Ray was born in ‘s-Gravenhage (The Hague). In 1965, at the age of 4, he migrated to Sydney with his family – his parents Wim Kerkhove and Cornelia (in Australia ‘Corinne’) Kerkhove (Muusse), and sister Louise Wilhelmina Kerkhove (now Freebairn).
In Indonesia, Ray’s father Wim served in the Dutch-Indonesian War as a Medic (Sergeant). He later worked as an administrator for the Dutch Army, re-settling Indonesians in the Netherlands and assisting with disaster relief and reconstruction. Ray’s mother had worked with early computers in the Netherlands.
A few family pictures from Ray’s father Wim Kerkhove’s time in the Netherlands.
The family came to Australia on the Seven Seas – a German cargo vessel. It was an uneasy departure because they were turfed out of their apartment before they had fully packed, so they arrived in Australia with few belongings. However, the ship’s journey meant some interesting stops at Egypt and Sri Lanka.
Like most migrants at that time, their first ‘home’ was Villawood Detention Centre, and then the back of someone’s house in Bexley. Ray remembers that when it rained they had to put pots everywhere to catch the leaks. He also remembers his first Australian toys were pieces of grass and things he salvaged from rubbish bins. Until Ray was about 10 or 11 years old, the family did not have a car and never travelled beyond Sydney.They moved to Coogee in 1966.
However, Ray remembers how beautiful they found Australia to be. Both his parents worked very hard. Wim was for decades employed as a sheet metal worker – building boats (‘tinnies’), caravans and air ducts.
He eventually became the foundational manual arts instructor for SWARA (a sheltered workshop for disabled adults in Brisbane). Wim’s real passion was justice. He became a Shop Stewart in the unions and often fought for his work mates’ rights. Meanwhile, Ray’s mother found work as a teacher’s aide, eventually becoming a teacher, both for ordinary and special needs children. From this, she rose to Principal and then curriculum head for Education Queensland. Eventually she became a school counsellor, and a lecturer in education at the University of New England, helping create New South Wales’ first programs for gifted children.
Ray was fortunate to enter University of Queensland at a time when enrolment was still free. In the mid-1980s, whilst completing his Honours studies, Ray began associating with The Foundation for Aboriginal and Islander Research Action (FAIRA). He worked – usually voluntarily – as a research assistant under important Aboriginal rights activists such as Uncle Bob Weatherall and Les Meleza.
This, and Ray’s studies (which had included history and archaeology) led to his increasing involvement over the years in working for Indigenous communities. One aspect of this was co-founding and managing Interactive Community Planning Australia’s community arm between 2007 and 2011. The non-for-profit entity assisted and sourced funding for diverse Indigenous-led heritage projects across Queensland. These included repatriation of remains, films, state-wide events, books, language revival, elders’ visits to museums and archives. The organisation won the 2011 National Trust Governor’s Gold Award.
Today, Ray is an Adjunct Associate Professor with the University of Southern Queensland. He has authored several books, a score of academic papers and over sixty heritage reports. Ray conducts guest lectures and research work, often with various Universities, but mostly as an independent consultant for several Councils, Aboriginal organisations, heritage and art bodies. His key interest is reconstructing Contact-period Aboriginal lifestyles and site histories, including conflict sites. Ray’s work has informed thematic Indigenous histories for Councils, Master Plans for towns, public artworks, exhibitions, public signage, and cultural revitalisation projects.