History of West Australia/Charles Harper
CHARLES HARPER, M.L.A.
Greenham & Evans.
CHARLES HARPER, M.L.A.
IN the quiet days of West Australia's history, before gold was discovered, there were men engaged in some rich fields of industry who did not make much noise in the world, but the prizes lay outside the beaten track of trading enterprise, and required a courageous hand to pluck them. To the sybarite, fond of ease and self-indulgence, the colony in its germ did not appear to be the place wherein to make a fortune; there were no highly paid sinecures, no chances of growing rich by gambling on the Stock Exchange. At that time, if a man were to prosper, he had to make his own standing place; he had to look afield, and draw treasure from the storehouses of the earth and of the sea. While the crowds of underlings were willing to grovel for life as wage-earners, the young colonist of independent spirit and intelligent insight, taking a survey of this vast and undeveloped colony, perceived in it resources and opportunities which were hidden from the general ken. He was quick to "grasp the skirts of happy chance," without trumpeting his gains or inviting a crowd to follow his lead. The pearler or the pastoralist of twenty years ago is the capitalist, the legislator, the leader of the community to-day. In his strenuous youth he sowed wisely and industrious]y, and now that the harvest has been gathered he has leisure to profit the country by attending to its affairs. Among the legislators of the Western Australian Parliament there are several such members, who, having shown prudence, judgment, and some mental grasp in guiding their own destinies, are now, happily for the welfare of the colony, devoting their ripened experience, in the prime of life, to the wise direction of the Government. In them the people repose the public trust, with confidence that rash or foolish counsels shall not prevail while their steadying hand is on the helm of State, and they are bringing to bear in Parliament the discretion that has been approved in practice and that is impressed with the hall-mark of successful results. In other parts of Australia there have been, to the reproach of the colonies, too many impecunious failures in positions of control, and perhaps to this fact may be ascribed many of the serious ills which neighbouring communities have suffered, while the West has gone on triumphantly from one stage of progress to another. Western Australia does not wish to place in situations of responsibility unpractical enthusiasts who, so to speak, "have soarings after the infinite, but who never pay cash;" she prefers to put an abiding faith in those pillars of the country who have built their own well-being upon the rock instead of the shifting sands, and in doing so have furnished evidence that they are safe and capable administrators. They have, to use a Biblical illustration, been faithful over few things in their private capacity, and they have been given the charge of greater things in the control of the Treasury of the country.
Mr. Charles Harper, M.L.A., is one of the foremost of the group of members of the Legislative Assembly to whom we are alluding. His father, an Anglican clergyman, was ordained by Bishop Short, and was formerly in charge of the parish at the Avon Valley, near Newcastle. The son was born at Nardi in 1843. Having been educated privately, he in 1861 joined Messrs. E. and A. Dempster and D. Clarkson (now member for Toodyay), in making an exploring trip through what is now the Southern Cross district in search of pastoral property. They visited Golden Valley, Yilgarn, but not then finding a likely location, Mr. Harper accompanied by Mr. Clarkson and Mr. L. B. Lukin went out in 1864 to make a more thorough examination of the country, which they found to be too dry for pastoral purposes. During 1866 Mr. Harper went to the north-west and spent a year in examining the interior. Two vessels, The Brothers and the Emma, having been lost, Mr. Harper started overland to Champion Bay to obtain provisions for the nearly starving Roebourne people. At this time he had determined to engage in pearling, and he assisted in building a boat for that purpose. The craft was turned out at Roebourne,and she was taken to the Cossack Creek to be launched. She made her first voyage in 1868, with Mr. Harper and Mr. S. H. Viveash in charge, and employing aboriginal divers. They were not expert enough to bring up shell from a sufficient depth to make the work very profitable, and after navigating the boat for some time, Mr. Harper went to Beverley and engaged in farming. But he found the sphere too narrow for his energies, and in 1871 he returned to the north-west with Messrs. McKenzie Grant, and A. E. Anderson, and took up the De Grey Station, or rather the nucleus of that property. At first only 200,000 acres were leased from the Crown; now the entire area of the De Grey Estate, free and leasehold, comprises a million acres. Pearling, in which Mr. Harper had relinquished his interest, now became very profitable, and he again returned to it. The firm in which he took an interest started with three boats, which were manned by Australian blacks from the De Grey Station, and some of them became very expert, not only as divers, but also in shearing. The De Grey was the first wool-raising property in the colony where the natives were utilised in getting in the clip, and they well repaid the trouble of teaching them. They did not aspire to earn a reputation as "ringers," by snipping the sheep's skin to pieces, but, without being remarkably fast at the work, were painstaking and steady shearers. Mr. Harper has always been his own overseer; he is a thorough believer in the axiom that "the master's eye grooms the horse," hence it was his practice to spend six months of the year on the pearling grounds and the remainder on the station, both of which were very lucrative enterprises. The flocks of the De Grey were steadily increasing, and in order to get a useful change of blood a lot of sheep were purchased from Messrs. Mount, Riley, and Smith. In 1876 Mr. Harper took a pleasure trip to England, and in 1879 he sold to Mr. John Edgar his share in the pearling fleet, which henceforth belonged to Messrs. Grant, Anderson, and Edgar, while Mr. Harper left for Perth, and in March, 1879, he married Miss De Burgh, daughter of Mr. Robert De Burgh, of "Caversham," Guildford, where "Woodbridge" is situated. This splendid property, consisting of 270 acres, belonged at one time to Sir James Stirling, and it forms one of the most delightful country seats which are to be found in this or any other colony. A beautiful orchard fringes the winding and picturesque banks of the Swan River, and on the crest of the hill stands the handsome and spacious family residence, which is the home of the member for Beverley. In front of the house, all through the summer days, the sparkling waters of an artesian bore are thrown from a depth of 170 feet, discharging 200,000 gallons per day for the irrigation of the fruit trees, which yield a magnificent crop and one famous for its delicious flavour. The year 1880 was an eventful one for Mr. Harper. He established, in conjunction with the late Mr. A. McRae, a sheep station on the Ashburton River, and purchased the Perth Gazette and West Australian Times. The late Sir Thomas Cockburn Campbell was his partner in the newspaper enterprise, which led to the then tri-weekly daily appearing under the shortened title of the West Australian. At a later period Mr. J. W. Hackett joined the firm, and the good effects of the change of proprietorship were seen in the issue daily instead of only three times a week of the West Australian, and the appearance of the Western Mail as a weekly offshoot of the office. in 1878 Mr. Harper was elected to represent the North-Western Province in the old Legislative Council, vice Mr. Thomas Burges, who had gone to England. After two sessions there was a dissolution, and Mr. Harper did not seek re-election, the seat being filled by his partner, Mr. McKenzie Grant. Declining, in 1887, a nominee seat in the Council, which was proffered by the then Governor, Mr. Harper was afterwards elected for the York district, which then included Beverley. On the introduction of Responsible Government, he topped the poll for the representation of Beverley, which seat he has held ever since. In other directions Mr. Harper has borne an important part in leading movements which have left their mark upon the progress of the colony. When the Royal Commission was appointed to enquire into the condition of the yeoman class, to devise measures for liberalising the land laws and to encourage settlement, Mr. Harper's special experience and judicial cast of mind marked him as one of the most eligible members of the board, whose report was adopted as the basis of subsequent legislation. He was also one of the Select Committee which held an investigation regarding the Fremantle Harbour Works. The creation of the Agricultural Bureau gave him another opportunity of well-deserved distinction. The bureau is one of the chief agencies for carrying out the professed policy of the Government to assist the agricultural class, and to foster the natural producing resources of the colony. It was also established to be an advising body to the Government in all that relates to the cultivation of the soil, and it is entrusted with large spending powers in order that it may be of real service to the pastoralists, fruit-growers, and farmers. The choice of the commission appointed by Government to elect a chairman fell upon Mr. Harper, whose tact, firmness, and force of character admirably qualify him to fill the office with credit to himself and advantage to the public interests. An annual conference—the "Farmers' Parliament" it has been called—is held every year under the auspices of the bureau, and every year the conference is growing in strength and influence. In April last more than seventy delegates assembled from all parts of the colony. Under the presidency of Mr. Harper the proceedings were conspicuous for harmony and the execution of a great deal of practical work. To the bureau is entrusted the carrying out of several statutes; the protection of orchards from the introduction of insect pests and others; so far it has fully accomplished all the good that it was expected to do when it was founded in 1892. As one of the largest fruit-growers of the colony, Mr. Harper has much sympathy with the work of the bureau. In addition to his fine orchard at "Woodbridge," Mr. Harper last year purchased, in conjunction with Messrs. John Edgar and John Wedge, the celebrated Cheriton property, which, while it was in possession of the vendor, Mr. W. D. Moore, of Fremantle, was renowned for producing the finest oranges in the colony. A large additional acreage is now being planted with oranges, for which the soil and climate of Cheriton are especially suitable, but the old familiar name has undergone transformation into the native appellation of Wak Gin Gin. For a time Mr. Harper was largely identified at "Woodbridge" with the dairying industry, but the labour difficulty induced him to leave his valuable milch herd and plant to his manager. Although a thoroughly practical man, who has had a busy life of hard work, Mr. Harper has always been a student, and exhibits his interest in literature and the arts and sciences by acting on the committee of the Victorian Public Library and the Perth Museum.
In the House, Mr. Harper is a thoughtful speaker, who always commands a respectful hearing. He is not one of those who gets upon his feet without having some useful and gracefully expressed contribution to make to the debate. His style of oratory is correct and agreeable to a cultured ear, even though there is nothing of the impassioned torrent of true eloquence about its smooth well measured cadences. The calm judicial temperament of the man is strikingly indicated in his speeches, and if he were more fiery in declamation, or a rancorous party-man, he would not occupy so high a place in the esteem of the community, which sets much value upon his impartial spirit and unclouded judgment. In our album of portraits it is doubtful whether there is a single face that would carry a larger vote throughout the whole of Western Australia on the question of personal popularity.