History of West Australia/Samuel J. Phillips

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THE hardy backwoodsmen who manfully took their places in the van of the great army which went forth to subdue nature in a new country, and rendered the dreary wastes of bush and scrub fit for habitation, must be accorded a prominent place among the founders of their country.

Samuel J Phillips HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

As we dash past fertile farms and pleasant gardens on the railways, we envy their lucky possessors, and are apt to forget the years of toil and hardship which had to be endured before nature realised that the pioneer had come to stay, and showered the beneficence of her kindly hand upon his efforts.

In the days when the colony was young, representatives of those well-known Western Australian families—Hamersley, Phillips and Burges—wended their way into the gloomy valleys of the Irwin. This country was then in its native state, and thieving blacks stalked through the mahogany woodland. At the time of the discovery of the Irwin, the colony was labouring under those great initial difficulties of want of population and capital. The Home Government had not given necessary assistance to early settlers, and hence much country that was deserving of immediate development remained untilled and uninhabited for many years after its original discovery. Perhaps the constantly-recurring conflicts with the aborigines and the difficulty of keeping any property of eatable value away from them had much to do with its long languishment. But these excellent pioneers went out determined to utilise the good pasture land as it deserved. They took stock to the richer banks of the river, and there allowed them to roam. Some time was passed in necessary improvements, but in a few years profits accrued from their efforts. The Irwin was made a safe place for white people to abide, and soon following the first settlers were others, until at last the woods resounded with busy life and all the indications of sweet rural prosperity.

When this was accomplished, the trio who had opened up the country dissolved partnership, and making an equal division of their pastoral lands, established their own homesteads, and settled down to enjoy the well-earned fruits of their labours.

The family whose fortunes are of interest at the present juncture is that of Samuel Pole Phillips, the well-remembered pioneer, and father of the present representative of the district in the Legislative Assembly. When the partnership was dissolved, the share of Phillips père in the estate consisted of 8,000 acres fee-simple on the Lower Irwin and 150,000 acres under pastoral lease. Mr. Hamersley got the Greenough Flats, and Mr. Burges the Upper Irwin. To this home on the banks of the Irwin the hardy pioneer brought his wife, the eldest daughter of Captain Roe, R,N., Surveyor General of the colony, and who has the distinction of being the first white lady born in the colony. In their sequestered home they remained for years; in 1856 S. J. Phillips was born. After spending his childhood amid the healthy surroundings of station life, he was sent to Perth to attend Bishop's School. When he had completed his education he went to his father's property, where he soon acquired a thorough knowledge of pastoral pursuits. Early in life Mr. Phillips was encouraged to take an interest in politics by the example of his father, who represented the whole of the eastern districts in the Legislative Council in 1870. He afterwards sat with Messrs. Marmion, Maitland, Brown, and other prominent colonists as a nominee member of the Council.

With such an example it was only natural that the son should closely identify himself with the public affairs of the country and his keen insight has enabled him to do much to advance the interests of both the farming and pastoral industry. Mr. Phillips long ago recognised that it would be the height of absurdity to utilise the beautiful agricultural lands which form part of his estate for grazing purposes only, so he determined to devote it more to farming. He accordingly subdivided the agricultural land into farms of 300 acres each, which he has let out to tenants on the co-operative system, the landlord taking a fourth share of the crops and the tenant the remainder. By this equitable system the tenants are not handicapped by having to make up arrears of rent after a bad season. It has also the effect of encouraging the farmer to make the best use of the land. The pity is that this or some similar principle is not more widely followed.

Mr. Phillips is a stock-breeder on an extensive scale, and the land which he has retained for grazing purposes carries some 4,000 head of cattle and 11,000 sheep.

This gentleman, whose family has been associated with the whole history of the colony, strives to advance, not only the district he represents, but the colony at large. His district, the Irwin, covers an enormous area, and has Dongarra for its centre, and also brings in Mingenew, which is close to a point at which the Midland Railway touches. Mr. Phillips is a member of the Irwin Roads Board, to which he was elected in 1883, and of which he has been the chairman on several occasions. When Responsible Government was inaugurated in the colony, he was returned for the Irwin constituency in the Legislative Assembly without opposition, and in the election of 1894 he was also unopposed. Mr. Phillips was gazetted a J.P. in 1885. As far back as the early thirties his father was a landholder in the colony, and his sterling efforts to overcome the obstacles which beset the path of settlers in the initial stages of Western Australian history contributed much to the successful outcome of the settlement. Through the long roll of succeeding years the name of Phillips has been prominent in the colony. Mr. S. P. Phillips has occupied high positions in the colony, both in and out of Parliament, and enjoys a reputation for worth and honest dealing which tends to the glorification of Western Australia. Thus the foundation of a house of landed proprietors has been laid in the colony, and the toils and battles of the pioneer have been as glorious and admirable as any doughty deeds done by an invading Norman or the founder of any English aristocratic family. Separate the trammels and the autocratic power and the lover of history would wish that strong healthy bodied and minded ancestral houses may be established, and go down through the years in the quiet rural arenas of Western Australia.