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Making a Nation: Federation

Opening of the first parliament.jpg

Source: Tom Roberts


Australia became a nation on 1 January 1901, when the British Parliament passed legislation enabling the six Australian colonies to collectively govern in their own right as the Commonwealth of Australia. It was a remarkable political accomplishment that had taken many years and several referenda to achieve. Read through the resources below to learn more about the journey to Federation and what it meant for Australia.

Sir Henry Parkes (1815–1896)

Click on this image to read the biography of Sir Henry Parkes.

Alfred Deakin (1856–1919)

Click on this image to read the biography of Alfred Deakin.

Sir John William Downer (1843–1915)

Click on the image to read the biography of Sir John William Downer.

Sir Edmund Barton (Toby) (1849–1920)

Click on this image to learn more about Sir Edmund Barton.

Sir John Quick (1852–1932)

Click on the image to read more about Sir John Quick.

Sir John Forrest (1847–1918)

Click on this image to read more about Sir John Forrest.

Henry Bournes Higgins (1851–1929)

Click on the image to read more about Henry Bournes Higgins.

Children celebrating Federation, Melbourne 1901.

This black and white photo is of a group of older children in 1901. They are dressed in elaborate costumes to celebrate Australia's Federation. The costumes highlight Australia's British heritage. A large Union Jack is being held by one of the group.

Records of the Australasian Federal Conventions of the 1890s

The records of the Australasian Federation Conference of 1890 and the Australasian Federal Conventions of 1891 and 1897/8 are among the most significant founding documents of the Australian nation.

At the Australasian Federation Conference held in Melbourne from 6 to 14 February 1890, leading politicians from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand affirmed the desirability of ‘an early union under the crown’ and committed themselves to persuading their governments to send delegates to a convention which would ‘consider and report’ on a scheme for a federal constitution. Accordingly, the members of the National Australasian Convention of 1891 which met in Sydney from 2 March to 9 April did not debate whether the colonies should federate but how. They devoted themselves to finding a draft constitution to which they could agree and which they could take back to their legislatures for discussion and endorsement. When the Australasian Federal Convention met, in three sessions, in Adelaide Sydney and Melbourne in 1897 and early 1898, the delegates modified the draft produced in 1891. The Australian Constitution was contained in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill, which was endorsed by the voters of each Australian colony at referendums in 1898, 1899 and 1900, passed by the British Parliament, and given Royal Assent on 9 July 1900.

This web site provides access to the following documents:

Debates and Proceedings of the Australasian Federation Conference, Melbourne, 6-14 February, 1890

Debates of the National Australasian Convention, Sydney, 2 March–9 April 1891


Debates of the Australasian Federal Convention of 1897/8 in three sessions:

These links provide the ability to browse the daily debates of each of the listed conventions. A key word or phrase search across the convention database can be conducted by using the Australian Parliament ParlInfo Search facility, and choosing '1890s Federal Conventions' in the collection 'Constitution'.