Investigation 1

What were the official celebrations on 1 January 1901 like?

On 1 January 1901, despite a forecast of rain, the sun shone on the festivities in Sydney, where the new Commonwealth would be inaugurated, and the first Governor-General sworn in at Centennial Park. A procession of dignitaries, bands, soldiers and horse- drawn floats passed through the city centre and under the ceremonial arches, to the cheers of thousands of spectators who had squeezed onto footpaths and balconies along the route to Centennial Park. Buildings were elaborately decorated with banners wishing the new Commonwealth prosperity, and others repeating the slogan of the Federation movement – ‘One People One Destiny’. Two anthems were sung that day: the national anthem at the time ‘God Save the Queen’ and another, which 83 years later would become the national anthem, ‘Advance Australia Fair’.

Your Task

Discover the ways in which the new nation was celebrated in Sydney on Commonwealth Day.


  1. In small groups, explore the news articles from The Argus on the celebrations in Sydney, and use the map to work out the route the procession took through the crowded city on Commonwealth Day, 1 January 1901.
  2. Explore the photographs and news articles from The West Australian. Create a chart with the following headings: ‘Australia’; ‘Empire’; ‘Federation’; ‘International’; and ‘Other’. Identify the different parts and contributions to the celebrations and list them under the relevant headings. Use the ‘Other’ column for those people and events that do not fit the first four categories. Share your information with another group. Were you able to find items for all four categories?
  3. As a class, read the lyrics of ‘God Save the Queen’ and the version of ‘Advance Australia Fair’ that was sung on Commonwealth Day. Find the meaning of any words or phrases that you do not understand. Discuss the following questions.
    • What hopes are expressed in ‘God Save the Queen’?
    • What hopes are expressed in ‘Advance Australia Fair’?
    • What words and images are used to describe Australia?
    • What vision of the new nation of Australia is expressed in ‘Advance Australia Fair’?
  4. Individually, use the information in your group’s chart and song lyrics to do one of the following tasks.
    • Create a radio broadcast in which you commentate on the events in Sydney on Commonwealth Day. Be sure to explain the meaning of the different aspects of the celebrations and procession.
    • Create a design for a ceremonial arch, which includes examples from the four categories of your group’s chart. Your design should emphasise the importance of the different components of the celebrations.