History of West Australia/Charles Henry Oldham


Charles Henry Oldham HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

WHEN setting out from an old country to a new, the voyageur invariably takes with him a stock of good resolutions. There is every inducement for him to pave his way with good intentions. He leaves behind him old-time associations, breathes the freer air of a strange land, and awaits the coming of the flood-gates of fortune. The traveller to a new country is apt to look at the future through the rosy-hued spectacles of Hope; this characteristic optimism of the Britisher knows no bounds. The Australians, with their free and democratic institutions, have opened up a field of opportunity to the young Britisher of energy, resource, and industry, and those who have come with these admirable qualities have had no cause to regret their departure from the motherland. In a new country everything is possible, and though a Garfield or a Lincoln is not born every day, the artisan has as much chance to rise to the highest positions as he who is born in the purple. Ample evidence of this is to be found in the different Australian centres. It is found in that eloquently comprehensive personality—"the self-made man." No man can be said to properly represent the working classes unless he has, at some time or another, been one of them-selves—he requires to have been "seared by experience," as the late Marcus Clarke so splendidly put it. And in this connection the electors of North Perth have an able representative in Mr. Charles Henry Oldham. He toiled as an employe many years, and from a comparatively humble position has climbed the ladder to success.

Born at Barrow-on-Furness, Lancashire, England, Charles Henry Oldham faced stern life at the early age of eleven years—working in a coal mine. The tiny collier lad, a year or two later, proceeded to learn the trade of a carpenter, and after he had finished his apprenticeship he worked as a journeyman in the provincial towns of England until 1889, when he sailed for Victoria. In the neighbouring colony he followed his trade, and three years afterwards made up his mind to come to Western Australia. This was in June, 1892, at a time when the colony was—to use a colloquialism—"opening up." He was still a working man, but he began to take an interest in things other than the tools of trade. Always having an interest in the intricate labour question, he now threw himself into a closer study of the conditions of the working classes. He became allied with the Trades and Labour Council of Western Australia, and within twelve months of his arrival in the colony he filled the presidential chair of that institution. The experience Mr.Oldham had won in the Old World enabled him to deal diplomatically with a number of complex questions which arose in connection with industrial disputes. His counsel was at all times thoughtfully listened to and as eagerly sought.

Man's natural disposition is to advance his own interests, and in 1894 Mr. Oldham started in business for himself as a builder and contractor. His own practical knowledge was, of course, invaluable to him, and though a master his sympathies were in no way alienated from the working men. Turning his attention to public matters, it was not long before Mr. Oldham found his way into the Perth City Council, being returned as a representative of the North Ward in November, 1895. A man of action, he helped forward several reforms, and was one of the first to urge the. purchase of the Waterworks by the Government. Mr. Oldham is a member of the Works and the Markets Committees of the City Council.

At the general elections in 1897 Mr. Oldham was a candidate for the new constituency of North Perth. He formulated a strong labour platform, and went to the hustings as a direct Oppositionist to the Forrest Government. The struggle was a keen one, but Mr. Oldham had a substantial majority when the returning officer announced the final result.

Mr. Oldham carries with a pleasing presence a free and open-hearted manner, and claims friends both among the masses and the classes.