Barry O'Rourke as a toddler with his sister in 1968.
Barry O'Rourke as a toddler with his sister in 1968. Contributed

Feature: Barry O'Rourke shares his backstory and Rocky plans

BARRY O'Rourke is living proof that nice guys don't always finish last.

When we spoke last week, the freshly elected member for Rockhampton had just returned home from the emotional roller-coaster of saying tearful good byes to his colleagues in the Department of Housing.

There were some tough farewells with people who he had known for three decades as he ascended the ranks from a lowly file boy to the dizzying heights of Regional Director.

As Regional Director, a role Barry had held for the last five years, he was responsible for 180 employees, rubbing shoulders with people from all walks of life, doing what he could to be honest, up front with people and a man of his word.

"If I said I was going to do something, I did it and if there was a reason why I couldn't do it, I'd actually explain why," he said.

"One of the things with Rocky, you can't afford to tell fibs, you can't do that, you've just got to be honest and upfront and that's really the way that I've done it.

"There's been times that it's worked out extremely well and times that it hasn't worked so well but at least I'll genuinely give it a go."

 

STORY REVEALED: New member for Rockhampton Barry O'Rourke was kind enough to tell The Morning Bulletin a bit about the past and his future plans.
STORY REVEALED: New member for Rockhampton Barry O'Rourke was kind enough to tell The Morning Bulletin a bit about the past and his future plans. Allan Reinikka ROK081217aorourke

His eyes sparkled with emotion as he read through some of the emails of support he received from people he had known over the years.

One email said, "very proud of you and your achievements, you're a great bloke and you'll do wonderful things" and another said, "you'll be sorely missed but so glad you're stepping up your contribution to Queensland and it's been a pleasure working with you".

A constant thread of social justice runs through his life and he's driven by his pursuit of it.

Chatting to him on his back verandah "office" he describes his house as a bit of a "drop in centre" where his family often let people who are doing it tough stay over and to help them get back on their feet.

That's the kind bloke Barry is, with a heart of gold, always looking out for his fellow man.

If you thought he was a gentleman, you should have met the "hat tipping absolute gentleman" his father was.

CHILDHOOD

Barry's freckled complexion belies his Welsh/ Irish heritage but his parents were born in Queensland - his dad was born in Gympie and his mum in Mackay.

Barry was born in Ayr in 1963, the twelfth child in a thirteen child family.

 

Barry O'Rourke as a baby in 1964.
Barry O'Rourke as a baby in 1964. Contributed

He describes his idyllic childhood as being "brought up in a cocoon by a loving supportive family" in the northern Brisbane suburb of Scarborough.

Content to spending his days running around, climbing trees and helping his father grow fruit and veges on spare blocks of land, Barry never had much of an interest in sitting at home and watching TV.

He couldn't remember his mother ever raising her voice but he said with a laugh that there were a few "wait till your father gets home".

 

One thing Barry O'Rourke seemed to notice as life went on - everything happens for a reason.

CAREER

After finishing school in grade 10, Barry did a stint working in Human Resources for Queensland Health before finding his niche by transferring into the Department of Housing to work as a file boy before making his gradual ascension up the ranks.

"There's been lots of things that happened in my life and sometimes I've been really disappointed at the time and it's actually worked out to be the best thing that ever happened for me, so housing was a bit like that."

When asked why he excelled in housing, Barry said some people have described him as being a "real Mr Housing because you have all the qualities that you want, someone that cares, that looks after people, but is a good leader of staff".

 

Department in Housing send off for Barry O'Rourke last week with staff from Regional director's office and contract management.
Department in Housing send off for Barry O'Rourke last week with staff from Regional director's office and contract management. Contributed

"You're only as good as your crew and you've always got to remember that. You've got to put in the energy into building your staff capacity and abilities and to have them confident to make decisions," he said.

"I've always been a hard worker, I'm a person that is reliable. I finished work the other day and I left six months of sick leave sitting there that I haven't touched.

"That's probably one of my greatest strengths, I can work with anyone, I can related to anyone, whether I'm dealing with someone that's chronically homeless with mental health issues through to dealing with a politician, council, mayors, which is really important."

FAMILY

Barry met his significant other Sue-Ann at night school when he was 24. Her caring nature was a good match for his own and she pursued a career working as a special education teacher before settling into a role as a disability support worker.

 

Barry O'Rourke celebrating Christmas 1996 with wife, children and parents.
Barry O'Rourke celebrating Christmas 1996 with wife, children and parents. Contributed

Barry recalled a funny story about when they first started out. He was paying off a house, Sue-Ann was studying at uni and they were "stony broke".

"It was Sue-Ann's birthday and her parents had come down from Gympie and they were were all going to the Albion Park trots for her birthday and we didn't have a cent we were that broke," he recounted.

"I had to ask my father-in-law for a lend of $50, I was so embarrassed, I walked in and put on a trifecta and I made a mistake and for $3 I got $1800 back, a lot of money back in the day.

"That's why I say lots of things have happened in my life where it seems to happen for a reason."

Barry and his wife were transferred around Queensland in his housing role with his two boys, James, 23, and Harry, 22, born in Mt Isa.

 

Barry O'Rourke fishing with 2 sons, James, Harry in 2000.
Barry O'Rourke fishing with 2 sons, James, Harry in 2000. Contributed

He came to assist Rockhampton in 1991 in the wake of the flooding to help assist residents with temporary housing when he "fell in love with the place" and returned to live on the Capricorn Coast in the mid 1990s before finally settling in Rocky in 2002.

POLITICAL CAREER

Barry always identified himself as a Labor man and entertained political aspirations but due to a potential conflict of interest, he didn't become a financial member until 2012.

Watching the impact of Campbell Newman's cuts to front line services with his friends sacked and the disruption to medical support services, his resolve was steeled to want to put things right.

When Dan Coxen ruled himself out for Labor pre-selection in October and someone was needed to step up, Barry quietly started asking around for advice from friends, colleagues and family before throwing his hat into the ring - a decision he "didn't take lightly".

READ: Introducing Barry O'Rourke

"When I spoke to my wife about it she said 'I've been half-expecting this' so it was no great surprise," he said.

This was another case of things falling into place for him.

Immediately after winning pre-selection, Barry the political rookie, was immediately plunged into the long days of a frenetic election campaign.

 

Barry O'Rourke (ALP) at the candidates forum at CQ University.
Barry O'Rourke (ALP) at the candidates forum at CQ University. Chris Ison ROK211117cforum5

"It was like when you're a little kid and you get on that ghost train at the show and it goes wandering through the darkness and then people jump out and scare you," he said laughing.

"There was a fair bit of pressure in that campaign and for me there was a whole new learning in the media and at the same time trying to learn and absorb policy, positions on stuff and what dollars are invested here there and everywhere.

"It was just this massive learning curve."

He prided himself on running a "100 per cent clean campaign" where his morals and values weren't compromised and his support staff were specifically instructed not to argue or bicker at polling booths and to stand up opposition signs when they saw them on the ground.

 

ALP candidate Barry O'Rourke outside Waraburra State School in Gracemere before the polling booths opened.
ALP candidate Barry O'Rourke outside Waraburra State School in Gracemere before the polling booths opened. Kerri-Anne Mesner

Future plans

Barry had big plans approaching his role as member for Rockhampton including a regular coffee meet up with Capricornia MP Michelle Landry and Rockhampton Region mayor Margaret Strelow.

"While we're fighting we're not going to achieve anything, if we're seen as a dysfunctional group, why would the community have any faith in us?" he said.

"I've said it all the way along, it's back to basics on so many things. Look you know I may be a bloody dreamer but I'm going to give it a fair crack to get the best we can for the people of Rocky and surrounds."

READ: Election victor rookie O'Rourke lays out his plans for Rocky

He has been trying to think of new ways of doing things and intends to be accessible, actively listening and collaborating with the community, forging cooperative partnerships, harnessing innovation and better using the available resources.

Barry's planned to get cracking on a number of important projects for the region including the hospital carpark, Rookwood Weir, Browne Park concept plans, a feasibility study on a Supercars circuit, South Rockhampton flood levee, junior sports facilities and a manufacturing hub.

 

Barry O'Rourke, Margaret Strelow, Ellen Smith and Tony Williams at the official opening of he Cedric Archer water park in Gracemere.
Barry O'Rourke, Margaret Strelow, Ellen Smith and Tony Williams at the official opening of he Cedric Archer water park in Gracemere. Chris Ison ROK131117cpark1

Well known for his role championing the cause of western Queensland when he worked for the Department of housing, Barry has a track history of going in to bat for people.

He plans to be his own man and that didn't necessarily mean kowtowing exclusively to the party line on issues.

"All I can do is my best for the community and if something doesn't make sense or doesn't work, I have to challenge those things," he said.

"I always had very strong opinions about different things within my (former) work environment and I would like to think when I do speak up that people listen to me.

"As long as I'm true to myself, that's the most important thing to me."



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