History of West Australia/John Tregterthen Short

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WHEN the colonies sprang up into commercial fame through the indefinite richness of their acres, railway extension could scarcely proceed pari passu with the sudden and enormous development of the country. The leaven of England was imported to control and administer the railways, and it is a noteworthy fact that in this department England has excelled herself, judging from the success and high-level efficiency of her official sons. However arduous and distracting may have been the lot of these organisers and curators of the security of the travelling public to reply satisfactorily to public demands—as immoderate sometimes as inconsiderate—they have by means of untiring energy succeeded in extorting from an implacable public the negative assent of approbation.

John Tregterthen Short HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

The observation that railway managers receive small thanks, proportionately, for their work has passed into a crystallised proverb. Still their cause must be championed by any one who considers and reflects. Then even though he does counterbalance against the answerable argument of meritorious managerial superiority the puny complaint of extortionate fares, he must yet see that his counterpoise is the firm law of legislation, while the former administrative capacity proceeds from the individual.

In Western Australia the country is exceedingly fortunate in the possession of an official of the status Mr. J. T. Short, who holds the responsible position of Chief Traffic Manager. Short was born in England, and came at an early age to Australia to find a ready field for his empirical attainments. His energies were directed to railways, and in 1877 he entered the services of the South Australian Government. Patience and perseverance added to his former virtues were all that were necessary to ensure success. From the Semaphore, where he had been stationed as a clerk, he was removed to Petersburg, and duly installed as its stationmaster. Soon this junction became a place of importance, and gold at Teetulpa, and silver on the New South Wales border, called for the connection of Adelaide with Broken Hill. As each part of this railway extension was completed he became its superintendent, and was responsible for the safe working of the traffic. He had gradually thrown under his supervision mile after mile of railway, and when the contractors finished their work Mr. Short was appointed the superintendent of the line. His energies were elastic, and he left behind him an organised and thoroughly equipped system. His love for efficiency in results was often a potent stimulus in moments of weariness. When he left, at the invitation of the Great Southern Railway in Western Australia to assume the management of their line, his successor had every reason to congratulate his predecessor's efforts and industrious ability. The Broken Hill line is recognised as one of the best conducted and most lucrative in Australia.

When Mr. Short arrived in Albany in February, 1889, he beheld a quaint though picturesque little town looking down on the sunny bay. Here was his destined home for a few years, and he was privileged to witness a grand transformation.

When Mr. Short became the supervisor of the company's railways the revenue was slightly over £20,000, and the length of the railway 242 miles. It was unfairly handicapped in the race with the Government for the goldfields' traffic, owing to the peculiar remoteness of Albany from the fields and the enormous additional expense that would be incurred to the consignee. Yet, through the never-failing instrumentality of special concessions, the Great Southern managed to get a goodly share of the traffic, and tripled its revenue thereby. Mr. Short's former experience proved almost invaluable in the organisation and maintenance of a proper system in the line. His constructive ability needs no panegyric, for the outstanding evidences of a cool and collected judgment were sharp, systematic, and accurate, and actions after all are stronger than words. His administrative capacity found ample scope for its exercise on this virgin soil. When Mr. Short entered this service the revenue was, as stated, £20,000, and when he left it was, approximately, £75,000. Though this appreciable multiplication was due to several causes, the efficient capability of Mr. Short played no little part in it.

When the Great Southern Railway was purchased by the Government in December, 1896, Mr. Short was appointed Chief Traffic Manager of the Government Railways. This honourable position he holds at the present time with marked ability and success. Certain progressive innovations have been introduced in the period that he has been connected with the Government Railways—innovations which have considerably eased the tightened strain of managerial labour. At intervals district superintendents have been appointed, who consider complaints and supervise their sections. This is a great convenience to both the public and to the managing officials.

Praiseworthy progression has been effected in the last five years in Westralian railways. Organisation has been gradually reaching the inner ring of perfection, while appliances and locomotor material has been improved a hundredfold. Within the next twelve months, Mr. Short informs us, Western Australia will be possessed of mechanical apparatus and appliances for the safe conduct of traffic second to none in Australasia. Great difficulty has been experienced in obtaining competent men to fill the many vacant posts which the sudden expansion of traffic has thrown open. To overcome this a number of officers were imported to occupy the more onerous and responsible positions. Mr. Short confidently looks forward to the time when such importations shall be discontinued, and facilities shall be in existence for training a local staff. This he considers as advisable as it is just for the proper encouragement of the staff generally. As long as promotion acts as an impetus to work and an ideal to attain to, so long will there be a jealous striving after efficiency.

Mr. Short is now merged in the stream of energetic and industrious toil. One day devising, the next revising, improving, substituting, and ameliorating—these are some of the matters which engage his attention. Deputations must be received, listened to, and diplomatically replied to. Suggestions and cries for reform reach, from many channels, his offices, and what with multitudinous demands on his presence, his hours witness no masterly inactivity. Ever peering into the future to divine its weal or woe, a railway manager must be a thorough student in the art of prophecy. If the country is still on the increase, regard must be had to traffic facilities and requirements; if on a steady decline, expenditure must be curtailed. Happily, in Western Australia, all are prophets on the cheerful side, and here another quinquennial term has passed Mr. Short's area of supervision and responsibility will probably have been extensively widened. His experience of railway affairs is coeval with the working period of life, for it has been his one pursuit for the past twenty years.

Mr. Short is imbued with all the instincts and attributes characteristic of a gentleman. Courteous and kind and modest, he is deeply esteemed. He is still young, and as full of energy as when in the bright teens of youth. His mind and body are wrapt up in devotional attention to the duties of his office, and where the inclination and predilection are so strong we cannot stumble when we predict for him a bright future.