1877 – 1953
MEMBER FOR MOUNT MAGNET, MINISTER OF THE CROWN, DEPUTY PREMIER, AND TENINDEWA PIONEER
Before cars filled our roads the usual way of getting from somewhere to somewhere else was to catch the train. So in the early 1900’s to get from Perth, capital of Western Australia to the rich gold mining town of Cue one took a train trip through Geraldton, Mullewa and Mount Magnet. Michael Francis Troy was a regular passenger on this route. He was a miner from Cue who had been elected to represent Mount Magnet in the State’s Legislative Assembly in 1904. Rushing from Perth to Cue and from Cue to Perth at a stately 30 miles per hour he would have become very familiar with the passing scenery, and particularly with the agriculturally promising land between Geraldton and Mullewa. In 1910 he bought a block of this land at Indara near the railway siding of Tenindewa. He built a flourishing farm on the land while at the same time developing a very successful political career in the State Government. This is a brief retrospective of his life and times.
Michael Francis Troy arrived in Western Australia in 1897 at the age of 19. He had been born in 1877 on his parent’s farm on the Richmond River in the north of New South Wales. His father, Patrick Troy, had emigrated from Tipperary in Ireland in 1865 and had bought a conditional purchase lot of 80 acres at Pimlico on the Richmond in 1870. Shortly after he married Ellen Moloney, also from Tipperary, and together they set about clearing their farm and planting it to corn and sugar cane. They also produced a family. Michael Francis, called Mike by his family, was their seventh child. Unfortunately he would have known little of his father because Patrick died when Michael was five years old. Subsequently Ellen was forced to sell the farm. She used the proceeds of the sale to establish a general shop in the nearby town of East Wardell which she ran successfully for the next 20 years. Michael spent his childhood in this town and attended the Wardell Primary School on the other side of the river. The school principal, one Arthur Cousins, was presumably impressed by the performance of his student because in 1892 he recommended Michael for selection in the State’s teacher training program.
Michael passed the appropriate examination and was appointed as a trainee teacher on probation in January 1893 at Woodburn Primary School, upriver from Wardell. He was 15 at the time, the usual age for such appointments. Unfortunately Michael did not impress his headmaster and his teaching career ended in mid year.
After leaving the Education Department Troy worked in and around Wardell. In various interviews in later years he spoke knowledgeably of the rigours of farm life and in one interview said that he had been “engaged in work connected with the sugar industry”. He may have worked on farms in the area, most of which grew sugar cane, or perhaps he worked at the nearby sugar mill. In any event his prospects must have been limited and Michael left Wardell behind him in 1897, taking a boat to Western Australia to seek his fame and fortune in the gold rush then in full swing.
He chose the Murchison gold fields in the north of the state as his Eldorado. He spent two or three years working as a prospector and as a miner in the Cue area but he did not make his fortune in gold. His was to be a more public life. He first appears in the written record when he became involved in union matters. Unions were emerging into legitimacy in Western Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and Frank Troy, as he was becoming known, was an early union organiser. In 1901 he is mentioned in newspaper reports of activities of the Cue branch of the Amalgamated Workers’ Association and by 1902 he was secretary of the branch. Subsequently the state organisation of the Association was reorganised into four divisions and in 1903 he became Secretary of the Murchison division. This promotion gave him a strong foundation in the growing labour movement and when the Labor Party sought to increase its representation in the state parliament in the 1904 elections he was invited to stand for the Legislative Assembly seat of Mount Magnet, 80 km south of Cue. He was energetic, well known, and popular, and was duly elected with a 20% majority. It was his first election but not his last; he ultimately represented Mount Magnet in the Assembly for 35 years.
In his early years in Parliament Frank had a strong interest in the mining industry and in the government of the Murchison area, but he also had an interest in farming. This may have reflected his rural origins, but the Labor Party was also concerned about job prospects for miners as the mines inevitably played out and supported opportunities for miners to take up land and become farmers. Troy, for example, headed a deputation to the Agriculture Minister in 1910 seeking more opportunities for miners to buy land.
At the time much potential farming land was locked up in large blocks which were either vacant or used for low intensity pastoral purposes. A particularly large owner of land was the Midland Railway Company, which had been granted the right to select and take up any land available within a 40 mile (64 km) band on either side of its line from Midland to Walkaway. One of the blocks that it had selected ran north from Mingenew to Tenindewa. Other land was held in large pastoral leases, some of which were located on the Geraldton Mullewa railway line. As a result, there were many thousands of acres of potential agricultural land located along this line which would have attracted the attention of the train passengers on their way two and from the goldfields. Troy, as noted above, was one of them. When land in the Tenindewa area became available in 1910 he bought 1000 acres at Indarra, 80 kilometres from Geraldton and 20 kilometres from Mullewa. He appears to have started adding to it almost immediately for in 1912 he appears in the Mullewa rate books as the rate payer for 1500 acres.
He may have bought the property at Indara for other reasons than simply the wish to develop a farm. At the time he bought the land his primary residence was his house in Mount Lawley in Perth but as the member for Mount Magnet he frequently visited the town, sometimes for extended periods. However there is no record of him having a house there so he may have stayed at one of the hotels when he visited the town. The farm, perhaps four or five hours by train from Mount Magnet, could have provided a convenient and welcome half-way house and a base for servicing his constituency. This would have been more so in the twenties and thirties when more reliable motor cars and more serviceable roads would have put Indarra only a few hours from Mount Magnet.
Although he was a pioneer in the region, he was probably better placed to develop his property than his neighbours. Like most parliamentarians of the time he maintained his previous career and so continued to earn his salary as secretary of the AWA as well as his salary of £300 per year as the member for Mount Magnet. He also acted for unions in arbitrations from time to time and received tokens of appreciation from grateful unions, £96 and £20 in two reported cases in 1907. In 1911 his position was considerably improved when he was elected to the position of Speaker of the House with a salary of £900 per year. Presumably, therefore, he had the resources to not only purchase land but also to develop it.
However, by the time he was becoming a farmer he was also becoming a very busy politician. As Speaker of the Assembly he had responsibilities for managing the administration of the House, as well as having constituency responsibilities, and party responsibilities as a prominent member of the Labor party. Getting out on the land, plowing the soil, shearing the sheep, this wasn’t going to be part of his life. He needed a farm manager. He had a number, over the years. There is no information as to who was the first, but his brother in law, Phillip James Bagley, who had married his sister Ellen in 1914, was the manager in 1916.
Ellen had come to Western Australia eight years earlier, with her mother and her other two sisters, Mary Cathleen and Norah. They had arrived in Perth aboard the S.S. Grantala in 1908 and had joined Frank in his house at 72 Thomas Street West Perth, before moving with him to Mount Lawley in 1911. At that stage Frank was not married but two years later, in 1913, he married school teacher Flora Brown McKinnon. By that time Ellen and Mary Kathleen had moved to Geraldton, where they were dressmakers. There Ellen had met and married local farmer Phillip James Bagley and had moved with him to Indarra. Subsequently Ellen and James moved back to Bagley’s family’s farm at Greenough and Troy employed another farm manager, Dan Clifford.
While at times he had a farm manager he also appears to have worked on the farm himself. In a 1930 interview he said that “As soon as parliament was over, before I was a member of the Ministry, I used to go back to my farm, take my team and work all day.”
Nonetheless Frank’s need for help on the farm would have increased in the twenties. Clifford had died in 1922 and when the Labor Party won power in the state elections of 1924 Frank became a Minister with increased demands on his time. Presumably at that stage he contracted with local farmers and laborers as required.
He was Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Mines in the first Collier Government (1924) and Minister for Lands, Agriculture and Immigration in the second Collier Government (1927).
Labor lost power in 1930 but returned to Government in 1933 and Frank returned to the Ministry for Lands. Collier resigned through ill health in 1936 and John Willcock took over as Premier with Frank as Deputy Premier. At times during the following three years Willcock was also absent through ill health and Frank then acted as Premier. For example, Frank delivered the Budget Speech in September 1936 as Acting Premier.
During these years Frank took a keen interest in the farm and it provided a way for him to get a break from his official responsibilities. There are a number of newspaper reports of his retreating to the farm to recover during bouts of ill-health. He also made several visits to the eastern states, both for official reasons and for family reasons. As Minister for Agriculture, for example, he visited the South Australian irrigation areas in 1925 after a Ministerial conference in Hobart. He took the opportunity on those visits to observe successful farming practices, particularly in New South Wales and New Zealand. There are newspaper reports of his applying what he had learnt to his farm, and the beneficial outcome that resulted on his property. Over the years he purchased more land and built a large brick house, which is still occupied today.
Much of his later success with the farm may have been due to the work of his nephew, Ivan Troy. Ivan had arrived from New South Wales in 1927 as his farm hand and then grew in experience and knowledge to manage the farm for him. He married Frank’s sister in law, Kitty McKinnon, in 1934 and they lived at the farm with their two young children until he died at an early age in 1943.
Frank retired from state politics in 1939 at the age of 62 and took up the post of Agent General in London, arriving in the city just in time for the start of the Second World War. His service in that post was widely applauded and he remained in London for the next seven years.
Managing the farm from London, 12,000km away, in a time of very patchy and unreliable communications must have been difficult, particularly after Ivan Troy’s early death. He was helped for a period by his great-nephew, Kevin Troy but the farm was not in the shape when he returned that it was when he left. Frank sold the farm when he returned to WA and retirement in 1946.
Frank and Flora had no children. They lived in the Perth suburb of Mount Lawley for all their married life, apart from regular visits to their farm at Indarra and apart from the seven years spent in London. Flora died on the 6th January 1952, and Frank died a year later on the 7th January 1953. They are both buried in Karrakatta Cemetery, Perth.
Great-nephew of Michael Francis Troy