Rest easy sergeant: Farewell to Ken O’Brien OAM

HISTORIAN, businessman, serviceman, community worker and family man Ken O’Brien died this morning in his 101st year. Born at Oatlands in 1923, he came to New Norfolk as an infant and lived here his whole life other than his war service years and until moving into care two years ago.

His parents established the general store that still stands at 38 High St and is now being converted into apartments. The building still bears his father’s name: J.G. O’Brien. Ken attended the New Norfolk State School and Hobart High School and was planning to further his education when World War II intervened and he joined the army, and – like his father in the First World War – served as a sergeant.

He was eventually recruited into the Z Special Unit which carried out covert operations behind enemy lines. He was required to keep this element of his war service secret for decades afterwards. After the war he took over the family business and married mothercraft nurse Nora. Together they raised Nicholas, Frances, Martin and Louise.

In the late 1950s he sold the general store and built a drapery shop next door, which he ran until retiring in the mid-1980s. In the years ahead he and Nora enjoyed travelling within Australia and overseas.

Chief among the many awards and honours bestowed upon Mr O’Brien was his Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) which was conferred in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2003. The citation read that this was in recognition of his service to the community of New Norfolk through veteran, service and local history groups.

The full extent of Mr O’Brien’s community service will probably never be known. It includes being a founding member of the local branches of Legacy, Rotary and Probus. He was a pillar of the masonic lodge and was also a member of the local historical society and a keenly sought-after guest speaker. He wrote many articles for the local paper.

Mr O’Brien helped with the establishment of the New Norfolk Golf Club at its present location and took part in school working bees. “If there was a job to be done, he’d be there,” daughter Fran McDonald said at the time of his 100th birthday last year. He died shortly before 2am today with his family by his side.

The life of Ken O’Brien will be celebrated at his funeral service at St Matthew’s Anglican Church in Bathurst St, New Norfolk, at 10am on Friday, February 16. Condolences to his family and friends.

Picture: Ken O’Brien OAM marching in the New Norfolk Anzac Day parade in 2016.

See more Derwent Valley and Central Highlands news online and read our print edition every second Friday.


    1. My Dad Tom Laredo always spoke very highly of Ken for he said he is a great friend to all.

  1. Wonderful to read such such a fascinating journey this man had, and how he contributed to his local community. His time certainly covered so many developments in society and day to day living. Iam a little younger but being interested in science and technical developents, I think we both have lived through unique times. I salute him for he daring wartime service, as one vet to another, R.I.P. you have done your duty-above and beyond, your country and family proud.

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