Kevin English

Kevin, I often see you attending to various types of electronic related needs at the MKC. I would like to know more about your involvement with U3APP, and more specifically about your expertise.

“Originally, Karen and I joined U3APP about 12 years ago, following my recovery from a stroke. It was suggested to me by my Occupational Therapist, who asked me well, what are you going to do following your discharge from hospital? He suggested we take a look at U3APP. So we came down, had a look, and thought this is a really good thing to get involved in, and we both joined up at that time.” Kevin was interested in science, history, and also some exercise classes.

Kevin joined the Committee of Management and served as treasurer for a number of years. Initially the processes were very manual, so he implemented various changes such as streamlining the banking and setting up a U3APP office account at Officeworks. Kevin recalled with some humour, “Karen said to me, you know the only job bigger than the treasurer’s job, is the job of the treasurer’s wife!” Karen had the task of going down to the bank and banking all the cash.

Kevin took on the responsibility of having Wi-Fi installed throughout the building. “This was quite an interesting project as at that time the Wi-Fi was very poor… it was a big issue for those wishing to use it. It was obvious that it was very important to have decent Wi-Fi throughout the whole building.”

Subsequent to Kevin liaising with Port Phillip Council, they agreed to wire the building providing U3APP paid for the equipment needed. Kevin researched and purchased the necessary equipment and “that dramatically improved the performance of Wi-Fi throughout the building.”

Kevin’s other job at U3APP, he is the ‘go to person’ for fixing and replacing any of the audio visual and office equipment, on a need’s basis.

Where did you acquire your knowledge and obvious skills? “ I was a Telecommunications Engineer, so I had a solid background in that area.” More on that later. Kevin grew up in a farming community at Lake Meran (near Kerang), a very different world from his later lifetime involvement with electro-technology.

Kevin and his siblings grew up on their father’s farm. They owned 2000 acres of land. Wheat, sheep, and cattle were the main products. It was assumed that Kevin and his brother would follow in his father’s footsteps and become farmers one day. Kevin humorously recalled, “even before he married, my father named his business W. S. English and Sons. I was the eldest of 3 kids, we all grew up on the farm and went to the local primary school.”

This school had a maximum of 15 children. Just one teacher for the whole school. “The quality of our education depended very much on the quality of the teacher. They were usually quite young, straight out of training. So, some years you would have a good teacher and you would learn a lot, and some years you really didn’t learn anything.”

They would ride 2 miles on their bikes to and from school, “for a little while we went by horse and cart.” Interestingly, Kevin notes that just 10 years later his sister and her fellow students were always dropped off and picked up by car.

As a young boy, Kevin grew up thinking to himself, “I was going to be a farmer.” He has since reflected that perhaps “one of the most significant events in my life, was when I was about 12 years old. I was having a conversation with my mother and said to her, I suppose I’ll be a farmer. And she said, you know, you don’t have to be a farmer. That thought had never really occurred to me. From that moment on, I didn’t want to be a farmer.” Kevin intuits perceptively, “so, it was a 30 second conversation with my mother, that probably changed my whole life.”

Subsequent to Kevin spending two years at Kerang High School, he became a boarder at Wesley College, in Melbourne, where his father had also been a student. He recalls that during his first two weeks, “they were throwing out some old desks, I just happened to open up one of the lids. On it was chiselled, W. S. English 1926 (father) and under that D. M. English 1946 (cousin). So I couldn’t resist writing K. S. English 1966 underneath these names. Exactly 20 years between each name.” However, the next day the desk went to the tip, “I have always regretted that I didn’t take the lid off the desk and keep it. So, our 3 signatures went to the tip!”

Kevin obtained a Bachelor of Engineering (Electrical) at Monash University. His skills in math and physics led him into this area of interest. He took a job with the PMG Research Laboratories, later the Telecom Research Laboratories.

The story develops in an interesting way: During Kevin’s undergraduate years, there were only male students at Mannix College, the affiliated Monash residential college. In 1974, the college went co-ed and Kevin obtained work there as a tutor. It turned out that “Karen, whom I had met just briefly before, also became a tutor at Mannix.”

“So, that’s how we got to know each other, and by the end of the year we were engaged.” 5 Months later, they married. Kevin worked at the Research laboratories in Clayton, Karen at the Monash Biochemical department. “One child appeared, a boy, then soon after we had a baby girl.”

Kevin participated in a number of interesting projects with PMG (later Telecom Australia). One being an Adaptive Echo Canceller. “A very sophisticated electronic device which removed the echo in a signal, first designed in America at that time … we developed a specialized version for Australia,” resulting in a trip to America to introduce this device.

Where else did your career take you? Kevin obtained a fellowship to work in the UK for two years. Karen and their two children went with him. He worked at GEC in Coventry, developing new equipment, and also with the Hirst Research Centre in London. On their return to Australia, they had another child, “so, we ended up with two daughters and a son.”

Kevin proceeded to work on the Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), which generated a number of overseas trips. He eventually moved away from research, into an engineering management position with Telecom Australia – Telstra. (Having obtained a Master of Engineering Science). Kevin witnessed and partly drove the development of the Telecom network from fully analogue to fully digital, then the emergence of mobiles. “So, I worked on lots of interesting projects over the years. One of the big ones was setting up the interconnect arrangements between Optus and Telstra. This threw up some interesting challenges.”

“Basically, I was an engineering manager, often managing quite large teams of people. Then, redundancies were on offer. Having been with Telstra for 34 years, after a weekend of deliberations, I convinced myself, yep, this is too good to give up. So, I took the package offer.”

What did you do then? Kevin spent 6 months, upgrading their home. He was then offered a job with Alcatel Lucent. When the opportunity arose for Kevin to work in Singapore, “Karen and I packed our things up, our kids were off our hands by that time.”

“We tripped all around Asia, my job was called Solutions Engineer. Basically, designing large telecommunication solutions, in many countries including India, China, Vietnam and Malaysia. We really enjoyed our time over there.”

About 3 years later, they were due to return to Australia, however Kevin was required to work another week in Vietnam. “My boss said, look you stay here and write up what we have been doing. So, I happened to be working from home, that was the 17th of March 2010, I know that date! I was working away on my computer and all of a sudden, I had this incredible headache. It came on in a fraction of a second. I really thought I was going to die, and I probably could have quite easily died.”

Karen returned from her yoga class and found Kevin in bed. She called an ambulance, he was taken to hospital where he was diagnosed to have a “ruptured aneurism in my head. There is a 50% death rate associated with this condition, so I was lucky it didn’t take me out.” An operation was performed the next day. Kevin and Karen returned to Melbourne a month later, where he spent a further 5 months in a Rehab hospital.

How was your recovery and rehabilitation process? “Originally, I was totally paralysed down my left side. Later on, I was asked in rehab, what are the three things you want to do? I responded, I want to be able to walk, I want to be able to go up and down stairs at home. I want to be able to drive a car. Well, they said, you’re being a bit ambitious, but we will see how we go. By the time I left hospital, in some form, I could do all those three things.”

Kevin considers that he has had a “pretty good recovery from where I started.” But returning to his work, “tripping around Asia, would have been difficult.” Whilst he had not anticipated retiring at 57 years old, “I decided that we’d moved on to a different stage of life, so I have never gone back to full time work.” That was when his OT suggested U3APP.

Kevin has devoted his time and knowledge to the Australian Stroke Foundation which, “very much is trying to get involved with people who have had a stroke, to ensure knowledge is relevant to people who use this service. I became a Stroke Safe speaker, giving talks to community groups and a member of their 10-person Consumer Council representing the interests of stroke sufferers and their carers.”

Kevin was presented with the Volunteer of the Year Award by the Stroke Foundation in 2019, at the Melbourne Town Hall, where it was said, ”Kevin is an inspiration. His experience, dedication and insights are invaluable.”

Kevin explains that one role of the Stroke Foundation is developing online treatment guidelines through a responsive process called ‘Living Guidelines’. Kevin is a member of the Stroke Living Guidelines Steering Committee.

Could you give some examples of recent changes? “There have been significant developments in the past four years or so, in respect to treating strokes. One is endovascular clot retrieval, which extracts the clot and basically doubles your chance of walking out of hospital. Whilst this cannot be applied to all cases of blockages, it is proving to be very effective.”

Another recent innovation in Victoria is a dedicated stroke ambulance. “The special thing is, that it has a scanner in the ambulance. So, if someone rings triple zero, describing a possible stroke, they’ll send out this stroke ambulance and start treating them before they even get back to the hospital. The main thing about treating a stroke, is speed.”

A further interesting development is the Australian Stroke Alliance (ASA), a consortium of 40 national partners including the Stroke Foundation, which received the largest medical research grant in Australia, $40 million in 2021. The ASA are developing world-first miniature scanners that can be placed in an ambulance, helicopter, or plane. “The Flying Doctor Service will have these scanners in their planes, they will be able to scan and treat people before they get to the hospital.” A number of universities, the Florey Institute, the Stroke Foundation, technicians, engineers are contributing to these recent developments. “These very cheap, portable scanners have a lot of export potential. So, it is a very interesting project.”

Other interests you enjoy? Travel has been a continuous part of Kevin and Karen’s active working life. As he recuperated, they wanted to continue their travels. With some humour, Kevin recalls that Karen came into the hospital one day and said, “I am booking a river cruise from Budapest to Amsterdam, you can’t walk now but you have 12 months to learn how to walk again. If you can’t get out and do things at least you can sit on board and watch everything going by.”

12 months later, “I could probably do 80% of the things that Karen and our friends were able to do.” Having greatly enjoyed this experience, “pretty much every year since then we ‘ve done another trip.” They are going to France and Ireland in June of this year. Their travels have included Antarctica, Canada, South America, and Europe, particularly enjoying their time spent in Africa.

Kevin and Karen have 6 grandchildren, all living in the Melbourne area. The eldest is 17 years, the youngest 5 years old.

So, your stroke has not held you back from doing the things you enjoy doing? “Well, I did not plan on retiring at 57 years, I mean that totally changed my life.” Kevin reflects that he was able to make the transition from being dedicated to his work for so many years, “I think probably because I had a month in ICU, then 5 months in rehab, this sort of took me out of the old way of life. By the time I came back home, it was a sort of distant memory. So, it was pretty easy to say OK, well, we start again, and we do what we want to do. So, it’s never been a big issue for me.”

Kevin and Karen, “are the first participants in Port Phillip Council’s kerbside EV charging trial.” (Photo supplied, Port Phillip website.) Kevin and Karen decided to purchase an electric car but had no garage where it could be charged. Fortuitously, Kevin discovered that Port Phillip Council was doing a trial of a pop-up Kerb Charge. This involved “a little unit put into the edge of the kerbside and wired into your house.” He followed this up, including insurance and liability issues but finally successfully had this installed.

Kevin’s stoic outlook is perhaps shaped by his childhood years in the Kerang farming community. “Keep going, keep on, regardless of hardship, that’s very much a farmer’s perspective. That people like me can have promise, my dad was certainly that kind of person.”

Kevin’s contributions to U3APP, the Stroke Foundation, and his commitment during his working life to developing viable telecommunication networks, are of measureless value.

Throughout this interview, Kevin stressed the support given to him by Karen. Together they are a remarkable workforce, both within and outside U3APP.

Kevin English was interviewed by Felicity May.

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