History of West Australia/George Randell

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THE pioneer Chairman of Committees in the first House of Assembly of Western Australia was Mr. George Randell. The duties of this office are not easy and demand attention and application in the more complex and difficult parts of Parliamentary business, greater even than from the occupant of the Speaker's chair. All the details of bills, the amendments and the perfecting of measures, are here undertaken, and the most onerous points have to be judged by the Chairman. He must have a knowledge of procedure, and a tact no less than that of the Speaker. The license in debate is great, and the questions involved. Mr. Randell, by past experience, and the respect with which he was viewed by all West Australians, received a distinctive compliment when he was chosen first Chairman of the House in Committee. He is of that valuable class of colonists who came from the old world, and piloted important and useful business concerns to stable permanency. As a pioneer of steam service up the Swan River as far as Guildford he greatly facilitated industrial interests, and as a leading business man, a municipal councillor and a politician, he has ever bestowed benefit on this young community. The utility of the energy and advice of such men under such conditions is far reaching.

George Randell J.P, M.L.C., was born in the town of Milton, South-west Hampshire, England, in 1830, and is the son of Mr. James Randell. Upon leaving school the lad learnt two trade, those of carpentering and engineering. When twenty years old he and his young wife came to Western Australia. The training could be well applied in this young colony, and the wisdom of the young man in emigrating here is at once apparent. At first he spent some time in Fremantle in different pursuits. Then he removed to Perth, where he laboured quietly until 1860. In that year he determined to carry out a project which he had long been considering. This was to run light craft up the Swan from Fremantle to Perth, and still lighter boats from there to Guildford. At that time there were no good roads connecting these localities; it was long before the advent of railways in the country, and a regular steam service by water proved an inestimable boon, and greatly cheapened the cost of production in districts beyond Guildford. It was not till after the arrival of Governor Hampton, in 1862, that the first road from Fremantle was cut and cleared to Perth. Nothing but thick bush occupied the way. The first boat utilised by Mr. Randell was the Pioneer, a stern-wheel steamer. She it was who first plied along this route. It can be well understood that business in those days was in a very primitive state indeed, and the sight of the little craft steaming along the sinuous course of the river, coming around wooded turns, and passing under the trees, was interesting to any onlooker. So useful did the steamer prove to producers and business men generally that Mr. Randell's project prospered exceedingly, and in a few years he employed seven steamers and lighters in the work. Smaller craft ran from Guildford to Perth, where the river is slower and narrower, and there goods were transhipped to larger boats, and taken to the ships at Fremantle. From 1861 to 1876 Mr. Randell became prosperous, and in the latter year he decided to retire from active business. The boats were taken over by Randell, Knight, and Co., the partners in which, including Mr. Randell, were Messrs. G. C. Knight, R. F. Sholl, and W. Laurence. In 1877 he stood for the Perth electorate in the old Legislative Council, having as a fellow candidate the present puisne jadge, Mr. Justice Stone, whom he defeated. He was at that time, also, a member of the Perth Council. Early in 1878 his health had become so weakly as to demand his taking a sea trip. He went to England, and remained in the old world for two years. Soon after his return to Western Australia he was nominated by Governor Robinson a member of the Legislative Council, and this position he held until the new Constitution came into force. He did not engage actively in business pursuits for some years. Meanwhile the business of Randell, Knight, and Co. had been diminishing, and in 1887 it became necessary for him to once more take up its management. He did this so successfully that in a few years it again flourished, and in 1894 the concern was sold to the present Swan River Shipping Co., in which Mr. Randell retains an interest.

From his first arrival in the colony Mr. Randell watched with some interest the trend of public affairs. As years passed each other he began to evince a more active interest. He was elected a member o[ the Perth Municipality in the seventies, and in 1875 was elected chairman of the Council, in succession to Mr. George Glyde. He was a vigorous member of the Legislative Council, and his first prominent advocacy of any particular policy was in his opposition to certain proposals in the old Education Act. At the time there was excited opposition to some of the proposals in this measure. With Bishop Hale, late Anglican Bishop of Perth, Mr. Randell opposed the system of denominational education proposed in the Bill introduced by Governor Weld. The measure provided for assistance being given to denominational educational institutions, and after most assiduous opposition Mr. Randell and others were able to modify to some extent the original proposals. This Act remained in force until the 1895 session of Parliament, when it was abolished. For the rest of his term in the Crown Colony Legislative Council his demeanour denoted broad and liberal views, and a generous interest in local politics under the autocratic regime.

When the first elections for the House of Assembly took place in 1890, Mr. Randell was chosen representative for the Moore constituency, and upon the meeting of the House he was appointed the first Chairman of Committees. This position he filled with marked impartiality and success, and his decisions satisfied all sections of the House. Subsequently he resigned his seat in the Assembly in favour of Mr. Lefroy, whom he believed would prove a useful member of that Chamber. Sir John Forrest thereupon gazetted Mr. Randell a nominee member of the new Legislative Council. For two years Mr. Randell remained in the Upper House, and was prominent in all the debates. Then the nominee members were finally abolished, as provided in the Constitution Act, and he contested the Perth constituency at the general elections for the Assembly in 1894. He was elected; in 1897 he was chosen for a seat in the Council. Mr. Randell is looked upon as a sound and stable politician. He speaks only when he has something to say, and by the presence of such men as he in the Western Australian Parliaments an excellent influence is imparted.

In 1892 Mr. Randell was requested to stand for the Mayoralty of Perth, which election is made by ratepayers independent of the Council. He was opposed and defeated by Mr. Alexander Forrest, M.L.A., after a well-conducted struggle. So respected is Mr. Randell in business circles that he is at present president o[ the Chamber of Commerce. He is a local director o the Australian Mutual Provident Society, and is its deputy-chairman, and was also president of the Working Men's Association, which, although now defunct proved of great service in enlightening and bringing together workers of all kinds. He, to all intents and purposes, originated the Perth High School. It was he who first thought out the idea, and, with Sir Malcolm Fraser and Governor Robinson, brought about its establishment. He is a member of the Board o[ Management of the Perth Public School, and has prominently identified himself with Church matters since 1860. He is senior deacon in the Trinity Congregational Church, and strives to advance the influence of religious institutions as much as possible. Mr. Randell has his own particular methods of serving his adopted country. His usefulness is not proclaimed on the house-tops. He is a typical Englishman, and helps the commercial, municipal, and political institutions of Western Australia quietly and without ostentation. According to Carlyle, the silent man is the strongest man.