History of West Australia/Hugh McKernan


Hugh McKernan HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

IT is well that the Parliaments of any country should contain men of varied experience, representing every industry and profession and avocation existing within its boundaries. The advantages are at once obvious, for then every class has a voice in the making of the laws or the guidance and protection of its peculiar interests. But in Australia, with our immense extent of undeveloped country, we should look more hopefully to our business men for assistance in our halls of Legislature. We want no great orator, no genius, no generaliser, so much as a sensible, industrious, enterprising merchant. We want him to have experience by which he may guide the country, and prove of some account all our latent resources. In other words, we should elect astute business men who can develop our waste lands, open up trade relations with other countries, and so enrich us and materially increase our population, and render valuable every resource we possess.

This should be a great object at every election, especially in Western Australia. These colonies do not depend on ancient names and glory in battlefields for their greatness. They must look to broad acres, woodlands, minerals, and waters. It is in commerce—the trading instinct—where the future hope of Australia lies. We have no huge array of bookshelves containing the records of great past deeds. We have no history in stone, in antique castle or crumbling mansion, in catacomb or cathedral, in walled city or ruined archway inscribed with fame of Roman Emperor. Our magnificent stretches of fertile soils, and our wealth of minerals waiting to be unearthed, must take their places. "Tools and the man" must be our watchwords; "arms and the man" must take a subservient position. Let Australians keep this before them, and aim sedulously after the practical in legislation. Let them choose the clever business men to represent them in Parliament. In Mr. Hugh McKernan the colony has a useful representative in the Legislative Council. Although comparatively a young man, Mr. McKernan has had a good experience, and, in addition, possesses that insight into commercial affairs which impels him to encourage them as much as possible. He is imbued with the conviction that Western Australians must foster commerce as far as lay in their power, and his future political career shall probably prove how wise has been his judgment. Hugh McKernan was born in Ireland thirty-nine years ago. He was educated in his native land, and acquired some knowledge of business matters. But he early recognised that the field for his developing enterprise in Ireland was very limited, and, like so many of his countrymen, he decided to migrate to the new free lands of Australia. In 1882 he went to New South Wales, and for the next seven years resided in that and other colonies, learning colonial ways and fitting himself for a business career. Finally, the Yilgarn gold discoveries attracted him to Western Australia, and in 1889 he arrived in this colony. He knew that the presence of gold in any quantities here would soon stimulate trade, and cause it to expand in greater proportion to the expansion in the other colonies. He was right, for he could not have come at a more opportune moment. Remaining in Perth he opened in business as an auctioneer and general commission agent. His connection soon became a lucrative one, and now he must be reckoned among our successful business men. He holds large interests in the capital, although at the inception of his enterprise friends much doubted the wisdom of his investments. Mining matters naturally came in for a deal of attention, and he invested in the industry. He represents in Western Australia some powerful English mining companies. These put together constitute him a business man of standing in the colony. He is the proprietor of that democratic paper, the Geraldton Express.

Public matters always secured considerable attention from Mr. McKernan, whether at home or in the various Australian colonies. It was not many more than twelve months after his arrival in Perth that the new constitution came into existence, and he followed the early course of events very closely. He attended Parliament regularly, and gained a mastery over political affairs. Thus it came about that when the elections to the Legislative Council under the population basis took place in 1894, he was nominated for a seat in the Council for the Central Province. With the Hon. R. H. Wittenoom (Minister of Mines) and Mr. Henty he was duly chosen. His retention of the seat, according to rotation, expired in 1896.

Mr. McKernan is a progressive member of the Legislative Council, and strives to encourage industries of all kinds. He takes a keen interest in debates, and when he speaks is able to give useful advice. He has already rendered service to the growing colony, and with such a wise determination as his he is sure to do more in the future. Mr. McKernan is an enlightened business man, who is able to look beyond the present, and give advice which shall bring a prosperous future.

[Since the above was written, in 1896, Mr. McKernan has retired from Parliament.]