Halvar Roy Kessey

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Halvar Roy Kessey, circa 1938
Halvar Roy Kessey, born 1 April 1905, was the eighth of ten children born to James Kessey and Mary Jane Press. His siblings were Grace (1891), Harold (1893-1957), Beatrice (1895-1951), Bern (1895), Phil (1898), Joe (1899-1970), Horace (1902-1974), Jean (1907-1995) and Hilty (1909-1977).

The family lived at Mount David (Bathurst area of New South Wales) where Halvar's father was the publican. Mount David still had an active gold mine in those days and the miners were the backbone of the pub's earnings.

When he was in primary school, Halvar's parents went through an acrimonious divorce, and his mother lived in Sydney during this time. Halvar was sent to live for a time in Orange with his married sister, Beatrice ("Aunty Beat").

At the end of World War I, the returning soldiers introduced a terrible influenza to the country. The death toll was so high that Halvar's father decided to move his family as far away as possible. His doctor advised him to move to "the hottest place you can find". And so, in 1918, 13-year-old Halvar and his family moved to Bourke where he lived for most of his life.

The wounds of the divorce had obviously healed, because Halvar's parents remarried each other at Byrock during the train trip to Bourke.

Halvar's father was a successful businessman who ran a pub, a movie theatre and owned several rental houses in the town. Jim Kessey was Bourke Mayor during the Great Depression and took an active part in the town's sporting clubs.

Halvar played a lot of sport and developed a strong physique. While still a teenager he was the chief "chucker-out" in his father's pub! There was a keen but friendly sporting rivalry with his brothers that continued throughout his life. For example, at the age of 50 he challenged his brother, Hilty, to a sprint race along Sturt Street and it was keenly contested!

He was a good all-round cricketer capable of some prodigious hitting. He loved to drive fast bowlers for six. On one occasion a six not only cleared the boundary of the main Bourke Oval, it also cleared the fence and landed on the roof of the shop on the other side of Mertin Street!

In 1927, Halvar was chosen to represent Bourke at cricket in the "Country Week" sporting festival in Sydney. This was a great chance to play in the big city, impress selectors and press for higher honours. But he was also engaged to be married and his wedding day clashed with "Country Week". He chose to get married.

Halvar married a local girl, Ena Ruby Murphy, on 29 October 1928. She was a third-generation Bourkeite who had been raised by her grandmother, Alice Bowen (nee Poulton), after the death of her mother (Ellen Ruby Murphy) when Ena was three years old. Ena had met Halvar many years earlier and was very popular with all the Kessey family. She and Halvar produced four children (Jim, Halvene, Carmel and Penny) and seven grandchildren, all of whom were born in Bourke.

For many of the early years of his marriage, Halvar worked for the local Bourke Department Store, Hales and Co. He and Ena lived at the western end of Hope Street, about two blocks from his parents' house in Sturt Street. There was a spare block attached to the house where Halvar and Ena ran a cow and some chickens, with room left over to set up some high jumps for the children.

Halvar continued to play sport and work hard throughout his life. On one occasion he rose early on the weekend and painted the house in the morning before playing cricket in the afternoon! He was also a good footballer and, in later years, a very keen and successful bowler. He served his sports as an administrator also. As President of the Bourke Bowling Club for many years he built the club into the most successful one in town. Subsequently, when the club wanted to build a new modern clubhouse, Halvar was asked to take over the Presidency again so that the Board would benefit from his common sense and financial acumen.

When his father died in August 1944, Halvar bought the Sturt Street house from the estate and moved in with his family. His mother continued to live there too.

He was elected to the town Council and served as Town Mayor. During World War II he was refused permission to join the military forces due to his role in organising civil defence as mayor. The air force built a good airstrip at Bourke for use as a refuelling station. He was provided with sealed orders that were only to be opened in the event of a Japanese invasion.

In the late 1940s, he resigned from Hales & Co in order to start his own business as a house painter.

During his term as Mayor, the town faced a crisis when a large surge of floodwaters moved down the Darling River from Queensland in 1950. The town council decided that the town should be walled in with levee banks to keep out the floodwaters. It did not want a repeat of the inundation that had happened sixty years earlier when most of the town was knee-deep in water for several days.

In one incident, the chief engineer employed by the town council was asked to nominate how many sand bags Bourke should request from the State Government.

"Two hundred", came the astonishing reply.

"Make that ten thousand", interposed Halvar gruffly.

After that, he made sure he oversighted all preparations. He organised the townspeople in the few short weeks that were available before the flood surge came down the river. All trucks in the town were given over to the flood effort. Business hours were cut down to two or three hours each morning and the rest of the day was given over to filling sandbags, cooking for the workers and building the levee banks. The schools were closed and the children mucked in with everyone else. It was a great community spirit that carried the town through.

It was a big flood and the hand-built levees were tested to a very great degree. At the height of the crisis, Halvar arranged for all spare corrugated iron in the town to be laid on the outside of the levee banks in order to strengthen the defences, particularly on the weather side of the town. When the corrugated iron ran out he had all of the athel pines in town pruned and the branches used in the same way as the corrugated iron.

The levees held in 1950. They were strengthened for the 1955 flood and held again. During the next big floods, in the 1970s, the levees were re-built using modern machinery. These days they are a permanent feature of the town; the athel pines have taken root and grow around much of the levee bank. Similar levees have also been used in other western towns, to great effect.

In 1953 Halvar started a plastering business with a partner: Jack Halliday. They built a small factory on the block next to the old house in Hope Street. Later still, he was employed by Bourke Shire Council as an overseer. In this role, he oversaw the building of a number of public infrastructure projects, including much of the town's kerb and guttering work carried out by "dole" labourers during the 1960s. He was also heavily involved with oversighting the work required to build and maintain many of the roads throughout the district, including the road to the top of Mount Oxley.

After retirement, Halvar and Ena moved to Berkley (Wollongong) to be nearer their children and grandchildren. Halvar died in Wollongong Hospital on 11 December 1981 after suffering a stroke three years earlier.