Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Kern, Ronald Gerald (Ron) (1922–1976)

by Rodney Sullivan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Ronald Gerald (Ron) Kern (1922-1976), builder and real estate developer, was born on 27 December 1922 at Subiaco, Perth, eldest of four sons of Australian-born parents Ernest Stanley Kern (d.1936), a tram conductor who became a timber-feller, and his wife Grace Margaret, née Collins (d.1938). After their parents died, the boys lived with relations and Ron helped to raise his brothers, Stanley, Lionel and Bernard, who were 14, 12 and 11 years old in 1938. Ron worked as a telegraph messenger before joining the Australian Imperial Force on 24 October 1941. He fought with the 2nd/28th Battalion in North Africa (1942), New Guinea (1943) and British North Borneo (1945), and was twice wounded. Earlier, while training in North Queensland, he had decided to live there after the war. Discharged from the army on 7 March 1946, he made for Charters Towers with his brothers. Ron, Stanley and Lionel soon moved to Townsville and went into business, progressing from repairing and renovating houses to building them. On 15 August 1954 at the Church of Mary Immaculate, Aitkenvale, Ron married with Catholic rites Maureen Lillian Ross, a nurse.

Kern Bros Ltd (with almost one hundred employees) was floated on the Brisbane stock exchange in June 1956; Ron was its chairman and managing director. Within a year the firm secured a contract to construct the massive foundations for a plant at Mary Kathleen to treat uranium ore. Ron lived on site. The work was completed ahead of schedule, with larger profits than anticipated. Further contracts followed. Kern's caution and far-sightedness in diversifying ensured consistent profitability and created one of Queensland's major construction enterprises. Eventually fourteen subsidiary companies were involved in building houses, quarrying stone, preparing ready-mixed concrete and developing land in Brisbane, Townsville, Gladstone, Ipswich and Rockhampton.

Kern founded and chaired the North Queensland Permanent Building Society (later the Northern Building Society Ltd). He was chairman (1969-71) of the North Queensland division of the Queensland Master Builders' Association, and foundation chairman (1973) and a life member (1976) of the North Queensland division of the Housing Industry Association. As deputy-chairman of the North Queensland Self-Government League, he criticized ineffective State and Federal planning. Politically, he was a 'self-effacing' conservative with an affinity for the development ideology of the National Party, though he prudently donated to the Liberal and Labor parties as well. He also supported a wide range of educational, cultural and sporting groups, and won numerous trophies for lawn bowling.

Handsome and upright, with a direct, confident gaze, Kern was a practising and charitable Catholic who guided his children with love and authority. He understood 'money and its workings', despite his lack of formal training. An astute judge of character, he chose his close friends 'irrespective of their station in life'. His companies were noted for their high morale and good industrial relations. Kern died of cancer on 1 October 1976 at Townsville and was buried in Belgian Gardens cemetery. His wife, daughter and son survived him. In 1988 he was honoured as an 'Unsung Hero' by the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre, Longreach. Renamed the Kern Corporation Ltd, his firm moved to Brisbane in 1979, shed its house-building operations in 1986 and passed into receivership in 1991.

Select Bibliography

  • North Queensland Register, 1 Mar 1975
  • Townsville Bulletin, 5 Oct 1976, 6 Sept 1986, 14 Sept 1991, 27 May 1995
  • S. Ariotti, Recollections of Ronald G. Kern (manuscript, privately held)
  • Kern family scrapbook (privately held)
  • Kern file (Townsville City Library)
  • Kern file (Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame and Outback Heritage Centre, Longreach, Queensland)
  • private information

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Rodney Sullivan, 'Kern, Ronald Gerald (Ron) (1922–1976)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/kern-ronald-gerald-ron-10726/text19007, published in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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