extroverted than Jim, Dick along with three companions was charged with riotous behaviour when turned out of the Kentish Arms Hotel, Kent Town, in May 1897. He was fined 20 shillings with costs of 25 shillings.
A highly thought-of junior, he joined Jim in the Norwood senior side in 1898. Dick kicked three goals that season – maybe two of them against North Adelaide at Jubilee Oval on 16 July 1898. Norwood, the favourite, found itself trailing by 14 points late in the third quarter. It was then noticed that North had 21 players on the field - one above the limit. There was a count and North's score of 5.6 was annulled. Norwood added 2.5 in the last quarter, defeating a deflated North 5.9 to 2.2. A scanty newspaper report listed O’Neill (2) among the goalkickers, which could mean one goal for each brother or two goals for one of them – more likely Dick, a forward.
An older brother, George Washington O’Neill, lived in Broken Hill and had two sons well known in football circles there, ‘Nanny’ Art O’Neill and ‘Whipper’ O’Neill.
The O’Neills’ mate Fred Blakeley was a brother of Scullin Government Interior Minister Arthur Blakeley. Partly at Arthur’s behest, Fred mounted an expedition in 1930 to try to find Lasseter’s “lost reef” in Central Australia. He found no trace of gold and in a report suppressed for legal reasons labelled Harold Lasseter a fraud. Born at Gilberton and raised at Broken Hill, Fred Blakeley chronicled the epic 1908 cycle ride in a popular book, Hard Liberty (Harrap 1938)
P Robins July 2019