The Making of a Nation
Or How Australia’s Federation Came About
January 1st 1901 was a date etched in Australian history. The British Parliament approved legislation that would allow for six Australian colonies to be able to govern in their own right as part of the Commonwealth of Australia. There were three main reasons why people believed that coming together under one federal government was a good idea. These reasons are based around rising nationalism, improved defence and refining transport, trade and taxes.
Nationalism played an important role in Federation as it instilled a sense of loyalty and devotion throughout each colony. Throughout Australia sports were being played; Australian Rules Football started to connect the southern states, and Test cricket matches were being played against England (Source 2). As this started to happen, the colonies and people started to feel more and more united. People began to write poetry (Source 3), alluding to nationalism and being Australian. This gave them identity, and people began to feel like they were finally one nation, not many different little ones. As Sir Henry Parkes stated in his campaign of Federation (Source 4); ‘Instead of a confusion of names and geographical divisions, which so perplexes many people at a distance, we shall be Australians, and a people with 7,000 miles of coast, more than 2,000,000 square miles of land, with 4,000,000 of population, and shall present ourselves to the world as ‘Australia’.’
Defence was a crucial part in the Federation movement, as it allowed each colony to join together to combat threats toward the nation. As small, seperate, un-united parts, if a a big attacking force came in from another country, they would most likely be defeated. If a Federation were formed, they would be able to join the defence forces together, creating stronger, more reliable protection. In 1883, Queensland sought to take control of New Guinea, so as to keep the Germans out. But in 1884, the Germans took possession of north-east New Guinea. When this happened, Britain quickly asserted a hold on south-east New Guinea, and gave Queensland leave to manage it (Source 1). This is why they had the fears that they had. In British Major-General Edwards’ report, he stated that; ‘Combined action for defence would be more economical and far more effective than the present system of purely local defence.’ (Source 2) He was suggesting that they would be able to better protect themselves if they joined together. The Federation would do this for Australia.
Transport, trade and taxes were a highly important part of the journey towards Federation. The tariffs before the Federation made items coming from other colonies more expensive than they necessarily had to be. Trade restrictions also made it harder to travel. The colonies had customs officers at every border, checking through each passenger’s luggage, making it a long, hard process to travel in between the colonies (Source 3). In Sir Robert Garran’s speech in 1951, he states: ‘While tariffs provided the colonial governments with much revenue, they restricted trade and movement between the colonies. Tariffs increased the cost of goods and made it hard for manufacturers based outside a colony to compete with local producers. Trade restrictions also inconvenienced travellers; the train journey between Melbourne and Sydney was delayed at the border in Albury while customs officials searched passengers’ luggage.’ (Source 4) Thus if the colonies were united under a federation, they would no longer have to go through this.
Nationalism, defence, transport, trade and taxes were all significant in the making of a nation. These reasons caused discussion into the benefits for uniting the six Australian colonies and creating a new nation. Nationalism provided Australians with a sense of cultural identity and national pride, which was formed through sport and poetry. The issue of defence was important as it presented reasons as to why colonies should unite and become a single force. Transport, trade and taxes argued that tariffs and trade were a significant factor on the road to Federation. These motives greatly assisted the Federation movement in the late 19th century and helped Australia become an independent Nation.