Investigation 1

How was Federation celebrated in Sydney?

Hundreds of thousands of people were in Sydney on Commonwealth Day in 1901 to be part of the grand celebrations. There was a parade of decorated floats, and there were specially designed ceremonial arches along the procession route. Some of these arches represented particular industries, such as wool, wheat and coal. Others were designed by different cultural groups, including the German, French and American. Decorations throughout the city included flags, portraits, symbols and words chosen to represent elements of Federation and the nation’s journey to this historic day.

Images and records of the celebrations still exist today. They can help us to imagine how exciting the day must have been and how much thought went into planning every aspect of the occasion.

Your Task

Discover the arches and floats used to celebrate Federation in Sydney, and design one for today.


  1. Go to the Australian Screen website and watch the film clip ‘Parade for the Inauguration of the Commonwealth’, which is a silent film of the procession along the streets of Sydney. As a class, consider the following questions.
    • How were the floats transported along the procession route?
    • Why were they used instead of other forms of transport?
    • Why might mounted police, shearers and bush workers have gone ahead of the dignitaries in the procession?
    • What other observations can you make?
  2. Look at the photograph of the Commonwealth Arch, Park Street, Sydney. Go to the Old Parliament House Flickr catalogue of Federation arches images to access more photographs of the ceremonial arches.
  3. Make a list of the types of arches that lined the procession route in the streets of Sydney. Use the map of the procession route to plot the location of the arches. You can find information about their locations on the National Library of Australia’s Catalogue.
  4. Wool, wheat and coal were used as focal points for some of the arches. The German, French and American communities had their own arches. With a partner, brainstorm a list of industries and groups that might represent Australia today, in particular for New South Wales. Write or draw the images, objects and/or symbols you would use to represent one of these industries and groups.
  5. Design, plan and produce a ceremonial arch or float that represents Australia or New South Wales today. Work individually, with a partner or in a small group to create your arch or float. Record your reasons for including particular flags, portraits, symbols and words.
  6. Display your designs.