Celebrations and Futures
How did Queenslanders feel about being part of the new Commonwealth?
Resource Sheet 3
How should Queenslanders commemorate Federation now and into the future?
Additional activities and exercises to explore in the classroom.
Queenslanders approved the draft of the Australian Constitution with a majority ‘yes’ vote in the referendum held on Saturday 2 September 1899. The margin between the ‘no’ and ‘yes’ votes was the narrowest of any of the Federation referendums held in the other colonies, with little more than 54 per cent voting ‘yes’.
Nevertheless, even before the last votes were counted, it was clear that Queenslanders had voted for Federation. At the celebratory dinner held in Brisbane on the evening of 2 September, Edmund Barton, leader of the Federation movement from New South Wales, hailed its success. He saw Federation as welcoming a great era of democracy for all Australians. The Commonwealth Parliament, he foresaw, would be filled with ‘federalists in the true sense’, that is, those who would make decisions for Australia as a whole. Mr Barton had been working hard to ensure the success of the referendum in Queensland, giving speeches right up until the night before the referendum.
The Brisbane Courier carried telegrams from the Premiers of New South Wales and Victoria, congratulating Queensland for voting to join their colonies in the new Commonwealth. The newspaper’s editorial was joyful and excited about ‘The Coming Commonwealth’, but also aware that the hand of friendship had to be extended to those who had been against the colony federating:
Australia is born: The Australian nation is a fact. Now is accomplished the dream of a continent for a people and a people for a continent. No longer shall there exist those artificial barriers which have divided brother from brother. We are one people – with one destiny.
In the stress and strain of battle some bitterness has been shown. May we now hope that with the end of the fight all soreness will disappear. The day has broken. Australia will take her rightful place ... among the nations.
The Brisbane Courier, 4 September, 1899.
Along with the other Australian States, Queensland hosted its celebrations on Commonwealth Day, 1 January 1901. The biggest and most elaborate celebrations took place in Sydney, where the new Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia, Lord Hopetoun took the oath of office. However, parades, processions and sporting events celebrating Federation were held in all of Queensland’s major cities, such as Brisbane, Toowoomba, Rockhampton, Charters Towers, Cairns, Mackay and Townsville.