Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Othman Frank Blakey (1897–1952)

by D. E. Hutchison

This article was published:

Othman Frank Blakey (1897-1952), engineer, was born on 10 November 1897 at Herberton, Queensland, son of Othman Blakey, schoolteacher, and his wife Eleanor, née Shackleton. After the accidental death of his father in 1899 left the family badly off, Blakey began schooling at Brisbane Boys' Central School, then won a scholarship in 1911 to Brisbane Grammar School. He matriculated in 1915 and was awarded a Queensland Open Scholarship, studied engineering at the university, won the Sir Thomas McIlwraith Engineering Scholarship, and graduated with first-class honours in civil engineering (B.E., 1920; M.E., 1924). On 19 April 1922 in Sydney he married Barbara Lucy Gwendoline Fraser; they had two children.

Blakey joined the Melbourne architects Barlow and Higgins in 1921 as a structural engineer. A consultant in private practice from 1924, he worked on many large new buildings in Melbourne and Adelaide, and was a leader in the application of techniques such as welded steel framework and reinforced concrete. His high professional standards, both of conduct and performance, and his punctiliousness about job safety were later impressed on his students.

In 1927 Blakey was appointed lecturer-in-charge of the department of materials and structures in the school of engineering at the University of Western Australia. On becoming full-time vice-chancellor, Hubert Whitfeld, who had been professor of mining and engineering, recommended—unwisely perhaps—that the school be divided into departments under lecturers. Blakey was promoted to associate professor and in 1947 to the new chair of civil engineering. The 57 students when he joined the school had grown to 228 by 1945. Although he was reserved in nature, many students valued his open house on most Sunday nights. He always stressed the importance to engineers of human relationships, and in post-war years relinquished the right of private practice that went with his appointment rather than risk competing with former students.

A councillor of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, from 1938 until his death, Blakey was its president in 1945; he took a leading role in the Perth division and was chairman in 1936 and 1942. He was on the State branch committee of the Standards Association of Australia from 1948 and served during World War II on technical manpower committees. Long, lean and lantern-jawed, he had few interests outside his profession: his entry in Who's Who in Australia listed only two recreations; student activities and Rugby football. He was also a Freemason and an office-bearer of the university rowing club. Like most of his professional contemporaries, he did not often turn his mind to the larger social issues of engineering and technology.

After World War II the engineering school under Blakey was slower to take up research than other schools and faculties. Students who returned to resume interrupted courses noticed a change in him; he seemed more conservative, and impatient with colleagues. He died in Perth of cancer on 27 March 1952, and was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • Institute of Engineers (Australia), Journal, 24 (1952)
  • University of Western Australia Gazette, 2 (1952), pt 1
  • West Australian, 24 Mar 1955.

Citation details

D. E. Hutchison, 'Blakey, Othman Frank (1897–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 15 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 November, 1897
Herberton, Queensland, Australia


27 March, 1952 (aged 54)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.