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Sir William Raymond Kelly (1898–1956)

by Braham Dabscheck

This article was published:

Sir William Raymond Kelly (1898-1956), industrial court judge, was born on 2 December 1898 at Calcutta, India, son of William Alfred Kelly, assistant-comptroller of the post office, and his wife Ethel Marian, née Johnston. Educated at St Xavier's College, Calcutta, and in Adelaide at the Christian Brothers' College (dux 1916), Ray entered the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1920) where he won numerous prizes. He was admitted to the Bar on 20 April 1921 and practised at Yorketown (from 1922). In December 1924 he was elected mayor of the town. Appointed magistrate for the Port Augusta District in 1926, in the following year he became a special magistrate for South Australia. At St Ignatius' Catholic Church, Norwood, Adelaide, on 7 June 1928 he married Judith Nesbit.

In March 1930 Kelly was appointed deputy-president of the South Australian Industrial Court; on 18 September he was elevated to the presidency of the court and of the Board of Industry. As royal commissioner, he inquired into industrial problems on the Port Adelaide wharves (1930) and into a 'strike' by students at the Roseworthy Agricultural College (1932). He was appointed a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration in August 1941. Moving to Melbourne, he was a member of the committee (chaired by B. A. Santamaria) which published Pattern for Peace (1943), a plan for postwar reconstruction endorsed by the Catholic Church.

Appointed chief judge on 30 June 1949, Kelly frequently provoked controversy. He repudiated the use of back-room deals with the parties, maintaining that the court's decisions should be based not on expediency, but on an interpretation of the law and the evidence submitted. In contrast to his position that the court had 'no right to assume the role of reformer' and that 'theories and policies should play no part in its deliberations', in 1951-52 he advocated an incomes policy that aimed to curb inflation and redirect resources to rural production. His influence was largely responsible for the court's decision in 1953 to end automatic, quarterly, cost-of-living adjustments to the basic wage. By 1954 the minister for labour and national service Harold Holt was criticizing the 'rigidity' of the conciliation and arbitration system under Kelly's leadership.

Kelly had an independent mind, and was cultured and well read. Enjoying a variety of interests, he chaired (1936-41) the South Australian National Football League tribunal and wrote A Primer of Australia's National Game (1944). Contemporaries described him as scholarly and gentle, a person more suited to the relative peace and quiet of university life than the hurly-burly of industrial relations. While he was ostensibly friendly and told a good joke, he was enigmatic and often seemed apart—if not aloof—from those surrounding him. His breadth of knowledge and self-confidence gave the appearance of pompous superiority. In 1952 he was appointed K.B.E. Sir Raymond heard few cases after 1954 due to poor health. Survived by his wife and two sons, he died of acute hypertensive heart failure on 26 July 1956 in East Melbourne and was buried in Boroondara cemetery, Kew.

Select Bibliography

  • B. Dabscheck, Arbitrator at Work (Syd, 1983) and for sources
  • C. Larmour, Labor Judge (Syd, 1985).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Braham Dabscheck, 'Kelly, Sir William Raymond (1898–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 22 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (Melbourne University Press), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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