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III

A movement of far-reaching importance with which I was directly associated was the inclusion of Western Australia in the Commonwealth at the beginning of the century. When it was accomplished, and even at the time of writing, to some it may seem from the parochial or Western Australian viewpoint better to have remained outside of the Commonwealth. Viewing the question, however, from the larger Empire


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and Australian aspect, it was decidedly advantageous that the national affairs of the continent should be under one Government whilst the domestic concerns of each state should be controlled by local governments.

At the federal conventions held to frame a Commonwealth constitution Sir John Forrest and nine other Western Australian delegates were elected by the State Parliament to represent the colony. They attended, but when they returned and the Enabling Bill, authorising the submission of the Constitution of the proposed Commonwealth to a referendum of the electors for their acceptance or rejection, came before Parliament, it did not meet with a favourable reception. A large section of the Perth people, under the leadership of Mr. George Leake, were supporters of Federation, and the goldfields community were virtually unanimous in approving of it. Most of the newcomers to the colony came from Eastern Australia and in sentiment were strongly Australian. Their imagination was excited by the ideal of the Australian federal leader, “A continent for a nation and a nation for a continent.”

Mr. Leake came to the goldfields and talked over with me the question of how to bring Western Australia into the Federation. The first objective was to secure for the electors the right to choose whether the colony should join or not. We felt certain that if we could secure a referendum there would be a heavy affirmative decision.

A petition to Parliament was prepared praying that the Enabling Bill should be passed for submitting to a referendum the acceptance or rejection of the proposed constitution. We called it the Bill-to-the-People Petition. It was signed by tens of thousands of electors,


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duly presented to Parliament, treated there with contempt, and despite its prayer the Enabling Bill was rejected. Parliament was prorogued and opponents of Federation rejoiced as the union of the eastern states was approaching completion. It looked as if there was no hope of Western Australia joining as an original state. Federalists in Western Australia felt that if she did not join as a federal state there was a danger that she would never join. Mr. George Leake, Sir Walter James, Mr. James Gardiner and others who took that view were in despair.

It was then that I advocated in the Press the separation of the eastern goldfields from the colony of Western Australia for the purpose of forming a new state and joining the Commonwealth. A movement was started that had for its motto “Separation for Federation.”

Such a movement could be used as an invaluable lever to force the Government to take a referendum. If it did not result in that, then separation from Western Australia was bound to be successful and the goldfields would not fare badly as a self-governing state of the Commonwealth with a railway to the port of Esperance and considerable land awaiting development to the south of the goldfields. In either eventuality, that is whether Western Australia was forced into Federation or the eastern goldfields created a new state, the mining community would be satisfied. Their desire, however, for separation from Western Australia was not so intense as their desire not to be separated from the rest of Australia. They were essentially


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Australians who hoped to see Australia as “one people with one destiny.”

A convention was held at Coolgardie on December 13, 1899. Sitxy-one delegates were present, representatives of all the goldfields public bodies—Municipal Councils, Road Boards, Chambers of Mines, Labour Unions, and so on. With only one dissentient it was decided to prepare a petition to Her Majesty Queen Victoria, asking for separation from Western Australia and setting forth that we were refused an opportunity of voting for or against the acceptance of the Commonwealth Constitution, and outlining various grievances to which we were subjected, including the refusal to give the mining community railway access to their natural port.

Various names were suggested for the new state, and one that was favoured was “Auralia.” Public enthusiasm was excited. In at least one instance a newly born baby girl was christened “Auralia” by her fond parents.

An organisation entitled the Eastern Goldfields Reform League was formed. Branches were established in a score of busy goldfields centres and also in London. At the request of the editor of the Australian edition of the Review of Reviews I wrote an article in explanation of the movement. It was entitled “Altering the Map of Australia,” and contained a map of the proposed new colony. It was republished in various papers and brought offers of help from prominent Federalists all over Australia. The movement also received notice in the London Press.

Communication was unofficially established with the Colonial Office.




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The petition to the Queen was signed by 28,000 adults and duly forwarded through the Governor in a specially constructed and designed casket mounted with local gold. It was presented to His Excellency by the senior goldfields parliamentary representative, Mr. A. P. Matheson, M.L.C.

A largely signed petition to the Queen from the Albany district praying for inclusion in the proposed new colony was forwarded separately.

The Boer War was in progress, and the refusal to the Uitlanders of adequate representatives in the Transvaal Legislature was advanced as one of the causes. The analogy was striking between the treatment of the Uitlanders in various directions by the Kruger Government and the Western Australian Goldfields “Tothersiders” by the Forrest Government. Residents of both Johannesburg and Kalgoorlie claimed that their representation in Parliament was grossly inadequate as compared with the taxation burden they had to bear.

The Uitlanders were represented by the Reform League, and so the “Tothersiders” named their organisation the Eastern Goldfields Reform League. In the House of Commons, in reply to Mr. John Morley, a statement was made by Mr. Joseph Chamberlain of which he was constantly reminded by advocates of “Separation for Federation.” Mr. Chamberlain's statement was: “If a self-governing British colony should impose upon British subjects such conditions as are imposed upon British subjects in the Transvaal, I say we should interfere or cut the connection.”

The Eastern Goldfields Reform League was in close


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communication with several members of the British House of Commons as well as with Mr. Barton, Mr. Deakin and other Australian federal leaders. An Adelaide Committee consisting of Messrs. C. C. Kingston, Josiah Syman and P. McManus Glynn, three distinguished lawyers, drafted for us the petition to the Queen.

The British Government needed no urging to employ pressure to get the Western Australian Parliament to do the right thing. Mr. Joseph Chamberlain was then Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was keenly desirous of the union of the Australian states as it simplified the problems of Imperial unity. It is easier for the Imperial authorities to deal with one Australian national Government than with six Australian Governments, each with widely divergent views, as was shown at conferences of Colonial Premiers. He readily saw that the “Separation for Federation” petition could be utilised as a means for forcing the Western Australian Government to submit the question of joining in the proposed Commonwealth to the votes of the electors.

Mr. Chamberlain, in the course of a telegraphed despatch to the administrator on April 27, 1900, left the Ministry no option but to submit the Enabling Bill to the electors. Mr. Chamberlain pointed out that the terms that Western Australia might come into the Federation as a federal state were better than those that could afterwards be secured. He added:

“Your responsible advisers will also, of course, take into consideration the fact of the agitation by the Federal Party, especially on the goldfields, if


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Western Australia does not enter as an original state. It appears to me of the utmost importance to the future of Western Australia to join at once.”

Diplomatic language could not put it plainer. Furthermore, private and unofficial information from London made it clear that the prayer for separation would be granted if Western Australia did not federate with the other colonies.

Both Sir John Forrest and Sir Winthrop Hackett were opposed to the referendum. They took alarm at the prospect of Western Australia losing the Coolgardie goldfield. When they realised the danger, their opposition to the referendum and to Federation vanished. They became favourable not only to holding the referendum, but also to Western Australia joining the new Commonwealth.

The result was an immediate calling together of Parliament and the rapid passage of the Enabling Bill through both Houses. The question of whether or not Western Australia should federate was submitted to a referendum of the electors. The vote showed a huge majority in favour of federal union. The figures were: Yes, 44,800; No, 19,691.

Even in Perth and Fremantle there was a large affirmative vote, the numbers being: Yes, 11,695; No, 7,521.

In the country electorates there was a majority of between 3,000 and 4,000 against Federation. The goldfields vote was: Yes, 26,330; No, 1,813.

As one writer put it, “For Australia and for the Empire the Western Australian goldfields had won a Federated Australia.” Were it not for the “Separation


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for Federation” movement, Western Australia would not have joined the Commonwealth as an original state. Western Australia might indeed have been still outside the Federation.

Several of the men associated with the Eastern Goldfields Reform League became prominent as members of Parliament and Ministers in federal and state spheres. Dr. Ellis represented Coolgardie in the Legislative Assembly and afterwards practised for years in Harley Street as a specialist in consumption. Staniforth Smith was a member of the Commonwealth Senate and later administrator of Papua.

Alexander Perceval Matheson, who was President of the Reform League, became a senator and inherited a baronetcy. On the maternal side he was the great-grandson of Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister, who in 1812 was shot on entering the lobby of the House of Commons by a madman. In Matheson's first election for the Western Australian Parliament some seventy-five years later, curious to say his opponent was a namesake said to be a descendant of Perceval's murderer. Matheson was victorious.

Hugh de Largie also was elected to the Senate, of which he was a member for over twenty years. Hugh Mahon was a member of the House of Representatives and served long terms as a Federal Minister. Charles Sommers became a Minister of the Crown in Western Australia, and J. Reside was the first Western Australian parliamentary labour leader.

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