My grandfather, Patrick Aloysius O'Brien, was a doctor in France during the Great War and later Police Surgeon at the Central Police Office in Glasgow. On the night of 10 May 1941, he was called to examine an injured pilot who had parachuted from a Messerschmitt 110 fighter plane at Eaglesham south of Glasgow. The injured man was Rudolf Hess, Deputy Fuhrer of the Third Reich.

Hess had flown to Scotland on a personal mission to meet with my father's Commanding Officer, the Duke of Hamilton, whom Hess had met at the Berlin Olympic Games in 1936. His naive expectation was that the duke would secretly arrange for him to meet with the King of England behind Prime Minister Winston Churchill's back. It was a sincere but ill-fated attempt to end the war between Britain and Germany. Coincidentally, my cousin, also Dr Patrick O'Brien, was Hess's physician shortly at the time of his suspicious death in Spandau Prison on 17 August 1987. Hess was found by a warder strangled by a length of electric flex. 
I was to be named after my grandfather; however, in April 1947, my youngest uncle's ship, the SIR HARVEY ADAMSON, foundered with the loss of all 269 souls off the Tenasserim Coast in the treacherous waters of the Mergui Archipelago after leaving Rangoon. Lloyds believes the ship struck a stray WWII mine during a typhoon, and it was never seen again. When I was born the following year, I was named John Alexander O'Brien after my missing uncle, who at the age of nineteen had been the ship's Chief Radio Officer and was known in the family as 'Alec'. Alec would have sent a distress signal if one could have been sent, and only a sudden catastrophic event must have prevented it.

I am the first of seven children and was born in Scotland in 1948. In 1953 I came to Australia with my mother and father. My mother qualified in medicine in 1944. My father saw active service as a Spitfire pilot with the ROYAL AIR FORCE during the Second World War. He flew offensive operations against the LUFTWAFFE and the REGIA AERONAUTICA in France and North Africa and during the SIEGE OF MALTA in 1942. After the war, he completed his medical training and qualified as a doctor in 1950. In 1952 he joined the ROYAL AUSTRALIAN AIR FORCE. He was posted as Chief Medical Officer and Head of the infant Aviation Medicine Division at Point Cook (RAAF Base Williams), where I grew up.


When my father finished his duties with the RAAF in 1957, he commenced private medical practice in St Albans, an outer Western Suburb of Melbourne. This place was then a community bustling with mostly Eastern European refugees and immigrants seeking a better life for their children, but without a doctor. My father practised there until six months before his death on 29 September 1998 and delivered over three thousand babies.  

I was educated at Xavier College and Melbourne University, where I graduated in law and philosophy in 1972. I was articled to distinguished Sunshine solicitor Mr Patrick Cannon + and was admitted to practice by the Supreme Court of Victoria in 1973. I read for the Victorian Bar with Mr Anthony Graham (now The Hon. Anthony Graham Q.C.) and practised at the Victorian Bar from 1975 to 1980 principally in criminal defence.

During a career spanning over forty-eight years, I have conducted and managed many diverse and notable cases in the COMMON LAW jurisdictions of the superior courts in Victoria, New South Wales, and the Northern Territory. I have worked intimately with leading members of the Senior Bars throughout Australia, all of whom were later appointed judges of their respective Supreme Courts and the Federal Court. 

Between 1977 and 1982, I was a reserve officer in the Royal Australian Air Force and prosecuted and defended at courts-martial throughout Australia. In my leisure time, I enjoy fishing, technology, history, biography, and philology.

I am now the erratic patriarch of an extended family of forty; one nephew married to an Indian girl, another to a Chinese girl, a niece to her gay partner. Several are current practising members of the legal profession, including my elder son.




If in my high moments, I have done some good, offered some service, shed some light, healed some wounds, rekindled some hope, or stirred someone from apathy and indifference, or in any way along the way helped somebody, then my life has not been in vain. For friends who loved and cared for me, for a God who spared me, and for a family who understood, I am eternally grateful. If in my low moments, in word, deed or attitude, through some error of temper, taste, or tone, I have caused anyone discomfort, created pain, or revived someone's fears, that was not my true self. Please forgive me. Charge it to my head and not to my heart. My head is limited in its finitude, but my heart is boundless in its love for the human family. I am an imperfect creation doing my best.



MY AMBITION is to work in the strictest union, the closest correspondence, and the most unreserved communication with my clients in my practice of the law. My clients' wishes will always carry great weight with me; their judgements high respect; their business unremitted attention. I will sacrifice my rest, my pleasure, and my satisfaction to further the interests and protection of my clients, and I will always place my client's interests above my own.

HOWEVER, I have practised the law for half a century and have a long legal memory. The legal system into which I was born long ago was identical in most respects to that which existed in 1900 and was already ancient when I was admitted to practise on 1 May 1973. I have seen many changes - some for the better of the society it serves and some for the worse. Among the worst, the practice of law has morphed from an honourable profession into a dishonourable and squalid form of business, obliging authorities to impose on its practitioners a level of regulation, unlike that imposed on any other business or profession. The many changes to which I have been witness have impacted, for the better, my capacity to make wise decisions and draw intelligent conclusions. I will not sacrifice my enlightened conscience, learning, dispassionate analysis, extensive experience, and sophisticated judgment to any client or any man or woman living or to any court because these qualities do not derive from a client's pleasure or the law. They are a sacred trust from Providence for the abuse of which I am deeply answerable.

AS YOUR LAWYER, you will have my expertise and judgment because it would be to betray rather than serve you if I were to sacrifice my judgment to your opinion. 

I EXPECT you to follow my advice because I will not merely follow your instructions.