Desmond (Des) Kelly was born in 1934 and spent his youth in Bassendean. In 1955, he completed a Bachelor of Engineering at the University of Western Australia obtaining first class honours in Civil Engineering. After completing his degree he commenced a cadetship (graduate program) with the Public Works Department. His first posting was to the Fremantle Harbour Works. Des was the first in his extended family to complete his education at a tertiary level.
Entering the engineering profession, Des found it to be a very male-dominated industry. In his year group at university, only two of the 70 engineering students were female and in his first job, 250 men were involved in construction activities while the single female working there was the secretary/typist.
In 1960, Des took a job through the Public Works Department as an assistant to the Resident Engineer at Wyndham, building the Wyndham Jetty. Des then successfully applied for a Gledden Fellowship from the University of Western Australia to study in London. Studying at the Queen Mary College in London, Des obtained his Masters and PhD in structural engineering. On his return to Western Australia with wife Pamela, they moved to Derby for his next project, the building of the Derby Jetty. In 1966, after three years in Derby and Broome, Des returned to Perth and began work on the co-ordination and development of new iron ore projects being undertaken throughout the State.
In the seventies, Des became Chairman of the Pilbara Regional Development Committee and then later Chairman of the South West Regional Development Committee. In these positions and roles in the Department of Industrial Development, he witnessed the shift towards corporate planning, productivity measurement and accountable service delivery.
Des moved to the Department of Mines in 1980, and progressed to the position of Director General. During his twelve-and-a-half years at the Department he was part of significant changes including the adoption of the Mining Act in 1982, superseding the Mining Act of 1904 and embracing technological change. When Des first started at the Department, mining tenements were processed manually, however, this changed over time with the effective adoption of word processing systems. By the time he left the Department in 1993 there was a fully computerised mapping system, “a great deal more efficient and less consuming of effort”.
In his diversity of roles, Des employed a range of management styles that were suited to the people around him. “I tended to want to be a playing coach, directing people to succeed but helping them when it was necessary”.
John Clarke, a former colleague at the Department of Mines says “Des Kelly was a very good administrator. He maintained very good communications with senior staff, and I think as a consequence, for a big organisation, it was a good place to work”.
The fond memories Des has of his time in the public service include not only professional achievements but also more personal memories. As Director General of the Department of Resource Development, he remembers how each year before Christmas he and the other directors would cook a barbeque breakfast on the South Perth foreshore for all staff. “On one occasion, we had a group of Chinese exchange students and something which they found very difficult to even conceive was that the boss and the directors were cooking breakfast for the troops”.
Des inspecting an iron ore project in the Pilbara, late 1960s
Return visit to Wyndham in September 1998. Pictured outside the Old Meat Works, Des’ Grandfather had been involved in the construction
Des as Director General of the Department of Mines
Page last updated 27 September 2012