Sir Henry Parkes delivers the Tenterfield Oration

October 24, 2018

On 24 October 1889, Sir Henry Parkes – Australia’s Father of Federation – delivered his Tenterfield Oration, kick-starting the process of federating our then six separate British colonies and giving birth to the Australian nation in 1901.

The oration included this famous statement:

"The great question which we have to consider is, whether the time has not now arisen for the creation on this Australian continent of an Australian government and an Australian parliament … Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace."

During his last (of five) stints as Premier of the Colony of New South Wales (NSW), Parkes went to Tenterfield in northern NSW to deliver his famous speech. This was a region particularly suffering from the tyranny of distance from its Sydney-seated government while also incurring border importation tariffs from nearby Queensland (which provided its largest and closest markets).

Parkes’ vision was to unite the six colonies to obviate the need for many internal border laws and costly enforcement, enhance autonomy from Britain and improve colonial capacity to develop and defend the continent. His oration was a clarion call to federalists to convene a convention “to devise the constitution which would be necessary for bringing into existence a federal government with a federal parliament for the conduct of national undertaking.”

Parkes’ speech struck a real chord – due to time and place – with the public and colonial administrators alike. With his further, instrumental work in:

  • petitioning the Queen,
  • convening the first Federation Conference (Feb 1890, Melbourne),
  • heading the second (March 1891, Sydney),
  • lead-drafting the new constitution and
  • proposing the “Commonwealth of Australia” as our new name,

Sir Henry became known as Australia’s 'father of federation'. He died just five years shy of seeing the fruits of his great work and vision – the birth of a new nation.

Celebrate the anniversary of Parkes’ Tenterfield Oration – considered the start of the federation process in Australia – by:

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