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I

IN response to a requisition, signed by a large number of electors, including many representative men, I became a candidate for the Legislative Council at the biennial elections of May, 1908. I was duly elected, and have been a member of the Western Australian Parliament from then up to the time of writing—a period of some twenty-seven years.

A prominent question on the goldfields was the growth of centralisation. One of the promises I made on the hustings when first elected was to do all in my power to check it if returned. Western Australia extends over one-third of a continent. Its population in proportion to its area was at that time a mere handful—a couple of hundred thousand. Yet nearly one-half of that population was crowded together in the immediate vicinity of the capital. Instead of endeavouring to get people into the backblocks to help to develop the state's great natural resources, legislators and administrators favoured a policy that was certain to draw people towards the metropolis. The railways all led to Perth. Huge expenditure was incurred making a harbour at Fremantle, whilst Albany, with its magnificent


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natural harbour, and Geraldton were neglected.

One way to strike a blow at centralisation was to secure the construction of a railway from the state's main railway system at Coolgardie southward to Esperance Bay, where a harbour could be constructed at comparatively small cost. As already pointed out in the references to the federation movement, Esperance, which is most picturesque, is not only the natural seaport, but should also be the holiday and health resort for the goldfields during the warm summer months, when a change to the coast is essential. The opening of the Port of Esperance during the early days of the goldfields would have caused a large population to be established in that part of the state. That population would naturally be opposed to centralisation. In fact, the whole battle of centralisation or decentralisation in Western Australia resolved itself round the Esperance Railway.

The struggle against decentralisation had been in progress some fourteen years when I was elected to the State Parliament. It took some thirty years of continual struggle before the Coolgardie-Esperance Railway was completed, and it was only secured in sections. First the Coolgardie-Norseman Railway was completed. Then a great many years later—in 1915—it was decided to build a railway sixty miles north of Esperance to Salmon Gums. It was not until the beginning of 1927 that the gap between Norseman and Salmon Gums was completed. In Perth for years the mere suggestion of the Esperance Railway was sufficient to arouse the warmest resentment. The case in its favour from the viewpoint of the whole colony was irresistible.


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There was nothing reasonable to be said against it, but the Perth people simply would not have it. No ministry could hold office and build it until after years and years of strenuous effort.

Goldfields members were all pledged to the Esperance Railway, but if they were in earnest over it they could not hold ministerial office. Some goldfields members flagrantly betrayed their pledges. During my absence in Perth a leader writer on the Kalgoorlie Miner, whilst I was editor, in an article condemning three goldfields members, who were Ministers, for outraging the promises on which they were returned, made some comments that might bear an interpretation different from what was meant. The three Ministers took an action for libel, and a Perth jury gave them a verdict. At a general election held soon after, the Ministry were almost wiped out of existence, their rejection by the electors was so emphatic. Only one of the three Ministers ever dared again to face a goldfields constituency, and he was defeated.

Had the Esperance Railway been built a quarter of a century earlier than it was it would have hastened considerably the progress of Western Australia. The life of many of the mines would have been prolonged, owing to the reduced cost of working by reason of cheaper supplies, and the agricultural and pastoral country between Norseman and Esperance, and to the east and west of that area, would be peopled by thousands of prosperous and contented farmers. Probably that part of the state would have had a hundred thousand people, whereas the rest of West Australia would be no less populous than it is to-day.




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To me the work of the state Parliament was of intense interest. The problems were complex. There were the usual industrial questions, and I saw the institution of the Arbitration Court and its operations, and the endeavours to make it perfect, and to ensure that its decisions were respected by both sides. The trouble is that whilst the arbitration law can be enforced towards the employer, it becomes a dead letter when the employees refuse to obey it.

What, however, is the most attractive work in Australian politics is the peopling of the vacant spaces of so vast and empty a continent. In Australia, perhaps more than in almost any other country of the present day, statesmen have the satisfaction of being able to “read their history in the nation's eye.” It was a common occurrence for, say, a railway to be built through virgin bush and then for those responsible for its construction to travel through the country served by the line a year or two later and find it dotted with hundreds of homesteads and carrying a large population.

Future generations of Australians will probably say of the men of to-day that they “builded better than they knew.” The great bulk of men think only of the immediate present, and hardly realise how much they are working also for the future. It is amazing what Australians have done in the way of work. Take Western Australia, and considering that the population to-day is still less than half a million, yet the length of railways built, the harbours constructed, the roads made, the country cleared and cultivated, is an almost staggering record.

The Australian public man possesses considerable ability. He may not have much book learning, but he


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is well educated as regards practical knowledge. Often his ways of solving problems are rough and ready, but they are effective. And he is honest. Like politicians in all parts of the world, he may at times break his pledges and sacrifice his political convictions to expediency. No ministry could hold together a week if members were not prepared to surrender their convictions on minor points in order to achieve some more important objective. It would not be possible for Ministers to agree on every question that arises, and it is only by a spirit of compromise that unity can be attained. There are those who consider compromise dishonesty, and it may be in some instances, but what I refer to as honest in the Australian public man is the absence of corruption. In parliaments all over the world, even in the House of Commons, cases of corruption have occurred. That is inevitable, for there are black sheep in every flock, but no legislative bodies anywhere are freer from corruption than those of Australia. Statements may be made to the contrary. In Australia evil-minded persons occasionally insinuate that legislators are open to receive bribes, but such statements are made by those who cannot verify them. Australian members of Parliament are incorruptible. Most of them live and die very poor men.

They do not stand high in public estimation. Perhaps some of them, as well as back-country pioneers, find consolation in the words of Kingsley Fairbridge:

“Yet in the end they will fathom our secrets:

Say it was easy to make what we made:
Turn us and criticise, handle, dissect us,
See where we fail'd and forget where we conquered—
Point us a way that was better and surer—
Show us a road that was swifter and straighter.


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We, who are moulding the hope of a People:
We, who are finding a world for our nation;
We, who are giving our lives and our efforts:
We shall be blamed that we did not do better.
Blamed? But who cares—as the lights that we follow
Have shown us a Thing to be done, to be lived for—
Just so shall we struggle, just so shall we labour,
Just so, though unthanked, we shall live for and do it.”

Often Australian public men make immense sacrifices of time and money. Sir Edward Wittenoom told me that in 1883, when he first became a member of Parliament, he had to ride on horseback three hundred miles to attend Parliament, and the same distance back, covering fifty miles a day. That was before payment of members was in operation. As a rule, entering Parliament is injurious to a man's business or profession, yet, notwithstanding, large numbers of men go into public life well knowing the cost. Members of the Federal Parliament representing states distant from the seat of Government must be either wealthy men or professional politicians. A member representing, say, Western Australia must be away from the state for many months each year—in fact for most of the year. Even when Parliament is not sitting there is usually work for him to do at the seat of Government. Much the same thing applies in the state Parliament to a member representing a distant constituency. If he lives in his constituency he must also have a home in the capital. Numbers of men in the Federal and State Parliaments travel each week-end from the capital back to their country homes. It is said that this constant travelling has shortened the lives of many members, especially


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of the Federal Parliament, amongst whom the mortality has been at times heavy.

For more than twenty years I travelled over seven hundred and fifty miles by train each week (that is between my home in Kalgoorlie and Perth) whilst Parliament was sitting in Perth. I was not conscious of its affecting me in any way injuriously, though it was tiring.

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