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  ― 152 ―

IV

In the early years of the goldfields, parliamentary and even mayoral elections were events creating wild excitement. Four-in-hands, champagne, flaring election signs and colours of rival candidates were everywhere in evidence. In one election for the mayoralty of Coolgardie thousands of pounds were spent.

These elections were reminiscent of the elections towards the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century in the West of Ireland when open voting was in vogue. My father was fond of telling how, when he was a boy, the people remembered and often talked about an election in 1783 that lasted fifty-two days for two seats as Knights of the Shire to the Irish Parliament. At that time the polls were kept open until every available vote had been recorded. The election beat the record in the three kingdoms. It cost all the candidates immense sums. It is said to have ruined at least one of them, who soon afterwards had to sell his magnificent home to pay his election debts. During the weeks the polling lasted, drinking, entertaining and rioting were general, so the proceedings must have been lively.

Some of the men who easily and rapidly acquired wealth on the Western Australian goldfields through the sale of gold-mining leases or speculation in the share market became ambitious for political positions. When parliamentary vacancies occurred there were numerous candidates, wealthy men ready to spend money freely, and as they all favoured the same policy—encourage gold-mining—elections usually became mere personal contests.

Photograph Facing Page 152: Kalgoorlie Post Office. Above, as it was in 1894; below, as it is to-day.






  ― 153 ―

Just before the close of the last century there was an election for the representation of the Eastern Goldfields Province in the Legislative Council. The Mayor of Coolgardie, Mr. Arthur Jenkins, a lawyer, was in the field. Some months after he had been announced as a candidate, I was surprised one morning by a large and representative deputation of leading Kalgoorlie residents waiting on me with a request that I should contest the vacancy. They thought that I would be a better member than Mr. Jenkins. I replied that I had no parliamentary experience. They pointed out that neither had he, and that though I was young, yet I was about as old as he was. I believe neither of us was then thirty years, which was a necessary age qualification to become a candidate for the Legislative Council, but no one troubled about such details in those days. Finally, I was persuaded to stand.

No party issues were involved. I found that scores of my friends who would have supported me had promised to vote for Mr. Jenkins before I had any thought of becoming a candidate. There was also at that time much rivalry between Coolgardie, which was regarded as the mother town of the goldfields, and the newer and more rapidly growing town of Kalgoorlie. There were comparatively few Kalgoorlie electors on the Legislative Council roll, whereas Coolgardie's voting strength was considerable. After a spirited election contest I was defeated by a narrow majority.

The election cost me dearly. When the deputation had asked me to be a candidate I told them that I could not afford the heavy costs of an election. The members of the deputation assured me not to take that into account. I was their candidate and they said they would


  ― 154 ―
not allow me to pay a single penny. When the election was over and I began to receive the bills, no one made any offer to pay them, and I could not remind them of their promises. I paid and said nothing. It was a bad set-back, but I am not certain the experience was not worth having.

My next election contest was early in 1901 as a candidate for the first Federal Parliament. I received a petition that was extensively signed asking me to become a candidate for the Kalgoorlie electorate. The petition was signed by practically all the leading men of the constituency. My opponent was Mr. J. M. Hopkins, Mayor of Boulder City, an able speaker and a capable man. I was assisted by the public belief that I was mainly responsible for starting and carrying to a successful conclusion the “Separation for Federation” movement, which brought Western Australia into the Commonwealth. I was returned by a majority of over 2,000 votes.

Hopkins subsequently was elected a member of the State Parliament and became Minister for Lands.

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