People Australia

  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites
  • searches all National Centre of Biography websites

Browse Lists:

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

John O'Reilly (1862–1935)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

John O’Reilly (1862-1935) dancing teacher, Labor supporter

Birth: 1862 in Cavan, Ireland, son of Peter O’Reilly, carrier, and Catherine, née McDonagh. Marriage: 12 March 1888 at St Michael’s Anglican Church, Surry Hills, Sydney, to native-born Winifred Ward. They had five sons and five daughters. Death: 10 January 1935 at his residence in Goodwood Street, Randwick, Sydney, NSW. Religion: Catholic. 

  • Arrived in Australia with his parents about 1864. Was working as a coach painter in Sydney in 1888.
  • About 1899 took up dancing as a profession and became a dancing teacher at ‘Holmsleigh Academy’, in Pitt Street, Sydney — “ladies, by invitation”. In 1912 he advertised that he managed “Homesleigh Assemblies “every Saturday night at Concordia Hall, Elizabeth Street, Sydney, and also conducted classes every evening at Fitzroy Street, Surry Hills.
  • For years officiated as judge of the Australian and NSW dancing championships and also for Radio 2BL old-time dancing competitions. For many years he conducted dance sessions at the IOOF temple, Elizabeth Street in Sydney. “Dancing, till 11. Gloves Imperative . . . hundreds of pupils passing through his hands every Season can testify to his method of instruction in Waltz or Reverse”.
  • In later years he ran the Cecil Dancing Academy, Pitt Street. Suffering from an “internal complaint” forced to give up his work, probably about 1931.
  • Invited to officiate in the Melbourne Centenary celebrations in 1934, he was prevented by illness from doing so.
  • All his life he had “followed Labor’s banner”. Was a member of a number of Australian Labor Party branches. His wife was “a prominent worker in the Labor movement” and their home at Surry Hills “was the meeting place for early stalwarts of that district”.
  • Cause of death carcinoma of the colon.
  • His son John Francis was secretary of the Hairdressers’ Union, and sometime member of the Legislative Council of NSW.

Original Publication: Biographical Register of the Australian Labour Movement 1788-1975

Additional Resources

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'O'Reilly, John (1862–1935)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 4 December 2023.

© Copyright People Australia, 2012

Life Summary [details]


Cavan, Ireland


10 January, 1935 (aged ~ 73)
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (bowel)

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Political Activism