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Bernard O'Dowd

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Title: Bernard O'Dowd  
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Subject: 1866 in poetry, April 11, September 1
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Bernard O'Dowd

Bernard O'Dowd near age 38.
Caricature, David Low, 1919.

Bernard Patrick O'Dowd (11 April 1866 – 1 September 1953) was an Australian activist, educator, poet, journalist, and author of several law books and poetry books. O'Dowd worked as an assistant-librarian and later Chief Parliamentary Draughtsman in the Supreme Court at Melbourne for 48 years;[1] he was also a co-publisher and writer for the radical paper Tocsin. Bernard O'Dowd lived to age 87.

Life and work

Bernard O'Dowd was born in 1866 at Beaufort, Victoria, as the eldest son of Irish migrants, [1] Bernard O'Dowd and Ann Dowell. O'Dowd had been a child prodigy who read Milton's "Paradise Lost" at age 8.[1] He had been employed as a head teacher at a Catholic School in Ballarat, but he was dismissed for heresy.[1] He then opened up his own school in Beaufort. In the year 1886, at age 20, he moved to Melbourne, where in 1887, he gained employment as an assistant-librarian in the Supreme Court Library, working with the Victorian colonial and State government until 1935, and retiring as Chief Parliamentary Draughtsman.[1][2]

In 1886, Bernard O'Dowd joined the Melbourne Lyceum, which was the educational and social branch of the Australian Secular Society (A.S.A.).[1] In 1888, several anarchists associated with the A.S.A, who were also members of the Melbourne Anarchist club (Australia's first anarchist society, formed in 1886) were expelled from the A.S.A. O'Dowd then joined the progressive Lyceum, which was composed of the anarchists Monty Miller, Upham, Brookhouse and Nicholls, plus other radical members who had been expelled from the Melbourne Lyceum.[1] Bernard O'Dowd had become the editor of the Tetor publication during 1888, just before the split.

Over the years, Bernard O'Dowd's official career had remained distinct from his poetic and political activities. As an activist, he had joined the Theosophical Society, plus Dr. Charles Strong's Australian Church and, later, Frederick Sinclaire's Free Religious Fellowship. Active as a lecturer with the Victorian Socialist League circa 1900, O'Dowd was a founding member of the Victorian Socialist Party (V.S.P.) in year 1905. In 1907, he then founded the Essendon Socialist Group and, in the years 1912-13, O'Dowd assisted with editing the The Socialist. One of his colleagues in the V.S.P. was John Curtin. In 1912, he had denounced the White Australia policy as being "unbrotherly, undemocratic and unscientific." In 1913, O'Dowd became president of the Victorian Rationalist Association. In his official work, he had been appointed, 'on loan', assistant librarian in the Supreme Court, Melbourne, in 1887. From the mid-1890s, O'Dowd had written and edited (sometimes ghost-written) several law books. In 1913, he also became first assistant parliamentary draughtsman.[1]

O'Dowd was a co-publisher of the first issues of the radical paper Tocsin, from 2 October 1897. O'Dowd wrote a regular column in the Tocsin, as the writer 'Gavah the Blacksmith'.

Bernard O'Dowd's partner Marie Pitt was also a notable poet and socialist.

O'Dowd's books of poetry include: Dawnward (1903), The Silent Land (1906), Dominion of the Boundary (1907), The Seven Deadly Sins (1909), The Bush (1912), and Alma Venus (1921).[1]

Bernard O'Dowd's lecture calling for "the poetry of purpose" was also published as Poetry Militant (1909).

The words "Mammon or millennial Eden", taken from one of O'Dowd's poems, are inscribed around the Federation Pavilion, in Centennial Park, Sydney, a structure designed in 1988, the bicentennial year of European settlement in Australia, as a permanent monument to Federation.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Bernard O'Dowd 1866-1953 by P.D. Gardner" (history), P.D. Gardner & Joe Toscano, 1 October 2002, webpage: Takver-O'Dowd.
  2. ^ Wallace-Crabbe, C. (1988). "O'Dowd, Bernard Patrick (1866 - 1953)".  
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