Agricultural co-operation has long been recognised as an important institution in the development of Western Australia’s agricultural sector. Charles Harper (1842 – 1912) has long been considered the founding father of agricultural co-operation in Western Australia. Harper was instrumental in founding the Western Australian Co-operative Producers’ Union in 1902 which, among other things, eventually became Wesfarmers Ltd. Harper was also a long standing member of Parliament, a newspaperman, an explorer, a founder of schools, a philanthropist, and an agricultural experimentalist. He was also able to pass his legacy on to his son Walter who led the co-operative movement after Harper senior’s death in 1912 and saw to its integration into the mainstream of Western Australian political and economic systems. In considering Harper’s contribution to the economic and social development of Western Australia, it is difficult to determine the extent to which his economic thinking in relation to co-operation or other economic questions conformed to such socialistic ideas represented by Owenite Co-operation or Colonial Socialism. Harper was neither a protectionist nor a free trader. Indeed, in this paper, I will discuss Harper’s position in relation to a number of economic questions – tariffs, dumping, fair trade, land alienation - with a view to showing that Harper was a pragmatist focused on economic development and determined to place all resources and apply all leavers, regardless of source and political niceties, toward that end.


Published in Full, Co-operation, Colonial Socialism, Charles Harper, Western Australia


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