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Governing the Colony

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First Legislative Council
The first Legislative Council 1832 Courtesy Battye Library 409B.

Captain James Stirling was appointed Lieutenant Governor and became the most powerful man in the colony. This was because he had sole authority to draft laws and decide day-to-day affairs. In 1832, he appointed a Legislative Council of four government officials to assist him, and in 1839, four leading colonists were added.

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The first Legislative Council met on 7 February, 1832, and passed a Bill presented by Governor Stirling.

Later more colonists were appointed to the Legislative Council and it developed a more independent voice. In time, some of these members were elected.

By 1859, all other Australian colonies had their own parliaments. Colonists in Western Australia began demanding the right to govern themselves. The British Government was against the move to establish a parliament in Western Australia because of its slow rate of growth and the presence of convicts. In 1865 and again in 1869, the citizens of the colony petitioned to ask that they elect representatives to some of the positions on the Legislative Council.

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Initially, the British Government wanted to split Western Australia into two colonies along the 26th parallel near Shark Bay because it was reluctant to give control of such a large colony to a relatively sparsely populated colony.

In 1870, the colonists won the right to elect some members to the Legislative Council. However, the Governor could still veto the Council's decisions and some colonists remained dissatisfied. Colonists continued to argue for self-government and by the 1880s, the call for political change was so strong that it could not be denied.

First Legislative Council
Proclamation Train Journey to Perth 1890. The Governor Sir William Robinson and other colonial dignitaries outside the train carrying him to Perth to proclaim the Constitution. Courtesy Batty Library BA 888/3

In 1887, the Legislative Council voted in favour of a change to self-government. A new constitution was drafted by Governor Broome and sent to London for approval. In 1890, the Constitution Bill was passed by the House of Commons and assented to by Queen Victoria. With the granting of the Queen's Assent, Western Australia's Constitution came into legal existence.

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At the time of the Proclamation of the Constitution the casual daily wage for a skilled labourer was about 7 shillings.

Proclamation of the new Constitution by the new Governor, Sir William Robinson, took place at the Esplanade on 21 October 1890. He travelled by train from Albany to Perth, and along the way towns lit bonfires to celebrate his arrival.

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In 1850, NSW and Victoria became the first Australian colonies to issue postage stamps, followed by Tasmania in 1853. WA came next in 1854 followed by South Australia in 1855 and Queensland in 1860. However, while all the colonies kept the Queen motif on their stamps, WA's then Governor Fitzgerald proposed to the Colonial Office in June 1853 that we should have a stamp bearing a black Swan upon a coloured ground...

The proposal to ignore the colonial relationship with the Crown and to celebrate instead a local independence by having the design feature the swan was radical. The proceedings of the Legislative Council simply record decisions and give little detail of any discussion. It was surprising though that the Colonial Office in London did not object and substitute the Queen.

Proclamation Day marked the occasion when the new Constitution was publicly announced, granting the colony of Western Australia responsible government.

On 22 December 1890, Governor Robinson sent for the Surveyor-General, John Forrest, and asked him to be the first Premier of Western Australia. The new Constitution provided for a Cabinet of five and those Forrest invited to join him were Septimus Burt, George Shenton, W E Marmion and H W Venn, all of whom had served in the old Legislative Council.

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In 1890, at John Forrest's suggestion, 550 acres was added to the reserve overlooking Perth. On his 50th birthday in 1897 Forrest opened the new road through Perth Park, and in 1901, at his request as chairman of the Park Board, the Duke of York named the reserve Kings Park
First Legislative Council
Celebrations for first Proclamation Day on the Esplanade at Perth. Courtesy of Battye Library 2862B/2.

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