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Vale Keith AUSTIN, 1913-2011
RESPECTED: Keith Austin was construction manager on buildings such as the
Royal Australian Mint. [Source: The Courier-Mail]
Keith's Obituary from the Brisbane Courier-Mail, January
MECHANICAL engineer Colin Arthur Keith Edward Austin, OBE, was born on March
29, 1913, in Woy Woy, NSW, and died on December 16, 2011, in Brisbane.
During a distinguished career spanning four decades, Keith Austin well and
truly put his mark on Australia and Papua New Guinea. He was
construction manager for such iconic buildings as the Royal Australian Mint
and the Administrative Building during the 1950s and 1960s, when Canberra was
undergoing one of its most important phases of consolidation.
Later, he was one of the men who helped in the huge and complex task of
transforming PNG from a protectorate entirely reliant on Australian expertise
into an independent, modern nation.
Born Colin Arthur Keith Edward Austin in Woy Woy, NSW, in 1913, he was known
to his parents and three older sisters simply as Keith, his two older brothers
liked to call him "Joe" and some of his workmates later dubbed him "Cake",
but to most he was Keith Austin.
After World War II broke out, he enlisted in the RAAF in July, 1940, and
served in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Palestine, Syria, Malta, Sardinia
and Italy as a flying officer, working on aircraft engines with No.450,
No.458, No.465 and No.3 Squadrons before he was eventually discharged in 1945.
Like so many other servicemen, Mr Austin seldom spoke of his experiences in
those difficult years. However some of the things he saw have been
preserved through his photography. A keen amateur photographer, many of
the images he took during the war were later given to the Australian War
Memorial and were used in the book and the film on No.3 Squadron.
Another clue to his experiences was the Malta George Cross 50th Anniversary
Medal he was later awarded for his service during the siege of Malta.
A mechanical engineer by training, Mr Austin had joined the NSW State
Department of Works in Sydney in 1938 before the war interrupted his career.
After his discharge he continued with engineering and in 1954 moved to the
Commonwealth Works Department in Canberra as construction manager during a
period of great development and change in the capital. In 1966 he moved
to Brisbane, where he served as Assistant Director of Works and then, in 1974,
to Papua New Guinea after taking up the position of Director of Works.
There, he was responsible for handing over the functions of Commonwealth
Construction to the PNG government in the countdown to the nation's
Mr Austin returned to Melbourne, where he finally hung up the cap on a
distinguished career which saw him appointed an Officer of the British Empire
for his 41 years of service to construction in the Commonwealth. Among
his many professional honours was being made a fellow and chairman of the
Canberra branch of the Institution of Engineers Australia and a fellow of the
Australian Institute of Management. A great believer in supporting his
community, he was a member of the Brisbane Cricket Ground, the Queensland
Cricketers Club, Rotary, Legacy and Red Cross.
In his youth, Mr Austin had been an A-grade tennis player. Later in life he
developed a reputation as a golfer, bowler, fisherman and, in particular, a
woodcarver. Studying woodcarving under Elvin Harvey and Geoff Hannah,
and with occasional help from his artist wife Esther who drew up designs for
his carving and marquetry, over the years he turned out some very beautiful
furniture, including wine tables, a hall stand, coffee tables and even a
grandfather clock. His creativity extended to many projects around the
house from creating gardens to building pergolas, garden seats and ornamental
A man who never gave in to sickness and would rather cut down a tree than
spend a day in bed, during his final illness his strength, determination and
courage were marvelled at - and underestimated.
Mr Austin is survived by his wife of 60 years, Esther, and daughters Jill,
Carol and Lesley and their families.
Back in 2006, Keith contributed this note to the Association's newsletter:
"I joined 3 Squadron at Lydda [Palestine] in June
1941, on attachment from 451 SQN, and stayed on until posted to 258 SQN in
June 1942. After the Syrian campaign, we returned to the [Egyptian]
desert. I've forgotten the name of the camp, but there were several
stone buildings with whitewashed walls. Most of the old hands elected to sleep
in the open but, as the buildings looked clean, a number of us elected to use
The superior knowledge of the 'old hands' was quickly
demonstrated. Immediately after `lights out', we inmates were attacked by
bed bugs, which swarmed out of cracks in the walls!"
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