Western Australia joins the federation

Closer Look – Federation [PDF 2.11Mb, 15 pages]

Ceremony in Centennial Park

About 100 000 people witnessed the ceremony in Centennial Park, Sydney, when Australia was declared a nation

National Library of Australia, album 329/51

Three weeks after the Australian Constitution became law in Britain, a referendum was finally held in Western Australia at which an overwhelming majority of voters agreed to federate. In fact, the 'yes' vote outweighed the 'no' vote by a two-to-one margin.

Once it realised the other colonies would go ahead without it, the Western Australian colonial parliament reversed its opposition to federation. Public opinion in Western Australia had also shifted. By 1900 there was widespread support for federation, particularly among the large number of new settlers from the east who had moved to the colony as a result of the gold rush.


The Commonwealth of Australia was declared on 1 January 1901 at a ceremony held in Centennial Park in Sydney. During the ceremony, the first Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, was sworn in and Australia's first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, and federal ministers took the oath of office.

Australians welcomed nationhood. Up to 500 000 people lined the route of the federation parade that travelled from the Domain to Centennial Park, and about 100 000 spectators witnessed the ceremony that followed.

Across Australia people celebrated with parades, processions, school pageants, firework displays, sporting events, 'conversaziones' (discussion evenings) and special dinners. Decorations and elaborate federation arches festooned the main streets and buildings were lit up at night. In Sydney the celebrations continued for a week.

Federation images

Top left: Lord Hopetoun is sworn in as Governor-General at the Centennial Park Pavilion
Top right: Children celebrating federation, Melbourne 1901
Bottom left: The Wheat Arch, Sydney 1901
Bottom right: A federation picnic in outback New South Wales 1901

Harold Bradley, National Library of Australia, an13117410-4
National Library of Australia, an13117280-22
Bishop, Joseph and Family Collection, courtesy of the University of Melbourne Archives [UMA/I/4551]
At Work and Play – 06773, Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW

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