House of Representatives
18 September 1918

7th Parliament · 2nd Session

Mr. Speaker (Hon. W. Elliot Johnson) took the chair at 3 p.m., and read prayers.

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Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson:

-With deep regret I inform honorable-members that duringthe recent adjournment I received from His Excellency the Governor ofSierra Leone a cablegram which, when decoded, read as follows: -

Sierra . Leone, 13th September, 1918. .

Speaker, Melbourne.

Regret to inform you that Lord Forrest died at sea 2nd September,’ and was buried” with military honours here on 3rd September. I have further to state that, on being informed of the death of Lord Forrest, I atones despatched to Lady Forrest, on behalf of honorable members and myself, a cablegram expressing our sincere condolence with her in the loss which she had sustained.

Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer · Balaclava · NAT

– Since last we met, as you have announced, Mr. Speaker, death has taken from us one of our most distinguished and beloved members, Lord Forrest, the late representative of the Swan division of Western Australia. Before we had recovered from theshock of this intelligence, a cablegram gave us the sad and unexpected news of thedeath in London of the Right HonorableSir George Reid, at one- time Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, and our first High Commissioner in Great Britain. There is something peculiarly tragic in the coincidence that these two eminent, and I think I may say unique, personalities, who for a generation were political foes but personal friends, and figured socon spicuously in the consummation and development of our Federal Union, should pass out into the Great Beyond almost simultaneously. The Government proposes to ask the House to mark the national Sorrow in an appropriate manner by adjourning as a token of respect to the memory of these departed statesmen.

As the first step, for the regretful, but unanimous, concurrence of honorable members, I wish to submit the following; motion : -

That this House places on record its profound regret at the loss the Commonwealth) has sustained in the death of the late member for the Division of Swan, the Right Honorable Lord Forrest, P.C., G.C.M.G., LL.D… F.R.G.S., F:G.S.. F.L.S., whose great publicservices as Premier of the State ofWestern Australia from its constitution as a selfgoverning colony, as a member of the Federal Convention, as a member of this House since the inauguration of Federation, as a Minister of State for the Commonwealth, and as Acting: Prime Minister, are sincerely appreciated by the people of Australia. This House tenders its deepest sympathy to the sorrowing widow and relatives of a distinguished explorer and statesman whose devotion to -duty was combined with a kindliness and courtesy which endeared him to all with whom he was associated.

I think I may say on behalf of every member of the House that the benediction. of a grateful people falls upon thememory of our dead friend at the close of his long and illustrious career. I propose to briefly mention some of the landmarks ofhis remarkable life. John Forrest, at the. age of twenty-two years, was placed in charge of an important expedition sent to search for the remains, of the explorer Leichardt. For this, and subsequent explorations in the then unknown interior of this country, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and ranks to-day, it can be said without rhetoric or exaggeration, with those other great Australian explorers, Stuart, Grey, Eyre, and Sturt. Later, his survey work opened the wilderness of Western Australia to civilization, and subsequently he became Commissioner of Crown Lands and Surveyor-General of the colony, as it then was, with seats in the Executive and Legislative Councils, positions which he held from the year 1883 to the year 1890.

When the Colony of Western Australia was granted responsible government, Sir John Forrest was appointed its first Premier, and proved in the higher walks of life - if we may call them higher - what had been indicated in the earlier stages of his career, that he was a stout-hearted optimist. He saw the almost uninhabited territory of the west grow into a great State, and he had unbounded faith in the future of that Territory. The Administration that he inaugurated and” conducted was marked throughout by courage and capacity. He was the author of most of the important early legislation of the Western Australian Parliament, including its land laws. Amongst almost countless achievements, he was responsible for the great gold-fields water supply scheme, and for the Fremantle Harbor works. For ten years continuously he was Premier of the Colony, and only relinquished that office in 1901 to join the” first Federal Administration. In the meantime, he had, as most honorable members know, played avery conspicuous part in the moulding and framing of the Federal Constitution.

At various times, after entering this House, he held the portfolios of PostmasterGeneral, Minister for Defence, Minister for Home Affairs, and Treasurer, being Treasurer of the Commonwealth on four occasions. He also officiated as Acting Prime Minister. He lived to see - and this, perhaps, was the most pleasing feature of his later life - the realization of his great continental dream, the construction and operation of the trans-Australian railway. By and large, his record of service is, I think, unparalleled in the history of this Dominion, or of any other British Dominion, and notable in that, during thirty-five years of public life, he enjoyed Ministerial office and respect for nearly twenty-seven years.

That fact speaks volumes for the public approbation and favour which he won, the highest testimony of success to which a public man can aspire. Of course, honours came to the deceased gentleman: honours from the learned societies to which the highest of our race have aspired, and honours from His Majesty the King, the most recent - his elevation to the peerage - being in recognition of long and distinguished services to the Empire. We who knew him say that there was no man in Australia more worthy of those honours. The press of other countries has,” on many occasions, described himas a great empire and nation builder, and he was that. In addition to these honours and titles, the people gave him titles of description and affection. When I first remember him, he was known as “Big John,” words which described him, perhaps best of all, becausehe was big of body, big of mind, and big of heart. In the height of his power, hewas known as the Emperor of theWest, a sobriquet which caused him some amusement, and, Ihave no doubt’, considerable personal gratification. As to his personal characteristics, he was a man of most kindly disposition. He was respected by his political opponents. He was simple and lovable of character. He was clean and virtuous in public and in private life. A far-seeing, shrewd, courageous man, in the choice words of the great poet, whose works he often loved to quote -

He was a man, take him for all in all,

I shall not look upon his like again.

When he was attacked by the disease to which he eventually succumbed he showed the fighting spirit that had made him, and carried him to victory, on so many occasions. It was suggested by the press that he was proceeding to the Motherland to accept enthronement in the House of Lords. All of us would have liked to see him accomplish that also ; but his real purpose was to fight the disease that’ he died fighting. In the letters which he wrote to some of us, who had been his colleagues, he made’ that perfectly plain. He is buried, as Mr. Speaker has intimated, in the lonely black country of Sierra Leone. The Government, if the House concu’rs, will, at the proper time, and in the proper way, ascertain the views of his widow as to whether his mortal remains should not be brought back to his native place. It seems to me that the proper tomb for such a man is in the country he loved so well, and for which he worked. In giving this tribute to his memory, we offer to his stricken, partner in life our highest respect and deepest sympathy, and we trust she will find strength to support her in her great sorrow.


.- In the absence of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Tudor), owing to a family bereavement, I have to second the motion. While regretting the occasion that calls for its submission, I second it with pleasure, because the longer I remain in the political arena the more faith I have in the sincerity of my political opponents. Our emotions at the death of the two distinguished statesmen whose services are thus to be placed on record are not quite of the same character as those we experience when a young and brilliant member, such as was the late Mr. Alfred Roberts, passes suddenly away. We do not experience, the same painful shock in this case, because both Lord Forrest and Sir George Reid had lived beyond the allotted span of three score years and ten. Their lives were full and complete.’ For over thirty years they had served in the public life of Australia. Sir George Reid had been Premier of New South Wales and of the Commonwealth, while Lord Forrest had been the first Premier of the State of Western Australia, and had held office as Treasurer of the Commonwealth.

The Federal Parliament has been spoken of as a .place to which State politicians bring high reputations only to lose them. That could not be said of either Lord Forrest or Sir George Reid, since they both added lustre to the distinctions they had gained in their respective States. Both were bom leaders of men; but they belonged to the old, rather than to the modern school of politics. They grew up in the days of Parnell and Gladstone, of Sir Henry Parkes and Sir George Dibbs, when the political leader created the political party. For good or ill, in these modern times - it may be a permanent or a transient phase of .public life - the political party creates the political leader. Both of these statesmen were democratically inclined, although Sir George Reid would venture further in experimental legislation, especially when supported by a strong party, than would Lord Forrest, who .always believed in “hastening slowly.”

Both men had much in common,, and yet they were different - Lord Forrest always dignified, courteous, and kindly; Sir George Reid witty, good-natured, and benevolent. “Both had their faults ; though at the moment I cannot remember what they were. Whatever their faults, their great abilities and their achievements have placed their names on the scroll of fame, and in our school books, and in the histories of our land, their records will be placed for young Australia to try to emulate. They might have chosen an easier life. They worked for honour and distinction, not for monetary gain - for the love of their country and it? people.

As I have said, we felt no painful shock at the sad news,, but our hearts go out in sympathy to the relatives, who could not part with such noble characters without the most poignant grief. The fine qualities which attracted to their standards men of the world outside, must have inspired, both for Lord Forrest and Sir George Reid, the most .passionate love and . affection in the hearts of their nearest and dearest relatives.

We must all be especially mo fed when we think of that beautiful character, Lady Forrest, who was not only a devoted wife, but a constant . companion, now a lonely and pathetic figure, who will rarely, if ever, be seen again within the walls of this Parliament, where there is so much to remind her of her irreparable loss. The motion which we propose to place on the records of our Parliament will, let us hope, assuage the grief of the sorrowing ones, and make their sad loss a little easier to bear, since it will show’ that we, on behalf of the public whom we represent, are proud to do lasting honour to the memory of their distinguished relatives.


.- While joining with the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) in. regretting the death of two eminent Australian kind words are justly said of men after statesmen, I wish, more particularly, as the senior Western Australian representative in this House, and as one who enjoyed the intimate friendship of the late Lord Forrest, to thank both honorable gentlemen for the sympathetic and appreciative tributes they have paid to the memory of this distinguished and deeply mourned son pf the Western State. By political opponents, as’ well as by political friends, the late Lord Forrest was esteemed, I might say loved, above all other members, perhaps, who ever sat in this Parliament. Like all truly great men, he had a noble simplicity of character which attracted not only admiration, but personal affection. . The keynote of his public career was an intense loyalty to his native land and to the Empire. In both regards he cherished high and unselfish ideals, and to work for these was to him as the very breath of life. Warm-hearted, white.souled, and clean-handed, Lord Forrest will take a foremost place amongst our nation -builders; and his example will, I hope and pray, inspire many other sons of Australia to follow in his footsteps.


.- As one who knew Lord Forrest as far back as 1897, and had been associated with him in politics for about twenty-one years, I should like to make a few remarks, more particularly as I wish to prefer a request to the- Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) in regard to a matter he has mentioned to-day. I went to Western Australia so long ago as 1893. My first experience of Lord Forrest was when, as chairman of a progress committee at Menzies, where fever was very preva-lent and the hospital accommodation very primitive, I wired a lengthy telegram to the. honorable gentleman asking for assistance. The next day, through the warden of the goldfields, advice was received that £500 would be available for the work we desired to do. I only mention this to show the care that Lord Forrest always took of those who went to Western Australia in the early days of the goldfields. It is noteworthy what the State Government and people of Western Australia did to help those who were pioneering the out-back goldfields at that time, when railways were rushed forward, telegraph lines set up, and water supply provided. I do not think that in the development of any new country under the sun so much work of the kind was ever done so rapidly. The conceptions of the deceased gentleman were as great as his courage in carrying them out. The great water scheme for the goldfields represented an enormous sum of money in view of the handful of people who were asked to expend it - an expenditure, I desire to impress on the House, proposed by Lord Forrest almost in opposition to the goldfields people themselves. I, amongst many others on the fields at that time, was op- posed, to the expenditure, and the circumstance is mentioned merely to show the great confidence that Lord Forrest had at that time in his country. After the deceased gentleman left Western Australia, and came to the Federal Parliament, I am satisfied no member on either side earned the- same loyal respect and, I think I am justified in saying, the love of all members of the Chamber, and there is no man whose loss will be more generally regretted.

We understand that the remains of Lord Forrest have been interred at Sierra Leone, and the request to which “I have referred is that the Government shall at a later period consider the question of removing these remains to Western Australia. Nothing would please the people of that State more than to know that the Government had determined, when the opportunity permits, that the body of this distinguished statesman should be brought back and receive here, in his native country, that honour which his memory deserves.

Monaro · Eden

– I indorse all that has been said, because I feel that in Lord “Forrest I have lost the greatest and best friend I ever had. I thank the Acting Prime Minister (Mr. Watt) and the honorable member for Capricornia (Mr. Higgs) for the kind words used by them to-day. No one more than myself knew or loved the late Lord Forrest, and I hope that the suggestion made by the honorable member for Dampier (Mr. Gregory) will be carried out. When I look round the chamber, as one who came here at the inception of Australian Federation, I am reminded of the strenuous ‘life that most of us lead. Although there are some sixty members present, I cannot see more than four who came here with the late right honorable member for Swan and myself. It has occurred to me that, while many they are dead, we might say a few while they are alive. I have had considerable experience, and have seen some of the ups and downs of political life, and I realize that even amongst my strongest opponents there are some very good fellows. There is no necessity, when we are all aiming at the one goal of trying to achieve the best for the country we love so well, .to introduce any spirit of bitterness into this House. I have no desire to lecture honorable members, but I must say that of late there seems a disposition to make matters more personal than in the old days. When I look back to the captains of the first Ministry, of which I had the honour to be the Whip, I can recall the good feeling that then prevailed amongst us all. . As an example of this I may mention the late Sir George Reid, with whom I had been in Parliament here and elsewhere for nearly twenty-eight years. We both took an active part ‘ on opposite sides in politics, and yet we never found any cause for quarrelling; indeed, there was no necessity. I feel sure that it would be the greatest tribute to my old friend, Lord Forrest, if his grand example in this House had some leavening influence on members. While we strive strenuously and hard for what we conceive to be right, we should try to realize that each one of us is actuated by good motives. I cannot add one word more to what has already been said by others, except to. recall what’ was said of the late Lord Forrest-=-and what I think he prized most - namely, that he was a man who made a way in the wilderness and a river in the desert.

Question unanimously resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.

Motion (by Mr. Watt) agreed to -

That Mr. Speaker be requested to transmit to Lady Forrest the foregoing resolution and a copy of the speeches delivered thereon.

Mr SPEAKER (Hon W Elliot Johnson:

– I have to inform the House that, on learning of the death in London, on the 12th instant, of the Right Honorable Sir George Houstoun Reid, a former Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, I immediately, on behalf of honorable members, despatched to Lady Reid, by cablegram, an expression of their sympathy with her in her bereavement.

Acting Prime Minister and Treasurer · Balaclava · NAT

– 1 move -

That this House places on record its high* appreciation of the eminent public service* rendered by the late Eight Honorable Sir George - Houstoun Reid, P.C., G.G.B., G.C.M.G.; D.C.L., K.C., as Premier of the State of New South Wales, as a member of the Federal Convention, as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth, and as the first High Commissioner in London.

This House tenders to Lady. Reid and the members of his family its deepest sympathy in their bereavement, and assures them of theregret felt throughout Australia at the death of one who was for many years a leader in the political life of this country, was held in the highest esteem by its citizens, and with marked ability represented the Commonwealthat the centre of the Empire.

I fee] sure’ that this motion will recommend itself automatically to the minds of honorable members. Like .the deceased? gentleman of whom we have been speaking, Lord Forrest, Sir George Reid wasthe architect of his own fortune. A* most members of this House would probably say of themselves, he received in his early days merely the ordinary primary education. He arrived in this country when a very young lad, and of a career of seventy-three years, nearly sixty years were spent in Australia. His start in life was humble, as a clerk in the Treasury of New South Wales, where he remained for fourteen or fifteen years. He showed the desire, ambition, and ability that were in him in those days by graduating in a course of law while still ia Government employment, and he was admitted to the Bar in the mother State in 1879. About nineteen years later his distinguished gifts at the Bar entitled him to rank as Queen’s Counsel. He was a conspicuous and rising member of the Parliament of New South Wales for twenty years, and from 1894 to 1899 was Premier of that State, In -the early nineties he succeeded to the leadership of that great Free Trade party formerly lee! by that other distinguished Australian, Sir Henry Parkes, and it may be said with truth, even by those who differ from the tenets of that faith, that no man marked so pre-eminently the gift of hi* leadership as did Sir George Reid during: the days that he led in the State Parliament, and later in the Federal arena. When in power in New South Wales he enjoyed quite the most remarkable, popularity of which I have read or heard in this country. . He built as much as any single member of the Conventions the Constitution under which we are now working, and he rose in this Parliament, after yeans of honorable fighting, to the position of Prime Minister, which he occupied for almost a year. In 1909, with the full approbation of the people of Australia and of its Parliament, he was nominated byhis political opponents as the first Australian High Commissioner in London, to which position he again transferred that popularity which made him a marked figure in Australian public life. He was, and as such will remain for many -a long day in our memory, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, platform speaker Australia has heard for a generation, and certainly the happiest and best of its after-dinner speakers. He was a man of unfailing wit, tact, and great courtesy, and those qualities enabled him to captivate audiences and confound interjectors. As the honorable member for Capricorniasaid of him, he was ‘ ‘ a merry man,” and played the game so thoroughly that even those who opposed him liked him. I think his commanding ability would have ranked him as a leader in any assembly inthe world, and had he devoted his great gifts to forensic instead of political work he wouldhave died rich as well as famous. But he died very poor, and thus his honest public service represented a heavy personal sacrifice. Perhaps the best tribute to his sterling worth is to be found in the deep and loyal attachment of so many of his former followers ; they will not hear a word said against his integrity or sincerity of purpose. He possessed great learning and dignity, yet he was never unapproachable. To know him was to like him. He was the most supremely human person whom it has ever been my privilege to know. As was said by the honorable member for Capricornia, we do not approach these resolutions with the. deep personal regret that would fill our minds were we talking of the death of brilliant geniuses who tad been cut off in the flower of their youth. These men had lived their lives, and lived them worthily, and we do ourselves honour in paying tribute to their memory. We trust that this resolution will convey to Lady Reid and her family the knowledge of how sincere is the grief in Australia, and assist to support her in her hour of deep tribulation.


.- I desire to second the resolution, and in addition to what I have already said concerning the deceased statesman, I indorse all the kindly references that have been made by the Acting Prime Minister:

Question unanimously resolved in the affirmative, honorable members standing in their places.

Motion (by Mr. Watt) agreed to -

That Mr. Speaker be requested to transmit to Lady Reid the foregoing resolution, and a copy of the speeches delivered thereon.

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Motion (by Mr. Watt) agreed to -

That, as a mark of respect to the memory of the Right Honorable Lord Forrest and the Right Honorable Sir George Reid, the House do now adjourn.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

House adjourned at 3.37 p.m.

Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 18 September 1918, viewed 22 October 2017, <>.