Celebrations and Futures
What kind of national monument should commemorate Federation?
Additional activities and exercises to explore in the classroom.
When the Australian delegates in London and the British Secretary of State for the Colonies reached a compromise on the Secretary’s amendments to the draft Australian Constitution in July 1900, the delegates joined hands and danced around the room. Among them were Alfred Deakin, Edmund Barton and Charles Cameron Kingston. This small celebration fore- shadowed the long line of celebrations that welcomed the new nation of Australia in January 1901, and the opening of the first Federal Parliament in Melbourne in May of that year.
Australians were justly proud of a Constitution that had won the admiration of others, especially the members of the Imperial Parliament in London. Alfred Deakin demonstrated this pride when he conveyed the impression that Federation had made in Britain to a public meeting. A journalist at that meeting recounted his story.
In the mother country recently they [the Australian delegation] had to listen to the criticisms of some of the sagest intelligences ... who regarded with some amazement this new birth in the southern seas. When they read it they were amazed at the boldness and the confidence which was reposed in the electors of Australia ... They laid the Constitution before the men of England as being not the work of any ... party, but as an expression of the desire of a whole people to press on towards national life.
Maitland Daily Mercury, 18 January 1901.
Newspapers in the capital cities of the colonies welcomed the Commonwealth on 1 January 1901 by reflecting on the journey to Federation, and what had been achieved. Poems celebrating the achievement and honouring the new nation were published, along with tributes to the work of the prominent ‘federalists’, many of whom would make up the first Commonwealth Government. The next day, the pages of those newspapers reported on the celebrations that had taken place around Australia, from the great procession in Sydney where the Commonwealth was inaugurated to festivities in the far-flung towns of Queensland and Western Australia.
On 9 May 1901, the celebrations were repeated in Melbourne, where the first Commonwealth Parliament would sit. Its 75 House of Representatives members and 36 senators, pledged the oath of allegiance, which was overseen by Lord Hopetoun, Australia’s first Governor-General. Amid fanfare and parades, the Parliament was opened by the Duke of Cornwall and York on behalf of King Edward VII, who had ascended the throne on the death of Queen Victoria in January 1901.