Gerald O'Brien

John Gerald O’Brien (2 December 1924 – 13 December 2017), known as Gerald O'Brien, was a New Zealand politician of the Labour Party.

Gerald O'Brien
Gerald O'Brien, 1965.jpg
O'Brien in 1965
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Island Bay
In office
29 November 1969 – 25 November 1978
Preceded byArnold Nordmeyer
Succeeded byFrank O'Flynn
Wellington City Councillor
In office
9 October 1965 – 9 October 1971
Personal details
John Gerald O'Brien

(1924-12-02)2 December 1924
Wellington, New Zealand
Died13 December 2017(2017-12-13) (aged 93)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political partyLabour
Fausta O'Brien
(m. 1956)
ProfessionCompany director
Military service
AllegianceAir Force Ensign of New Zealand.svg RNZAF
Years of service1942–46
Battles/warsWorld War II

Early lifeEdit

O'Brien was born in Wellington on 2 December 1924, the son of John Thomas O'Brien, and was educated at St Patrick's College.[1] He joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) in 1942 when he was 17 and trained as a radar operator in Harewood and Wigram. He did not see overseas' service as the Americans "had enough manpower in [that] area".[2]

In 1956, O'Brien married Fausta Filipidis.[1]

O'Brien owned and operated his own business Enzart Import Ltd. which exported locally manufactured products overseas. He was also a member of the Brooklyn Progressive Association and Brooklyn Community Association.[3]

Political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1969–1972 36th Island Bay Labour
1972–1975 37th Island Bay Labour
1975–1978 38th Island Bay Labour

He joined the Labour Party and in 1946 he became the Brooklyn electorate secretary, the seat represented by Prime Minister Peter Fraser, and later became chairman. In 1963 he became the secretary of the Wellington Labour Representation Committee.[3]

In 1950 he suggested to Frank Kitts that he should stand on behalf of Labour for the mayor and council; Kitts was the highest-polling councillor, although he did not win the mayoralty until 1956.[4] O'Brien stood as a Labour candidate for the council himself in both 1959 and 1962 but was unsuccessful. In 1962 and again in 1965 he stood unsuccessfully for the Wellington Harbour Board on the Labour Party ticket. In 1965 he was elected as a member of the Wellington City Council and re-elected in 1968.[5][6][7] On the council he was deputy chair of the city's works department. During this period O'Brien was approached to stand for Labour in the 1967 Petone by-election. He declined the invitation however, citing the demands of running his business would be incompatible with a parliamentary candidature at that time.[8]

He represented the Island Bay electorate from 1969 to 1978. Following his election to Parliament O'Brien did not stand for re-election to the city council and his brother Brian (a sports journalist) replaced him on the Labour ticket.[9] Brian O'Brien was elected in 1971 and served as a councillor until 1980 when he retired.[10]

O'Brien was particularly opposed to the Vietnam war and was honoured by the Vietnamese in appreciation. He went as far as to use his importing business to bring goods from Vietnam into New Zealand, directly defying the policy of the Holyoake government.[2] In 1974 O'Brien was elected as Vice-President of the Labour Party.[11] As vice-president was on the panel to choose the successor to Norman Kirk in the Sydenham electorate. Initially the three electorate representatives wanted John Kirk and the three head office nominees wanted the party secretary John Wybrow. O'Brien switched his vote to John Kirk, who got the nod.[12] He was also on the committee that chose David Lange at the 1977 Mangere by-election.[2] In January 1976 he was appointed by Labour leader Bill Rowling as Shadow Minister of Local Government.[13]

He was charged over an incident in 1976 in Christchurch, where he allegedly asked two boys back to his motel room for a drink. The charges were thrown out, and O'Brien maintained that it was nothing but an attempt by political enemies to "get rid of me". He also stated that he got more sympathy from members of the National Party than from his own party.[2] He was subsequently deselected by Labour for the Island Bay electorate.[14] In 1978, he was defeated as an Independent Labour candidate.[15] He ran against the official Labour candidate, Frank O'Flynn, and received some 3,700 votes at O'Flynn's expense, almost costing O'Flynn what had always been a Labour bastion.[14]

O'Brien reaffirmed his rift with Labour at the 1979 Christchurch Central by-election where he endorsed the Social Credit candidate Terry Heffernan.[16] At the 1981 election, the Social Credit Party invited him to stand for his old Island Bay electorate, but he declined.

Private artworksEdit

After organising O'Brien's possessions upon his death, his nephew Lucien Rizos discovered a complex series of illustrations depicting an imaginary world and its residents – including cut-out illustrations of more than 700 original-named characters and their fictional island homelands. The dates marked on these indicated they had been created by O'Brien over a series of decades. Rizos told The Guardian: "I talked to him for a year … about all sorts of things, but [the imaginary world] never came up and it pisses me off that I didn't know", he says. "He didn’t say – knowing he was dying – 'you're going to find this'."[17] Rizos scanned these findings during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, and published them in a catalogue titled “Everything", the contents of which are to be exhibited at the Adam Art Gallery in October 2022.[18]

Later lifeEdit

O'Brien died in Wellington on 13 December 2017. He was survived by his wife of 61 years.[19]


  1. ^ a b Traue, J. E., ed. (1978). Who's Who in New Zealand (11th ed.). Wellington: Reed. p. 210. ISBN 0-589-01113-8.
  2. ^ a b c d Romanos, Joseph (26 August 2010). "The Wellingtonian Interview: Gerald O'Brien". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 18 June 2015.
  3. ^ a b "Mr Nordmeyer's Successor Humble". The Evening Post. 1 December 1969.
  4. ^ Yska 2006, pp. 168f.
  5. ^ Petersen, G.A. (23 October 1965). Declaration of Election Results (Report). Wellington City Council.
  6. ^ Petersen, G.A. (23 October 1968). Declaration of Election Results (Report). Wellington City Council.
  7. ^ "Declaration of Result of Election". The Dominion. 23 October 1968.
  8. ^ "Labour Contenders Not Lacking For Petone Seat". The Evening Post. 10 February 1967. p. 22.
  9. ^ "Four Labour Councillors Will Stand Again; MP Has Withdrawn". The Evening Post. 3 September 1971.
  10. ^ "O'Brien, Brian Francis". The Dominion. 3 May 1982.
  11. ^ "Party Honour for Island Bay MP". The Evening Post. 14 May 1974. p. 6.
  12. ^ Grant 2014, pp. 420.
  13. ^ "Surprises Among Party Spokesmen". The New Zealand Herald. 30 January 1976. p. 10.
  14. ^ a b Henderson 1981, pp. 167.
  15. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 223.
  16. ^ "O'Brien backs Socred candidate". Auckland Star. 15 August 1979. p. 2.
  17. ^ Corlett, Eva (23 September 2022). "Secret life of Gerald: the New Zealand MP who spent a lifetime crafting a vast imaginary world". The Guardian. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  18. ^ "UPCOMING EXHIBITIONS". Adam Art Gallery. Retrieved 24 September 2022.
  19. ^ "John O'Brien". The Dominion Post. Retrieved 17 December 2017.


  • Grant, David (2014). The Mighty Totara: The life and times of Norman Kirk. Auckland: Random House. ISBN 9781775535799.
  • Henderson, John (1981). Rowling: the Man and the Myth. Auckland: Australia and New Zealand Books.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
  • Yska, Redmer (2006). Wellington: Biography of a city. Auckland: Reed. ISBN 0-7900-1117-4.

External linksEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Island Bay
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Vice-President of the New Zealand Labour Party
Succeeded by