8. Lord John Forrest (1847-1918), first Premier of Western Australia
John Forrest was born in Bunbury in Western Australia’s south west. At 12 years of age he was sent to the Bishop's School, Perth. On leaving school in 1863 he studied surveying, and two years later found employment with the colony’s survey department. Forrest led a number of ambitious expeditions into remote parts of the state, proving himself to be a resourceful and courageous bushman. He published an account of his journeys, Explorations in Australia, in 1875.
In 1876 Forrest was appointed deputy surveyor-general of Western Australia and in 1878-9 acted as commissioner of crown lands with a seat in the executive council. He was a dedicated proponent for the introduction of responsible government. When it was granted in 1890, he was returned unopposed as member for Bunbury in the first legislative assembly.
He became the first Premier of Western Australia, serving in this capacity for 10 years, and was the first native-born Australian to be made a baron.
As the Premier of Western Australia, John Forrest was responsible for the construction of Fremantle Harbour and the Goldfields Water Supply. His enthusiasm for development led to the establishment of the Transcontinental Railway. As early as 1892, his government permitted the women of Western Australia to own property and in 1899 gave them the right to vote.
From the inauguration of the Commonwealth in 1901, John Forrest served in the Federal Parliament until his death in 1918. He was never defeated in elections. Among the many offices he occupied were Federal Treasurer and Minister of Defence. He was instrumental in creating a separate Australian currency and in unifying six individual colonial armies into one Commonwealth military force.
John Forrest died at the age of 71 years en route to London for cancer treatment. His ship was docked off Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa. After temporary interment in the British colony, his remains were exhumed and returned to Western Australia on the SS Dimboola.
Controversy arose on the waterfront due to the fear of the influenza epidemic which swept Europe after the War. The casket was not permitted ashore by the members of the Lumpers Union, so the Government arranged for the casket to be secretly brought ashore in a small boat late at night. The state funeral took place on 7 May 1919. A motor hearse, three mourning cars, two floral cars and a decoration car were ordered. Well over 100 wreaths were received, requiring several cabs to convey them to Karrakatta Cemetery.