Investigation 2

How did Australians feel about their new Commonwealth and nation?

The idea of a united Australia had been promoted by the Federation movement in the 1890s. But, many people in the colonies had imagined and longed for it before this, not least among them poets and writers of the time. The Australian national anthem, Advance Australia Fair, was written by Peter Dodds McCormick in 1878. He was born in Scotland, but had settled in Sydney 23 years before. Caroline Carleton, a South Australian, wrote Song of Australia in 1860, which was sung at the celebrations in South Australia to mark Commonwealth Day and at the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament in May 1901.

With the coming of Federation, poets were encouraged to compose a poem to commemorate Federation and a prize of 50 guineas was offered. Newspapers published the inspirational verses of the poets, in which the new nation was acclaimed. Ode to Commonwealth Day, a poem by George Essex Evans, won the best Federation poem prize. Of Welsh descent, Evans had migrated to Queensland from Britain in the 1880s, and was a Toowoomba public servant and poet. His A Federal Song had won praise from Alfred Deakin, and was thought to have been influential in swaying Queenslanders to the cause of Federation.

Your Task

Examine a Federation poem to discover how people felt about the new nation.


  1. As a class, read the extracts from the poem Ode to Commonwealth Day, which was written to celebrate Federation. Discuss and use a dictionary to find the meanings of any words you do not know.
  2. Ode to Commonwealth Day is an allegory, which means it uses symbols or metaphors to convey its messages. Re-read the first verse. As a class, use your own words to describe what it is saying about the formation of the new Australian nation.
  3. The parts of the second and third verses that are in bold type are describing each of the six Australian States: New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and Queensland. Individually, read the words carefully and try to identify the description of each State. Think of what you know about the natural landscapes, locations and agriculture. Compare your ideas with a partner. Then work as a whole class to match the descriptions and the States.
  4. What image would you use to describe Australia today? Nominate your image and write a caption explaining why you think it represents what Australia means to you.