Reflections of the Public Sector

Reflections of the Public Sector is an oral history project to collect histories from long serving public servants about changes they observed over the term of their employment.  The subjects are chosen for their diversity of experience and length of their service.  The emphasis is on capturing a longitudinal understanding of how the public service has developed and changed over time.

The project was initiated in 2004 by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the Institute for Public Administration (IPAA), and was transferred to the Public Sector Commission following its creation in November 2008

The collective histories are intended to provide a rich source of information about the way the public sector has evolved in our parliamentary democracy.

Current Participants

Each history comprises an audio recording of the oral history and a transcript of the interview, both of which are lodged with the Battye Library.  A short illustrated extract summarising the oral history may also be prepared. 

The illustrated extracts are also distributed to the Battye, Western Australian Parliamentary and the Departments of the Premier and Cabinet and Treasury and Finance libraries. Copies of the audio recordings, transcripts and extracts are available from the J.S Battye Library of Western Australia.

Bruce Beggs

portrait of Bruce Beggs

Bruce Beggs started his career in the Western Australian Public Service at the age of 15 years, working in the Forest Department during World War Two. He rose through the ranks of the Forest Department, working in both Dwellingyup  and Manjimup, and was appointed Conservator of Forests in 1972. In 1983 he was appointed by the Hon. Brian Burke to the position of Director General Premier and Cabinet – he remained in this role until his retirement.

George Cooper

portrait of George Cooper

George Cooper started his career in the Public Service as a Messenger Boy with the Metropolitan Water Supply Department. After experiencing roles at the Metropolitan Water Supply Department and Government Statisticians Officer, Mr Cooper moved to the Public Sector Commissioner’s Office .Mr Cooper was appointed as Chairman of the Public Service Board in 1974, during his time as Chairman he supported some important changes in the Public Service including ‘equal pay for equal work’, promotion based on merit and flexible working hours. He retired from the position in 1979.

Dr Jim McNulty

portrait of Dr Jim McNulty

Dr Jim McNulty migrated to Perth in 1956, and was first appointed to the Tuberculosis Control Branch at Kalgoorlie Hospital. Dr McNulty tirelessly warned people of the dangers of asbestos, and fought assumptions that ‘miners get dust disease’. Dr McNulty was appointed to Commissioner for Public Health in 1975, a position that he held until 1984 when he was appointed Executive Director of Public Health. Upon his retirement, Dr McNulty had spent over 31 years in the Western Australian Public Service.

Les McCarrey

portrait of Les McCarrey

From humble beginnings, Les McCarrey rose to high positions in the Treasury of Western Australia serving under 5 Premiers. He left an indelible mark on the treasury in terms of its staffing, efficiency and the modern economy of Western Australia today.

Isobel Barr

portrait of Isobel Barr

Ms Barr began her work in the public sector at the Department of Agriculture in 1944 providing typing and clerical services. She was later promoted to the secretarial role reporting to the Under Treasurer of the time Sir Alex Reid. At the age of 29 she received the position of her career as Personnel Officer for the Public Service Commissioner, where she was made responsible for the employment of all women in the Western Australian Public Service. Her key roles included interviewing candidates and testing their shorthand and typing skills. Isobel Barr retired in 1984, and in 1988 received the Medal of the Order of Australia for forty years of committed service to the Western Australian Public Service

May O'Brien

Portrait of May O'Brien

Appointed in 1954 May O’Brien was the first aboriginal teacher in Western Australia. Over the years May continued to pursue her passion in education and held positions of  Western Australian Community Liaison Officer for Aboriginal Education and Consultant for the Aboriginal Education Branch. 

May was a strong advocate for indigenous education in Western Australia, and oversaw a number of important advances in Aboriginal education including the movement of aboriginal people into senior positions, and the acknowledgement by white authorities of valuable aboriginal contribution to education.

Des Kelly

Portrait of Des Kelly

Des Kelly started his career in the Western Australian Public Service as a graduate officer with the Public Works Department. His engineering degree took him around Western Australia and to the top position of Director General for Department of Mines in the mid 1980’s. 

Digby Blight

Portrait of Digby Blight

Digby Blight spent over 50 years in the Western Australia Public Service. His roles spanned from Trainee Junior Clerk at the Forest Commission, to assisting to coordinate the Group Migration Scheme in London. He was later appointed to Director General of the Ministry of Premier and Cabinet – a role that he held for 10 years. Digby Blight was appointed to the role of Public Service Commissioner in 1990.

Margaret Medcalf

portrait of Margaret Medcalf

Margaret Medcalf joined the Archives Branch at the State Library and rose to become State Archivist and Principal Librarian of the Battye Library in 1971. She was made a Fellow of the Library Association of Australia in 1986 and chose to retire in 1989. In 1999 she received the Order of Australia for services to history in Western Australia.

Ralph Doig

portrait of Ralph Doig

Ralph Doig joined the Premier’s Department as a junior clerk in 1926. Mr Doig progressed his career within the Department and was later appointed to Secretary of the Premier’s Department and  Clerk of the Executive Council.

Ralph Doig was responsible for a number of initiatives to the Western Australian Public Service including  a graduate recruitment programme, time off for people to study at university part time, and replacing seniority with merit as a basis of promotion. Mr Doig was appointed Public Service Commissioner in 1964, and later Chairman of the Public Service Board.


Feedback is welcome from those who would like to nominate a potential participant, historians wishing to be considered to record the histories, and other interested people.

For further information contact the Office of the Public Sector Commissioner:

Telephone  (08) 6552 8708


Page last updated 24 September 2012