Early in 1998 my eldest daughter and her husband planned a trip to Europe. In preparation for their trip, my daughter did some initial research on the family history. As part of this research she contacted the Wycheproof Historical Society and was put in touch with Allan Milburn, who was not only a member of the society, but also the local newsagent. The result of the research was very informative, however did not have all the information that she was seeking about the O’Connor’s. This would be investigated during the trip. Whilst in Ireland she would visit relatives and friends of her husband’s family. In Ireland she made contact with the genealogical centre in Clare, to learn that my Great Grandfather, James O'Connor, had been born in 1840 in Tiermaclane, County Clare, Ireland.
I took the information ‘on board’ and the further investigation of the family history was put on the ‘to do’ list, until the Covid restrictions were imposed early in 2020. I did have a lot of information about the family tree which had been completed by the Benalla Family Research Group at the request of my wife, who presented it to me as a surprise in 2015. Whilst there were names on the family tree, there was obviously a background to each individual shown. The search began with the original family tree research as a basis, and then the resources of Ancestry and Trove. During the journey, additional information came from two cousins who contacted me during my Ancestry research.
My initial contact was with Allan Milburn, whom my daughter had been in contact with some 23 years previously. To my surprise Allan remembered the details of the contact and the letter that he sent in response to a request from my daughter. Allan’s first comment to me was, “You realise Barry that your Great Grandfather was very highly thought of in the Wycheproof area, and was considered one of the founding fathers of the community”. This surprised me a little as the information that I had at the time, did allude to some community involvement, but not to the extent that I would later discover.
In March 2020 the research project commenced in earnest and I was to discover that my Great Grandfather was indeed one of the founding fathers of Wycheproof. James was a leader in the building of the first Catholic Church in 1877 and was actively involved in any project involving the advancement of the community. He built the first commercial building in Wycheproof, a hotel in 1874, he served as a Water Commissioner, a Racing Club official, President of the Agricultural Show Society, and a trustee of the Mechanic’s Institute. James was actively involved in the extension of the railway and on Friday, September 28, 1883, the long awaited "official opening" of the railway took place. In 1890, along with two other councillors, James started a project which saw the Wycheproof Hospital open in 1898. He was a Councillor on the St Arnaud Shire 1885-1894. In May 1893, he commenced work on splitting the huge shire. The Wycheproof Shire was formed from what was the North Riding of the St Arnaud Shire.
Later in my research, I came upon a news article by accident, which revealed that during his time on Council in 1885, James was also involved in the ‘Dog Netting Fence’ project that covered 204 miles from Tyntynder to the South Australian border, to prevent wild dogs and other vermin from entering 1.2 million acres of farmlands to the south.
There is more to the story of James O’Connor which would fill another thirteen pages, however the 'aide-memoir' which prompted the new investigations came from my eldest daughter in March 1998.
24th April 2021.