Bill Kearney 1912-2011: A Good Man

Mar 6, 2018 0 comments
Bill Kearney at Boggo Road, 1941.
One of the Boggo Road greats died in Brisbane on 25 January 2011, just two days short of his 99th birthday. His name was Bill Kearney and he worked as a Queensland prison officer from 1935-77. He was also the oldest member of the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society.

Bill was an inherently good person who was massively respected by both officers and prisoners alike for his courage, fairness and ability to defuse conflict with his words.

I met Bill on a number of occasions and was always impressed by his sharpness and his legendary memory, as he recalled specific conversations with specific people from over half a century earlier. I thought it best that any tribute to him in these pages should come from those who actually worked with him, and the following was written this month by Bill's former colleague Tom King:

'Reflections upon the life of William Michael Kearney

On the 28th of January 2011, Queensland’s oldest surviving prison officer was laid to rest, two days short of his ninety-nine years.

Bill Kearney was born on the 27th of January 1912. After a period employed in commercial activities, he joined the Prisons Department as a warder at Boggo Road prison. During the following forty-two years, Bill proved to be an inspiration and mentor to warders joining the then expanding high, medium and minimum security state farms. He was also well regarded by most prisoners for his predictable and fair expectations regarding conduct and industry.

Prior to his retirement from the position of superintendent at the Wacol Prison in 1978, Bill served at Boggo Road, Stone River prison farm (then located on the Ingham to Abergowrie road in the mid-north of the State), the old city-based Rockhampton prison, and later at the new Etna Creek site. Bill enjoyed his time at Townsville and the other centres, but when he was promoted to Wacol as superintendent he felt that he was part of the most productive, educational and well-resourced prison in the State. Until a fortnight before his passing he lamented the stupidity and incompetence that saw good staff of proven ability retrenched, and the facility abandoned.

During his early years Bill was a sprint and distance champion cyclist, tennis player of note, and old-time dance specialist. However, it was the family that provided him with the greatest pride and satisfaction. This brother officer was appreciated by those staff who worked with him, and by the younger generation of officers he has become acquainted with since retirement. The November Prison Officers reunions provided many hours of pleasure and recreation. John Peel’s gesture in presenting Bill with the International Prison Officers Medal while Bill was a resident at the Holy Spirit Home was timely.

Bill, pictured here with his daughter, received the International Prison Officers Medal in late 2010.
“Kearney’s the name” was Bill’s standard greeting to all. This former workmate was never given a run on the rails. He battled appeal courts and some obstacles along the road to superintendent. His exceptional performance in the G Wing riot and the recapture of Kel Langley after the shooting of officer Kevin Crowley was never appreciated or given the recognition that would apply to any other vocation in the public service. However, the qualities of ‘Kearney’ needed no special applause or promotion. This was evident during his last period at the Holy Spirit Home, where he was so well and consistently regarded.

Rest in Peace, brother warder/prison officer Bill. We will remember you, as did such a broad range of family, clergy, society and officers in attendance at your final Liturgy, conducted by your son and Catholic priest, Rev. Father Ray Kearney.'

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