One people, one destiny

By 1891, with the six colonies at loggerheads and the Victorian and New South Wales economies in freefall, Australia’s great federation movement ground to a halt. The cause took another blow when its champion, Sir Henry Parkes, resigned as Premier of New South Wales later that year.

The task of unifying the colonies fell to younger men like Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin, who would devote the next 10 years to the creation of a Constitution for a federated Australia. At federal conventions in Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney, delegates from each colony met to hammer out a Constitution. The final draft was taken to the people at referendums between 1898 and 1900.

On 9 July 1900, Queen Victoria gave her royal assent, making the Australian Constitution law. Australia celebrated its first birthday as a new nation on 1 January 1901, when its Constitution came into force.

The federation movement was driven by both idealism and pragmatism. Newspapers such as the Bulletin promoted a democratic nation independent from Britain. Many Australians came to feel that trade between the colonies, telecommunications, immigration, enfranchisement and defence would all benefit from a centralised approach.

In 1891, in a bid to attract subscribers, CE Forbes produced a mock-up of Melbourne Cartoon, an illustrated satirical magazine in the style of the successful Melbourne Punch. Forbes chose to illustrate the two most pressing events of the day: the temporary collapse of the federation movement and Victoria’s failing economy.

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    Victoria’s economy hits rock bottom
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    One man, one vote
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    The federation movement comes unstuck

A selection of records relating to Australian federation

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018