Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Joseph Simon McKey (1904–1982)

by Denis Martin

This article was published:

Joseph Simon McKey (1904-1982), Catholic priest, was born on 16 July 1904 at Warwick, Queensland, second of three children of Queensland-born John Thomas McKey, labourer, and his wife Bridget, née Kelly, from Ireland. Educated at Thane State School and Christian Brothers’ College, Warwick, at 15 Joe joined his father on the family farm at Rodgers Creek and also worked at a nearby cheese factory. He played football and cricket and trained as a boxer, becoming at 19 the lightweight champion of the Darling Downs.

Deciding to join the priesthood, McKey studied Latin and other required subjects, entered St Columba’s College, Springwood, New South Wales, in 1928, and transferred to St Patrick’s College, Manly, in 1931. On 18 November 1934 he was ordained in St Mary’s Church, Warwick; he spent the next two years in parish work at Stanthorpe and Chinchilla. Diagnosed with tuberculosis, he was sent to a sanatorium at Leura, New South Wales; he returned eighteen months later to his mother’s home at Warwick, where he was to live for the rest of his life. While never well enough to resume the full responsibilities of parish life, he performed chaplaincy duties at the hospital and the convent, and said Masses at outlying churches.

In 1945-53 McKey worked as a dental mechanic and learned to repair clocks and watches. An amateur astronomer, he had bought a second-hand telescope in 1941. Later he made several reflector telescopes, observed the movements of the planets, and correlated them with sun spots and solar flares. Joining the Astronomical Society of Queensland in 1945, he occasionally addressed its members on meteorology. He read up on geology and in 1953 built the first of five seismographs, laying the essential components on bedrock, deep in his back yard. He recorded graphs of earthquakes, disturbances on the ocean floors and local tremors. Geologists at the University of Queensland assisted and encouraged him, and requested copies of his recordings.

To strengthen his lungs McKey learned to play the bagpipes and joined the Warwick Thistle Pipe Band. A growing interest in Scottish history, music, and folk lore culminated in a brief tour of Scotland in 1974. He was a keen photographer and painter; he attended William Bustard’s art classes at Southport and won prizes for his watercolours at the Warwick show. Knowledgable about local history, he wrote The Warwick Story (1972), Dawn Over the Darling Downs (1977), The Light of Other Days (1978), Linger Longer (1979) and Wattle Scented Warwick (1982). He took flying lessons and for ten years after earning his pilot’s licence in 1971 put in many hours of solo flying; he also built and operated several motor-boats. In 1977 he was awarded the Queen’s Silver Jubilee medal for service to the community.

‘Father Joe’ was retiring and unassuming yet driven by a restless inquisitiveness to learn more about God’s world. At heart he remained simple and sentimental. He delighted in driving, accompanied by his dog, to the scenes of his childhood, boiling a billy, and sketching or scratching around for relics to put on his mantelpiece. McKey died on 1 June 1982 at Warwick and was buried in the local cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • L. J. Ansell, Joseph McKey (1983)
  • Warwick Daily News, 4 June 1982, p 2
  • McKey papers (Catholic Diocesan archives, Toowoomba, Qld)
  • personal knowledge.

Citation details

Denis Martin, 'McKey, Joseph Simon (1904–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 19 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


16 July, 1904
Warwick, Queensland, Australia


1 June, 1982 (aged 77)
Warwick, Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

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.