Peter Kelly's bitter-sweet moment in Australia Day honours

WITH THESE HANDS: Peter Kelly is a dab hand at engineering and the company that bears his name is an international exporter. He has been recognised with an Australia Day honour for his inventions.

WITH THESE HANDS: Peter Kelly is a dab hand at engineering and the company that bears his name is an international exporter. He has been recognised with an Australia Day honour for his inventions.

Peter Kelly’s monumental achievement – Kelly Engineering at Booleroo Centre – owes its existence to fate.

And Mr Kelly’s Australia Day honour as Member of the Order of Australia is a bitter-sweet experience for the incredibly-talented 77-year-old.

The engineering firm, for which the award was partly given, grew out of Mr Kelly’s grief at the loss of his son, Kim, in a plane crash on the Eyre Peninsula on October 22, 1985.

“I just had to be busy as hell all the time to get over the grief,” he said at his home in Booleroo Centre.

“We needed some engineering to do the cropping on our farm and we did that. My wife Audrey and I founded the company in August, 1987.”

Mr Kelly has retired but still visits the firm every weekday with the mail.

“I wander through … and answer a few queries because I have a bit more history than the present guys, but you only have one boss and that is my eldest son, Shane,” he said.

It is a rare privilege to talk an inventor and self-educated engineer such as Mr Kelly.

His language is rich and fully-rounded and he takes you on a journey from floating pea pick-up machines to prickle chains.

Incredibly, he was a poor student at boarding school.

“I failed Year 9 twice and then the old man decided he had spent enough money at college,” he said.

"I didn’t learn to spell properly and did not like algebra. There was no point in education I found because I was the only son and I had a reasonable farm to go home to.

“I spent time in the blacksmith shop at the farm. I used to work the bellows, but soon discovered that wet sand did not mix with heat.”

Today Kelly Engineering is an international exporter and major employer at Booleroo Centre. Mr Kelly’s award recognised his service to mechanical engineering through inventions as well as his work with the hospital, memorial educational trust, airstrip and school.

The honour paid tribute to several awards that the company has won.

Mr Kelly still fixes mobile scooters for the locals.

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