John Kirwan (1869-1949) was a goldfields' journalist and politician who campaigned vigorously for Federation. Born in Ireland, he migrated to Australia in 1889, working as a journalist in Brisbane, Melbourne, country Victoria, Sydney and New Zealand before taking the editorship of the Port Augusta Dispatch in South Australia. In November 1895 he became editor of the Western Argus and the Kalgoorlie Miner, shortly after becoming a joint owner.
Critic of Government
Under Kirwan the Kalgoorlie Miner became an important voice for the miners of the goldfields. By 1898 he had become a harsh critic of the Forrest Government, complaining of inadequate parliamentary representation and the lack of services provided to the goldfields' population, as well as moves to restrict the rights of alluvial miners. Importantly, Kirwan and the Kalgoorlie Miner played a significant role in the Western Australian Federation movement.
Arguing for Separation
Forrest's unwillingness to hold a referendum on Federation, especially after similar votes had been successful in the eastern colonies, led Kirwan to propose the separation of the goldfields from Western Australia. The new colony could then join the Commonwealth of Australia as a separate State. He helped form the Eastern Goldfields Reform League in December 1899, which organised a petition to present to the Queen with the signatures of more than 27,000 male residents. Separation was regarded by many as a tactic to force Forrest to put the referendum. In any event, when the referendum was finally put the goldfields voted overwhelmingly in favour of Federation, helping to carry the overall vote.
Kirwan was elected as the Member for Kalgoorlie in the first Federal election of 1901, advocating free trade and the construction of a transcontinental railway with an extension to Esperance. Defeated by a Labor Party candidate in 1903, he entered the Legislative Council as an Independent in 1908 and remained a member of the State Parliament until his retirement in 1946.
- John Kirwan wasn’t the only journalist agitating for change from the goldfields. Who else was doing this? What was their relationship like?
- Some have suggested that separation was a tactic to force a referendum on Federation. Do you think Kirwan was sincere about separation? What evidence can you find of this?
- Why do you think James retired from politics? How do you think he felt at the time?