History of West Australia/Edward Vivian Harvey Keane

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MEN of broad minds are as much required in the management of Australian Railways as they are elsewhere. Railways have to be built into sparsely settled districts in order to give a fillip to development. Along the route may be much fertile soil, which, without this transport agency, would be too remote from a market to enter into the war of competition. Facing railway administrators is the question of the economical working of the lines. At their inception these lines cannot be expected to pay. It is merely a matter of tiding over present difficulties in order to form the nucleus of a future prosperity. There are thus needed in our midst men of grasp and detail, who can choose between the essential and the unnecessary, who have commercial foresight as well as engineering ability, and who are masters in mathematics.

Edward Vivian Harvey Keane HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

This serves to lead to a summary of the excellent deeds of citizenship of Mr. E. V. H. Keane, J.P. A certificated engineer, and having a wide experience in the building and working of railways, this gentleman came among us, and has helped in the solving of the railway problem in this partially populated colony. His connection with the building of Western Australian lines has been extensive, and as manager of the great privately-owned Midland Railway Service he has instituted some highly useful examples, and assisted, by careful supervision, in the development of considerable territory.

Edward Vivian Harvey Keane, J.P., ex-M.L.A. was born in Cheshire, England, in August, 1844. The early years of his manhood were spent in studying for the profession of Civil Engineer, and he duly qualified. In 1876 he left England and went to Melbourne, where he practised his profession. Subsequently he removed to South Australia and became attached to the Engineer-in-Chief's department as a resident engineer. After two years he retired from the service, and in 1879 began railway contracting. The first contract he carried out was the laying of the Holdfast Bay Railway line on a 5 feet 3 inch gauge. Upon completing this work he built the 3 feet 6 inch gauge line from Terowie to Orroroo. Thereby he became acquainted with what Australians term broad gauge and narrow gauge railways.

About this time Western Australians were considering the advisability of extensively building railways to established centres, and Mr. Keane decided to remove hither. In 1882 he tendered for the erection of the line from Guildford to York. He was successful and completed the work, and afterwards laid the line from York to Beverley, the terminus of the Government railway on the line to Albany. These contracts were large, and were carried out most satisfactorily. Next, Mr. Keane built the railway from Spencer's Brook to Northam, also the Bunbury to Boyanup Railway, and the Geraldton to Walkaway line. His last contract was the construction, for the Midland Railway Company (English), of the line from Midland Junction to Walkaway. This was finished in 1895, and has proved of great advantage to the districts it drains, and in connecting the railway systems of the colony. Altogether Mr. Keane has built about 500 miles of railway in Western Australia, and has been one of the largest employers of labour ever in the colony. In June, 1895, he was appointed by the English Company manager of the Midland Railway Service, and this position he still retains (1896). His management evidences high business ability. He has been alert and comprehensive, and during the last two years, although the Government Railways have been unable to cope with the traffic, by wise foresight and system and method, Mr. Keane has negotiated, without delay, all demands on his line.

During many of these years of commercial activity, Mr Keane has been busy in a public capacity. In 1886 his interests in the district were so large, and it was evident that he possessed such useful qualities, that he was asked to become a member of the old Legislative Council for Geraldton. He was elected, and continued to sit until the inauguration of Responsible Government. He was able to substantially assist members of the Council, and also carefully safeguard the interests of his particular constituency.

When the elections for the first House of Assembly took place in 1890 he was nominated for Perth proper. He was elected, but twelve months afterwards resigned. Then he decided to again contest the electorate for the consequent vacancy. On this occasion he was defeated by Mr. T. Molloy, of Hay Street, Perth. In 1891 Mr. Keane was nominated for the Mayoralty of Perth, and after a closely-fought election was successful. He occupied the chair with such general satisfaction that upon his retirement in 1892, numerous addresses and testimonials were presented to him by council and ratepayers; in fact, he possesses many much-prized mementoes of this kind, presented to him at different periods during his career. In 1891 Mr. Keane was created a Justice of the Peace.

His energies have not been confined to railway, parliamentary, and municipal affairs. He is to be considered among the pioneers of Western Australian mining as it exists to-day. In 1888 he fitted out a party of men who took up the Kathleen lease at Golden Valley, which has the distinction of being the first lease applied for on the Yilgarn Goldfields. About 2,000 ounces of gold were taken from the Kathleen. He is now interested in different mining ventures scattered over the Coolgardie and other goldfields, and is a director of the South British Insurance Company.

In 1877 he married a daughter of Mr. Abraham White, Kapunda, South Australia. Mr. Keane is studious by nature, and has a keen grasp of engineering and commercial matters, especially as they apply to railways. He is a leader in the Western Australian business world, and a most valued citizen.