Where are they now - John O'Brien (SPC 1978-79)
author: Lorrie Liston
The College reconnected recently with former boarder John O’Brien (SPC 1978-79), who, true to the St Pat’s spirit, refused to be beaten when he was told he could no longer drink beer after being diagnosed with Coeliac disease 20 years ago. Since then, John, pictured with his lovely wife Susan, has turned a hobby into a successful business, developing and releasing Australia’s first commercially brewed gluten-free beer onto the market. He now has numerous all-year round and seasonal beers and has most recently, added canned varieties.
Where has life taken you since leaving SPC?
I completed a Bachelor of Communications Engineering at RMIT straight out of St Patrick’s for four years. From there, I spent the next 20 years in various roles related to electronic systems engineering. In 1998 I was diagnosed with Coeliac Disease. But when the doctor told me I could no longer drink beer, I decided to brew my own gluten-free beer. But first I had to convince my wife to move house so that I had a shed to tinker in. Following some terrible initial attempts (and a fire in the back shed whilst trying to roast some grain), the trial beers became better and better. I then started to look at the numbers. At least 1% of the population is gluten intolerant, some say 1.5%, that’s two million Australians who potentially can’t drink traditional beer.
With this statistic in mind, I started to research the next steps on how to turn this newfound hobby into a business opportunity. In August 2005, we released O’Brien Pale Ale to the market, Australia’s first commercially brewed gluten-free beer. We have been innovating and making great gluten free beers ever since, right here in Ballarat, with five all-year round beers and four seasonal beers. We recently installed a canning machine, so we can now offer bottled and canned gluten free beer, as well as kegged beer.
What are your fondest memories of your time at St Patrick’s College?
As a boarder, I loved meeting a whole new group of friends and really enjoyed the sporting and social comradery with other borders in particular, and particularly outside school hours (including the odd sneak away to one of Ballarat’s many pubs). Sports days (Head of the Lake, athletics, etc) were always great fun, and I just loved and looked forward to the socials with Mary’s Mount and St Micks. Where else could you get a kiss from a girl and a clip around the ears at the same time?
Which teacher from your time at SPC had the greatest impact on you, and why?
Big M (Br Miller). He was relentless in his pursuit of getting the best out of his students in his HSC Maths classes.
How has your education shaped your professional life?
I gained a lot of confidence from my time at St Patrick’s and the education I received there. This confidence led me to undertake higher education and eventually to start my own business – Rebellion Brewing – that has been successfully operating for 14 years now. Education, in my opinion, is the most important ingredient to raise those less fortunate than ourselves into a comfortable and fulfilling life.
How has your time at SPC shaped your personal values and your family life?
I think I have a good moral compass, and although a lot of that comes from family, St Patrick’s fostered those related values and I am definitely a better person for that St Patrick’s experience.
If you could pass on one message to the students of today, what would it be?
Try your best, at whatever level that is for you, and don’t walk away with any regrets.