History of West Australia/John Davies

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POPULAR approval and appreciation, limited and fluctuating as they may be in quantity, have yet certain valuable symptoms of sincerity which are qualitatively superior. Perhaps a little probing is necessary to discover these latent virtues, which form a component part of our judgment or conduct. And whatever may be our attitude towards many disinterested services for our common good, we must frankly admit the extensive claims of some on our praise.

John Davies HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

Among the indefinite some the power that manipulates with ease and skill the system of railway rolling stock, which tides us safely and quickly from one point to the other, cannot be adequately estimated. When a system has direct reference to our own security it becomes more a matter of deep moment and concern. We have to depend on the administrative genius of the manager, and its difficult for the lay mind to conceive the complex dimensions of the task. A glance at the time-table will show a perfect system of harmony, regularity, and mathematics, and though we are ignorant of the intricate machinery and principles of operation, we express our admiration of the guiding mind, but naturally narrow the margin of just merit.

That sincerity which we noted as a valuable characteristic amounts to these admissions, though the conclusion is blurred by the introduction of other considerations. The public has now in its power great facilities; its sensibilities, formerly acute, have become blunted by custom from the very fact that now people expect universal perfection, having long enjoyed partial perfection. It is only when as travellers they are comfortably seated in their carriage that a thought strikes them sideways of the great possibilities for accidents, and they banish this uncomfortable reflection by relying on the directing ability of the head. Limiting the sphere of railways to the rapidly-growing colony of Western Australia, our remarks apply more forcibly than ever. Not only feelings of respect and sincere admiration must be felt for the energetic manager of her lines—Mr. Davies—but a tinge of sympathy for what must be continual harassing worry.

Mr. Davies was born in Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire, Wales, in 1858. In the Morley House Grammar School—an institution of considerable scholastic reputation—he received his early education. Of a practical mould of mind, he devoted himself to the commercial side of education, and gained sufficient training to warrant his embarking on the world's uncertain course. Entering the services of the Cambrian Railway Company, he signed indenture-papers for five years' apprenticeship. During these five years he laboured unceasingly to make himself master of every detail in every department. This bold determination led him to serve in every branch of the company's offices, and his ambition for knowledge was sated to the full. With energy and uncommon rigour he studied carefully every principle and tutored himself in every practical concern. On the expiration of his period of apprenticeship he was appointed chief relieving officer in the same company's employ, and filled every successive post to the general satisfaction. His duties consisted of relieving principal station masters along the line,which embraced a stretch of 250 miles. To him these duties were light and easy, and he was suited to some more responsible post. He took charge of the Aberdovey station for seven years, where he filled the dual positions of station and harbour master.

Young as he was at this period, his abilities and developing resources were recognised by the Central Wales and Caermarthen Junction Railway Company, who pressed him to accept the responsible position of general manager under them. Fully cognisant of its manifold requirements, he was keenly alive to such an extreme responsibility. He accepted the proffered appointment, and was efficiently supervising and bettering the system till 1892, when the Western Australian Government appointed him General Traffic Manager of their Railways.

He came to Western Australia in 1892 on a five years' engagement, which terminated on the 31st December, 1896. A perfect revelation and unexpected scene met his eyes. At home railway systems were established on a firm basis, and complete regularity and efficiency were maintained throughout. Here it was his unfortunate lot to make a "kosmos" out of a chaos. It seemed to him a medley—a network of inextricable entanglements. However much he deplored the sorry fact, still he found the best remedy would be to attempt the onerous undertaking of putting matters right. One thing aided his labours, and that was the limited railroad mileage in the colony. When he came there were only 212 miles of Government railway, and since then great have been the expansion and the developments. With the enormous growth of traffic and commerce insuperable difficulties strewed the path. Arrangements for new systems, want of rolling stock, and want of experienced men increased his trials to a maximum. Everything required remodelling and renewing, and when Mr. Davies had successfully accomplished these alterations he was obliged to import men from the other colonies to cope with the new regime. Buildings and railway appliances of every description were required, and with the sudden rush and general block which was bound to take place these could not be furnished at a moments notice. It is marvellous how Mr. Davies obtained the present system considering all the trials and perplexities he had to contend against.

We will mention the railways opened to the general public since he came here, and then the reader can estimate for himself the great amount of labour involved in forming this general connection into a definite working order. The new lines are:—Perth to Pinjarrah, on 23rd May 1893, 54 miles; Pinjarrah to Picton Junction, on 22nd August, 1893, 57 miles; Boyanup to Minninup, on 16th November, 1893, 10 miles; Northam to Yilgarn (Southern Cross), on 1st July, 1894, 170 miles; Mullewa Junction to Mullewa, on 1st November, 1894, 57 miles; Boyanup to Busselton, on 2lst November, 1894, 27 miles; Southern Cross to Boorabbin, on 1st July, 1896, 66 miles. The following lines in course of construction (October, 1896) have yet to be handed over to the Government:— Boorabbin to Kalgoorlie, on 31st December, 1896, 80 miles; Mullewa to Yalgoo, on 1st December, 1896, 73 miles; Yalgoo to Mount Magnet, on 30th August, 1897, 77 miles; Mount Magnet to Cue, on 31st November, 1897, 47 miles. The following railways are in contemplation:—Menzies Railway, 100 miles; Kalgoorlie to Kanowna, 12 miles; Cue to Nannine, 40 miles; Donnybrook to Bridgetown, 15 miles; and Brunswick to Collie, 24 miles. Another railway which has recently been brought under his supervision is the Great Southern Railway, from Albany to Perth, purchased in September, 1896, by the Western Australian Government from the Western Australian Land Company for £1,100,000. Mr. Davies is the first president of the local Cambrian Society. When twenty-three years of age he married Miss Mary Ann Williams, daughter of Mr. John Williams, of Oswestry, Shropshire. After reviewing all his achievements amid such unusual complexities and difficulties, sufficient praise cannot be awarded to his administrative abilities. His mental resources have tided the traffic of the colony over a trying crisis. It is to his able efficiency that any progress at all was made when the colony was unable to cope with the sudden rise Of traffic. In a practically new country his experience was especially valuable. The Western Australian Railways system is stretching out octopus-like in almost every direction. Every day puts additional responsibility on Mr. Davies's shoulders, but his thorough grasp of departmental detail, with his masterly administrative power, has made him popular alike with the travelling public and the well-disciplined men under him.