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Kessell, Stephen Lackey (Kim) (1897–1979)

S.L. (Kim) Kessell MBE a Fellow of the Institute, and one of its founding members (he held the registration number ‘1’), died on 29th June after nearly two years in hospital. A close friend in Melbourne, J.L. Nave, has sent the following brief notes on his career which will be of interest to many Members.


The death of Stephen (Kim) Kessell closed the outstanding career of one of Australia’s foremost forestry experts and probably the leader in planned fire protection in our forests. In W.A. his methods stopped the massive forest fires of earlier decades and his advice was sought as a consultant in N.S.W., Tasmania and Victoria, where fire protection of the Yallourn open cut was significant. In N.Z. he became well known for his expert advice to a Commission investigating claims of the bond holders of New Zealand Perpetual Forests and he became a consultant to their successors, New Zealand Forest Products, for many years.

Born in Wollongong, N.S.W in 1897, son of a Methodist clergyman, he graduated in forestry science at University of Adelaide, served as a sapper, Field Engineers, lst A.I.F, following which he completed a post-graduate course in forestry at Oxford University, returning to enter the Forestry Dept. in Western Australia. He became the Conservator of Forests in 1923 at the youthful age of 26 and in 1927 earned the higher degree of Master of Science, Adelaide University.

Throughout his long career in forestry he never lost his interest in planning and research on trees and forest products which was his first love and so remained throughout his life. He was a prominent member of CSIRO and worked closely with them on much research in forestry science. He pioneered the grading and permit system in W.A. forests which enabled a sustained system of log yields and the research which in due course enabled a healthy export trade from W.A. in railway sleepers.

During the Second War he served as Timber Controller for the Commonwealth and was awarded the MBE.

He took a prominent part in the formation of the Institute of Foresters of Australia and became its first President.

One of his greatest achievements followed pioneering work by L.R. Benjamin in W.A. into researching the pulping of Eucalyptus, hithertoo thought impossible but encouraged by Kessell and CSIRO. This resulted in the founding of a vital new industry for Australia, Australian Newsprint Mills, Boyer, Tasmania with Benjamin as its General Superintendent and in due course after the war S.L. Kessell became its first Managing Director.

Their joint activities sharply reduced Australia’s reliance on imported newsprint and encouraged the establishment of a kraft pulp industry in N.Z. as a supplement and further their planning ensured that by planned re-afforestation timber supplies are constantly regenerated. His insistence on safety in timber operations followed him into industry and the Boyer plant became a leader in Australia for safety precautions in design and operations.

Kessell retired as Managing Director of the newsprint mills in the late ‘60’s but his achievements were not complete. He was quickly sought out by industrial leaders with a view to the establishment of a Federal organisation in the field of industrial safety, which by co-ordination with State bodies became the National Safety Council of Australia and he the Chairman of its Executive Committee and Vice President.

His wife predeceased him and his only child Mrs Julie Cleland formerly of New Guinea now resides at Kenmore Hills, Brisbane.

Original publication

  • IFA Newsletter, vol 20, no 3, September 1979, pp 35-36

Additional Resources

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Citation details

'Kessell, Stephen Lackey (Kim) (1897–1979)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 11 August 2020.

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