Ken was born in Cohuna, the oldest of EB (Barney) and Annie Mawson’s five children. Growing up in a small country town at the edge of the Redgum Forest and irrigated dairy farms along the Murray River, Ken enjoyed what he described as a “lucky” childhood. The Great Depression had engulfed Australia and times were difficult but the Mawson family was frugal and resourceful, making ends meet through Barney’s hard work and business acumen.
Eventually prosperity returned to the Australian community. Ken, having successfully completed all the schooling Cohuna could offer, was enrolled in an electrical apprenticeship program at the local butter factory. Ken excelled at school in Cohuna and had a great thirst for knowledge which his aunt Rehna, Annie’s sister, recognised. Rehna’s son was the same age as Ken and she offered Ken the opportunity to join them in Melbourne and continue his education.
Attending Box Hill and Melbourne high schools and Burnley College, Ken thrived on the opportunity his extended family provided. After school, he went to Melbourne Teachers’ College and earned a scholarship to the University of Melbourne, where he studied commerce. Following university and after being rejected from military service because of his “poor skin”, Ken took up a teaching position at Melbourne High School.
During one of his regular visits home after the war, Ken saw that his father’s employees were earning more driving trucks than he was as a teacher. The lure of the country was strong and the opportunity was great so Ken made the move back to Cohuna. In 1947, Ken married Olive Stanton. Olive, a talented musician and teacher, grew up in Rutherglen and had met Ken at teachers’ college. They formed a strong team and were very happily married for 72 years until Ken’s passing.
Upon his return to Cohuna, Ken started work with his father and brother Bernie driving trucks and building timber bridges. The civil construction, cartage, woodcutting and farming business Barney had begun with his father and brother about 35 years earlier was sound and steadily expanding. Ken recognised that for the company to grow and prosper, more structure and sophistication was needed for the enterprise. And so it was that Ken’s formal commerce training came to the fore, as he began his career as a modern manager at a little desk in the corner of his parents’ dining room at 139 King George Street, Cohuna.
Laying the administrative foundations that facilitated Mawsons’ orderly growth and efficient management, Ken, along with Barney, Bernie and younger brother Lloyd (who joined the company in 1955), formed EB Mawson & Sons in 1960. By then the need for quarry products to provide material for civil construction and work for the Mawson tip trucks had been well recognised and the new company was operating four quarries and several sand pits. Ken’s experience overseeing these businesses enabled him to develop a full, intimate understanding of hard rock, gravel and sand operations. That expertise placed him in an excellent position to guide others and lead the Australian division of the Institute of Quarrying in years to come.
Life for Ken was not all crushed rock and numbers though; he was a devoted father, keen sportsman and a proud community leader. Ken was president of the Cohuna Tennis Club, an elder of the Uniting Church, a founder of the Cohuna Chaplaincy Foundation and served on the Cohuna and District Hospital Management Board for more than 30 years. He was head of the Masonic Lodge in Victoria and the Australian and International President of the Institute of Quarrying (from 1989 to 1990).
Ken served for many years on the Victorian Government’s Extractive Industries Advisory Board and as a trustee for the Institute of Quarrying Education Foundation. The Kennett Government also appointed him a commissioner for the newly-formed Gannawarra Shire. In 2006 his exceptional service to the community and the quarrying industry was recognised with an Order of Australia Medal.
In 2007, after 61 years of diligent, selfless, hard work, Ken sold his share of EB Mawson & Sons to Adelaide Brighton. Ken and Olive moved to a peaceful retirement in Torquay and, while he remained vitally interested in the continued progress of the Mawson business, he relished the time he spent with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren by the sea.