Australia, New Zealand and Federation, 1883-1901 - Section C

This discusses New Zealand responses to the Australian federation movement.


New Zealand and Federation: A Case to Answer?


It is no surprise that six of the radial roads in Australia's capital city should be named after State capitals, but it seems confusing and redundant that a seventh should be called "Canberra Avenue". The mystery is compounded by the fact that this most Australian of names leads to an inner suburb with the New Zealand name (and characteristic pronunciation) of Manuka. In fact, Canberra Avenue was projected as Wellington Avenue. As late as the planning of their federal capital in 1913, Australians assumed that New Zealand would one day become the seventh State of their Commonwealth.1

By contrast, throughout the twentieth century it has been an article of faith on the other side of the Tasman that New Zealand was destined to stand aloof from the Australian federation. Until F.L.W. Wood initiated the short-lived "plain nonsense" controversy in 1968, there was little academic discussion of a cut-and-dried issue.2 Until Wood's counter-attack, the subject seemed effectively summarised in an article by E.J. Tapp, published in 1952, which argued that New Zealand had shown almost no interest in projects for the federation of Australia for at least half a century before 1900.3 Accepting Tapp's verdict, in 1955 Manning Clark included in his massive collection of Australia historical documents a lengthy extract from a speech by Captain W.R. Russell, one of the two delegates to represent New Zealand at the 1890 Federation Conference in Melbourne. It was  unambiguously headed: "The Reasons Why New Zealand Did Not Join the Australian Federation".4  A decade after Melbourne, Russell took an active part in the New Zealand Royal Commission which was appointed in December 1900 (on the eve of the proclamation of the Australian Commonwealth) and collected extensive evidence about New Zealand opinion between January and March 1901.5 Its predictably damning conclusions influenced standard histories.  "The decision was undoubtedly wise", pronounced A.J. Harrop in 1933. New Zealand representatives "would have found little in common with those of Australia and could have exercised little influence on policy. ... Any close political connection between the two is extremely unlikely."6 Wood's jaunty revisionism was aimed at a very solid target. Fundamentally, he demanded to know why arguments for federation that had allegedly swayed Australians should have left New Zealanders unmoved. The standard New Zealand response came to be that there was no reason why Australian arguments should influence New Zealand, since the two countries were entirely different. But that was to confuse the outcome, New Zealand's refusal to take part, with the problem to be explained: why did the Kiwis remain aloof?

Tapp traced the divergence of identity back to the early decades of settlement. As early as 1857, the governor of New Zealand, Sir Thomas Gore Browne, had reported to London that "a separate and independent power and destiny is fitting for this Colony". A later governor, Sir William Jervois, reported in 1880 "a general feeling" against any form of federation, which he attributed to differences in climate and distance between New Zealand and Australia. Furthermore, the federal cause was weakened by divisions among its supporters, some wishing to create "a legislative, others only a deliberative body".7 Indeed, New Zealand soon drew back even from the latter option, in 1885 declining to affiliate to the ineffectual Federal Council of Australasia. Reflecting the rapid shift of New Zealand exports towards Britain, John Ballance insisted that Britain would "always be willing to provide" the only defence that New Zealand required, that of the country's overseas commerce. The intellectual debate, such as it was, over closer links with Australia was complicated by the professed enthusiasm of politicians as influential as Vogel and Ballance for a federation of the entire British empire, which was itself partly an expression of insecure colonial nationalism.8 Robert Stout commented that New Zealanders were "afraid" of a trans-Tasman union for two "special reasons": it would weaken local autonomy as well as reduce their influence as "the trade centre" of the Pacific.9

Hence the presence of Sir John Hall and Captain Russell in Melbourne in 1890 amounted to little more than a watching brief for New Zealand interests. Indeed, it was in support of an amendment to substitute "Australian" for "Australasian" in the key resolution for federation that Russell delivered his celebrated speech regretting that "to say absolutely that the colony [New Zealand] would be prepared, at any rate for the next few years, to merge its young manhood in the more mature life of the Australian Colonies would be to lead the Conference to believe what I cannot hope". New Zealand, with 700,000 people, was evolving "a distinct national type" thanks to a climate "dissimilar to a very great extent from that of Australia" which had, he added euphemistically, "been colonized in an entirely different manner". Moreover, New Zealanders had endured "a very much rougher time", facing not only "boisterous" weather but "dense vegetation". The struggle to "carve our homes out of the wilderness" had forced New Zealanders to practise "self-denial ... to an extent of which the people of the Australian continent have no conception".

Russell also advanced more specific arguments. Australian politicians had "dealt with native races in a much more summary manner than we have ventured to deal with ours in New Zealand". It was unlikely that a federal parliament would provoke a renewal of outright warfare, "but the advance of civilization would be enormously delayed" if entrusted to a legislature ignorant of the issues. On the defence issue, Russell doubted whether Australia could do anything to protect its neighbour from a sudden naval attack, while a federal army would be expensive and "of no use to us". Then again, New Zealand was "essentially an exporting country" with a vested interest in free trade. Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland were "united by natural circumstances" and would use their combined population of 2.6 million to gang up on the weaker colonies and force them to accept a protective tariff.10 This was certainly insightful in regard to the Victorian campaign for federation, but it was something of an exaggeration to include free-trading New South Wales.11

The core assumption behind these various objections was that New Zealand and Australia were essentially different. New Zealand ignorance of Australian reality could easily be manipulated to widen that assumption. Jervois in 1880 had attributed the fundamental New Zealand opposition to distance. "Nature had made twelve hundred impediments to the inclusion of New Zealand in any such federation", Hall told the Melbourne conference, "in the twelve hundred miles of stormy ocean". The wave of feeling that had swept Australians into federation, concluded Pember Reeves, "was checked by a wide interval of ocean". In their monumental tome on Australia's new constitution, Quick and Garran acknowledged that the isolation caused by twelve hundred miles of sea was "a factor which cannot be neglected, though it may be exaggerated". They pinned their hopes on the Royal Commission, which had just been announced, confident that it would force New Zealanders for the first time to face the choice between "union and isolation". The authors were to be disappointed: the Commissioners also concluded that "the stretch of some twelve hundred miles of sea ... is a weighty argument against New Zealand joining the Commonwealth".12

Distance, however, was not the only weighty argument that presented itself to the Commissioners. New Zealanders were not interested in the subject. New Zealand would sacrifice not merely its legislative independence but lose £450,000 in annual revenue. The federal constitution contained a compromise clause, proposed by the premier of Tasmania, that ensured the allocation of three-quarters of all customs and excise revenue to the States for a transitional period of ten years. The Royal Commission abandoned all objectivity and indexed references to this clause as the "Braddon Blot". It was the temporary nature of this arrangement that worried the Commissioners. How would New Zealand, as a State of the Commonwealth, make up the shortfall in its income once the Braddon provisions lapsed?13 The controversy over the Braddon clause also divided Australians in their response to federation. However, in New Zealand, the explicit fears of retrenchment and taxation were underlined by a very specific local memory. The constitution of 1852 had given New Zealand quasi-federal institutions through its provincial system. The provinces had largely depended upon revenue allocated to them by the government. Faced with the costs of wars against Maori, centralising politicians in Wellington had dishonoured the convention, so condemning the weaker units to bankruptcy. New Zealand's provinces had been swept away in 1876.14

The Royal Commission was also ruthless in dismissing another of the stock arguments for federation voiced in Australia. The issue of political union for defence purposes simply did not arise. So long as Britannia ruled the wave, New Zealanders could rely on imperial protection of their own coastline. "In the event of Great Britain losing command of the sea, Australia and New Zealand could not rely upon being able to render material assistance to each other".15 Indeed, there were positive advantages in informal collaboration between two  distinct British colonies. The two countries would certainly come to each other's aid in time of war (a sentiment underlined, as Seddon himself pointed out, by the way in which each had rallied to the support of the Empire's cause in South Africa in 1899).16 Australia's proposed federal military college was a good idea, but New Zealand might seek access to such a facility without a formal political link. Similarly, no advantage was seen in the planned Commonwealth supreme court while a right of appeal existed to the Privy Council in London.17 Forty years earlier, Gore Browne had darkly hinted that an Australasian federation would quickly become a republic under the Southern Cross. That same distrust of a continent full of disloyal ex-convict radicals lurked in the minds of the Commissioners. "Neither Australia nor New Zealand would be likely in future years under any circumstances to break away from the Empire without inquiry as to the attitude of the other; time would be gained, and a catastrophe probably averted."18

Obviously, the New Zealand debate, such as it was, on the possibility of participation in Australian federation was carried on chiefly for New Zealand ends and within a New Zealand context. The historian cannot simply regard it as a trans-Tasman control experiment that can prove or discredit R.S. Parker's hypothesis of inconvenient borders, or Helen Irving's appeal to the Utopian moment. Yet it may at least give cause for reflection that stock arguments from the Australian movement for federation seem to have been badly battered by the experience of crossing those twelve hundred miles of storm-tossed sea.


Enter F.L.W. Wood


In retrospect, it is obvious that the expansion of higher education in the nineteen-sixties would encourage divergence in the study of Australian and New Zealand history. The New Zealand Journal of History was founded in 1966; the Melbourne journal Historical Studies dropped its sub-title Australia and New Zealand soon afterwards. In History as in other disciplines, growth in Departments  and  graduate  programmes  made  New  Zealand universities more self-sufficient. Yet in 1968, F.L.W. Wood's attempt to re-open the subject of New Zealand's relations with Australia would have seemed  timely. De Gaulle's two vetoes on United Kingdom attempts to join the Common Market amounted to little more than a temporary reprieve for Britain's overseas farm. It was high time to re-examine New Zealand's own position in the Asia-Pacific region.  In 1965, a Free Trade Agreement had been signed with Australia. Young New Zealanders were looking across the Tasman for opportunities. Air travel was neutralising the famous factor of distance. In January 1968, a contingent of the Australian historians flew to Christchurch to take part in ANZAAS, the congress of learned societies.1

If in cold print, Wood's revisionism can be criticised for its declamation and contradiction, it should be remembered that the paper was designed not as a learned article but as a conference presentation. Moreover, Wood appreciated something that is disappearing from the culture of modern higher education: there is more to the historian's task than the compilation of research monographs. He explicitly aimed his revision not simply at the New Zealand aspect of the question, but at the wider issue of why federation occurred at all. Three-quarters of the question, he insisted, had to be solved at the Australian end.2 As it happened, his paper was published in the New Zealand Journal of History, and the subsequent controversy focused on the twenty-five percent that he had sought to relegate to secondary status.

F.L.W. Wood had been born in Australia in 1903, son of G.A. Wood, Professor of History at Sydney University and a courageous critic of the Boer War.3 The son had studied at Oxford and returned to lecture at Sydney before being appointed, in 1935, to the Chair of History in Wellington. In an era when antipodean universities were under-funded and their staffs over-worked, Wood was famously productive, publishing two histories of Australia, as well as books interpreting his adopted country and tracing the development of its external policy.4 In the year that ANZAAS came to Christchurch he would turn 65. Who better to invite Australian visitors to help re-examine a New Zealand myth?

Wood noted that just as New Zealanders were sure they had made the right decision in 1900, so most Australian historians had assumed that for them, federation was "a logical development ... in the long run inevitable, certainly desirable".5  Yet almost twenty years earlier, the Parker-Blainey exchange had thrown some doubt on this tryst with destiny, suggesting that federation resulted not so much from a tidal wave of Australian nationalism as from a hard-headed recognition that some colonial boundaries made no economic sense. Parker-Blainey was back in vogue in the nineteen-sixties, and the causes of Australian federation seemed increasingly to be found in a patchwork of local ambitions to create markets for apples and flour.6 The notion that federation was a popular movement was also looking less plausible. Turn-outs at the referendums in 1898 and 1899 rarely exceeded 60 percent of qualified voters, while the much-vaunted "people's conference" at Corowa that had kick-restarted the movement back in 1893 had been unmasked as an event cleverly manipulated by business interests.7

Wood sought to escape from the straitjacket of two opposed national orthodoxies, and return instead to a world of seven colonies all subject to similar pressures and incentives: "the basic question is not why New Zealand stood aside, but why Australians, who had as many reasons as New Zealanders to be cagey, nevertheless went ahead."8 Despite this proclaimed inversion, in practice both Wood and his critics assumed that the real problem for explanation was why New Zealand should have been out of line. At the level of personalities, this may be seen in Wood's response to J.A. La Nauze's "fascinating" biography of Victoria's Alfred Deakin, published in 1965. La Nauze's Deakin is one of the great biographies in Australian history. Indeed, it is possible that its greatness constitutes its only flaw. La Nauze did not simply turn a colonial politician into an Australian statesman, but managed to convert a complex operator into a visionary soul. Across two volumes, the giant and sometimes spiritually tormented Deakin never appears as a ward-heeler or wheeler-dealer. None the less, La Nauze had portrayed Affable Alfred as a courageous leader, while New Zealand's Richard John Seddon remained the manipulative and prosaic King Dick.9 If La Nauze's inspirational Deakin had swept the apathetic and hard-headed Australian public portrayed in the Parker-Blainey debate into accepting federation, why had not Seddon, with his awesome domination of New Zealand politics, provided the same leadership to his people? This focus upon a Seddon who was less than a Deakin led Wood close to contradiction. For all his regal pretensions inside New Zealand, King Dick "knew in his heart" that he would be out-gunned by the Australian giants "and preferred to settle for the secure domination of his own small backyard". It seems hardly fair to belittle Seddon for not being Deakin and then to censure him for recognising the reality himself. Similarly, it is confusing to acknowledge that Seddon was "extremely skilful in sensing the way the wind was blowing" while blaming him for failing to fan a federal breeze that Wood believed was already gusting.10


The Wood Thesis


Wood's thesis may be reduced to five main points, which are discussed in this section and the next. First, New Zealand had been at least as closely involved in moves towards federation as the other colonies between 1883 and 1891, before the premiership of Seddon. Therefore, secondly, the absence of involvement in 1899-1900 could be explained "in the odd phenomenon which New Zealanders call King Dick". Thirdly, arguments against federation were exaggerated, "plain nonsense" and "emotional fluff" which might easily have been routed. Fourthly, by 1900 there was "a considerable movement in favour of New Zealand joining in". Although "its strength is hard to assess", a "strong lead in favour of some form of close association would have found a vigorous response". Fifthly and more generally, the issue in New Zealand should be assessed in Australasian terms: "it is hard to think of any solid argument which tended to keep New Zealand out which was not equally applicable to some at least of the federating colonies."1 This was an exhilarating assault, but it can be suggested that each of the five points was exaggerated.

"Wood's thesis ignores the fact that New Zealand had always been the least active and the most reluctant participant in federation movements before Seddon's ascendancy."2 In fact, Wood's evidence for a constructive contribution extends little beyond a complimentary  allusion by the premier of Victoria, James Service, to the supportive role of the New Zealand delegates to the intercolonial convention of 1883. Wood did not mention that Service also made it clear that he was mightily relieved:


I had a little misgiving ... in case New Zealand should hold off from the grand union and endeavour to do that which I felt would have been a mistake, namely, to form a sort of Pacific dominion with New Zealand at the head of it, and thus have two dominions in those seas.3


By 1885, Service's fears were on the way to realisation. Indeed,, Australian politicians gave up on New Zealand at a very early stage. Deakin spoke in Dunedin in 1889, calling for "a federal crusade". In 1891, he likened New Zealand to "a coy maiden, not unwilling, and indeed expecting to be courted", but this most energetic of evangelists made no further efforts to woo.4 New Zealanders, wrote Pember Reeves in 1902, "never seriously contemplated coming in; nor have the Australians supposed that they would, or expended much time or trouble in efforts to enlist them."5 When the New Zealand Royal Commissioners crossed to Australia in 1901, one Commonwealth minister did not even know they were coming.6

A powerful case for New Zealand indifference to federation was marshalled by Miles Fairburn in his response to Wood. One politician complained that at the general election of 1884 it was "difficult ... to get any attention to the subject at all", and the New Zealand Herald published just two letters on the subject during a two-month period when the topic might have been newsworthy. Stout assured parliament in 1884 that it would be "unwise" to press the issue "if it be that public opinion in this colony is not ripe for federation".7 When the subject came up the following year, one newspaper described the debate as "a very dreary fizzle", and Stout repeated his opinion that "it would be unwise for this Parliament to press the people in the colony further than they can go with us with their sympathy and support". A thin House of nine members voted down the Federal Council of Australasia, but accepted resolutions in favour of the federation of the British Empire and of the English-speaking world.8 The New Zealand support for federation gratefully hailed by Service had evaporated within two years. The colony refused to adhere to the Federal Council, even though its ostensible aims included opposition to the intrusion of other European powers into the Pacific. The Federal Council was a toothless body, but even so Stout wished to emasculate it still further.9 "Federation" before 1890 meant something much weaker than "federation" after 1890. If New Zealanders strained at the confederal gnat, it is hard to agree with Wood's assumption that they might have been persuaded to swallow the Commonwealth camel. On the basis of Fairburn's argument, Sinclair concluded that "the real decision not to join Australia" was taken in the eighteen-eighties.10

Thus it is possible to read too much into the fact that New Zealand was represented at the federation negotiations of 1890 and 1891. There is little evidence of any public interest before 1891. Indeed, one politician complained about the cost of sending delegates at all. Even then, newspapers described federation as an idea in the "debating society stage" and one of the most prolific of newspaper correspondents on the subject was the wife of an Auckland professor, surely a double disadvantage for an opinion-former in a colonial society. The governor, Lord Onslow, reported to London that nobody supported the scheme. For the ministry, Pember Reeves deflected a question on the subject by pleading that it would be "premature" to define their policy before the scheduled debate on federation. This debate the ministers smartly arranged to have counted-out.11 Overall, between 1883 and 1900, 66 speeches on federation were delivered in the General Assembly. By the verbose standards of colonial politics, this was something close to taciturnity. Of those 66 orations, 43 were anti-federal, and only four were uttered after 1890.12

From 1897 onwards, as the federation movement reached its crescendo across the Tasman, New Zealand made no contribution at all. Even Seddon's attempt in 1900 persuade the British government to safeguard New Zealand's eventual right to join was last-minute, half-hearted and a further revelation of innate New Zealand distrust of Australian fair play. Wood made much of the way in which Seddon blocked discussion of the issue between 1899 and 1901.13 Surely of more significance is the fact that Seddon was able to get away with a cynical policy of evasion: not even King Dick could control the press and the hustings. Yet few witnesses who gave evidence to the Royal Commission seemed troubled by Seddon's handling of the issue. "We wrote to Mr. Seddon to get some information", reported the President of the Industrial Association of Wellington, "but no notice was taken of our letter, and we had no proper data."14 The most strident denunciation came from Jesse King, an Auckland accountant, who  condemned "the indolence of the Government in keeping the people of this colony in ignorance of possibly the greatest political movement in British history outside Great Britain itself". He went on denounce New Zealanders themselves for a "narrow provincial spirit that is doing so much damage to the most glorious cause ever promoted in the Southern Hemisphere".15 Some causes, however glorious, suffer as much from their friends as from their enemies.


"Plain Nonsense" and Historical Methodology


The third element in Wood's dismissal of the case against federation ("nine-tenths of it nonsense") led Adrian Chan to make an important methodological point:


... it really does not matter whether the claims of Captain Russell were valid or not. They might well be plain nonsense. What may be more important is the influence of  those claims and beliefs.1


Chan's reservation raises a major issue for historians who deal with the near past. No serious scholar would waste time condemning seventeenth century British societies for killing witches: it would be pointless to direct modernistic moral outrage against people whose values and world picture were entirely alien from our own. Yet the picture is less clear-cut in the transitional zone of time before the contemporary era, when we encounter people who discussed their futures in social and economic language that we can comprehend, through democratic processes that survive to this day. What, then, are the ground rules that would entitle historians to condemn New Zealand anti-federationists of a century ago for talking "plain nonsense"?

Obviously, Chan was correct in arguing that past opinions cannot simply be second-guessed by a scornful posterity. Yet for historians simply to accept that all past opinions were equally valid would be to abdicate any analytical role. We may begin with the reflection that politicians were coalition-builders who sought to assemble majorities. In an age of florid oratory, they were tempted to make use of arguments to gain support. Only if individual politicians or their close allies can be detected using diametrically opposed rhetoric in another context, can we reasonably conclude that, somewhere along the line, we have encountered plain nonsense and emotional fluff. By and large, New Zealand politicians may be acquitted of first-degree oratorical dishonesty. The most that can be said against them is that they were inconsistent in their attitudes to distance when they denounced the French in New Caledonia or dreamed of annexing Fiji.2 It would be hard to convict any prominent New Zealand public figure of celebrating kinship with Australia at any time in the eighteen-nineties. Wood paid Seddon the back-handed compliment that King Dick never allowed himself to be guided by "any nonsense about consistency". Seddon had worked on the Victorian goldfields and married an Australian bride. His political base was the West Coast of the South Island, the area of New Zealand most closely linked to Australia. Seddon's emotional fluff about his adopted country may have been nonsense, but it was remarkably consistent nonsense from a man who might have found it useful at some stage in his varied career to have played up his Australasian credentials.3

Thus we ought not to condemn 1900 on the basis of the values of 1968 or 2001, and we must accept that even if anti-federationists were fools, there is no evidence that they were hypocrites. The furthest we can go in endorsing Wood's critique is to establish whether the arguments that he condemned were also controverted at the time. Wood singled out four claims for especial scorn. The first of these was Captain Russell's contention that the New Zealand environment was creating a distinct national type ("plain nonsense ... there would no difficulty in demolishing every one of his points"4), to which may be  coupled  Ballance's "astonishing"5 belief that a united Australia would break away from the British Empire. Thirdly, suspicions that Australians would be unable to prevent the occupation of their continent by non-white people were dismissed as "an odd twist of New Zealand thinking".6 Fourthly, perhaps crucially, Wood challenged Sir John Hall's twelve hundred arguments based on distance ("I can not [sic] see that the Tasman Sea - at any rate at that time - was a more serious obstacle than those separating the mainland colonies"7).

Captain Russell's belief that his experience of clearing Hawkes Bay bush pointed to a unique New Zealand national type may well have raised a smile in Melbourne in 1890. Evidence to the Royal Commission rarely dwelt on physical environment. One Auckland witness, a supporter of federation, went so far as to say that "if I was dropped down here suddenly at night I could not tell the difference between here and the southern parts of Australia". On the other hand, a critic alleged that but for "the blessed absence of Dutchmen in Australia, there is no more in common between us and the island continent than there is between us and Cape Colony".8 As Belich has pointed out, Australians themselves regarded the "Shaky Islands" of New Zealand as alien terrain.9

Russell's appeal to environmental determinism is probably best interpreted as part a wider theory of distinct identity. His discreet remark that New Zealand had "been colonized in an entirely different manner" suggests that his appeal to the swinging of the axe was a coded reference to the rattling of the chains. Captain Russell was by birth an English gentleman and a federal convention in Australia's largest city was hardly the occasion to discuss the origins of New Zealand's neighbour.10 There is plenty of evidence that Australians remained sensitive about their convict origins,11 and it was in 1902 that New Zealanders were famously hailed as not simply "British" but "best British". In any case, Russell was appealing not simply to environmental factors, but to climate - a common theme in evidence to the Royal Commission in 1901. Indeed, he picked up the point from a previous speaker, Andrew Inglis Clark of Tasmania.12 True, Tasmanians were planning to throw in their lot with mainland Australia, but in their case environment and climate produced large crops of apples and potatoes for the Melbourne market.

Australian federation and republican secession from the Empire had been connected ever since John Dunmore Lang had linked them in his Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia, so arousing the suspicions of Governor Gore Browne.  The adoption in 1891 of the Cromwellian style, "Commonwealth", was not auspicious.13 The Sydney Bulletin's prediction that the draft Australian constitution of 1891 "will reproduce ... the scrofulous sores of the Old World" is a reminder that it was not an unqualified supporter of federation, but there can be no doubting its strident nationalism, nor its enormous influence.14 The Reverend George Macmurray of Auckland's Anglican Cathedral even made the unappealing suggestion that New Zealand should join the Australian Commonwealth in order to resist republican pressures.15  Even nonsense comes in gradations, and suspicions of a republican Australia were not entirely lacking in foundation.

Appealing to the celebrated aphorism of Deakin, Wood insisted that the one certain result of federation in Australia was the determination to exclude non-white people. Only "ignorance", he suggested, could explain the fact that some New Zealanders perversely feared that their neighbours would be forced to accept Asian labour in the tropical North.16 There were undoubtedly some odd exchanges in the evidence given to the Royal Commission. The New Zealand-born Irish Catholic, P.J. O'Regan, declined to give an opinion on whether Anglo-Saxons could perform physical labour in northern Australia since he was not one himself. He thought it was "probable" but unimportant that the "coloured races" would settle in Australia. "We do not object to buying bananas from Fiji."17 Other opinions were bizarre, but not necessarily uninformed. The Reverend William Curzon-Siggers of Dunedin had lived in north Queensland, an experience that had persuaded him that European peoples declined under tropical conditions. From this assumption he drew the happy conclusion that "the mental characteristics of the people of Otago" would out-distance those of the North Island.18 Such attitudes were natural extensions of the belief that climate would create distinct national types, and it was by no means illogical to assume that northern Australia was destined to be occupied by people more accustomed to blazing heat.  The achievements of Abraham Lincoln in the field of race relations seemed to have eluded the Rangitikei farmer, Robert Simpson, but his argument was more coherent than Wood's dismissal allows. "The Americans started by importing a few slaves, and now they have eight millions". Australia would similarly find it impossible "to do without coloured labour in one-half [of] her territory. They will find the force of circumstances too much for them .... we have a compact population of Europeans here and we should keep it so."19 On the face of it, we seem to be left with a paradox: Australians were assured that joining federation was the best way for them to remain white; New Zealanders that remaining aloof would enable them to resist the undermining of their pigmentation.

"I think I mentioned that the intervening sea constituted twelve hundred reasons against New Zealand joining", Sir John Hall recalled when asked by the Commissioners to describe his attitude in 1890.20  As with environment and climate, this "weighty argument"21 should be seen in part as an outward projection, in this case of New Zealand localism. Arguably this factor distinguished New Zealand from most of the Australian colonies: there was a good chance that areas such as the Murray valley that felt remote and alienated from colonial capitals would gain through the elimination of artificial boundaries, an incentive that could not operate in Southland or Nelson.22 Moreover, in New Zealand, unlike Australia, localism had been built into the structure of colonial government through the quasi-federal provincial system that had operated from 1852 until 1876. New Zealanders had begun to define their responses to the larger issue of Australasian federation within a few years of the abolition of the provinces, and some transferred their nostalgic resentment. Gerald Peacock, editor of the New Zealand Farmer, also warned that the Commonwealth would become more "than a mere Federal bond. It is likely to prove a strong amalgamating force, welding together the different provinces of Australia into one homogeneous political whole". Except in South Australia, the term "province" was rarely applied across the Tasman. The message was subtle but it was clear.23

Fear of Australia expressed itself in humbling parallels. Faced with federationist sentiment from T.W. Hislop, who had served in the Atkinson ministry, the Commissioners asked him if the Chatham Islands suffered because of their distance from New Zealand. Hislop replied that the Chathams were visited once every two months, had no cable connection and that there were "some districts in New Zealand quite as neglected".24  To compare New Zealand with the Chatham Islands suggests a degree of insecurity. Peter Cheal, an Auckland mining engineer, saw the federation issue in terms of inter-island relations:


For many years the majority of members in the New Zealand House were from the South Island, with the result that they got two millions and a half more spent on railways than was spent in the North Island, and last year twice as much was allocated to the South Island as was allocated to the North, in spite of the fact that their trunk lines are finished and ours are not. If we go to Australia we will be in the same position.25


Barton's stirring vision of a continent for a nation was unlikely to appeal to an Aucklander who feared the political might of the South Island.

Even those who challenged the argument of distance might highlight the assumptions behind it, as one Auckland merchant unwittingly revealed when he claimed that his company could ship goods to Sydney "cheaper than we can send them to Nelson".26 Commenting on the twelve hundred miles of sea, Albert Kaye, a Christchurch merchant, professed himself "exceedingly surprised so much has been made of it. I consider it a means of increasing communication rather than a means of destroying communication."27 Other witnesses confirmed that the distance argument did not go unchallenged.28 Some drew favourable parallels with Prince Edward Island's membership of the Canadian Confederation, or painted a bleak picture of unprogressive Newfoundland's insistence on staying separate.29 "We are closer to Sydney than the western states are to Washington," remarked another.30

Yet distance was more than a simple parrot cry. There were historical precedents for regarding it as an innate problem.


The Irish Channel separates by sixty miles Ireland from England, and it has been sufficient for centuries to keep alive the distinct feelings of the two countries. How can we, then, expect New Zealand and Australia to work together with twelve hundred miles of ocean rolling between them?31


The twelve hundred miles acquired a curious technical precision. The Reverend George Macmurray was sure that if "New Zealand lay a hundred miles off the Australian coast federation would be carried by an overwhelming majority". Equally, he suggested, "if New Zealand were twice as far away as she is there would be no question of federation at all".32 Pember Reeves may have had the same calibration in mind when he noted that "New Zealand lay a thousand miles too far away from Sydney".33

Two further points should be noted. First, even if it could be proved that the "twelve hundred impediments" did not constitute an absolute barrier, this would still fall short of converting them into a positive argument in favour of joining an Australian federation. The Royal Commission might indeed have exaggerated in predicting that "great inconvenience must at all time be experienced in the administration of the several departments controlled by the Federal Government". However, even if they were wrong, it would not follow that it would be positively beneficial for New Zealanders to be governed from a country four days' steamship journey away. Even Wood accepted that distance was a "serious matter".34 Secondly, wlthough a secondary centre such as Nelson might lose out, it seems reasonable to assume that New Zealand merchant shipping was better equipped to handle coastal trade than to venture out on the storm-tossed Tasman.35 Internal coastwise distance had been a factor in the campaign that had deprived Auckland of the seat of government in the eighteen-sixties. External, oceanic distance was of a different, and more serious, order. Of course, we should not make too much of the argument, since so much of New Zealand's export trade was sent half-way around the world. None the less, that most useful of standard reference books, Whitaker's Almanack, felt it sufficient to explain to British readers that New Zealand would remain "aloof" from the Commonwealth "on account of its distance from the continent".36


Hidden Federal Sentiment?


How strong was New Zealand support for federation? Wood referred to the existence of branches of the Federation League in Auckland and Christchurch in 1899, when the Wellington Evening Post championed participation in the Commonwealth. Sinclair went further, suggesting that Reeves and Seddon were surprised by the "noisy agitation" in favour of federation. Another Wellington newspaper conducted a survey of the opinion of 70 Members of the House of Representatives, and found that no fewer than 20 supported union with Australia, narrowly outnumbering the 19 who were opposed, but with 25 undecided.1 Against this, it has to be noted that there is no evidence that federationists made themselves heard during the 1899 election, and that Sinclair himself could trace only four parliamentary speeches on the subject during 1899-1900, only one of which was favourable. Except for a reference to a branch of the Federation League in Auckland, there is no sign that any organised movement for federation still existed when the Royal Commission heard submissions between January and March 1901.2

Basic to any assessment of that evidence is the point with which the Commissioners began their own Report: "the question had been but little considered by the people of New Zealand".3  The low level of public interest enabled groups determined to block change  to play a disproportionate role as lobbyists: employer and union spokesmen for the tiny boot and shoe industry were exceptionally active.4 Furthermore, a natural corollary of ignorance was caution. "I do not know that I can give an opinion of very great value," remarked G.G. Stead. Stead managed none the less to provide several pages of evidence, but the disclaimer was odd from the proprietor of the Christchurch Press. Similarly, the publisher George Whitcombe thought federation "a very difficult and complex question" while another critic, Christchurch mayor William Reece, admitted that he had "not devoted special study" to the issue.5 The outgoing President of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce reported that federation "came up incidentally more than once or twice" at their meetings,  "but was never thoroughly discussed". His opposite number in Wellington stated that members "were very much divided on the question".6 With respected veterans such as Hall and Scobie Mackenzie firm in their opposition, it is hardly surprising that apathetic doubt proved a poor spawning ground for a vigorous federal campaign.

A clear majority of the 186 submissions to the Royal Commission argued against federation. Sinclair classified 49 witnesses as supporters, and a further 23 as non-committal.With the exception of a handful of representatives of North Island farming organisations, those sympathetic to federation made no effort even to cross-reference their evidence, and there is no sign at all of any organised political movement among them.  Witnesses favourable to federation may be loosely classified into four groups: the cautious, the enthusiasts and the eccentrics (two interrelated categories) and the farmers. Farmers are placed last in the list not to denigrate the agricultural interest, but because an assessment of their opinions leads naturally into consideration of Wood's final theme, the shared Australasian identity of New Zealand.

"I was very sorry to be asked to give evidence", complained the Aucklander J.H. Upton, but "if I had to give a vote I would vote in favour." Several witnesses shared his hesitant approach to federation. Matthew Kirkbride, a Mangere farmer, emphasised the need to keep open Australian markets, but added "I am not advocating that we rush into it". On second thoughts, he wrote to the Commission retracting his statement in favour of membership. Speaking for the Franklin Agricultural Association, James Rutherford agreed that nothing was to be gained "by immediate federation".8 Such sentiments were probably a tribute to the skill of Seddon's timing, which had ensured that the Royal Commission went into action immediately after the proclamation of the Australian Commonwealth but before the first session of its Parliament. "I think we ought to wait several years and see the outcome of it in Australia", advised a former Member of the House of Representatives, the Wellington merchant John Duthie. From Featherston, the veteran politician Charles Pharazyn offered the one-word advice "Wait".9 Thus even those who  supported federation in principle did not necessarily feel sufficiently certain to demand immediate action. A Christchurch witness, G.T. Booth, thought it in "the natural order of things ... inevitable and irresistible" but added that his opinion was "worth but very little" and that he was waiting for the Royal Commission to report. Under questioning, he agreed that "if we cannot make a bargain that will pay us we had better stay out".10 More informed but still ambiguous assessments came from two sons of the lawyer H.S. Chapman, both of whom destined to make an impact in their father's profession. For Martin Chapman, federation had "been in my mind, I think, almost as long as I have thought about any subject. We used to talk about it as boys at school." Despite his enthusiasm, he did not believe that "New Zealand should consent to go in as an inferior state". His brother, F.R. Chapman, supported federation in principle but disliked the Commonwealth constitution.11

Such cautious support offered an unlikely basis for a brushfire movement in favour of joining Australia. By contrast, some of the enthusiasts were so eccentric that they seem to have been a positive liability. True, a handful of witnesses felt able to present a cogent and detailed case that New Zealand would flourish under the Commonwealth constitution. The Auckland solicitor, Edward Burton, sought to counter fears of Australian dominance by pointing out that every unit within a federation sacrificed some of its independence. He had recently met Australia's first prime minister, Edmund Barton, who had assured him that no Commonwealth cabinet "would set about wrecking itself by making an enemy of a whole colony".12 Another witness who had actually studied the new constitution was P.J. O'Regan, a young man who already had a notable career behind him. In 1893, at the age of 24, he had been elected to the House of Representatives for the West Coast constituency of Inangahua, moving in 1896 to nearby Buller - the two districts of New Zealand with the highest proportion of Australian-born residents. After losing his seat in 1899, he had set out on a new career, enrolling at Victoria University College to study law. A committed Irish Home Ruler, he rejected both the argument of distance and the British-Irish analogy "because the so-called Union is no federation". According to his interpretation of the new Australian constitution, only 7 of the 110 pieces of legislation passed by the New Zealand parliament in 1900 would have fallen under Commonwealth control. None the less, even O'Regan's support for New Zealand participation was conditional upon securing constitutional amendments.13

Other enthusiasts were short on tact. The Dunedin journalist Mark Cohen was a veteran campaigner for assorted causes, dismissed by some as a "faddist". He bluntly informed the Commission that New Zealanders were living in a fools' paradise if they thought they good secure generous trade terms from Australia, although he seemed a little inconsistent in his equally forceful assurance that Australians would welcome New Zealand into their federation.14 Thomas Dineen, a Council member of the Auckland branch of the Australasian Federation League, argued that New Zealand would be £60,000 a year better off as an Australian State. This conflicted with the Commission's estimate that the colony would lose £450,000 annually. He also denied that New Zealanders were superior to Australians and "as regards morality, I have seen worse doings here than ever I have seen in Sydney or Perth, which are the two worst cities in the Commonwealth".15 His combination of optimistic arithmetic and  tactless honesty was unlikely to win friends to his cause.

Some federal enthusiasts made light of problems that undoubtedly concerned their fellow New Zealanders. Albert Kaye accepted that federation was "a kind of unknown quantity" which might undermine the favourable conditions enjoyed by New Zealand workers but "in about ten years they would have adjusted themselves". "I really do not understand the Commonwealth Act," said William Crabtree, a Wellington engineer, "but I am prepared to go in, all fair and equal." The Commissioners put to him "the sentimental question of sacrificing our independence: do you attach any importance to that?" "None whatever", he replied.  W.J. Harker, a retired Auckland merchant, felt entitled to be outspoken because his "bread and cheese" came from investments in British government stocks. "A dozen smart businessmen from the other side, backed by Melbourne and Sydney money", would "revolutionise" slumbering Auckland. A canal linking Manukau and Waitemata Harbours would create "one of the great waterways of the world" and help the city to industrialise. He then declared himself an opponent of factory life because it caused human degeneracy.16 The Commissioners did not question him. They did, however, wonder why those who insisted New Zealand industry manufacturers could compete in Australian markets were not themselves involved in manufacturing. "An onlooker at the game of cards knows how to play the game better than an individual player whose attention is concentrated on his hand," was the patronising response of Auckland accountant, Jesse King.17

Overall, support for federation among farmers was scattered and confined to marginal interest groups. Perhaps partly because the Royal Commission held sessions in the cities (although it did begin in Invercargill) and summoned witnesses in consultation with Chambers of Commerce, few farmers gave evidence. Such support for federation as existed in the agricultural sector was voiced indirectly and usually impressionistically by urban spokesmen. A flour miller "was quite satisfied that nine-tenths of our Southland farmers would vote in favour". A Christchurch merchant, James Gould, predicted that "an enormous number of small settlers ... would be ruined" if a tariff wall closed off Australian markets for potatoes and onions. "We have not got the population to eat one-hundredth part of what we grow," warned a Cambridge solicitor, W.F. Buckland, on behalf of the Waikato Farmers' Association: "nineteen out of every twenty Farmers' Clubs are very strong federationists".  The Auckland Agricultural and Pastoral Association was represented by a manufacturer of chemical fertilisers, who reported that lack of time had prevented them from discussing the subject. He claimed that Auckland farmers supported federation and feared the effects of the extension of Victoria's tariff on existing markets in free-trading New South Wales.18

The federal cause was hardly helped by the fact that the key crop pointing to closer links with Australia was oats. It was a crop that suffered from Dr Johnson's definition of it as a foodstuff that in England was fed to horses and in Scotland to people. In dismissing federation in 1891, Ballance had scornfully bracketed the export of oats with the loss of New Zealand independence. In 1901, Scobie Mackenzie was "unable to imagine any New Zealander outside of a lunatic asylum" wishing to abandon the right of self-government to get "a better price for our oats".19 In fact, there was some doubt about the importance of the despised crop. It was claimed that a quarter of Southland farmers did not even grow oats, and as for political mobilisation, farmers were "very slow to move". Elsewhere, the crop was even less important: the annual profit to Canterbury farmers on oats exported through Lyttelton was reckoned at £5,500. This was a little over one percent of the Royal Commission's estimate of the cost to New Zealand of joining the Commonwealth.20

The arguments of special interest groups among the farmers tended to be undercut by that "article of faith among otherwise sensible New Zealanders", a belief in a fundamental difference in the climate of their islands. "The only agricultural products of any importance which New Zealand can supply to Australia are oats, maize, potatoes and dairy produce," explained the editor of the New Zealand Farmer, adding that even without a tariff barrier, "there would only be a market at exceptional periods of scarcity through drought or floods".21 Thus even if oats represented big business, it was not necessarily a federal issue. As Fairburn demonstrated, there had been a shift towards the cultivation of oats in late nineteenth-century New Zealand, from 6.9 million acres in 1881 to 10.2 million by 1895. This was almost exactly matched by a decline in the cultivation of wheat and barley, from 8.6 to 4.6 million acres. It seems likely that this was primarily a by-product of the massive re-orientation of the New Zealand economy caused by refrigeration. Meat exports to Britain rose from just under £20,000 by value in 1880 to £1.3 million in 1895; in the latter year Australia took a mere £8,732 worth of New Zealand meat. That same year, butter and cheese exports to Australia amounted to £14,000 by value, but were twenty-five times greater to Britain. If there was a boom in oats, it was grown to feed animals not Australians. Hence Donald Reid, a voice from the eighteen-seventies, dismissed oats as "a transitory and fleeting argument".22


An Australasian World?  


If improved communications and common challenges were creating a shared Australian identity, then we might equally expect to trace the parallel development of a sense of Australasian community. Rollo Arnold attempted to assess trans-Tasman contacts in terms of personal mobility and the circulation of newspapers. These are areas in which mere statistical measurements are hard to interpret. Passenger movements may understate the true extent of mobility between the two countries, while the fact that the Australian-born were thin on New Zealand ground cannot take account of unknown numbers of British-born who had passed through Australia.1 In any case, familiarity does not always lead to understanding. Australian migrant workers were not always popular in New Zealand; New Zealand shearers sometimes crossed to Australia as strike-breakers. Most notable, of course, had been the impact of the 1890 Maritime Strike. New Zealand workers had broken off formal links with Australian unions after becoming entangled in a disastrous and largely external dispute. Hence the paradox that historians should have concluded that in Australia conservative interests saw the need to draw together, whereas in New Zealand both sides of industry wanted the colony to keep the two countries apart.2 Even those witnesses before the Royal Commission who had lived in Australia were divided on the merits of closer political union. Australian newspapers and magazines circulated widely in New Zealand, although postal statistics suggest that their popularity was growing more slowly than that of periodicals from Britain. But what did such familiarity breed? What was the effect of exposure to the strident Australian nationalism of the Bulletin and its assumption that there was something different about "Maoriland"?3

In one area that can be easily measured, intercolonial trade, Fairburn demonstrated that New Zealand was the least "Australasian" of the seven colonies. Taking the years 1896 to 1898, Tasmania sent four-fifths of its exports to the other colonies and Queensland three-fifths. Just under half the exports from Western Australia and South Australia were directed within the region. For New South Wales and Victoria, Australasia accounted for about one-third of their external markets. By contrast, only one-seventh of New Zealand exports crossed the Tasman.4

To take full account of Wood's claim that "the factors operating in New Zealand for or against federation were felt also to a greater or lesser extent in most or all of the other colonies"5 would be to range deep into unresolved debates in the history of all six Australian colonies. None the less, it is worth making some attempt to look at specific comparisons,  if only to break away from the overarching categorisations that tempt us to look at "Australia" and "New Zealand", categories that only emerged as a result of the process we are studying. Aspects of the New Zealand situation may be briefly compared with three of the Australian colonies: Tasmania, Western Australia and Queensland.

Blainey analysed the Tasmanian vote at the 1898 federal referendum by dividing the tiny island into seven regions. Five of them registered support at between 85 and 96 percent: these were either remote mining areas dependent upon direct trade with Melbourne for supplies or agricultural districts and north-coast ports which looked across two hundred miles of sea to Victoria for their markets. It was a Tasmanian orator who famously predicted that federation would "found a great and glorious nation under the bright Southern Cross" while guaranteeing "a market for both potatoes and apples". The remaining two districts which were less enthusiastic arguably resembled parts of New Zealand. There was a 35 percent "No" vote in Hobart, which, like Wellington, was a small city made prosperous by the presence of government. In the grazing districts of the Tasmanian Midlands and east coast, opposition rose as high as 48 percent, fuelled, Blainey argued, by fears of mainland competition.6

By contrast with Tasmania, few parts of New Zealand traded extensively with Australia. The Royal Commission supplied figures for external trade in 1899 arranged by provincial districts. Column A shows the percentage of the export trade of each provincial district destined for Australia. Column B shows that figure as a percentage of total New Zealand exports to Australia.7



Exports to Australia as % of Provincial Total

% of NZ Exports to Australia







Hawkes Bay






























NZ Total




At first sight, it might appear that Westland, Nelson and Otago would have been as interested in federation as the north and west of Tasmania. However, in each case the value of their exports to Australia was swollen by gold. Gold accounted for 96.05 percent of the Westland total, 51.98 percent in the case of Otago (which, of course, included the former Southland province) and 45.27 percent of Nelson's tiny external trade. Apples and potatoes are perishable crops which Tasmanians urgently needed to sell to the half a million hungry citizens of Melbourne.  New Zealand gold went through Australia for convenience, and could be sold anywhere in the world. Overall, gold accounted for two fifths of New Zealand's export trade to Australia; timber and oats each accounting for ten percent. Oats accounted for twenty percent of Otago's trade to Australia, or about two-fifths of the non-gold exports. Agricultural produce accounted for just 1.48 percent of Auckland exports to Australia: no wonder spokesmen for Auckland farming organisations seemed half-hearted in their support  for federation.8

Comparison with Western Australia throws into relief other explanatory elements, centring not so much upon economics as on demography. Thanks to a gold rush in the interior, the population of the colony had rocketed from a shade under 50,000 in 1891 to 184,000 ten years later. Many of the newcomers were "T'othersiders" from the eastern colonies, who largely accounted for massive goldfields majorities in favour of federation.9 By 1900, barely one New Zealander in twenty had been born in Australia, a proportion that rose no higher than about one in nine even on the South Island goldfields.10 In Western Australia,  both the goldfields and the older settled district around Albany showed their resentment against the domination of Perth by demanding the right to break away and form a separate colony. Such a threat would have been barely credible coming from Nelson or Westland and indeed it did not occur to anyone to make it.

Even after its gold rush population boom, Western Australia still lagged behind Tasmania in the census league. Its premier, Sir John Forrest, had sounded a note reminiscent of New Zealand debate when he insisted that he was "not a federationist on any terms", but he roundly told the New Zealand Royal Commissioners that he did not believe there was any value in retaining a separate voice in dealings with the British government. Two hundred thousand people  could never expect the  imperial authorities to take their side against four million: "it would be of no use our trying to stand against the Commonwealth; it would be too powerful for us". 10 How far Western Australia's continental location mattered is hard to say: as  Barton sardonically remarked, the colony shared a land border with the rest of Australia "when she gets there". The prospect, although not the formal promise, of a transcontinental railway played some part in the decision to join. Forrest was revealing if hardly tactful when he told the Royal Commission that "Western Australia might just as well be an island in the ocean if we have no means of communication". Wood might have dismissed the argument as Nullabor Plain nonsense: the railway was not completed until 1917 and a study of the Western Australian secession movement of 1933-34 suggested that it did little to bring Westralians either economically or psychologically closer to the eastern States.11 If, so far as Western Australia is concerned, Wood was right in arguing that the federation debate in New Zealand was not unique, it certainly does not follow that New Zealanders made the wrong decision. Within a year, Western Australians were pleading with the Commonwealth government to locate a quasi-ambassador in Perth to resolve the difficulties that were appearing, even during a five-year transition period in which the State retained its own tariff.12

In some respects, the most intriguing comparison is to be found in Queensland.13 The two colonies lay in the middle reach of the population league table, with 700,000 people in New Zealand and 500,000 in Queensland. Each had a potential for demographic growth of a kind of which Tasmanians and Westralians could only dream. Queensland also resembled New Zealand in that immigrants from Britain were disproportionately numerous and influential. If the perceived external threat from French and German colonisation in the Pacific was indeed a driving force behind the movement for federation, then it ought to have been felt most sharply in these two colonies. Defence considerations might well have been underlined by the fact that the two had also experienced the sharpest conflicts with indigenous peoples. More to the point, if Queensland's vast desert interior is blotted out of the picture, they shared a very similar geography. Both colonies were narrow corridors of north-south settlement stretching through a huge swathe of latitude, with concomitant potential for regional conflict. If some New Zealanders dreamed of a return to their lost provincial system, at least in the early stages of the federation movement, Queensland responses were persistently complicated by outright demands for secession from its northern and central districts. Each of these corridors of dissidence was further complicated by the rise of a dominant city at one extremity. Here, however, the internal balances were different. More than one Queenslander in every five lived in Brisbane, but the overwhelming dominance of Auckland still lay in the future, with the northern metropolis claiming fewer than one New Zealander in ten. In 1898, of Queensland provincial towns, only Charters Towers contained more than 20,000 people, whereas the four main New Zealand cities were still in rough equilibrium. Yet if Rockhampton and Townsville gave the impression that they were yapping at the heels of the capital, it should be recalled that they formed part of a referendum coalition sufficient to overcome the reluctance of Brisbane. It is a reminder that if any major division of New Zealand had seriously believed that its interests to be compatible with federation, that case could and surely would have been backed by considerable electoral clout.

On the face of it, Queensland was a pace-setter at the 1891 Convention, while New Zealand behaved more like the ghost at the feast. It was during a short cruise on board the Queensland government's official yacht, the Lucinda, that the first draft of a federal constitution was put together. One member of the drafting committee pleaded that any shortcomings should be attributed to sea- sickness, but Pember Reeves praised the document, suggesting that the letter "d" could have been omitted from the name of the yacht. In an age when even colonial politicians knew their classics, Reeves was making a charming allusion to Lucina, the Roman Goddess of Light.14 However, Bolton and Waterson have recently warned that the prominence in 1891 of two Queenslanders, Griffith and Macrossan, may be misleading. These two intelligent and influential individuals perhaps exercised a personal influence that considerably exceeded any support for closer union in their own colony.15 By contrast, Sir George Grey and Captain Russell, the stand-offish New Zealanders, undoubtedly discharged a democratic mandate.

It was certainly the case that Queensland appeared to fall out of the march towards political union after 1891 just as totally as did New Zealand. Wood's wise injunction is especially applicable here: the true task of the historian is not to account for New Zealand exceptionalism but to explain why so many Australians managed to overcome genuine doubts about the utility of federation. Bolton and Waterson demonstrate that some back-bench politicians continued to demand that Queensland participate actively in the nation-building process. Too late to make any difference to the process, the New Zealand Royal Commission encountered just a few scattered voices  regretting that the colony had not even attempted to mould the federal structure to its needs. Queensland voted itself on to the bandwaggon late in the day, in 1899; New Zealand never formally confronted the choice at all. In the event, north and central Queensland saw federation as a means of advancing its economic and political interests. No region of New Zealand responded in the same way. Perhaps it would be too much to conclude that Capricornian beef packed a harder punch than Southland oats. But the Queensland comparison is enough to warn against confusing commercial opportunity with geographical proximity. Townsville was just as remote from Sydney as was Auckland. Perhaps if Christchurch and Dunedin had disliked Auckland as much as Rockhampton and Townsville distrusted Brisbane, New Zealand might have become the seventh State?




When John Ballance dismissed the idea of linking the country's destiny to Australia in 1891, he presented his conclusion as the outcome of logical analysis: "from every point of view, the whole weight of argument is against New Zealand entering into any Federation except a Federation with the Mother-country".1 For historians seeking a rational explanation of events, the main part of his statement is indeed reassuring, but the subordinate clause gives pause for concern. If ever there was a scheme that deserved to be condemned as impracticable, surely it was the notion of converting the British empire into a super-State, creating a political union that would link countries at opposite ends of the globe? If to Ballance, the weight of argument pointed overwhelmingly against an Australasian grouping but in favour of imperial federation, within which the southern colonies would be subsumed, we may well be tempted to look more closely at the whole nature and role of argument in political debate. Did the examples, the incentives, the confident predictions and the devastating proofs truly represent reasons leading to a conclusion - or were they rather contributed as rationalisations to provide a smokescreen of logic in support of a viewpoint adopted that had emerged from some other, perhaps instinctive, process of prejudice and reaction?

Such a conclusion would hugely simplify the historian's task. Contemporary debate could be dismissed wholesale as ignorant blethering, leaving the field open for the construction of  explanatory hypotheses derived from first principles of our own choice. It is a tempting prospect, but one that ignores the two crucial methodological lessons to emerge from the antipodean debate on Australian federation. The first is to be found in Ron Norris's reply to Geoffrey Blainey: we cannot dismiss contemporary expectations as implausible simply because they subsequently failed to come about: "the question of what actually happened ...after federation is not relevant".2 The second, closely related, is contained in Adrian Chan's rebuke to Wood: "it really does not matter whether [contemporary arguments] were valid or not. They might well be plain nonsense. What may be more important is the influence of those claims and beliefs."3 In other words, historians must resist the temptation to identify the arguments they endorse as causes, while rejecting those that do not fit our chosen theories as evasions and excuses. As argued above, the problem is exacerbated by the anarchic manner in which the late nineteenth-century moves in and out of our contemporary focus. When we step back into the world of one hundred years ago, at one moment we find colonial politicians debating commercial opportunity in terms that resemble the political discourse of today. Then, suddenly, we find them slipping into the mystifying vocabulary of imperial loyalty, or the nauseating language of racial superiority. At the heart of historical analysis lies the challenge of filtering out the transient to identify the significant. It is never easy to respond to the cacophony of the past, and the task is made harder by the incomprehension of a posterity that feels close enough to enter into an apparently modern debate of a century ago that focused upon economics and identity when the truth is that there has been an entire change in the underlying values through which we evaluate the world.

We can at least attempt some rule-of-thumb identification of the differences between New Zealand discourse and the federation debate in different areas of Australia. Perhaps the most obvious distinction between the two is to be found in the economic arguments. For most New Zealanders, Australian markets were already of relatively little importance. Even in the case of those commodities that found outlets across the Tasman, most notably the humble oat, it seemed implausible - not to us, but to them - to claim that market share could be protected through political fusion. Thus the virtual absence of economic incentives goes a long way towards explaining why New Zealanders displayed so little interest in Australian federation. Unfortunately, even this tentative deduction does not take us very far towards answering the larger question, the challenge that Wood regarded as the fundamental historical problem: why did Australians decide to unite among themselves? There is nothing startling about the information that contiguous jurisdictions conduct considerable amounts of cross-border and interdependent trade. Much of Canada's prosperity is based upon its exports to a single destination, the nearby United States, while for much of the twentieth century the Republic of Ireland depended overwhelmingly upon the United Kingdom as the market for its produce. In neither case did these intense and dominant commercial ties trigger pressures for political integration, even though it could be argued that there were other similarities of language and culture, not to mention shared challenges of communications and borders, that might have been capable of sustaining the argument for the natural unity of a continent or an archipelago. Thus the probability that economics "explains" the failure of federation in New Zealand is not in itself enough to permit us to conclude that the same set of motives is sufficient to account for its success among Australians themselves.

New Zealand was unmoved by two of the overarching arguments often associated with the coming of federation in Australia. Notwithstanding the vulnerability of their islands to possible attack from German and French colonies in the Pacific, New Zealanders put their faith in the British Navy and simply could not see how their equally exposed neighbours could protect them. If the defence argument was neutral in its effect, the appeal to White Australia was an own-goal. New Zealand Pakehas were determined to defend their pigmentation, and many of them regarded Australia not as an external rampart that would resist non-European immigration but as a Trojan horse condemned by climate and economics to open its doors more widely. In relation to defence and ethnicity, the New Zealand comparison seems to endorse the conclusions reached by Ron Norris. These were arguments that Australian federalists found useful, to build coalitions of support, to place opponents on the wrong foot, perhaps simply to pad out the rhetoric inherent in their political discourse. They do not provide the basis of explanation for a major event in Australia's history, and they certainly cut no ice on the other side of the Tasman.

Helen Irving's intriguing attribution of Australian federation to a "Utopian moment" in the country's history is also difficult to transfer to a New Zealand context. If the political expression of utopianism was to be found in a drive to re-design society through government initiative, then New Zealand was surely in the bravest of the southern hemisphere's brave new worlds. In 1900, a New South Wales politician condemned New Zealand as "a regular hotbed of experimental legislation", predicting that the colony would only survive "disastrous" schemes such as old age pensions thanks to "its butter and mutton, and to its bounteous rainfall".4 Economics and climate, once again, figure in the explanation, but the fundamental mystery remains. The utopian impulse was powerful in New Zealand, yet it found its expression in social reform rather than through political federation.

In Australia, the coming of federation has been associated with a sentiment loosely labelled as "nationalism". The British observer, Richard Jebb, may be criticised for elevating the stridence of local patriotism around the Empire into "colonial nationalism", but he was firm in concluding that "a distinctive national sentiment" was "remarkable for its absence" as New Zealanders confronted the challenge of Australian federation at the end of the eighteen-nineties.5 This, it would seem, hardly squares with the tendency of critics of the federal project to assume that New Zealanders were somehow different from their Australian fellow-colonists. By some point in the twentieth century, the two societies had definitely diverged on their paths to nationhood. Was there a causal relationship between the issue of federation and the emergence of a New Zealand national identity? If so, which way round did the connection operate? Wood himself accepted that arguments for New Zealand distinctiveness which he condemned for their absurdity when advanced in 1900 had acquired "a significant reality" twenty years later.6 Was there some inconsistency here? By what process could "plain nonsense" become the foundation for a distinct national identity? For Sinclair, "the decision not to join the Australian federation" was a "decisive" step in the "consciousness of nationality".7 Thus, by 1910, New Zealand Methodists were demanding a separate conference, "so that they might  express themselves without admixture of  Australian ideas".8 The term "Australasian" became unpopular, while its replacement, ANZAC, was for New Zealanders a nationalist emblem.9 In 1901, they had vaguely discussed the possibility that the Royal Navy might one day lose control of the seas, but had concluded that the event was not only unlikely but made the prospect of defence from Australia even less credible. "Time enough to federate when danger threatens", one Australian opponent had claimed.10 Yet when the crisis did come in 1941, the two countries turned not to each other but to the United States. In a thoughtful memorandum in support of federation, a Wairarapa farmer, Coleman Phillips, had pointed out in 1901 that in many practical matters, such as postal services and quarantine, New Zealanders were already federated with Australia.11 In the late twentieth century, those unofficial links were strengthened by CER and greater mobility across the Tasman. Phillips had not foreseen that his argument might cut both ways: if New Zealand could secure the benefits of federal co-operation without political union, why change? There is something of a chicken-and-egg conundrum here: was there already a distinct New Zealand identity that explains the rejection of federation, or was it something that emerged as a consequence of a decision to stay aloof which had been taken for other reasons? At all events, there is enough here to make us doubt the inevitability of federation among Australians themselves. If the eighteen-nineties movement had failed, there is no built-in certainty that the six colonies would have converged in some other form.

The issue of a distinct New Zealand identity, and the timing of its origins, is inter-related with the question of leadership by the political elite. "There was not one leader in New Zealand who steadily fought for federation as Edmund Barton and Alfred Deakin did in Australia."12 Sinclair's verdict is unassailable, but any attempt to understand why this should have been so can be little more than speculative and circular. Were the politicians discouraged by the lack of popular support, or was public apathy the product of their  conspiracy of silence? The evidence, such as it is, points rather to the second hypothesis. Both Wood and Sinclair suggested that some form of pro-federation sentiment existed among New Zealanders. There is something impressive about Sinclair's estimate that 49 out of 186 witnesses who gave evidence to the Royal Commission were sympathetic to the idea, since there is little reason to suspect that the exercise was designed to maximise expression of favourable opinions. Indeed, the proportion might have been greater had more farmers been involved in the exercise. Presumably these men were the equivalent of the group whom Deakin identified as the bedrock of support for federation, "the young, the imaginative, and those whose patriotism was Australian or Imperial".13 However, even though the potential groundswell may well have existed, it is clear that the Royal Commission was hardly treated to a coherent exposition of the case for New Zealand membership. New Zealand suffered no shortage of "Imperial" patriotism, but its local version was unable to accept Australasian federation as compatible with the unity of the British empire. Half a century later, "Joey" Smallwood capitalised on his credentials as a patriotic Newfoundlander to educate the proud but stubborn people of his native island into accepting that union with Canada was the best way to express their British identity - but Newfoundland, as witnesses had assured the Royal Commission, had long been teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.14 Wood is probably correct in assuming that only Richard John Seddon could have led such a campaign in New Zealand - but Wood never explained why Seddon should wish to do so. When a group of Wellington manufacturers wrote to him asking for information about federation, he did not even trouble to reply. Bereft of political leadership, the assorted enthusiasts who hoped to see New Zealand as the Commonwealth's seventh State could be left to discredit their own dream by the confused impracticality of their arguments. New Zealand, in Seddon's eyes, was God's own country. When it came to the question of federation with Australia, Seddon's God was evidently not on the side of the big battalions.





There is no guarantee that further research will solve the problem of explaining the contrasting Australian and New Zealand responses to federation. None the less, there are some aspects of the subject that might usefully be explored.

One fruitful line of enquiry may be found by looking in more detail at the outcomes of the various the referendums on federation held across Australia between 1898 and 1900. In retrospect, it seems odd that there was so little detailed analysis of these voting figures during the active phases of the Parker-Blainey debate. However, past omission might open the way to more revealing future enquiry, since computers make possible far more complex cross-referencing between voting figures and other census data than would have been possible three or four decades ago. Electorate by electorate, it ought to be possible to see if there are patterns of voter response to federation that might correlate with other classifications, such as place of birth or political allegiance. Much of the argument over economic motives at local level has been based upon impressionistic evidence. It is time to set the contents of the ballot boxes alongside local statistics for sheep and cattle numbers, truck farming, wine production and the output of sugar beet. Even if the results prove to be opaque, we shall have learnt something about the effectiveness of our own explanatory classifications.

On the New Zealand side, there may be a case for re-opening the hunt for the missing movement in favour of closer links with Australia. The Wellington Evening Post championed federation, and other newspapers presumably reported and commented upon the progress of the movement. Several witnesses told the Royal Commission of attempts to discuss the issue in the organisations they represented. It is hard to believe that the Commission's own Report went entirely unnoticed. It is always dangerous to confuse column inches with public opinion, but it is likely that New Zealanders had more to say, or that more was said to them, about federation than historians have uncovered.

Some comparative or integrative approaches might also be attempted. One section of the evidence collected by the Royal Commission may be worth further scrutiny of a kind that would extend the trans-Tasman framework of historical enquiry. The New Zealand Royal Commissioners visited Sydney to interview both members of the fledgling Commonwealth cabinet and New South Wales critics of federation. The responses gleaned, at least from the former category, were comprehensive and carefully worded. In 1901, federation was an accomplished fact, but its controversial birth was so recent that Barton and his colleagues were careful not to give hostages to their own critics. Nor did it take much political insight to realise that the Commissioners were acting as prosecuting counsel rather than as an unbiased jury. None the less, this is a source that merits incorporation in some future history of those times.

Political history is at something of a discount nowadays, having given place to social history agendas that have told us so much about race, class and gender. Perhaps the comparative approach could ease it back into favour. This study has attempted to compare Australia and New Zealand. Hence it is open to the objection of being built upon two categories that were created by the process under review, thus allowing the outcome to define the scope of the enquiry into its own causes. It is salutary to be reminded that the eighteen-nineties thought of seven colonies (or even eight or nine if Fiji and British New Guinea were included). Part II above attempts to sketch how comparisons might be made between New Zealand and individual Australian colonies, but these outlines most emphatically do not exhaust the story. Even the classification "New Zealand" may be unduly broad. Tasmania, for instance, resembles the South Island in its mountainous topography and mixed pastoral and mining economy. Both islands were a tale of two cities: was the Launceston-Hobart relationship the same as that between Dunedin and Christchurch? Both were affected by the pull of northern neighbours. Tasmania seems to have been generally content within the economic orbit of Victoria, but the South Island was beginning to feel the dominance of its partner. In other respects, there were sharp differences. Tasmanians had a guilty history of racial extermination; South Islanders were by no means innocent of the charge of expropriation but their society was not scarred by genocide. The two principal South Island colonisation ventures, Otago and Canterbury, made large claims for the excellence of their human stock. It is hardly necessary to state that attitudes to the founding fathers and mothers of Tasmania were very different. A comparison organised around responses to the common theme of federation might unlock new and interesting perspectives upon those two colonial societies.

More research would be welcome and new findings are likely to be interesting in their own right. Yet the fundamental problem remains with the methodology that historians use to account for episodes in the past. We need to categorise arguments more effectively, to distinguish between expressions of opinion designed to mobilise support and the effusions of utterance that record the muddled reactions of individuals trying to define their own ideas in the absence of a coherent framework of public discourse. Much of the reported discussion of federation in Australia falls under the first heading. Politicians talked about defence or immigration control not because these issues accounted for their own motivation but because voters were naturally reluctant to contemplate that their colonies might be invaded or overrun. By contrast, a good deal of the material collected by the New Zealand Royal Commission came from people who were reluctantly forced to translate gut reactions into a pastiche of intelligent analysis.

It should go without saying that to point to a more positive form of Australian discourse is not to imply a superior level of collective intelligence. The difference between the two types of argument is to be explained by the way in which the political elite defined federation as a practical topic on one side of the Tasman while their counterparts had managed to keep it at arm's length on the other. This brings us back to the central conundrum: by what process does an ideal become an issue, an aspiration get translated into a policy? As it happens, political elites do not operate collectively like soldiers on parade. Lyne and Nelson and Want were just as prominent as Barton, Deakin and Forrest. While most moved towards the federal light, Inglis Clark and Henry Bournes Higgins were prepared to retreat into darkness. If leading politicians made their choices as individuals, were they influenced by a public groundswell, or was popular support for federation a by-product of the case for union that they marshalled and disseminated? We come back to a central weakness in F.L.W. Wood's revisionism: did Seddon decide to ignore federation because there was little sign of viable public support, or was Seddon to be blamed for failing to give New Zealanders a positive lead?

It is difficult to separate the writing of national history from the attitudes of historians to the countries they choose they study. In most cases, and the present study is no exception, those perceptions are benign. Where the scholar is also a citizen, the driving force is often a form of patriotism. When the study is triggered by an anniversary, the motivation may also be celebratory. For the leader writer for the Scotsman on 2 January 1901, the inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth on the very first day of the twentieth century was symbolic of modernity. If Australia had reached the end of one journey, it could surely look forward with still greater hopes for the future.  "May the close of the Twentieth Century witness a fulfilment of these hopes beyond even the brightest promise with which it opens!" One hundred years later, there remains a sense in which it is impossible to assess the Australian (and New Zealand) present without understanding the causes that set the two countries on distinct paths and the agenda that those challenges created. Ultimately, that is a problem of historical methodology, one that will not in itself be solved simply by the amassing of new evidence. Did federation come about thanks to some amalgam of the menaces and arguments showered by politicians and journalists, or was it the product of a deeper culture and broader trends that operated almost beyond human control? Without a solution to the issue of interpretation, it is unlikely that historians will ever succeed in explaining satisfactorily why at a precise moment in time, six Australian colonies joined in federation. At the very least, we are entitled to insist that any theory seeking to account for the Australian achievement must also comprehend the New Zealand failure.






ADB:               Australian Dictionary of Biography

Bennett:                        Scott Bennett, ed., Federation (Melbourne, 1975)

CHBE (Aust):      J.Holland Rose, ed., Cambridge History of the British Empire:

vol. 7, part 1: Australia (Cambridge 1933)

CHBE (NZ):     J.Holland Rose, ed., Cambridge History of the British Empire:

vol. 7, part 2: New Zealand (Cambridge 1933)

Clark, Documents:

Manning Clark, ed., Select Documents in Australian

History 1851-1900 (Sydney, 1955)

Crowley, Documents:

Frank Crowley, ed., A Documentary History of Australia,

vol. 3: Colonial Australia 1875-1900 (West Melbourne, 1980)

Crowley, New History:

F.K. Crowley, ed., A New History of Australia

(Melbourne, 1974)

DNZB:                         Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Essays:             A.W. Martin, ed., Essays in Australian Federation

               (Melbourne, 1969)

Federal Story: Alfred Deakin, The Federal Story: The Inner History

of the Federal Cause 1880-1900

(ed. J.A. La Nauze, Melbourne, 1963 ed.)

Federalism:     Bruce W. Hodgins, Don Wright and W.H. Heick, eds, Federalism in Canada and Australia: The Early Years (Waterloo, Ont., 1978).

HSSA:              J.J. Eastwood and F.B. Smith, eds, Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand: Selected Articles,

first series (Melbourne 1964)

Hewett, Essays:   Patricia Hewett, "Aspects of the Campaigns in South-Eastern New South Wales at the Federation Referenda of 1898 and 1899" in Essays (see above), pp. 167-86

Irving, ed., Companion:

Helen Irving, ed., The Centenary Companion to

Australian Federation (Cambridge, 1999)

La Nauze, Deakin:

                        J.A. La Nauze, Alfred Deakin: A Biography

(2 vols, Melbourne, 1965)


La Nauze, Making:

J.A. La Nauze, The Making of the Australian

Constitution (Melbourne, 1972)

Norris, Emergent Commonwealth:

R. Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth. Australian Federation: Expectations and Fulfilment 1889-1910 (Melbourne, 1975).

Norris, Essays:     R. Norris, "Economic Influences on the 1898 South Australian

Federation Referendum" in Essays (see above), pp. 137-66

NZJH:              New Zealand Journal of History

Serle, Essays:   Geoffrey Serle, "The Victorian Government's Campaign for Federation 1883-1889" in Essays (see above), pp. 1-56.

Scholefield:       G.H. Scholefield, ed., A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

(2 vols, Wellington, 1940)

Speeches and Documents:

W.D. McIntyre and W.J. Gardner, eds,

Speeches and Documents on New Zealand History

(Oxford, 1971)

Wise,               Bernhard R. Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth 1889-1900: A Stage in the Growth of the British Empire (London, 1913)


New Zealand and Federation: A Case to Answer?


1.      There was some revival of interest among Australian politicians in the admission of New Zealand into federation around 1912. Rollo Arnold, "Some Australasian Aspects of New Zealand life, 1890-1913", NZJH, 4 (1970), pp. 54-76 [cited as Arnold, NZJH], esp. p. 74. The requirement that constitutional amendments should win not simply the support of a majority of voters but a majority of states would have made more sense had New Zealand become the seventh state. In 1999, a New Zealand cabinet minister, Sir Douglas Brown, predicted that federation would "become a big issue" again. An official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Wellington commented: "I can't think of any New Zealander who wants to be part of Australia." Daily Telegraph (London), 9 January 1999. The Canberra suburb of Manuka is locally pronounced to rhyme with "Larnaka".

2.      F.L.W. Wood, "Why did New Zealand not join the Australian Commonwealth in 1900-1901?", NZJH, 2 (1968), pp. 115-29 [cited as Wood, NZJH].

3.      E.J.  Tapp, "New Zealand and Australian Federation", Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand, 5 (1952), pp. 244-57 [cited as Tapp].

4.      Clark, Documents, pp. 477-479. Elsewhere Clark dismissed Russell as "one of those maddening New Zealanders". Clark, History of Australia, vol. 5, p. 35. For Russell, who was leader of the opposition from 1893 to 1905, see DNZB, ii: 1870-1900, R34, pp. 436-37.

5.      Report of the Royal Commission on Federation, in Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives (1901), vol. 1. The Report is cited is RC and references to the evidence are given by page (p.) and question (q.) number. The Report itself (pp. vii-xxiv) is summarised in Speeches and Documents, pp. 265-69. The Royal Commission was chaired by Albert Pitt, a political ally from Nelson whom Seddon had appointed to the Legislative Council 1899 (Scholefield, ii, pp. 168-70). In addition to Russell, the Commissioners included Harold Beauchamp, businessman, friend of Seddon and unloved father of Katherine Mansfield (DNZB, ii, B4, pp. 32-3); T.W. Leys, managing director of the company that owned the Auckland Star, who had declined a seat in the upper house from both Ballance and Seddon and had represented the New Zealand press at the Australian federal conventions of 1897 and 1898 (DNZB, ii, L11, p. 271); J.A. Millar, a Dunedin trades unionist and MP who had earned much hatred during the 1890 Maritime Strike (DNZB, ii, M47, pp. 326-27), W.S. Reid, Solicitor-General under Vogel who was credited with having drafted the bill to abolish the provinces (Scholefield, ii, p. 221); W.J. Steward, an enthusiast for proportional representation with a long career in north Otago and south Canterbury local politics (Scholefield, ii, pp. 332-33). C.C. Bowen was a South Island counterpart of Captain Russell, a member of the Canterbury gentry whose family had arrived shortly after the First Four Ships with a record of service and promotion to the province (Scholefield, i, pp. 80-1).

6.      A.J. Harrop, "New Zealand and the Empire, 1852-1921", in J. Holland Rose, et al., CHBE (NZ), p. 205. The late Professor J.A.W. Bennett, who studied at Auckland University College in the nineteen-twenties, told me that the Arts curriculum included a set text listing the reasons why New Zealand refused to join the Australian Commonwealth.

7.      Quoted, CHBE, vol. 7 (2), pp. 202, 204 and Tapp, pp. 244, 247.

8.      Tapp, p. 248; Miles Fairburn, "New Zealand and Australian Federation, 1883-1901: Another View", NZJH, 4 (1970), pp. 138-59 [cited as Fairburn, NZJH], esp. pp. 141-42; Keith Sinclair, Imperial Federation: A Study of New Zealand Policy and Opinion, 1880-1914 (London, 1955). For Vogel's 1885 scheme for colonial MPs in the British Parliament, see Speeches and Documents, pp. 248-50.

9.      Quoted, CHBE (NZ), vol. 7 (2), p. 204.

10.  Clark, Documents, pp. 477-79. Russell's speech recalls "the exaggeration of phrase to which English New Zealanders are prone", Charles Dilke, Greater Britain (2 vols, London, 1868), i, p. 398.

11.  Serle, Essays, pp. 1-56.

12.  Tapp, pp. 247, 249, 257; Quick and Garran, Annotated Constitution, pp. 228, 251; Speeches and Documents, p. 267. Outsiders may have failed to appreciate the importance of location to New Zealanders thanks to their own ignorance. Studying a map of the world in preparation for the post-war settlement in October 1918 was a revelation for the British prime minister, David Lloyd George. He was reported to be "much interested in discovering New Zealand lay eastward of Australia, he had always thought it was the other side!" J. Barnes and D. Nicholson, eds, The Leo Amery Diaries: i, 1896-1919 (London, 1980), p. 240.

13.  Speeches and Documents, p. 266.

14.  W.P. Morrell, The Provincial System in New Zealand (London, 1932), esp. pp. 177-89; cf. Fairburn, NZJH, p. 143.

15.  Speeches and Documents, p. 266.

16.  Quoted, Tapp, p. 256. "If we were federated with Australia there would be no New Zealand contingent," the New Zealand Times had pointed out in October 1899. "It would simply be Australian." Quoted, K. Sinclair, "New Zealand" in J.J. Eddy and D.M. Schreuder, eds, The Rise of Colonial Nationalism (Sydney, 1988), p. 126.

17.  RC, pp. xv-xvi.

18.  Speeches and Documents, p. 267.


Enter F.L.W. Wood


1.      According to legend, one flight carrying Australian delegates arrived early in New Zealand airspace and the pilot was put on a holding cruise around Mount Cook. The proximity of the peak caused an awed silence in the cabin, broken by the comment of a senior academic on the number of academic posts that would fall vacant should the plane crash.

2.      Wood, NZJH, p. 116.

3.      R.M. Crawford, "A Bit of a Rebel": The Life and Work of George Arnold Wood (Sydney, 1975). Father and son shared a number of characteristics, although the "Plain Nonsense" controversy does not support G.A. Wood's verdict (p. 363) that his son had "a wonderful gift for balancing pros and cons". A colleague later related that F.L.W. Wood delighted in wearing down opponents in historical debate by persistent rational argument. If victory was achieved, he would sometimes switch sides and force the convert to respond to entirely new arguments in favour of the position that had just been abandoned. P. Munz, "A Personal Memoir" in P. Munz, ed., The Feel of Truth: Essays in New Zealand and Pacific History (Wellington, 1969), p. 23.

4.      His books included The Constitutional Development of Australia (1933) and A Concise History of Australia (1944), both cheerfully dismissed as "juvenalia" in 1968 (Wood, p. 115). New Zealand in the World followed in 1940, and The New Zealand People at War in 1958. A general interpretation began as This New Zealand (1940) and passed through several versions, including Understanding New Zealand (1944).  Wood gave a standard account of the coming of federation in his Constitutional Development of Australia, pp. 200-34. For a biographical note, see A.H. McLintock, ed., An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand (3 vols, Wellington, 1966), iii, p. 681.

5.      Wood, NZJH, p. 115.

6.      R.S. Parker, "Australian Federation: the Influence of Economic Interests and Political Pressures", Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand, 4 (1949), pp. 1-24; G. Blainey, "The Role of Economic Interests in Australian Federation", ibid., 5 (1950), pp. 224-37, reprinted in HSSA, pp.152-98. For other contributions to the debate, see HSSA., pp. 199-225 and Essays, pp. 137-86. The Royal Commission had embraced a proto-Parkerian view "that federation in Australia was hastened by the constant friction and irritation" of artificial borders, considerations that did not apply in New Zealand. RC, p. xxiii.

7.      Wood, NZJH, pp. 116-17. Overall, it is tempting to suggest that by 1968, Australian historiography had got stuck in its own emotions. For many members of a democratic profession, Australian nationality was the foundation of Australian identity, the quintessential expression of which was the Australian Labor Party. Thus it was difficult to face the implications of evidence that pointed to federation as primarily the achievement of conservative forces determined to control militant trades unions.

8.      Wood, NZJH, p. 116.

9.      La Nauze, Deakin, and cf. Wood, NZJH, p. 117. Al Gabay has given us a different Deakin in The Mystic Life of Alfred Deakin (Cambridge, 1992). By contrast, R.M. Burdon, King Dick: A Biography of Richard John Seddon (Christchurch, 1955) may lack grandeur but probably gives more rounded portrayal. The federation issue is discussed on pp. 220-23.

10.  Wood, NZJH, pp. 125-26.


The Wood Thesis


1.      Wood, NZJH, pp. 116, 123, 124-25, 118.

2.      Fairburn, NZJH, p. 139.

3.      Wood, NZJH, p. 115; Clark, Documents, p. 455. Earlier negotiations with the Australians had achieved mixed success. Raewyn Dalziel, "'Misunderstandings Rather Than Agreements':  Intercolonial Negotiations,  1867-1883",  in Sinclair,  ed.,  Tasman Relations (Auckland, 1988), pp. 71-89.

4.      Sinclair, "New Zealand" in Eddy and Schreuder, eds, Rise of Colonial Nationalism, p. 115; Clark, History of Australia, vol. 5, p. 72. Barton declined an invitation from supporters of federation to speak in New Zealand in 1899 (Keith Sinclair, "Why New Zealanders are not Australians" in Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 96.)

5.      Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 148.

6.      RC, p. 473 (R.E. O'Connor). Alfred Deakin was aware that the Royal Commission had been established, but in January 1901 felt that although the "possible adhesion" of New Zealand would have "immense" effect on both sides of the Tasman, it was "little regarded" by Australian leaders engrossed in the challenges of launching their own Commonwealth. A. Deakin,  Federated Australia: Selections from Letters to the Morning Post 1900-1910  (ed. J.A. La Nauze, Melbourne, 1968), p. 23.

7.      Fairburn, NZJH, pp. 145, 147.

8.      Fairburn, NZJH, p. 147, and cf. Sinclair, Imperial Federation.

9.      Fairburn, NZJH, p. 141.

10.  Eddy and Schreuder, eds, Rise of Colonial Nationalism, p. 118. But Sinclair also observed that "Fairburn's thesis led him to ignore the situation in 1899", Tasman Relations, p. 91.

11.  Fairburn, NZJH, pp. 146, 149.

12.  Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 94

13.  Wood, NZJH, pp. 125-28. In August 1899, Seddon had stated that "this question should not disturb our elections", a contention only safe if he were confident that federation would not be a prominent issue. A British official touring the Dominions in 1913 reported that a "rather striking point" about New Zealand was "the excellence of its newspapers compared with its size": there was quality press competition in each of the main towns. The absence of a sustained newspaper campaign in support of federation is all the more striking. Burdon, King Dick, p. 221; S. Constantine, ed., Dominions Diary: The Letters of E.J. Harding 1913-1916 (Halifax, UK, 1992), p. 113.

14.  RC, p. 258/q. 94. An Auckland merchant, A.J. Entrican, regretted that the government had not been represented at the Federal Conventions that had framed the Commonwealth Bill, so missing the opportunity of securing concessions similar to those won by Queensland and Western Australia. RC, pp. 454-56.

15.  RC, pp. 417-19/q. 421.


"Plain Nonsense" and Historical Methodology


1.      Adrian Chan, "New Zealand, the Australian Commonwealth and 'Plain Nonsense'", NZJH, 3 (1969), pp. 190-95, esp. p. 191 [cited as Chan, NZJH].

2.      I draw here on discussion of similar issues in Canadian history: Ged Martin, Britain and the Origins of Canadian Confederation 1837-1867 (Vancouver, 1995), pp. 32-5. In his articles for a London newspaper, Alfred Deakin displayed ambiguity about distance. "It will be difficult for those who are not accustomed to think of distances as we do to realise in what proximity groups appear that are two or three thousand miles away," he wrote in February 1901 of Australian interest in the Pacific. He had earlier warned that "the vast distances" inside Australia would impede the development of national institutions. Deakin, Federated Australia, pp. 37, 8.

3.      He is said to have based the street plan of Kumara on the lay-out of Melbourne. He did revisit Australia shortly before his death in 1906, but his last public pronouncement was an expression of relief that he was on his way back to "God's own country". DNZB, ii, S11, pp. 447-51 (essay by the late David Hamer).

4.      Wood, NZJH, p. 123.

5.      Wood, NZJH, p. 121.

6.      Wood, NZJH, p. 124.

7.      Wood, NZJH, p. 123.

8.      RC, p. 460/q. 2256 (T.B. Dineen); p. 471 (Gerald L. Peacock).

9.      James Belich, Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders from Polynesian Settlement to the End of the Nineteenth Century (Auckland, 1996), p. 285.

10.  Clark, Documents, pp. 477-79; DNZB, ii, R34, pp. 326-27.

11.  For an example, one of many, see the comment by Wood's father on taking part in a project for a history of New South Wales in 1891: "we have all the great bosses here at our mercy - for fear we sh[oul]d publish the crimes of their grandparents". Crawford, "A Bit of a Rebel", p. 120.

12.  Keith Sinclair, A History of New Zealand (Harmondsworth, 1959), p. 297. However, the pervasiveness of assumptions based on climate could generate varied hypotheses. While manufacturers feared for their future under federation, a supporter of federation argued the reverse: "we have a climate here favourable to hard work. For three months in Australia a man engaged in labour has to be continually mopping his face and he loses thereby a lot of time. That does not occur here." RC, p. 461/q. 2208 (T.B. Dineen).

13.  Lang's book had been published in 1852. Deakin acknowledged in 1901 that separatist feeling had been strong in the late eighteen-eighties. In 1889, the New York Times had drawn a similar conclusion from the removal of Queen Victoria's image from New South Wales postage stamps. In 1896, the Bulletin wondered whether Australian republicanism was "quite as strong a sentiment as it was ten years ago". Deakin, Federated Australia, p.33; Crowley, Documents, pp. 286, 486-87.

14.  Quoted, Clark, History of Australia, vol. 5, p. 75.

15.  RC, p. 387/q. 810. Southern Rhodesian whites similarly refused to vote themselves into the Union of South Africa in 1923 because they feared the eventual victory of Afrikaner nationalism in the Union. L.H. Gann, A History of Southern Rhodesia: Early Days to 1934 (New York ed., 1969), p. 237.

16.  Wood, NZJH, p. 124.

17.  RC, pp. 313-22; esp. qq. 1190, 1198-99. For O'Regan, DNZB, iii, 06, pp. 374-75.

18.  RC, pp. 108-10, esp. q. 1884, also quoted Chan, NZJH, p. 194. Although a federalist, T.B. Dineen, agreed that European women declined in tropical Australia: Queensland women were "yellow" but their sisters in Victoria were "plump, rosy and robust". RC, p. 461/q. 2213. (Although permitted to vote, no women gave evidence to the Royal Commission.)

19.  RC, p. 311/q. 1110 (Scholefield, ii, p. 303).

20.  RC, p. 210/q. 1295. In 1901, Hall presented plenty of other arguments against federation. Scholefield, i, pp. 343-46 remembers Hall for his "twelve hundred impediments" but DNZB, i, H5, pp. 172-74 (by W.J. Gardner) omits any reference to his part in the federation issue.

21.  RC Report, Speeches and Documents, p. 267.

22.  See the voting maps in Parker's article, HSSA, pp. 168-71.

23.  RC, p. 471. Recalling the fate of the provinces in 1901, Sir John Hall was sure that "the Central Parliament will gradually absorb all legislative authority". RC, p. 212/q. 1317. Edmund Barton later pointed out that the New Zealand provinces had not been abolished by referendum. RC, p. 482.

24.  RC, p. 328/q. 1389. Scholefield, i, pp. 392-93.

25.  RC. p. 398/q. 1030.

26.  RC, p. 456/q. 2168 (A.J. Entrican). The comment may have been aimed at the chairman, Albert Pitt, who was a Nelson identity. For the problems of Nelson, see M. McKinnon, ed., New Zealand Historical Atlas: Ku Papatuauku e Takato Nei (Albany, NZ, 1997), Plate 52.

27.  RC, p. 250/q. 2200.

28.  E.g. RC, p. 174/q. 424; p. 318/q. 1212.

29.  RC, p. 318/q. 1211; p. 411/q. 1283; p. 328/q. 1389.

30.  RC, p. 374/q. 530 (A.B. Donald, DNZB, ii, D11, p. 138).

31.  From the Reverend John Andrew, Vice-Chancellor of the University of New Zealand and a political relic of Provincial Council days, came the information that Thucydides had offered a "strong argument" for keeping Corfu separate from mainland Greece, although it was only fair to add that Corfu had been united to Greece since 1864 but of course the two were not twelve hundred miles apart. RC, p. 358/q. 232; DNZB, ii, A8, pp. 6-7 stresses that he was unconventional.

32.  RC, p.385/q. 801.

33.  Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 148.

34.  Wood, p. 123; Arnold, p. 58. For a bad crossing, Constantine, ed., Dominions Diary, pp. 111-12.

35.  Simon Ville, "The Coastal Trade of New Zealand prior to World War One", NZJH, 27 (1993), pp. 75-89. Alexander Donald, an Auckland shipowner, favoured federation partly because it would stimulate communications with Australia: "when you had large boats running backwards and forwards ... instead of there being a few travellers, there would be thousands coming here". RC, p. 374/q. 533.

36.  Whitaker's Almanack, 1900, p. 496.


Hidden Federal Sentiment?


1.      Sinclair, in Eddy and Schreuder, eds, Rise of Colonial Nationalism, p. 114. Since Seddon's stock-in-trade included pride in his lack of formal education, it may be unwise to build too much on his use of tenses. In 1899 he warned that "when this colony did join we must see that the terms on which we joined were such that those who came after us would not curse us for our action". Burdon, King Dick, p. 221. Was the door being left open - or slammed shut?

2.      Sinclair, in Eddy and Schreuder, eds, Rise of Colonial Nationalism, p. 115. As D.I. Wright demonstrated (Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 57, 1971, pp. 58-73), the Federation League in New South Wales was not notable for his activity.

3.      Speeches and Documents, p. 265.

4.      Sinclair estimated that 100 of the 186 witnesses were manufacturers or businessmen, 23 represented workers and only 17 were farmers. Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 98. One pro-federation witness cited census figures to argue that out of a 282,932 "breadwinners", only 27,389 worked in the manufacturing sector. He then excluded all those employed beyond the reach of Australia competition in freezing works, sawmills, gasworks and the manufacture of butter and cheese to argue that only 11,199 New Zealand jobs would be at risk. RC, pp. 463-64/q. 2265. Another spokesman for the farming sector more bluntly denounced New Zealand manufacturers as "spoon-fed". RC, p. 438/q. 1657.

5.      RC, p. 150/q. 113 (For Stead, DNZB, ii, S41, pp. 477-78: he helped introduce the tote into New Zealand); RC, p. 143/q. 5 (For Reece, Scholefield, ii, p. 210).

6.      RC, p. 363/q. 344; p. 252/q.6. The Christchurch Chamber of Commerce had appointed a committee to study the question. Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 96. An occasional representative of the early settler families spoke favourably of federation. E.B. Cargill  was a supporter in "a general way". Son of the famous Captain, he was claimed as the original of the term "Old Identity". RC, p. 141/q. 2644; Scholefield, i, pp. 137-38).

7.      Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 98.

8.      RC, p. 399/q. 1051; pp. 449-51/q.2024; p. 453.

9.      RC, p. 293/q. 688 (Duthie: Scholefield, i, p. 223); p. 340 for Pharazyn's advice, in a notably longer memorandum.

10.  RC, pp. 172-74/qq. 411-12.

11.  RC, p. 271/q. 369; pp. 36-37.

12.  RC, pp. 463-64/q. 2265. Enough detailed and thoughtful evidence in favour of federation was put before the Royal Commission to draw attention to the absence of a co-ordinated attempt to use the Royal Commission as a platform for union with Australia. By contrast, an aggressive campaign in favour of union with Canada ensured that the Newfoundland National Convention of 1946-1948 spent no fewer than 34 full days debating their case. "The opponents of Confederation must have been asleep," their leader boasted. The opposite seems to have been the case in New Zealand.  R. Gwyn, Smallwood: The Unlikely  Revolutionary (Toronto, 1974 ed.), p. 93.

13.  RC, pp. 313-22/qq. 1152, 1207, 1184. O'Regan's support for federation with Australia was consistent with his opposition to manifestations of nationalism (seen, for example, in his disapproval of celebrations of the centenary of the 1798 uprisings) and his active support for Irish Home Rule. R.P. Davis, Irish Issues in New Zealand Politics (Dunedin, 1974), pp. 122-24 and cf. DNZB, iii, 06, pp. 374-75.

14.  RC, pp. 97-98/qq. 1663, 1675; DNZB, iii, C26, pp. 109-11.

15.  RC, p. 463/q. 2256. Dineen had supported federation "for the last twenty-five years", q. 2201.  Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 95, describes another supporter of federation, J. Kennedy Brown, as "an ebullient nonentity".

16.  RC, p. 250/q. 2192; p. 305/qq. 979, 948; pp. 409-410/q. 1278. Seddon had formed a similar impression of the degeneration of factory life and its unsuitability to New Zealand during a visit to Belfast in 1897. J. Drummond, The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon (Christchurch, 1906), p. 309.  Henry Overton, a Canterbury farmer, thought "federation would be a grand thing for New Zealand" because it would develop tourism. RC, p. 237/qq. 1892, 1898.

17.  RC, p. 420/q. 1429. Another witness patronisingly attributed the short-sighted views of the industrialists to the fact they had not travelled overseas and so were unable to form comparative opinions. RC, p. 412/qq. 1289-1291.

18.  RC, p. 12/q.211; p. 197/q. 980; p. 438/q. 1657; pp. 442-449, esp. qq. 1877-1886, 1968. Franklin farmers were concerned about the export of maize, but at Whangarei there were fears that federation would destroy the vineyards which were the best hope for Northland hillsides increasingly stripped bare of kauri timber. RC, pp. 453, 468.

19.  For Ballance, Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 94; RC, pp. 105-106/q. 1841.

20.  RC, p. 109/ qq. 1006-1008, 1025. According to another witness, "in Otago one has only heard oats used as the argument in favour of federation", RC, p. 108/q. 1877.

21.  RC, p. 470.

22.  Fairburn, NZJH, pp. 153-54; RC, p. 56/q. 619.


An Australasian World?


1.      Arnold, NZJH, pp. 55-8.

2.      Arnold, NZJH, pp. 62-9.

3.      Arnold, NZJH, p. 60. In 1900, a Wellington newspaper objected to the term "Maorilanders", Eddy and Schreuder, eds, Rise of Colonial Nationalism, p. 125.

4.       Fairburn, NZJH, pp. 155-56.

5.      Wood, NZJH, p. 122.

6.      Blainey, "The Role of Economic Interests in Australian Federation", HSSA, pp. 187-88.

7.      Table compiled from RC, pp. 726-35.

8.      Ibid. Even stagnant Nelson could take some comfort: 46.02 percent of its minuscule export trans-Tasman trade consisted of hops.  There were both climatic and cultural reasons for assuming a continuing demand in Australia for hops.

9.      J. Bastin, "Federation and Western Australia" in HSSA, pp. 199-214, suggests that there was no absolute correlation between newcomers and voting support for federation, and it has been argued that "even without the goldfields the proposal would probably have been accepted". F.K. Crowley, Australia's Western Third (London, 1960), p. 153. None the less, the goldfields vote of thirteen-to-one in favour of federation, representing an element that did not exist in New Zealand.

10.  Quoted, Bennett, p. 222; RC, p. 656/q.61.

11.  RC, p. 480/q.113, p. 654/q. 24; E.D. Watt, "Secession in Western Australia", in University Studies in Western Australian History, 3 (1958), pp. 43-86, esp. p. 69.

12.  D.I. Wright, "The Tyranny of Distance: a Note on Western Australia and Federation, the First Decade" in University Studies in History, 5 (1969), pp. 33-41.

13.  G. Bolton and D. Waterson, "Queensland", in Irving, pp. 93-127.

14.  Wise, p. 126; Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 152.

15.  Bolton and Waterson in Irving, p. 95.





1.      J. Rutherford, Sir George Grey K.C.B., 1812-1898: A Study in Colonial Government (London, 1961), p. 647.

2.      Norris, Essays, p. 154.

3.      Chan, NZJH, p. 191.

4.      Clark, Documents, p. 651.

5.      Jebb, quoted Sinclair, in Eddy and Schreuder, eds, Rise of Colonial Nationalism, p. 111.

6.      Wood, p. 129.

7.      Sinclair, History of New Zealand, 226. The first edition of the Oxford History of New Zealand (ed. W.H. Oliver, 1981) barely mentioned the issue.

8.      Arnold, NZJH, pp. 72-3. But an attempt to create better understanding by exchange of Methodist ministers in 1888 had foundered when three of the four who were nominated refused to shift.

9.      M. Sharpe, "Anzac Day in New Zealand 1916-1939", NZJH, 15 (1981), pp. 97-114. As early as 1918, an Auckland clergyman was calling the anniversary "one of the most potent things in the national life of New Zealand", ibid., p. 102. Australians established a parallel and equally exclusive tradition.

10.  The aphorism was associated with J.H. Want of New South Wales, who gave rumbustious evidence to the Royal Commission when it crossed to Sydney. RC, pp. 660-62. L.F. Crisp, Australian National Government (Hawthorn, Vic., 1973 ed.), p. 4.

11.  RC, pp. 446-47. As a leading campaigner against the rabbit menace, Phillips was likely to have been aware of the benefits of co-operation with Australia. Scholefield, ii, pp. 165-66.

12.  Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, p. 94.

13.  Sinclair, ed., Tasman Relations, pp. 98-99. Tapp, p. 254, counted 50 pro-federation witnesses. The difference is to be attributed to confusion on the part of the witnesses, not the historians.

14.  Although a total contrast with Seddon in physique, Smallwood also came to be known by his nickname ("Joey") and established a similar command over local politics, but in his case after leading Newfoundland into Confederation. Islanders had rejected union with Canada in a raucous election back in 1869, a defeat that had virtually equated Confederation with treason. Like Seddon in New Zealand, Smallwood was known for his passionate identification with Newfoundland: without such a reputation, he would have found it hard to overcome the unpatriotic connotations of his campaign. Self-government had been abandoned in Newfoundland during the Depression, replaced by a British-appointed Commission of Government from 1934. Not only was Canada an established entity, unlike Australia in 1899-1901, but its government (and ruling Liberal Party) quietly helped their Newfoundland ally. Thus Smallwood was simultaneously able to mobilise considerable campaigning resources (including, unusually in 1948, access to an aeroplane), while portraying himself as the challenger to a local elite, symbolised by "Water Street", the business district of the capital, St John's. Perhaps his most effective weapon was the "baby bonus". Canada's developing welfare state offered child endowment payments, and it seems that the Confederation campaign used these to win the support of women voters, especially as the payments were made direct to mothers and so offered a degree of economic autonomy not usually available in a male-oriented society. It seems clear, too, the British government tacitly supported Newfoundland's union with Canada, if only by refusing to assist the islanders financially or politically in the re-establishment of self-government. The contrasts with New Zealand half a century earlier are obvious. Both in politics and economics, New Zealand was a success story, so much so that it was pioneering its own welfare system. There was no single local political elite (other than the all-powerful Seddon himself) against whom a campaign might have been mobilised. Federation leaders in Australia had their hands full in the attempt to corral six colonies into union, and made no serious attempt to secure the seventh, while the British took little or no role in the movement at all. All the same, the crucial referendum in July 1948 registered only a small majority of Newfoundlanders for union with Canada: 52.24 percent against 48.76. J.K. Hiller, "Confederation Defeated: The Newfoundland Election of 1869" in J.K. Hiller and P. Neary, eds, Newfoundland in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries: Essays in Interpretation (Toronto, 1980), pp. 67-94; P. Neary, Newfoundland in the North Atlantic World 1929-1949 (Kingston, 1988); D. MacKenzie, Inside the Atlantic Triangle: Canada and the Entrance of Newfoundland into Confederation, 1939-1949 (Toronto, 1986); R.B. Blake, Canadians At Last: Canada Integrates Newfoundland as a Province (Toronto, 1994), pp. 3-43.  J.R. Smallwood's own memoirs were modestly entitled I Chose Canada (Toronto, 1973).



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