Snapshots – Federation

Video duration: 2 min 39


On 1 January 1901 Australians celebrated not only a new year but the birth of our new nation.

A hundred thousand people gathered in Centennial Park to watch as Queen Victoria's representative, the Governor-General Lord Hopetoun, proclaimed the Commonwealth of Australia. They cheered as Edmund Barton was sworn-in as Australia's first Prime Minister.

Before 1901 Australia was not a nation. Rather, it was six separate British colonies. They were like six different countries. Each one had its own Parliament, laws and small defence force. They each taxed goods brought in from the other colonies. They also issued their own stamps, and even built different railway systems, which made travel across the continent very difficult.

The people living in these colonies began to identify themselves as 'Australians', and started to think the colonies would work better if they united as a nation. They felt a national government should look after things like defence, trade, immigration and foreign policy.

During the 1890s representatives from each colony met to create a set of rules for how this new nation would work. These rules are known as the Constitution.

In 1899 and 1900 the people in each colony agreed to the Constitution by voting in referendums. It was the first time in history that a group of people voted to create a new nation.

But the colonies were still under the law-making power of Britain. Before they could unite they needed the approval of the British Parliament.

In July 1900 the British Parliament passed a law - the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. The six colonies became the six states of Australia and federal Parliament was created. This is known as federation.

On 1 January 1901 federation was celebrated across Australia with parades, street parties, picnics and fireworks.

The first federal Parliament met later that year in Victoria's Parliament house. Australians were ready to unite as 'one people, under one flag' with 'one destiny'.