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Thomas Henry Kewley (1911–1989)

by Michael Horsburgh

This article was published:

Thomas Henry Kewley (1911-1989), public servant and university lecturer in public administration, was born on 21 May 1911 at Waterloo, Victoria, fourth surviving child of Thomas Arthur Kewley, wood-carter, and his wife Helen Eugenie, née Ansaldi, both locally born. After completing his secondary education at the Ballarat School of Mines, he worked (1929-31) for the Young Men’s Christian Association of Sydney. He proceeded to the University of Sydney (BA, 1935; Dip.Pub. Admin., 1938; Cert.Soc.Stud., 1939; MA, 1947), where he studied with John Anderson and Francis Bland and lived at St Andrew’s College.

In 1936 Kewley joined the Commonwealth Public Service. He worked in the Postmaster-General’s Department, the national insurance branch of the Department of the Treasury, the Department of Trade and Customs and the Prime Minister’s Department, undertaking research and administrative work. On 26 December 1940 at St James’s Church of England, Sydney, he married Ethel Doreen Gardner, a schoolteacher.

When, in 1940, the University of Sydney absorbed the Board of Social Study and Training to establish a university qualification in social work, Kewley was recruited to teach social legislation and administration. In 1944 he transferred to Professor Bland’s department of public administration; he was promoted to senior lecturer in 1947. His unfailing helpfulness, courtesy and encouragement to his students were widely admired. He served on the university’s board of social studies (1951-64).

By 1941 Kewley had begun to publish articles on the history of social services. His MA thesis was titled `Social Services: New South Wales and the Commonwealth of Australia’. Social Security in Australia (1965), his first major publication, was marked by a wealth of detail and an understanding of administrative process. He brought this study up to date in Social Security in Australia 1900-72 (1973) and Australian Social Security Today: Major Developments from 1900 to 1978 (1980). A reviewer commented that the first book laid a solid historical foundation on which other people would build but that more work needed to be done on the social and political milieu in which the events occurred. This comment foreshadowed later criticism of Kewley’s work. During the 1970s his brand of empirical study was overtaken by more comparative, theoretical and critical approaches. Nevertheless, his books continued to be cited in scholarly, administrative and legislative documents as the standard reference for the history of social security.

In addition to his major interest in social security, Kewley studied the administration of public enterprises. In 1954 he attended, as a guest of the United Nations, a conference in Rangoon on public enterprises. This subject was central to his sabbatical leaves at the London School of Economics and Political Science (on a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship in 1950), and, in the United States of America, at Colgate University, New York State (Fulbright scholarship in 1959) and the University of Hawaii (1965). He retired from the University of Sydney in 1974.

A council member of the State regional group of the (Royal) Institute of Public Admin­istration, Kewley had been assistant-editor (1951-52) and editor (1953, 1970, 1974) of the journal Public Administration. In 1968 he was seconded to the Commonwealth Department of Social Services as adviser to the public servants reporting to the cabinet committee on social welfare.

In the late 1970s Kewley served on the management committee, and as director, of the centre for social welfare studies at the Ku-ring-gai College of Advanced Education, where he helped to establish graduate courses in social and public administration; he was appointed the college’s first fellow. From 1977 to 1981 he was a member of the Commonwealth government’s Social Security Appeals Tribunal. He was awarded the OAM in 1982 and became a fellow of the Royal Australian Institute of Public Administration in 1983. During his retirement he cared for his wife, who was in failing health. She had compiled the indexes of his books. Survived by his wife and their two sons, Kewley died on 2 April 1989 at St Leonards and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • L. Foster, High Hopes (1986)
  • Policy: A Journal of Public Policy and Ideas, vol 5, no 2, 1989, p 64
  • Kewley file (University of Sydney Archives)
  • eulogies at funeral (copy held on ADB file)
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael Horsburgh, 'Kewley, Thomas Henry (1911–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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