Joseph Cornelius Marconi – Goanna Oil Man

Joseph Cornelius Marconi was born Joseph Mahoney in 1876 in London. Immigrating with his family to Australia around 1886, Joseph worked with his father in Sydney as a dealer in building materials. From around 1900 the family spelled their surname “Marney”.

Joseph married Mary Teresa O'Neill in Newtown Registry Office, Sydney, on 27 September 1904.

Joseph became a member of a marionette show in a travelling vaudeville troupe and then traded briefly as a dealer in Newcastle, later joining the sideshow circuit, adopting the name Marconi and basing himself in Brisbane.

As manager of Lyn Vane's snakebite act, and through association with “Professor” James Morrissey, Joseph learned of plants to which goannas were thought to resort when bitten, and of the aborigines' belief in the healing properties of goanna fat.

From about 1910 Marconi manufactured and sold liniments and salves that included ingredients such as oils distilled from herbs and goanna fat. Sufferers of ailments ranging from arthritis to varicose veins attested to the wonders of his products. Marconi was a colourful marketer and he skillfully used comic advertising and widespread signage to promote his products.

Marconi was refused a patent when the Queensland Government declared the goanna a protected species in certain areas 1918, but his sales in Australia and New Zealand continued to increase. In 1920 he opened a shop in Brisbane and in 1922 the Marconi Curative Institute, specialising in massage, hydropathic and herbal treatments was opened.

With a carefully cultivated Italianate appearance, Marconi was one of the best known figures in Brisbane. His hospitality was renowned and the small factory under his home Astra at Bulimba was a Mecca for the local children.

Marconi ran as a Nationalist candidate in the strong Labor ward of Bulimba in the 1921 Balmoral Shire Council election. In his short time in office, Marconi proved to be an effective and energetic councillor.

Tragedy struck on 21 October 1922 when Marconi intervened in a fracas in Elizabeth Street and his skull was fractured. He died a few hours later in the Brisbane General Hospital. After a largely attended funeral service he was buried in Balmoral Cemetery in Brisbane's inner east.

Joseph's wife Mary had pre-deceased him but he was survived by three of their four daughters and three sons. Son Norman Charles (1905-1959) was a pioneer of aviation in Queensland.

Joseph Marconi was remembered by the Bulimba schoolchildren in their chant:

Old Marconi's dead, Knocked on the head. Goannas are glad, Children are sad. Old Marconi's dead.

Acknowledgements: Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10.407.

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The Friends of Balmoral Cemetery Inc (or FOBC) was established on 28 July 2001, to preserve and enhance Brisbane’s historic Balmoral Cemetery.

Acknowledgments

Friends of Balmoral Cemetery Inc. are grateful for the assistance of many individuals and organisations for their ongoing support and for some of the information contained in this website:

 

  • Brisbane City Council, City Cemeteries

  • State Library of Queensland

  • Descendants of those who were laid to rest at Balmoral Cemetery

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