History of West Australia/Albert Watt Macdonald

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TO millions in the external world Coolgardie is Western Australia. Though other centres are now serenely projecting their golden heads into the bright light of day and demanding fair recognition for what they show and what they have still to show, Coolgardie's full form has long been admired in distant lands by the aid of gold-tipped imagination. The marvellous rapidity of her growth can well attest to the honours and attentions showered on her. Money from the coffers of the universe has streamed in to develop her rich resources, and enterprising and industrious people of equally cosmopolitan origin apply and administrate the sparkling heap.

Albert Watt Macdonald HOFWA.jpg
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When Mr. Macdonald, the present Mayor of Coolgardie, assumed the reins of office, the way to effectiveness in municipal government was more than roughly paved, but yet there were many clamouring cries for improvement and amendment. His office is no sinecure, for he must labour to maintain the supremacy of Coolgardie, not only because of the natural spirit of rivalry in her inhabitants and electors, but also because of the consideration of just claims of the many speculators and capitalists who have sunk their money in the surrounding properties. A web of duties has spun itself round the civic chair, and demands concentrated and incessant attention from Mr. Macdonald. He was born at Black River Farm, Circular Head, Tasmania, in 1860. His father, Alexander Macdonald, was an engineer in the district, and bestowed great pains in the training and education of his son. The young Albert was sent to the Launceston Church Grammar School, where his progress gave satisfaction to all concerned, and on completing his studies he went to Melbourne and entered the large warehouse of L. Stevenson and Sons. For five years he gave diligent attention to his work, and his services, enthusiastically and willingly rendered, were appreciated by the firm, who gave him a recommendation on his departure that could not but satisfy the youthful recipient. Armed with his own abilities and this tangible witness-document of his character, and discretionary judgment, he went forth to seek some commercial position where his five years' training would be of value to him, and was engaged in the firm of Messrs. McArthur, Morrow, and Brind. He remained with them for two years, and then many considerations induced him to ally himself with the extensive house of Robert Reid and Co.

In this huge warehouse, with its wider concentric sphere of commercial connections, Mr. Macdonald found the radii of his experience amply stretched. For seven years he did sincere and good work for the firm. Their approval found external confirmation in their then appointing him the representative of their growing business at Sydney. This timely recognition of his capabilities stimulated him to prove himself more worthy of that promotion which their confidence and trust had bestowed on him. His subsequent industry and integrity strengthened their former opinions as to his suitability for the post, and it was with regret that they finally received his notice severing his connection with them.

The attractions which Broken Hill offered for commercial enterprise were too great for Mr. Macdonald to resist, and borne on the general tide of influx to that silver Utopia, he there set up a large general store. From 1889 to 1893 his business, which grew ultimately to extensive proportions, realised increasing remunerations. But keen competition, decline of silver values and individual mining enterprise, sounded the gradual ebb of returns and profits. Fortunately, as he was deliberating on the next field for business operations, the news of Western Australia's rich gold discoveries decided his waverings. He left at once for Coolgardie, where he arrived in August, 1893. Coolgardie at that early period, not boasting of any pretentions to the highly-developed title of town, did not afford much scope at once for the successful conduct of a business. For six months or so he engaged in prospecting the fields surrounding the centre. This pursuit gave ample time for visitors to stream into Coolgardie and the different spheres of commercial activity. When he returned from his prospecting tours he was more than surprised at the rapid expansion of Coolgardie. It had resolved itself into a large community, and adapting himself to the situation Mr. Macdonald decided to open an auctioneering business. Accordingly he procured an office in Bayley Street, and his foresight soon informed him that he would be fortunate. The flourishing business that he possesses to-day proved that his speculative judgment was a correct forecast. At present the visitor can walk leisurely down this street and find the hum and hub of his extensive business swaying merrily on.

A little organisation and centralisation were considered expedient in the interests of a widely extending community. Mr. Macdonald was requested to assist in the work of erecting and controlling legislative machinery. His services were enlisted in addressing public meetings of the citizens on many important topics that concerned their best interests. His experience was an acquisition. At Broken Hill he had taken some interest in the management of public matters, and was one of the moving spirits in the constitution of the Mechanics' Institute. It was therefore decided in Coolgardie that he was a good advocate of the town's demands. He took an active part in the committee formed to urge upon the Government the necessity of establishing a weekly instead of a fortnightly mail to Coolgardie, and when the citizens were anxious to form themselves into a municipality he was prominent in his endeavours to give effect to their wishes. At two large public meetings he delivered effective speeches, in which he strenuously upheld the claims of the townspeople, on whom he impressed the necessity for united action. The immediate result of these large concourses was the formation of a progress committee. This was invested with powers akin to the present municipal council, and was born in a spirit of restless advocacy for just claims and rights. When the election to the committee came on Mr. Macdonald offered himself as a candidate, and was chosen to fill one of the seats. The business of the body was not one of peaceful discussion of administration and legislation. The harassing nature of its position is evidenced by the unceasing and clamouring demands upon the Government for the assignation of a multitude of requisitions. But the prime object of its constitution was soon realised when the Government, in response to solicitation issued the formal warrant for the Coolgardie municipality.

Mr. Macdonald, whose services in connection with the committee were warmly recognised by a vigilant populace, now stood for the first municipal elections, and was returned at the head of the poll. Such a result could not but have been exceedingly gratifying to himself and his constituents, for it was a tangible sign of their appreciation of his hearty co-operation in the general cause. Perhaps the names of his fellow-councillors will not be uninteresting on the score of their being the first councillors of a town whose progress and interests are being closely watched and zealonsly guarded by thousands who have not as yet visited her boundaries. The order on the poll was as follows:—S. P. Asken, J. Howard Taylor, A. Mackenzie, A. Leevers, and J. L. Hinde. The absorbing nature of his attachment to the affairs of the Council constituted Mr. Macdonald a worthy and genuine representative. With the respect of his colleagues for his able political advice on matters of momentary importance, with the increasing confidence of his supporters, who kindly seconded his efforts, he soon rose to a dignified status in the council. His administrative capacities were so fully recognized that when Mayor Shaw vacated the chair in December, 1895, Mr. Macdonald was chosen mayor in his stead. In this official capacity he has not betrayed the hopes of his fellow councillors. No half-hearted assistance is given by him to the cause of progress. He has filled, and still fills (1896), that position with dignity born of a sense of duty. His efforts to raise the general conditions of the town to a high model have not been devoid of success. Though there may be, and must be, divergent opinions on his individual principles and policy, still they must give way before a generous and just recognition of his abilities as a man, and of his administrative capabilities as a councillor. His thorough knowledge of all civic affairs, from the highest and most vital legislative departures for the public good down to the most trifling municipal minutiæ, render him a leader in whom the town may well rely for the execution of all that may conduce to a tone of health in the community.

Connected with the mayoral office, there are numerous other honorary positions which must be accepted nolens volens. Sporting clubs illuminate their syllabi with the mayor's patronage in large letters at the top. Institutions and constitutions, utilitarian schemes and leagues, must associate the name of the mayor with the sincerity of the cause, and to lend dignity and gloss to their official list.

Mr. Macdonald is president of the Health Board, a position which requires calm, cautious, and deliberate judgment. He was a member of the Stock Exchange, and one of its original promoters. When the Coolgardie railway was opened he was appointed chairman of the reception committees, to do honour to the many influential visitors who arrived to witness the inauguration of a new era for the goldfields of Coolgardie.

While on a visit to Perth in January, 1896, he approached the Government, and impressed on them the desirability of granting some land to the municipality as a free gift. His intercessions, so far from being repudiated, were fruitful in procuring for Coolgardie two-thirds of a section of land in Bayley, Moran, and Sylvester Streets, which returns £5,000 ground rental, and which, with just expectations, is calculated to return £7,000 in 1897. He had, perhaps, the singular and enviable fortune of obtaining from the Government on this occasion the full "quantum" of his several requests. Additional free Government grants obtained through Mr. Macdonald's instrumentality were eighty acres for a site for park lands for a recreation reserve, and a handsome grant of money for the erection of a Mechanics Institute, which has from its foundation proved a great success. During his period of office electricity was introduced into the town. The mayor and his councillors were warmly congratulated on the inauguration of such a first-class and advanced system of lighting. The numerous obstacles and difficulties that strewed themselves objectionably in the way to its realisation were carefully surmounted and overcome by the unflagging devotion of the promoters.

When first Mr. Macdonald stepped into the dignified enclosures of his mayoral office, the revenue of the municipality scarcely exceeded a scanty £3,000. In 1896 it was £9,000, and possibly, if surmises are correct, it will be £15,000 in 1897. Such a sudden jump during one year of office, though arising from sources extraneous to his control, still proves concomitant labour, vigilance, and anxiety in the various avenues and channels of supply. Perhaps the ablest testimonial impartiality can advance on the conduct of Mayor Macdonald's stewardship is to speak in decisive terms, and say that his career as a mayor has been devoted to the disinterested services of the inhabitants, that the various records of his term furnish indisputable evidences of his qualifications as a successful legislator on all matters of municipal law.

It is also desired by all, and mostly so by the mayor himself, that sufficient regard should be paid to the hearty co-operation of the Council in all matters pertaining to the municipal welfare. The zealous assistance rendered him by loyal councillors has been manifested in divers ways.

Mr. Macdonald was created a Justice of the Peace in December, 1895. He was married in 1890 to Miss Booth, daughter of Mr. John Booth, ex-M.L.A., who was thrice mayor of Balmain, Sydney. There are two of an issue to the happy union. Mrs. Macdonald, the mayoress, is a highly respected and popular lady in Coolgardie and on the goldfields.