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James Gardiner (1861–1928)

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James Gardiner (1861-1928), land agent, auctioneer and politician, was born on 12 June 1861 at Papakura Valley, near Auckland, New Zealand, son on George Gardiner, farmer, and his wife Mary, née Craig.  In South Australia from 1865, he was educated first at Port Augusta, then at Saddleworth Public School from 1870, before finding work with the South Australian Carrying Company.  He worked as an accountant at Naracoorte (1882-85), then briefly took a post as a school teacher at Lochaber in 1886.  Between 1886 and 1893, he worked for William Hamilton & Co., a Victorian stock and station agent, and married Emily Louisa Browne on 22 April 1889 at Northcote, Melbourne.  They migrated to Western Australia in 1895 when Gardiner was sent by Gordon & Gotch Ltd to manage a new branch.  In 1900 he established his own auctioneering firm.

Following association with liberals on the Federal League's executive in the campaign for Federation, he was elected for the State seat of Albany next year. A Liberal government under (Sir) Walter James emerged in July 1902. To the surprise of many, the inexperienced Gardiner was appointed colonial treasurer and was soon seen as the 'iron headed man of business'. Luckily the economy was buoyant: gold production peaked in 1903 and the State had not yet felt the full impact of Federation. Gardiner represented Western Australia at the Federal-State Treasurers' Conference of February 1904, where it was ironic that he found himself arguing States' rights.

Gardiner was comfortable with the pragmatic liberalism of the James government, but personal financial difficulties forced him to resign from Cabinet in April 1904 and to withdraw from the mid-year elections. He left with considerable bitterness, engendered by Labor's co-operation with arch-conservatives to turn out a Liberal government. In 1906-18 he managed the land-grant scheme of the Midland Railway Co. As successive subdivisions were made of the company's grants between Perth and Geraldton, Gardiner worked in the field classifying land and supervising sales and he initiated a scheme to settle British migrants on partially cleared blocks. He acquired 5000 acres (2023 ha) at Moora and settled his eldest son there.

Gardiner's financial interests now prospered: he also held directorships in the Commercial Union Assurance Co. (W.A. branch) and the South Perth Ferry Co. He helped found the Perth Club and was president of the Western Australian Cricket Association in 1908-24—frequently entertaining visiting cricket teams out of his own pocket.

In 1909 Gardiner was president of the National Political League and next year travelled to Britain where he advocated emigration and promoted Western Australian fruit exports. In 1914 he won the wheat-belt seat of Irwin under the banner of the Country Party, which he had been active in establishing. His experience gained him leadership of the eight-man party and he promoted an independent stance for it, balanced in a potentially powerful position between John Scaddan's Labor government and the conservative Liberals. Gardiner's Country Party opposed Labor's platform of land resumption and the replacement of freehold by leases, but he felt at home with their moderate reformist tone. His party supported Scaddan's agrarian socialism: government credit, services, transport and marketing and Labor's other state enterprises designed to benefit metropolitan workers. A consensus politician, he could see little sense in defeating an energetic government's programme to alleviate the effects of the 1914 drought. This was reinforced by his close personal friendship with Scaddan. These views placed him out of step with the conservative elements of his party's backers, the Farmers' and Settlers' Association (F.S.A.), which voted in March 1915 to secure a new parliamentary leader. Gardiner resigned six days later and the Country Party voted with the Liberals to oust the Scaddan government next year.

Gardiner now found himself out of the political arena as Speaker of the Legislative Assembly in March-June 1917; deafness forced his resignation. But out of the reorganization of political factions after the conscription crisis of World War I, and the split in the Labor Party, Gardiner emerged in mid-1917 as treasurer in a composite National government under (Sir) H. B. Lefroy. Despite criticism from the F.S.A., Gardiner was happy in the National government with its conservative, Country Party and ex-Labor elements. However he resigned in April 1919 because he was irked at his colleagues' failure to cut spending and he disagreed with their influenza epidemic regulations. Gardiner retired from parliament in March 1921. He had always swum against the political tide in seeking agreement based on private capital, practical socialism and moderate social reform. Following three years illness, he died of cardiac failure on 27 October 1928 in Perth and was buried with Church of England rites in Karrakatta cemetery. He was survived by three sons and three daughters, his wife having predeceased him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Pervan and C. Sharman, Essays on Western Australian Politics (Perth, 1979)
  • University Studies in History (Western Australia), II (1955), no 3, IV (1965), no 3, IV (1966), no 4
  • Historical Studies, no 43, Oct 1964
  • West Australian, 1, 2, 3 Apr 1919, 28 Oct 1928
  • MS 1540/16/108, Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

'Gardiner, James (1861–1928)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


12 June, 1861
Papakura Valley, New Zealand


27 October, 1928 (aged 67)
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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