It is with great sadness that we, at SCA NSW, acknowledge the passing of John O’Brien, a former President of our organisation. John passed away peacefully at his home in Newcastle on Saturday 16th March aged 82 years. He was the fourth President of the Institute of Strata Title Management (ISTM), now SCA NSW, and he was one of three Presidents who were born in New Zealand, the others being Foundation President, Don Cameron (1980-1984) and Rex Schmidt (1994-1996), who followed John O’Brien as our fifth President.

      John O’Brien was born in Christchurch in 1941 and by the time he was 19, he was restless for a change and “looking for youthful adventure” as he himself put it. Pursuing that change, he crossed the “Ditch” in 1960, spending the next two years travelling across Australia, finding work as he needed it. At the end of this time, he settled in Sydney, finding a job with a large company in Meadowbank. He studied at TAFE at night, earning a Diploma in Purchasing, before moving to the Purchasing department of a large tin smelting company in Alexandria.

      In the early 1970’s O’Brien was offered a job in a real estate office in Crow’s Nest and, looking for a new challenge, he took the job, returning to TAFE at night to earn his Real Estate Licence. In 1970, O’Brien married his wife, Suzanne, and by 1977 they made the decision to open their own business. Consequently, they purchased a stock and station agency in the Hunter Valley town of Muswellbrook. This business looked after real estate and property management, as well as selling livestock and rural properties. While running this business, O’Brien first encountered strata management through an association with Don Cameron, Foundation President of ISTM.  Cameron, who was based in Manly, managed two blocks of home units in Muswellbrook and engaged O’Brien to help him run them.

      After more than a decade in Muswellbrook and with their two children growing up, the O’Briens moved to Newcastle, buying a house in Merewether, and setting up an office in Hunter Street in the city. O’Brien decided to concentrate solely on strata management in this new business, becoming the first specialist strata manager in Newcastle, the role previously being carried out by accountants, surveyors, and the like. John O’Brien Strata Management began with six blocks, but quickly expanded to the point that he had to move to bigger premises in Watt Street, employing another strata manager and accounts staff.

      On 29th December 1989, a severe earthquake, measuring 5.6 on the Richter Scale, hit Newcastle, killing 13 people and injuring more than 160. The quake caused widespread devastation throughout the city, damaging 35,000 homes and more than 3,000 commercial buildings. The total damage bill was placed at more than $4 billion. O’Brien’s office was completely destroyed and access to the city was blocked for some time. Thankfully all the business records were backed up, so O’Brien was able to find new premises and begin again almost immediately, but it took several years for Newcastle to get back to normality.  Indeed, one of the blocks O’Brien managed was completely destroyed and many others were severely damaged. This required a great deal of work on behalf of his clients to get them rebuilt.

      O’Brien was, by this time, on the Board of ISTM, a position he held from 1989 until 1995. During these years he was President from 1992 to 1994. He had originally joined the ISTM in 1981, at the behest of his friend, Don Cameron. O’Brien not only travelled to Sydney each month for Board meetings, but also attended all seminars and events organised by the ISTM from the earliest time of his membership. O’Brien was one of those members present at the very first ISTM seminar in February 1981.

      After O’Brien resigned from the Board in 1995, he continued to assist ISTM by running the Induction courses in strata management at the ISTM office in Chatswood. He was elected as a Fellow of ISTM in 1998 for services to the industry. He was further honoured with a Life Membership of SCA(NSW) in 2002.

      John O’Brien is rightly remembered as a pioneer in the strata management industry and tributes to his work have been many this week. Muriel Barasso, the second President of ISTM and the only woman to hold the position said, “I have fond memories of John and his wonderful contributions to the early years of ISTM and particularly the organisation of our early conferences which he helped organise at Muswellbrook.

      Another former President, Peter Callaghan (1999-2000) said that “John made a significant contribution to our strata industry in its formative years. He was always ready to assist other strata managers freely with advice and guidance.

Strata industry icon, Richard Holloway added that,” I knew John very well and respected him enormously. I well remember him speaking very emotionally and passionately in a presentation at an ISTM Convention regarding his experiences in the Newcastle earthquake and the difficulties he faced in assisting his clients.

The heartfelt thoughts and condolences from all of us at SCA(NSW) go to John’s wife, Suzanne, and to his immediate family, Ben, My, Kate, Ella, Max and Eddie. We are immensely thankful for John’s immense contribution to the strata industry in New South Wales.