Class of 1938

Ken Kelsall was an Aquinian who should be remembered by us all every time we drink a glass of water. He was a gifted engineer who pioneered and led the building of 26 dams across the state. Ken was strong academically and a tremendous athlete. He departed the school in 1938 as Dux, College Captain and with a General Exhibition. He excelled in just about every sport offered at the College: captained the 1st XI Cricket team, was vice-captain of the 1st XVIII Football team, ran for the Athletics team and rowed.

In his first year out of school, Ken began his working life as a cadet engineer with the Public Works Department, returning to studies to graduate from UWA with a Bachelor of Engineering with honours. It wasn’t a glamorous career choice: in a book he wrote on becoming an engineer he describes being sent to Stirling Dam in 1941 where his accommodation was a “10ft x 12ft tent mounted on stumps with a jarrah floor”. But at least they gave him a horse to inspect the nearby forest for deposits of ironstone rock.

Ken rose from cadet engineer to become Chief Engineer and then Deputy Director of Engineering with the Public Works Department (PWD). He was appointed Chief Engineer of the Metropolitan Water Board in 1980. Ken oversaw four decades of unprecedented expansion of water supply and irrigation systems throughout WA. He played a major role in the construction of the Ord River Dam and irrigation scheme, one of Australia’s biggest water projects.

Ken returned to Aquinas College to serve as president and editor of Fish magazine and donated a considerable collection of memorabilia to the school. He was an active member of the Old Aquinians’ Association and helped with surveying and the development of many campus projects.

Fellow engineers and colleagues across Australia remember him as “a generous fabulous bloke who mentored and helped guide the careers of scores of engineers”. He retired in 1985 and the following year was awarded the Order of Australia. Ken was an Honorary Fellow of Engineers Australia, a past president of the WA Division of Engineers Australia and a national Vice President.

In a rapidly growing and very thirsty state, the real value of his contribution was to coach the next generation of engineers.