On 1 January 1901, six self-governing British colonies of the territory of Australia federated into the Commonwealth of Australia under an agreed, uniting constitution and our nation of Australia, as we know it today, was born. Federation converted the colonies into states which retained their own parliaments and governors (heads of state), federated into a Commonwealth with a federal government responsible for matters concerning the whole nation, including its common border and overall sovereignty.
Whilst the idea for a federated Australia arose in the mid-1850s – supported from official British circles after Canada’s successful federation in 1867 – serious momentum for the idea did not build until the 1880s. Even then, the committees and councils put in place to agree basic details became mired in disagreements and the main colony of New South Wales (NSW) remained aloof.
The real shot in the arm for the federation movement occurred when Sir Henry Parkes – then NSW Premier and now referred to as Australia’s “Father of Federation” – gave a timely and inspirational speech in northern NSW on 24 October 1889 (now famously known as Parkes’ Tenterfield Oration) setting out the case for federating the six colonies and getting his key colony of NSW on board.
Parkes’ address kicked off a series of conferences and constitutional conventions in the 1890s – the earlier instances either chaired by Parkes or at which he was instrumental. These were later followed by the necessary enabling acts of parliament and approvals (including from mother Britain) and referenda across the six colonies until all was in place by the turn of the century.
Our first Governor General – Lord Hopetoun – was appointed on 31 December 1900, in turn commissioning the first Commonwealth Prime Minister (Edmund Barton) and Ministry to govern our new nation from 1 January 1901. This caretaker-style, temporary arrangement would continue for no more than three months until our first Federal election. Australia's first democratically elected parliament and government could then officially take over the reins of our new nation.
Australia’s first election was successfully held on 29 March 1901 with Parliament first sitting on 9 May 1901 in Melbourne’s Parliament House. Our High Court was later established on 25 August 1903 by the passing of the Judiciary Act 1903 – another important founding institution of the (then) recently federated Commonwealth of Australia.
Celebrate the Federation of Australia this New Year’s Day by:
- viewing these short clips on the birth of our nation of federated states – the Commonwealth of Australia
- viewing this short documentary on Parkes and his Tenterfield Oration
- reading further context on the establishment of Australia
- reading our Action Plan about Australia's first Federal election
- apprising yourself of the Conservative Party’s principles and policies around preserving our Constitution and the best of Australia and its people, and/or
- sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, history buffs, proud Aussies and those that value our nation, Constitution and Federal system of government.
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