Perth, Australia


KEITH ALEXANDER SILBERT       (Akiva Eleahu Ben Dov )  


Born 23rd July 1917  . Died 15th November 2014


So who is this man Keith Silbert who we have all come to honour today?

Dad was the first son of Russian and Polish immigrants Minnie Masel and Barney Silbert.

At a time when home births were the normal practice, he was born at home in Beaconsfield on 23rd July 1917. His brother Eric was born five years later.

He attended Fremantle Boys School and then at secondary level won a scholarship to Perth Modern school where he excelled  both academically and on the sporting field.

He was both a prefect and captain of athletics.


Dad was introduced to Ettie Bernstein, our mother, and they were married in Perth at the Brisbane St Synagogue in December 1941. Dad had already enrolled in the Army with the onset of the Second World War. He was granted leave for his marriage. On the first day of their honeymoon, at Caves House in Yallingup, he was recalled to duties with the news that the Japanese had entered the war.

In the army his abilities became apparent very quickly….first his acumen in trigonometry applied to recalibrate guns… a task which no one else up the through the ranks could do, and  then his cognitive abilities to assess situations, be able to distil requirements and scribe them. He was rapidly promoted to Intelligence and rank of Captain. Even recently he would recount  the Army  definition of Intelligence:  It is “the collection, collation and dissemination of information”  he would often tell us, long after many other things had departed his memory.

Dad was known in the Intelligence Corp for, amongst other things, being able, not only to write well but to be able to write diplomatically. One of his favourite stories was when his commanding officer, in a fit of rage, summonsed  Dad for a dictation session and simply said  “Write to Bugalugs and tell him to F off.”   That was the end of the dictation session. Dad wrote a diplomatic letter and saved the day.


 He served the war years in Perth, Rottnest and New Guinea. In later years he was to reflect on who, in his opinion, was the real war hero. It was Ettie he said emphatically.  “How could I have been so eager to serve overseas without fully realising the impact on her, newly married, newly in Perth, then in time, with baby Lesley, living with my parents, her in laws, who she barely knew.”

 He would shake his head in disbelief that he had done all that without  being cognisant  of the effect on her. In common with young men of the time it was his absolute blinkered priority to serve his country. In reflection, his lack of  awareness for Mum’s plight at the time deeply saddened him.


He told the intriguing story of his return journey to Australia from New Guinea on his army discharge. He didn’t return until six months after the conclusion of the war because he stayed for the finalising of operations. All other army personal had been dispatched home in regular aircraft. Six months later the only remaining aircraft was a Lancaster bomber and hence this became his mode of transport home.  He and his remaining fellow officers travelled, packed like sardines, in the bomb bays, the bomb compartments.  In turn and alternately with the officer either side of them they crouched and stood, crouched and stood, heads bent as there was no head room.

It was a very long, uncomfortable flight home.


For a lifetime he would quote an army principle which guided his actions and ultimately ours. “Time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted.”

He was meticulous in his thoughtful planning and always encouraged us to be the same.


On his first day home from the war his father said: I want you to come to work. Dad donned his civies for the first time post war and arrived by 9.20 am at his fathers shoe and clothing store, “Barney Silberts” on the corner of High and Market Sts Fremantle. His father said: You’re 20 minutes late”.   Pa, as we called him, showed Dad the order books, the accounting ledger, the cash register, the stock, and then said: “Good well I’ve shown you the business, done the hand over. Now I’m leaving.” Dad said: But I’ll make mistakes.”. “Yes said Pa. That’s how you’ll learn.”  He showed him once more and then at 10.30, Pa put on his hat and left the store ….forever.

In that moment, Dads desire to become a Lawyer was dashed. The war years had robbed him of that. He had a fine mind and would have made a fine lawyer.

Pa later told Dad that he waited the six long years for him to return from the war so that he could retire.


Keith, together with his younger brother Eric ran and expanded Barney Silberts over a 24 year period.  In 1969 they merged with the Cecil Bros/Betts and Betts group and Dad joined the board of Directors assuming the role of children’s shoe buyer. He was a committed, astute and highly moral business man. He was admired, respected and loved by his colleagues and staff at both Barney Silberts and at Betts…..and indeed all who knew him. He retired at age 72.


  Alongside his work he gave active service as a Rotarian for many years. He was a public speaker and raconteur of note. He excelled as a sportsman having played Rugby Union for Australia in the Combined Australian Rugby team in Ceylon in 1938. He also played recreational tennis, golf, bowls and over a lifetime loved watching sport.


He was proud to have been a member of the Project Committee which was responsible for the building of the Jewish Community Centre which opened in 1972.



 Classical music delighted and inspired Dad, following the tradition of his mother who was first violinist in the Perth Symphony Orchestra as  WASO was then called. He was an attendee at the WASO concerts at the Perth Concert Hall for decades. Evenings at home concluded with him in his comfortable chair, his feet up, listening to his favourite classical records.


He struggled with a belief in God after the premature death of our mother, Ettie.

Music provided him solace.  He used to attend musical evenings at the home of his friend Joe Katz where a group of music lovers listened to classical music together.

Joe told him that if he listened 100 times to the pure and beautiful sounds of the second movement of Brahms Violin Sonata Number One he would see God.

 Dad did indeed listen 100 times.  He used to say: “I think I saw God.”

MANY years later when Dad entered Special Care at the Maurice Zeffert Home and Joe Katz’  daughter, Di Brachenburg, was one of his loving carers, she was deeply touched to hear this story.

Such is the wonderful cycle of life!

Dads love of music maintained to the end.

At the Home he was frequently called on to sing which he did in full voice….his favourite song being La Marseilles which he sang in word perfect French from his school days.


Back to family life.

 Lesley was born in 1943 and I was the post war baby born in 1947. Dad was first and foremost a dedicated family man. He adored our mother and he adored us.

We were all devastated with the sudden untimely death of Mum at the age of 35 in 1957.  Lesley was 13 and I was 10.

Through Mums sister, Anne Thomas he  met Maie Cohen who lived in Melbourne.  He frequented Melbourne on shoe buying trips. Maie, a widow had 2 small boys, Gavin and Brendan. Dad and Maie married in 1958 and we became a successful blended family thanks to the intention, desire and effort of Dad and Maie to always put the children’s needs first.


The story of how he won Gavin and Brendan over is also a well told one in our family. Despite his significant sporting history,  Dads football kicking skills were somewhat rusty at this point in time.  He took 9 year old Gavin and 7 year old Brendan and a football out  the front of their home in Yawler St Bentleigh and said: I’ll aim for that lamppost, one which was at a significant distance.  Miraculously, he said in the telling, it was a perfect kick and the ball hit the lamp post. One of them said: “Do it again”. He graciously declined. He had won them over.  From Dads standpoint, being a man’s man, Gavin and Brendan were the sons he never had. He embraced them fully.  He was deeply proud of them, and of course of us,  for the entirety  of our lives.

Dad was a dedicated husband to Maie as she was wife to him. When she was diagnosed with Alzheimers in her mid 50’s  there was nothing more important to him than to support her and care for her. It grieved him terribly when both her deterioration and his health necessitated her going to a care facility. She died aged 66 in 1992.


In later years , with Dads decline, it became apparent that he could no longer manage to care for himself at home.

He entered the Maurice Zeffert Home first spending 5 years in the low care Hostel section and then from January 2013 in the Special Care Unit. 

He received excellent care from staff who loved him and we are so appreciative and grateful for that.

We are also very grateful for the wonderful care from Dr Geoff Gild. 

Whenever we visited Dad he would say: “I’m well and I’m not in pain. You don’t need to worry about me. I’m lucky to be here and they look after me well.”

 Such was the nature of the man.

He continued to inspire us in those latter years with his acceptance, his graciousness, his warmth and his gentle spirit. 


So what was the essence of this man,

Dad alongside being an astute business man had his family as his primary focus. In our growing up years as a blended family he would arrive home each night from work, hang up his hat, wash his hands, come to the family table and ask: “so what’s news?”. He would then encourage each of us in turn to tell our news of the day. He spent hours coaching each one of us in whatever sphere we required help. He encouraged and supported us and loved us unconditionally. He was a safe and secure harbour, a steady anchor….and created the guiding and nurturing environment in which we all thrived. He adored his 4 children, his 10 grandchildren in Perth and in Melbourne and his 4 great grandchildren here in Perth.  And he lovingly embraced our spouses and our children’s spouses.  “Family is what life is all about”  he’d say.

 “ Aren’t I lucky to be alive to see the young ones grow.”  They clearly gave him great delight.


For a lifetime he grieved the loss of Mum and Maie.

That grief didnt lessen for him and possibly increased as he aged and his memory took him more and more to those spaces.


Dad was a man of huge integrity, of humility, of gratitude and graciousness, of positive life philosophy, of acceptance, loyalty,  kindness, compassion, generosity,  thoughtfulness and of great love.


He was an exceptional man, an exceptional father and grandfather who loved dearly and was dearly loved.

He will remain in our hearts always.






Keith Silbert

Keith & Ettie

Keith & Maie

Keith & his brother Eric

Keith with Lesley, Gavin, Brendan & Kay