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Nationalism. a nd the creation of the new Federation and the resultant social legislation.

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and the creation of the new Federation and the resultant social legislation.


AUSTRALIAN FEDERATIONThis article was contributed by Scott Bennett of the Parliamentary Library, Canberra.BACKGROUNDNew South Wales, Tasmania, Western Australia, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland were founded as separate British settlements, and at different times during the eighteenth century they each acquired separate systems of government. Despite this, there was a very early tendency to see them as representing a collective entity: as early as 1817 Governor Lachlan Macquarie had used the term 'Australia' in official documents. In the middle of the nineteenth century there were even a few suggestions in favour of a united system of government, though none of these was pushed as a realistic proposal. Among the suggestions were:

1847 - a despatch from the United Kingdom spoke of the possible need for "a central legislative authority for the whole of the Australian colonies";

1849 - a Privy Council committee recommended that one of the Australian Governors be created 'Governor-General' with power to convene a 'General Assembly of Australia';

1853 - a New South Wales constitutional committee spoke of the need for 'a General Assembly', as did a Victorian parliamentary committee;

1857 - a message to the UK spoke of a 'Federal Assembly'; and

1860 - an attempt was made to convene a conference on federal union.

It was soon clear, however, that what became known as the 'Australian' colonies had much in common: the same language, the same God, the same sovereign. An emerging Australian nationalism was soon obvious, and by the 1880s people began to talk seriously of the possibility of some type of governmental union. Clearly, many Australians agreed with New South Wales Premier, Sir Henry Parkes, that "the crimson thread of kinship runs through us all".Australian federation was thus partly to do with emotion, but there was also a practical side. During the 1880s serious problems associated with the separate status of the colonies became clear. One of the major Australian concerns was the increase in Chinese immigration which many people saw as a threat to Australian society. Australian governments also became worried about their vulnerability to outside attack, and various Australian fortifications were erected around the coast. Australians were also uneasy about the possibility of European nations establishing colonies close to their shores. Queensland was particularly concerned about German designs on New Guinea. On 4 April 1883 Queensland annexed eastern New Guinea, but this was disallowed by the British Government. When Germany annexed a portion of New Guinea in December 1884, this highlighted Australia's lack of independence.In 1880 Parkes had raised the possibility of creating a federal council of the colonies "to accustom the public mind to federal ideas", but nothing was done. The concerns over defence gave this added point, and in 1885 the Federal Council of Australasia was established to deal with various matters, including maritime defence and relations with the Pacific islands. The Federal Council met every two years from 1886 to 1899, yet achieved little. It had no money, no executive power, limited legislative power, and no way of ensuring that all colonies would abide by its decisions. New South Wales never joined the Council and South Australia was a member only during 1889-90. Clearly, the Federal Council of Australasia was, in a politician's words, "a contemptible phantom".Despite a gradual movement towards some type of national union, the colonies still maintained a jealous independence, symbolised by their separate flags. As part of this separate status, each colony maintained its own militia force, but these were small and hardly likely to act as a deterrent to an outside threat. In 1889 a UK-commissioned report recommended the establishment of an Australian defence force capable of acting in unison. For this to be achieved, defence force organisation and legislation needed to be uniform. During a visit to Tenterfield (NSW) later in 1889, Sir Henry Parkes referred to this report when he made a ringing call for "a great national Government for all Australia". The Tenterfield Address, as it became known, was said to have played a part in encouraging a general move towards Australian federation.

the emergence of an australian feeling

The emergence of an Australian feeling

By the start of the 20th century, the population of Australia had reached 3 874 365. Australia’s population was mostly of British descent, but only 17.2 percent had been born in Great Britain. Nearly 75% of the non-Indigenous population were Australian-born. The Australian born population came from a rich variety of ethnic backgrounds, since migrants from all over the world had come to Australia during the 1851 gold rush. The background and their varying political views and experiences of their parents affected the way in which they thought about Great Britain and its link to the colonies.

Even before the colonies were united and Australia had become a nation, national pride had begun to form. People living in the colonies adopted their own fashion, for example. They composed artworks, poems and songs about the Australian landscape and culture, even though the colonies’ governments were separate and often antagonistic toward each other. The nation's current national anthem ('Advance Australia Fair') was first performed in 1878, two decades before Australia would officially exist as a nation.

Australia was seen as a place where a new social structure could be established that overcame the difficulties of European political and social establishment and beliefs. Australia could be a ‘Utopia’.

a national song

A national song

The move to replace God Save the Queen with an anthem unique to Australia began as early as the 1820s. Over the decades, public opinion has been constantly canvassed and numerous competitions held to find a suitable song.

Peter DoddsMcCormick's Advance Australia Fair was officially declared Australia's national anthem by the Governor-General on 19 April 1984, close

to 160 years after the first alternative anthems were put forward. The song

was first performed in Sydney in 1878 and, interestingly, was sung at the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia by a choir of 10,000 people.

Some early nominations

John Dunmore Lang, who published an Australian Anthem and an Australian Hymn in 1826, was an early advocate of a distinctively Australian anthem.

South Australian Carl Linger wrote Song of Australia in 1860, which was suggested to the (then) Prime Minister in 1929 as a possible national anthem. Linger's composition remained a favourite with Australians and was on the shortlist of 'possibles' 117 years later when Australians voted for an anthem

at a national poll.



and new ideas

Barriers between brothers. A sketch published in The Argus newspaper in 1898 urged the colonies to federate.The Argus, National Library of Australia

federation or not

Federation or not!

  • Barriers:
  • Differing views on trade
  • Labour
  • Inter-colonial rivalry – existing colonial parliaments
  • Domination of larger colonies
  • Differing settlement attitudes
  • Cost
  • Demands for social improvement (Health and education) ahead of federation





Growing national image and pride

Transport and communication

Changing ‘imperial’ views in Great Britain

Australian imperialism – expansion into Pacific

http www slsa sa gov au federation images antibillites coat ars htm

'The Anti-Billites' coat of arms'. Colonial rivalry to the fore: 'Advance Australia - at New South Wales' expense.' Review of reviews June 1899

the reluctant one

The Reluctant One

Western AustraliaOn 31 July 1900 Western Australia became the final Australian colony to vote for Federation. An overwhelming majority of voters were in favour of union with the eastern colonies. Within six months the Commonwealth of Australia had been proclaimed - 1 January 1901 - and campaigning for Federal elections had begun.Yet when Western Australians voted in their referendum the outcome of ten years of Constitutional Conventions and inter colonial wrangling had already been determined. The new Australian constitution had been proclaimed by Queen Victoria, omitting reference to Western Australia in the preamble as it had yet to make up its mind if it would become an original State. Western Australian political representatives who either opposed Federation outright or who wanted to hold out for more concessions from the other colonies, failed completely in their attempts to secure the support of the British Government. It was clear that Federation would go ahead with or without Australia's western third.Sharp divisions in the West had delayed the referendum. These were the result of a decade of dramatic growth, fuelled by the discovery of gold in the colony just a few years after it was granted responsible government in 1890. By the time Western Australia joined the Federation in 1901, its population had soared from under 50,000 to nearly 200,000 in just a decade.Ideas about Western Australian and Australian identity were affected by rapid social changes and economic developments. The arrival of a wave of immigrants from eastern Australia - referred to as t'othersiders by Western Australians - coincided with an increased momentum in the other Australian colonies towards Federation. Met with distrust, disinterest and hostility by the residents of Western Australia's more established coastal and farming communities - known as sandgropers - the new arrivals naturally looked eastwards across the deserts of the interior towards their former homes. Sandgropers, on the other hand, were more likely to look westwards across the Indian Ocean towards Britain. The story of Western Australia's reluctant entry into Federation is the story of these two competing

western australian

Western Australian

The following letter to the editor of the Greenbushes Advocate, dated 21 July, 1900 reflects concern that individual rights would be lost in a Commonwealth conceived by the powerful elites of Eastern Australia.

"Who wanted Federation? It was not a people's movement. The labor members in all the colonies held aloof from it; it was a commercial and conservative movement. A well laid scheme to cut the ground from under the labor party in all the colonies, and so well have the plotters succeeded that only one labor member was returned as a delegate to frame the Commonwealth Bill. We are told of its great democratic constitution for the people and in the people's interest. Its [sic] a measure of the interests of the great manufacturing and commercial houses of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide - a movement in the interest of boodlers. The young men of today have inherited from their grey-headed fathers a local Constitution that gives them manhood suffrage, vote by ballot, and free churches in free States, food land laws, State railway, a telegraph run by the people and in the people's interests. All these great reforms had to be fought for by a stubborn people who, in many cases, left the Motherland because they were unable to carry such reforms at home."

the deal

The Deal

Complex deals were an integral part of the Australasian Constitutional Conventions of the 1890s. Western Australia was able to negotiate a deal to phase out the protective tariffs it had imposed on the importation of goods from the eastern colonies of Australia over a ten year period rather than immediately abandon them on entering the Federation. This was enshrined in the Constitution as Clause 95. The other key concession Forrest pushed for was a guarantee that the Commonwealth would build a railway to link Western Australia with the rest of the nation.Politicians from the eastern colonies were reluctant to grant any further concessions to Western Australia. While happy to pledge to eventually build a trans-continental railway, they refused to make the construction of the railway a condition of entry to the Commonwealth. The response of Alfred Deakin, the Victorian politician prominent in the federal movement who became Australia's second Prime Minister, was encouraging but non-comittal. He wrote to John Kirwan, editor of the Kalgoorlie Miner "If WA joins the Union it will be [in] the interest of the Union to make the best use of her geographical advantages (which will then be the Union's as much as yours) for the sake of the Union. It is our interests as much as yours that the line should be built and it is upon this fact of our joint interests in it that renders me so hopeful of its early construction." The reality that Western Australia needed the rest of the continent more than it needed Western Australia is shown in a letter to John Kirwan from George Reid, the Premier of New South Wales and a future Prime Minister of Australia. May 11, '99Dear Mr KirwanI beg to thank you for your letter of 6th instant. The matter of the trans-continental railway cannot be reasonably taken until after federation, and clearly without federation it will never be taken - 'never' meaning in this case a period of time sufficiently near eternity - Yours very trulyG.H. ReidIn the end John Forrest's appeals for further concessions were rejected and, realising Western Australia would never get a better deal, he campaigned in favour of Federation. While some people, like Frederick Vosper, campaigned for the 'No' case on the grounds that it was a poor deal, most Western Australians feared they would be offered fewer concessions if they did not enter the Commonwealth as an original State. The Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain made it clear that a united Australian continent was the preferred outcome for Britain by putting pressure on the Western Australian Parliament to allow the referendum to be held. Meeting with Colonial delegates in London in 1900 to discuss the proposed Australian Constitution, Parker, the Western Australian representative sent by Forrest to observe proceedings, watched as the Australian Constitution Act was sent through the House of Commons, passed and sent for royal assent even before Western Australia had agreed to hold a vote on the issue.

trove articles

Trove articles

The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 - 1901), Friday 2 December 1898, page 9

The Inquirer & Commercial News (Perth, WA : 1855 - 1901), Friday 6 January 1899, page 9

the question of trade

The Question of trade!

While tariffs provided the colonial governments with much revenue, they restricted trade and movement between the colonies. Tariffs increased the cost of goods and made it hard for manufacturers based outside a colony to compete with local producers.

Trade restrictions also inconvenienced travellers; the train journey between Melbourne and Sydney was delayed at the border in Albury while customs officials searched passengers' luggage. Free traders were among the most vocal supporters of federation, arguing that it would strengthen the economy by abolishing tariffs and creating a single market.

The inconvenience of intercolonial travel. This illustration from Australasian Sketcher, 1887, shows travellers at Spencer Street Station in Melbourne standing by while their luggage is searched by customs officialsAlfred Martin Ebsworth, State Library of Victoria, A/S04/10/87/15

c ustoms house yarrawonga

Customs House Yarrawonga

Custom House on border of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, from the album New South Wales Royal Commission: Conservation of water. Views of scenery on the Darling and Lower Murray during the flood of 1886.

This is one of a series of photographs taken by Charles Baylissin 1886 for the New South Wales Royal Commission into water conservation. Ironically, the area was under flood during the journey. Baylissjoined the expedition on its three week trip down the Darling River on the paddle steamer 'Florence Annie', travelling through the countryside and collecting evidence from squatters in the area.

impacts of nationhood a new currency controlled centrally by the commonwealth
Impacts of nationhood

A new currency controlled centrally by the Commonwealth



Prior to federation, the colonies were ill-equipped to defend themselves. Each colony had its own militia consisting of a small permanent force and volunteers, but they all relied on the British navy to periodically patrol the vast Australian coastline. Increasingly, people feared the Australian colonies could be vulnerable to attack from nations such as Germany, France and Russia who had already colonised parts of the Pacific.

Australia's position as a sparsely-populated continent close to Asia also gave rise to concerns that countries such as China and Japan, with their larger populations and greater military might, could overrun the colonies. Alfred Deakin, then Chief Secretary of Victoria, warned: 'The Asiatic wave which has threatened to engulf us is only suspended for a short time, but if the colonies do not federate our comparatively trifling white population will be swept before it like a feather'.

The argument that a united defence force could better protect Australia was strengthened by a report released in 1889 by British Major-General Sir J. Bevan Edwards. It found that the colonies did not have enough soldiers, arms or even ammunition to adequately defend themselves. The report recommended a federal or centralised defence force be established.

childers lonsdale nepean torpedo boats 1884 countess of hopetoun 1891

NELSON (formerly the largest ship in the Royal Navy -- HMS Nelson -- successively cut down from three decks to one). Was permanently loaned to the Colony of Victoria. Arrived in 1868.


Fort Denison in Sydney Harbour. Built as a prison but then used later as a defensive position in case of invasion.



Queensland purchased a gunboat with the express purpose of having the ability to move out into the open seas in order to seize Pacific territories.

Matters came to a head in 1883 when Queensland annexed New Guinea.

The British Government did not approve of the annexation but Queensland felt that it had the support of its populace and of the other colonies.

This unauthorised annexation of New Guinea was enthusiastically supported by the various Australian colonies, but the British took a very different position, ostensibly disallowing the annexation because it would not be regarded as a friendly act by rival powers. Moreover, they were alarmed by what had taken place, considering it, “very cocky” and the actions of a “cheeky young colony.”

The official British position was not supported by the majority of its own citizens.  It was also resented by many in Australia, leading McIlwraith, the Queensland colonial premier, to call for the establishment of the first Australian Inter-colonial Convention held in Sydney in November and December 1883.

 This inaugural convention, with the new premier, Griffith, as the Queensland representative following a change of government in this colony, strongly endorsed McIlwraith’s action and urged the British government to act immediately to make New Guinea part of the British Empire.


'Don't be in such a hurry gentlemen!', 1896. In this caricature, the Australian Natives Association is depicted as the sun and federation as a sunray. The colonial premiers (with the exception of Western Australian Premier, John Forrest) are shown rushing toward federation, lured by the promise of prizes in the 'federation lottery'



ANA badge 1910


1888The phrase 'White Australia policy' first appears in William Lane's publication The Boomerang in Brisbane.

The Yellow Trash Question', The Bulletin, 1895Source: State Library of Victoria


The nationalistic newspaper, The Bulletin, famous for publishing the proudly Australian work of authors such as Henry Lawson and A.B. ‘Banjo’ Patterson, used a masthead in the early 20th century that featured the slogan, ‘Australia for the White Man’. However, amusingly, the typeface chosen for the title resembled a calligraphic style reflecting the British Aesthetic Movement’s taste for Japanese style.

Editorial masthead of The Bulletin, 7 May 1908.

the social legislation

The Social Legislation

Even though our first legislation was exclusionist was there a Utopian Dream?

immigration nation the secret history of us sbs video series

Immigration Nation: the secret history of us – SBS video series

A newly Federated country, Australia wants to become the most progressive and egalitarian nation the world has ever seen. But at the heart of this bright utopian vision, lies a dark paradox. Democracy, equality and freedom will be safeguarded for white and whites only.

colonial movements

Colonial movements

Utopian ideas were adopted by the colonies, state-sponsored schemes, such as the Co-operative Communities Land Settlement Act in Queensland and the Victorian Settlement of Lands Act, both passed in 1893.

While there was a push for republicanism in the 1880s this seems to have dissipated by the 1890s. The essential ideas of the republicans seem to have been taken up and included in a constitutional monarchy.

Some of the republicans perhaps aided this outcome by pursuing their Utopianism beyond Australia's borders, and therefore outside the sphere where they might have influenced the new national polity.

In 1893, a year after the publication of his Workingman's Paradise, and two years after the first draft of the Australian Constitution was written, William Lane decided that Australia, for so many the site of dreams of new beginnings, was itself beyond reconstruction.

He established a colony in Paraguay - a new Australia that attempted to create an utopian society.

federation a conservative move

Federation – a conservative move!

Some historians argue that Federation occurred as a conservative reaction to the growing power of the labour movements in the colonial parliaments. They saw Federation as a means of limiting extreme socialism but there is minimal written evidence of this.

new directions

New directions

The various Australian colonial parliaments introduced many social novelties, including manhood suffrage, then female suffrage, alternative electoral systems, payment of members of parliament, industrial regulation, liberalised divorce laws. This was absorbed into the new Commonwealth where political moves in the early years were novel and world leading.

Not all the colonies enjoyed this as much as New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, but by the time the Constitution was being completed, Australians were thoroughly familiar with experimentation.

an aside divorce not a federal responsibility until the 1950s

An aside – Divorcenot a federal responsibility until the 1950s


Wilful desertion for 3 years,

Habitual drunkenness for 3 years and either left wife without means of support, or habitual cruelty, or being petitioner’s wife, having been a habitual drunkard for like period and habitually neglected her domestic duties or rendered herself unfit to discharge them,

Respondent imprisoned for 3 years and still in prison under commuted sentence for capital charge, or under sentence for 7 years, or being a husband, had undergone frequent convictions and sentences to aggregate 3 years and left wife habitually without means of support,

Convicted of attempting to murder petitioner or assaulting her with intent to commit grievous bodily harm or that respondent repeatedly during that period assaulted and inflicted cruel beatings on petitioner,

Respondent husband guilty of adultery in conjugal residence or with aggravation, or of repeated adultery.

early federal legislation

Early Federal legislation

Franchise Act 1902

Women aged twenty-one and over could vote in federal elections, some States take longer to extend this right to women at a state level.


Aboriginal people are excluded by the same Act. As British subjects up to that time they

had the right to vote in New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania. Only the South Australian Senators voted for an amendment to give aborigines the right to vote federally when the Franchise Bill was going through parliament.

Miss Franchise: ‘Look at that hussy

Miss Federation – but that’s the way with all men’

Western Mail 16 June 1899

conciliation and arbitration act 1904

Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1904

Upon its establishment, the Commonwealth government introduced revolutionary social legislation, which improved the lives of many Australians. In 1904, the Commonwealth government established the Conciliation and Arbitration Court to resolve disputes between workers and employers.

This was at a time when many Australians had to work long hours and endure dangerous working conditions, while often receiving poor pay in return.

The bill did bring about a growth in trade unions, membership tripled between 1906 and 1911. Difficult strikes continued at places such as Broken Hill but one result of the legislation was the‘The Harvester judgement‘ - 1907. It established a basic wage based on the needs of a family, as the man’s income was seen as the family wage.

It was in turn tied to policies and Acts such as the Tariff Act that offered protection to businesses that offered a fair and reasonable wage.

invalid and old age pension

Invalid and old age pension

Prior to Federation, welfare for the aged and disabled was the responsibility of the colonies but it usually fell to charities and family members. As the aged population began to increase and the 1890s depression hit, many realised that the government needed to take control of the welfare of the aging population.

In 1900, New South Wales passed the Old-Aged Pensions Act 1900 (NSW) which provided payment of £26 ($52) per year to eligible residents over 65 years old. After Federation was reached in 1901, the Commonwealth passed the Invalid and Old Aged Pensions Act 1908 (Cth). It initially paid an aged pension of £26 to those over 65 years, who had lived in the Commonwealth for more than 25 years, were of good character and passed means and assets tests.

The disability pension came into effect in 1910 and paid those over 16 years who were totally and permanently incapacitated to work, the same amount as the aged pension. Like the aged pension, recipients were also subject to means and assets testing, and residency requirements (but only of five years). Both pensions could not be claimed by non-residents, the Indigenous peoples of Australia, Asians and Indigenous peoples from the Pacific Islands, New Zealand and Africa.

old age and invalid pension legislation 1908

Old age and invalid pension legislation 1908

Claude Marquet, 1908 in The Worker

Claude Marquet, the leading left wing cartoonist of his day, drew this cartoon for the Worker. It appeared in the year that Alfred Deakin's Protectionist government, which held office with Labor support, introduced legislation for old age pensions. The cartoon pits the left's classic villain, the Fat Man representing capitalism, against the tall, sturdy labourer representing a confident new Australia.

introduction of the maternity allowance scheme 1912

Introduction of the Maternity Allowance Scheme - 1912

Courtesy: State Library of Queensland (152196)

The Maternity Allowance Scheme, introduced across Australia in 1912, provided a lump sum payment of £5 (four weeks average wages) to a mother upon the birth of her child. Payment of this allowance was legislated by the Maternity Allowance Act 1912 (Commonwealth) but, unfortunately, eligibility for this allowance was restricted to "…women, other than 'Asiatics' or 'Aboriginal natives' of Australia, Papua or the Islands of the Pacific, who were residents or who intended to settle in Australia".

Source: Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Families, Housing, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs, 2006, Occasional Paper 12: Maternity Allowance, viewed 24 November 2008, <>.

This Act stressed that it was a woman’s duty ‘to be a wife and mother’. The growth of population was seen as vital to defence. Unusually for this time the allowance was given to single mothers as well.

good websites

Good websites