Australian Federation

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A new Australia

Federation was the action of six completely independent 'nations' (NSW, QLD, VIC, WA, SA, TAS) coming together to create a combined, united nation called Australia. Australia was always Australia but until the act of Federation this country essentially only consisted of six small states working and supplying everything for themselves. For example, each state had their own individual train lines making it very difficult to travel between different states. You even had to show immigration papers upon the arrival of different colonies.

What life was like in the 1880-1900

Before 1901, Australia consisted of six completely independent colonies with each colony having thier own defence force, government and employment systems.


In the 1880's many children as young as 6 or 8 years old were sent to work in a mill or factory, they had to run errands and make deliveries for a store keeper. Some could even be hired out as a servant. Many children in rural parts of the country worked on farms alongside grown ups. In the life that we know today not many kids would work at that age.


They also used horse-pulled carts and carriages as transport instead of the innovative cars and buses we use now. With every colony working for itself there were many jobs and almost all residents were working, it was a busy nation. If you were travelling between states you had to show immigration papers and go through customs. Travelling by train was hard too, you had to get off and change lines because different states had different gauges.

Reasons for Federation

During the 1850s, the idea of uniting Australia's colonies to form a single nation was first considered. The idea, however, lacked popularity and was therefore forgotten.


During the following years the idea of Federation gained interest and some of the reasons in support of Federation include;

· All of the colonies spoke the same universal language (English).

· Many people moved between the colonies to find work.

· Customs duties made it difficult to transport goods over the border and between colonies, this made people frustrated and trading hard.

· Laws could be enforced to stop people escaping to another colony.

· There was a general want for a united nation and throughout schools and sporting teams people wanted to represent Australia proudly.

· Some people believed that Australia would become more safe and secure if all states united as they would have a greater army force.

· Writers such as Henry Lawson were writing about Australia as a land and nation and politicians travelled the country giving speeches about Federation.


Although there were many supporters of Federation, some people still had doubts. Many people felt the individual colonies would loose their identity. They already had parliaments and laws of their own and these would have to change if the states united.

Key figures in the lead up to federation


Sir Henry Parkes


One of the key figures in the history of Federation was Henry Parks. Sir Henry Parkes was born on the 27 May 1815 and was a colonial Australian politician. He was one of the first people to suggest and support the joining of the six colonies. Sadly, Sir Henry died five years before Federation, however, his ideas to expand the rail network and create a united government became a reality after his death in 1896. Henry Parks was such an important person during the lead up to Federation and the fact that we are still learning about him 120 years after his passing really shows how different our country would’ve been without him. He is often referred to as the ‘Father of Federation’.

Edmund Barton


Edmund Barton became the new nation's first Prime Minister at a grand ceremony in Centennial Park, Sydney, on 1 January 1901. He was admired for his calm and intelligent nature and his responsible and firm approach to having authority. In 1903 Barton resigned to become one of the three judges who founded Australia's High Court.

The Australian Constitution

The Australian Constitution is a result of the conventions, meetings and ideas of the early key figures in the history of Federation. It was passed by the British Parliament as part of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 and took effect on 1 January 1901.


The Australian Constitution is the set of rules by which the country and our states are run. Our Constitution establishes the federal Parliament, government and the High Court of Australia, and includes the different roles they play in governing Australia. The Constitution can only be changed by referendum.

Federation Celebrations

On Tuesday 1 January 1901, many people gathered at The Federation Pavilion at Centennial Park Sydney to celebrate the Federation of Australia.


At 10.30am there was a very large parade which included all types of citizens such as police, firefighters, military bands and government officials. The parade started at the Domain followed through the streets of Sydney and led to Centennial Park where many people were waiting to continue the celebrations. It was a joyous occasion and many people came out to join the celebrations, wave flags and to watch and cheer on the parade.


There was a formal ceremony at 12.30pm where people in government were officially given their roles including Edmund Barton as Prime Minister.


The celebrations on 1 January were the beginning of 8 days of celebrations from 1 to 8 January 1901 which included church services, military displays, sporting carnivals, concerts, banquets and fireworks displays. On 8 January a special train took some privileged guests to a picnic which was held at Berry on the South Coast.


Nowdays we tend to celebrate Federation as part of Australia Day celebrations.