History of West Australia/Walter James

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NO Australian colony possesses so many bright native-born politicians as Western Australia. It is becoming an almost significant trait of Australians that they have considerable powers of oratory, and take a zealous interest in all public affairs. Every year now brings an increased number of this younger generation to the front of political life, and in each colony some of the most brilliant orators—probably the most brilliant orators—are Australian natives. The present Premiers of the principal colonies were born on this continent, and that they are able to grapple so successfully with the problems left them by their borrowing Micawber-like fathers, is indeed gratifying.

Walter James HOFWA.jpg
Photo by
Greenham & Evans.

But Western Australia leads the way in this regard. All the members of the Cabinet, but one, were born in Australia, as was also the President of the Legislative Council—Sir George Shenton—prominent members of the Opposition, and promising members of either House. In debates, in the promulgation of new measures to cope with local requirements, and in meeting all the demands on the political machine, they are more than able to hold their own in numbers and in composite intelligence.

One of the most promising of the rising native-born members of parliament in this colony is Mr. Walter James, M.L.A. Young in years, but old in intelligence, Mr. James has already taken a prominent part in political matters. He has been the sponsor of several useful measures, and his speeches before the House are marked with common sense, and no mean powers of oratory. In addition, Mr. James is a rising barrister, and only thirty-three years of age, the future may contain many bright successes for him.

Walter James is a native of Perth, and was born in 1863. His father, Mr. E. S. James, was engaged in business in Perth, and did not at first design the boy to take up law as a profession. After his earlier education at the Perth High School, Mr. James went north to the De Grey Station, owned by Messrs. Grant and Anderson, there to learn the secrets of pastoral pursuits. Although he did not decide to remain in this walk of life, we must point out the advantages of every Australian lad spending some months on these great runs. The benefits to health are beyond question, and by securing a strong body the mind is the better fitted to absorb that knowledge requisite for the successful pursuit of professions. It is certain that Mr. James gained considerably in this regard by his "back-block" experiences. It was largely an accident which decided him to discontinue his pursuit of this peaceful life. After a visit to Perth he boarded the ship Macedon to return to the Station. The vessel was wrecked off Rottnest Island, and the youth was rescued and brought back to Perth. He never returned to gain more experience on the run. Full cogitation determined him to take up the study of law, and he was duly articled to Mr. George Leake, M.L.A. He served his articles, and also during the period went to England, and studied law there. In 1888 he was admitted to the bar, and at once practised. He went into partnership with Mr. Leake, and remained connected with that gentleman until three years ago, when the latter was appointed Crown Solicitor. James then practised alone. As a lawyer, he has been identified with numbers of important cases. He is a talented counsel, and possesses an excellent fertility of resource and legal grasp. At present, James is among the chief Perth barristers.

In 1890, two years after attaining his articles, Mr. James entered the Perth Council as a representative of the Central Ward. He rendered the civic fathers considerable assistance in their deliberations, and has so worthily watched over the interests of ratepayers that he has been a councillor ever since 1890. This position was soon made a stepping-stone to a higher one. He had become popular in the capital, and proved himself such a valuable exponent of citizens' rights, and an eager conserver of their interests, that at the general elections for the House of Assembly in 1895 he was nominated for East Perth. The poll resulted in his being chosen. It did not take Mr. James long to prove of what mettle he was made as a politician. He mastered every subject before he spoke publicly on it, and his earnestness soon made its way. He studied various political institutions and endeavoured to bestow on Western Australia some of the advantages of his knowledge. For so young a member, he has introduced highly beneficial legislation. Among the statutes emanating from him is the contracting out clause in the Employers' Liability Act. He introduced the Partnership Act, the Arbitration Act, and the Sales of Goods Act, all of which supplied material wants in the community, and established the law on these subjects on a much firmer basis than previously. In addition, he has ever been active in debate, and has succeeded in influencing honourable members to no small extent. During the 1895-6 sessions of Parliament he was very prominently before the public, and was among the most alert and industrious members. Such strides did he make that it is probable that some day he will be a member of the Government. Western Australians now look with interest to his future career, and if the past is any indication, his future will be bright indeed. As it should be, he is interested in the welfare of the Australian Natives' Association, and was first president of the first branch in Western Australia.

Mr. James was married in 1892 to Miss Herder, of Carmarthen, South Wales. He has been a member of the Central Board of Health Committee, and is a member of the Perth Hospital Board. The life of Mr. James is now a busy one, and it will probably yet be busier. While labouring so energetically in his profession and in political circles, he finds time to devote to social matters, and he has numerous friends throughout the colony. The presence of such energetic and intelligent young men in Western Australia augurs well for her future. Mr. James was a member of the Western Australian delegation at the Federal Convention in Adelaide in 1897.