Not many people can claim to have made a successful forced landing in the Simpson Desert with a broken crankshaft, but this pales in comparison to the years of selfless community work Bill Kelly has undertaken in the Coonabarabran district, with particular regard for advancing health services.
Mr Kelly, who celebrated his 90th birthday on Wednesday, 17 August, was five-years-old when his family relocated to ‘Stonehaven’, on Dandry Road, close to where Pilliga Pottery stands today.
During the proceeding 85 years, Mr Kelly has witnessed the local community grow and has played a large role in its development.
It was Bill Hadfield, also a health services’ advocate, who pushed Mr Kelly towards the Coonabarabran Hospital. Mr Kelly took up a position on the Board of Directors in 1964, a position he held for more than 30 years.
He served as vice-chairman for 23 years and chairman for six years, and went on the chair the Castlereagh Health Service - appointed by the Minister for Health NSW - encompassing hospitals and health services at Baradine, Coonabarabran, Dunedoo, Gulgong and Mudgee.
“It was a demanding role, but we achieved some great things,” Mr Kelly said.
“We spearheaded the campaign for the construction of a new hospital in Coonabarabran and that was opened in 1985.
“I was also on the board when the Binnaway Health Care Centre was constructed to replace the old hospital.”
If that wasn’t enough, in 1991 Mr Kelly was also appointed Orana and Far West regional representative for the Health Services Association of NSW, becoming responsible for representing the health-related issues of other hospital boards across 42 per cent of rural NSW.
In 2002 he was honoured with life membership of the Health Services Association of NSW.
Throughout his tenure in these positions, Mr Kelly has brought about positive change to local health services.
Apart from the realisation of new local health facilities at Coonabarabran, Baradine and Binnaway, he is proud to have been involved in the introduction of a range of community-based health services including mental health, Aboriginal health, child and family health, and the establishment of a workshop for persons with developmental disabilities.
In 2007, Mr Kelly was given due recognition for his contribution to health services and to community organisations when he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia - OAM.
The prestigious award was a fitting acknowledgement, as Mr Kelly has given many hours of his own time and travelled thousands of kilometres in pursuit of improved health services for Coonabarabran and district and has fought continuously to retain services.
“When you start reducing things - the more gear you take out, the more excuses are given to not put people in the hospital,” he said.
Mr Kelly said he was a shy person, but driven by a desire to help his community. To help overcome his hesitancy, in the 1960s he became a foundation member of the Rostrum Club in Coonabarabran, which helped develop his public voice as a person of conviction.
In his drive to establish better health services in the Coonabarabran district, Mr Kelly’s greatest asset was his ability to understand and listen to the people of the community, and effectively advocate on their behalf through a large and often unyielding health system.
“I’m most proud of having achieved the Baradine MPS and the development of the Coonabarabran District Hospital to that of an outstanding facility,” Mr Kelly said.
“My greatest concern has always been that both remain viable, independent and able to give quality health service to the community.”
Mr Kelly has always enjoyed strong support from Joyce, his wife of 65 years, who, he said, was his “rock” and has provided a solid foundation of encouragement for all his endeavours.
Mr Kelly first met Joyce at a New Year’s Eve Ball in Purlewaugh.
After a relatively short courtship involving long phone calls - with the late Gwen Pickette on the “switch” at Purlewaugh - Bill and Joyce wed in September 1950.
The couple made their home at ‘Claremont’, where they still reside today, and welcomed three children - Lynette, Elizabeth and Graham.
After obtaining his private pilot’s licence and then his commercial licence, Mr Kelly supplemented his farming income by operating an air taxi service and interstate transport service, which took him around Australia.
“There is nothing more relaxing than flying,” said Mr Kelly, who was a foundation member of the Coonabarabran Aero Club in the 1960s.
Love of flying runs through the family, with son, Graham, and grandson, Bryce, enjoying their ultralight aircraft.
In 1968 Mr Kelly added another notch to his community service belt when he joined the Rotary Club of Coonabarabran, serving as president from 1973-74.
While attending regular meetings, Mr Kelly still found time to undertake service work, assist with organising programs for overseas exchange students and foster the ideals of Rotary International.
He was elected District Governor during 1983- 84, attended a Rotary International Assembly in the United States, and Rotary International Conferences in Italy and Canada.
“The more you give, the more you get out,” Mr Kelly said of his community involvement.
And Mr Kelly certainly has given - becoming involved in a variety of organisations with the aim to make a difference to the Coonabarabran community.
He was a Past Master and past District Inspector of Workings with the Masonic Lodge, a member of the Rural Lands Protection Board, the National Farmers and the Coonabarabran PAI&H Association. He served on the Wheat Silo Committee, has been an active member of the Presbyterian Church, Representative Elder to the NSW Presbyterian General Assembly, and a member and captain of the Urabrible Bush Fire Brigade - recently awarded a medal for 64 years long-service from NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner, Shane Fitzsimons.
“I’ve had a fantastic life,” Mr Kelly said.
“I believe it is important to keep yourself occupied and healthy.
“While I am proud of my achievements it has been demanding, but none of it would have been possible without the support of my wife, Joyce, and my family, who put up with my many absences over the years, and provided me with the encouragement to continue.
“And while I know life is busy, I urge young people to get out and help in the community.”
Today, Mr Kelly enjoys a quieter life.
“He tinkers in the shed and down in the paddock,” said daughter, Elizabeth Barkley.
“He is happiest when he is climbing on the roof doing something naughty!
“But our family is so proud by what he’s accomplished. He is a great role model - not just to us, but to the whole community.”
A happy 90th birthday to Bill Kelly OAM, who has been a committed health services’ advocate and community stalwart throughout the majority of his life. Bill is pictured with his number one supporter, his wife Joyce.