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Latham, Sir Charles George (1882–1968)

by Lenore Layman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Charles George Latham (1882-1968), by unknown photographer, 1940s

Charles George Latham (1882-1968), by unknown photographer, 1940s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23386462

Sir Charles George Latham (1882-1968), farmer and politician, was born on 26 January 1882 at Hythe, Kent, England, son of Thomas Latham, coastguard, and his wife Isabella, née Isum. Orphaned in childhood, he arrived in New South Wales with his siblings in 1890. On 24 June 1903 at Hay he married Marie Louisa von Allwörden.

After working at various rural jobs Latham moved to Western Australia in 1910, attracted by advertisements promising land to prospective farmers. He took up newly opened country at East Kumminin (from 1917 Narembeen) on the eastern wheat-belt, obtaining a homestead block and 1000 acres (405 ha) of conditional purchase land through the Industries Assistance Board with a maximum advance from the Agricultural Bank. He asserted in 1921 that 'a man who has made a good pioneer is a better man than he who has been more or less spoon fed'. A successful pioneer, he cleared salmon gum, gimlet and morrell by chopping and burning and battled the dry climate by carting water, learning by trial and error to avoid the salt.

The 'roos' which ate his first crops were shot and he erected fences against the advancing front of rabbits; he carted supplies 50 miles (80 km) from the railhead at Doodlakine and later carried wheat to the new railhead at Bruce Rock.

Superphosphate increased his very poor initial wheat yields and he survived the 1914 drought; he shared machinery and worked together with his neighbours. By 1921, when he entered parliament, Latham was a successful wheat-farmer with 2000 acres (809 ha) of land.

On 15 March 1916 Latham had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a private in the 20th Battalion and embarked for active service in October. In December he became an acting corporal with the 4th Training Battalion. Promoted corporal in January 1917 he reached France with the 16th Battalion in October, and was wounded in action in March 1918. In September-October that year he was attached to the United States Army. Promoted sergeant in April 1919, he returned to Australia in July and was discharged next month.

Latham was a leader in the new rural community. He became a member of the Bruce Rock Road Board when the district was gazetted in 1913 and, in 1924, first chairman of the Narembeen Road Board. He was also foundation president of the local Farmers and Settlers' Association and in 1921 secured Country Party endorsement for the safe Legislative Assembly electorate of York. He won the election and held the seat until his resignation in 1942.

The parliamentary Country Party in the early 1920s was divided over party autonomy and identity in coalition. Following the 1923 split on this issue, Latham joined most of his colleagues in forming the Majority or Ministerial Country Party, in defiance of the party organization.

With his fellows he joined the new United Party in 1924 and did not rejoin the official Country Party until four years later. In 1930 he became its parliamentary leader. From the beginning he expressed farmers' interests and ideology, arguing for orderly marketing, closer settlement, improved rural services and the opening up of more agricultural land, including light land. Land 'lying idle' must, he said, be harnessed to 'the development of the State'.

In 1930 Latham led the Country Party into coalition with the Nationalists on strong terms. In 1930-33 he was deputy premier and minister for lands, immigration and health in the Mitchell ministry. During the Depression he fought for the reduction of farmers' debts but opposed the radicalism of the newly formed Wheat Growers' Union. Unsympathetic towards the protests of the unemployed, he wanted to turn fire-hoses on demonstrators.

From 1933, with the Country Party the larger of the non-Labor parties in the assembly, Latham was leader of the Opposition. In 1942 he resigned to fill a Senate vacancy but was defeated in the 1943 election.

He became deputy director of the Commonwealth Loans and National Savings Organization in Western Australia and in 1946 returned to State parliament as member for East (later Central) Province in the Legislative Council. He held the seat until he retired in 1960.

Latham had another spell in a coalition ministry in 1952-53 as minister for agriculture in the McLarty-Watts government and ended his parliamentary career as president of the Legislative Council (1958-60). He had been appointed K.C.M.G. in 1948.

Latham was an effective, dedicated party leader, politically astute, strong willed and persuasive. In his later career, as a respected dignitary and 'father figure', he organized the financing and purchase of West Perth premises for party headquarters, named Latham House. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 26 August 1968, survived by two sons, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at $69,632.

Select Bibliography

  • West Australian, 16 Mar 1921, 27 Aug 1968
  • Northern Advertiser, 5 Sept 1968
  • Reminiscences of Sir Charles Latham (transcript, 1962, State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Lenore Layman, 'Latham, Sir Charles George (1882–1968)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/latham-sir-charles-george-7103/text12249, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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