Investigation 4

How was the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament celebrated in Melbourne?

Melbourne was the centre of Australia’s Federation celebrations on 9 May 1901. An air of excitement filled the city before the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament. The opening took place at the Royal Exhibition Building as it was the only public building large enough to host the 12,000 people who attended. The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York arrived from Britain to open the Parliament. They travelled by coach through the richly decorated streets of Melbourne for the event. Many specially constructed arches spanned major streets and added to the sense of occasion and excitement.

Your Task

Discover how the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament was celebrated.


  1. As a class, read the newspaper extracts describing the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, and the arches that decorated the streets of Melbourne.
  2. Form small groups. Discuss the following questions about the celebrations and record your answers.
    • What evidence can you find that Australians were still very attached to Britain?
    • What contributions did migrants to Australia make to the celebrations?
    • Which industries were represented by the arches? Why were these industries represented?
  3. Use the map of the procession route to plot the location of the arches. You may need to refer to another map of Melbourne as not all streets are shown. The reports on the celebrations will help you to identify their locations.
  4. Look at the photograph of the Municipal Arch, Princes Bridge, Melbourne. Use the National Library of Australia’s Trove website to locate other photographs of Melbourne’s Federation arches in 1901. Type in ‘federation arches Vic 1901’.
  5. The Victorian Chamber of Manufacturers and the dairy industry were used as focal points for some of the arches. The German and Chinese communities had their own arches. With a partner, brainstorm a list of industries and groups that might represent Australia and, in particular, Victoria today. Choose one group or industry from your list and sketch a design for an arch that would represent this group or industry.