Investigation 3

How was the opening of Parliament celebrated in Melbourne?

The Commonwealth Parliament met in Melbourne for its opening session on 9 May 1901. It was opened by Prince Albert, the Duke of Cornwall and York. He was representing His Majesty King Edward VII, who had succeeded Queen Victoria on her death in January 1901.

The royal visitors arrived in St Kilda by royal yacht. They then made their way through the city of Melbourne to the Royal Exhibition Building. Their carriage was escorted by the troops on horseback from regiments of the six Australian States. As on Commonwealth Day in Sydney, Australians turned out in their thousands, lining the decorated streets to welcome their esteemed visitors through the ceremonial arches.

The packed hall in the Royal Exhibition Building contained members of both houses of the Commonwealth Parliament, Governors of the six Australian States and many other dignitaries and guests. In a demonstration of the technology of the day, cables were sent simultaneously between the gathering and King Edward, conveying his best wishes for Australia’s future. Australia’s first Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, administered the oath of allegiance to the members of Parliament and instructed them, in accordance with the Australian Constitution, to elect a Speaker for the House of Representatives and a President of the Senate.

Your Task

Investigate the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament to reach an understanding of Australia as a constitutional monarchy.


  1. In groups, have each member take responsibility for reading or examining and interpreting one or some of the items: newspaper extracts, photograph, invitation, painting. Record and explain the following about your selected item:
    • the kind of item it is;
    • what it tells you about Australia as part of the British Empire; and
    • what it tells you about the opening and of the Commonwealth Parliament.
  2. As a class, discuss what the items convey about Australia’s connection to Britain at Federation. What did Australians at the time feel about this connection? Find the evidence in at least three items to justify your response.
  3. Focusing on the newspaper extracts, discuss the roles the Duke of Cornwall and York and the Governor-General performed. As a class, discuss the duties and importance of their respective roles.
  4. Examine the quote from the Australian Constitution about the role of the Governor- General, Australia’s head of State. Explain how the Governor-General fulfilled this role at the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament.
  5. Working in small groups, create a flow chart that demonstrates the relationships among the monarch, the Governor-General, the Parliament and the people. Present your flow chart to the class, and arrive at a class version of the relationship among these four elements.