Australian Federation

StateLibQld 1 243960 View of Queen Street, Brisbane, ca. 1895

I blame the Americans. No, not really, but… there is an American connection to Australia’s emergence as a nation. You see, back in the eighteenth century America said to Britain, “Enough! No more of your freakin’ convicts.” Now, since Britain had a plentiful supply of convicts, that presented its government with a serious issue. Of course, you could just leave the prisoners to die on fever-ravaged, over-crowded hulks anchored on the Thames. But, what if that fever swept the general London population? What if it attacked politicians!

Fortunately, Captain Cook had found (after a number of other people, not least the people who lived there!) an “empty” continent, terra nullius, where there was lots of room for convicts, their guards (pretty much the same social class as the bulk of convicts, hence the importance of uniforms for police and prison guards) and a few “gentlemen” and military officers.

It all began in Sydney, but other colonies sprang up, like Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania), Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia — called the Swan River Colony and the setting of my novella.

The colonies went through boom times (from farming and gold discovery) and bad times (fire, flood, heart-breaking drought), but remained adamently “British”, with people talking of England as “Home”–and yes, I meant that capital H.

Gradually, though, the realisation grew that although Britain was happy to exploit its Australian colonies (wheat, gold and taxes), it was less interested in running the noisy, troublesome, Antipodean things. So from both the British and Australian sides came a call for nationhood–to unite the colonies and create a proud “British” nation–because, of course, it was unthinkable to dump the old Queen Victoria as Head of State (not really, there were some quite loud Republicans, but they lost the argument).

After lots and lots of talk (and many West Australians not actually wanting to join the proposed nation — but Secession is another post), Federation became official in 1901. Australia was born. Neither women nor Indigenous Australians had the vote. In fact, the latter weren’t recognised as citizens until 1967.

This is a ramshackle summary of Federation, and I’ve left out the politicians and personalities, as well as the dry legalities. If you’re interested in the subject, there are a ton of links at Aussie Educator. If you prefer your history illustrated, Federal Fashions is fascinating — clothing and old photos.


4 Replies to “Australian Federation”

  1. I'm inclined to agree with your kaboom, Jenny. It always amuses me how the convicts were shunted off to Australia, unwanted and disgraced. These days it's a point of pride to have convict ancestors. Heck, I'm a New Zealander and I have convict ancestors. They're a source of fascination to me. Mine are Fawkners and the son of the convict, who was also a bit of a ratbag, was one of the founders of Melbourne.

    1. Convicts have definitely become a source of pride. A founder of Melbourne is pretty good going. My ancestors weren't that enterprising…though great-grandad has a road named after him in an obscure suburb 🙂

  2. I've always been fascinated by Australia. There's a pioneer spirit that runs deep in that country. So do you think you guys will ever dump the UK? I mean you don't really need them, do you?

    1. Kaboom!!!

      that's my response to your innocent question 🙂

      I'm such a republican. I think we should have dumped the British monarchy ages ago. I'd like to create a new flag (I envy Canada their maple leaf) and definitely a new national anthem. Can you imagine, at football games, we sing that we live "girt by sea"? *cringe*