Explaining The Sentimental Utopia

A review article on the causes of Australian Federation, originally published in the UK journal Australian Studies.



Explaining The Sentimental Utopia:
Historians and The Centenary of Australian Federation


John Hirst, The Sentimental Nation: The Making of the Australian Commonwealth (South Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. xi + 388, illus., hardback. ISBN 0 19 550620 0.

Helen Irving, To Constitute a Nation: A Cultural History of Australia's Constitution (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, paperback edition 1999), pp. xiii + 257, paperback, ISBN 0 521 66897 2.

Helen Irving (editor), The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1999), pp. xxii + 474, hardback, ISBN 0 521 57314 9.

W.G. McMinn, Nationalism and Federalism in Australia (Mel-bourne, Oxford University Press, paperback edition 1995), pp. vi + 317, paperback, ISBN 0 19 553667 3.



In 1899, Bernhard Wise predicted that future generations would study 'the published and secret details of the struggle for Australian union' with 'reverential curiosity'.1 As John Hirst shows in a chapter called 'Forgetting', this was one of many confident proclamations about the Commonwealth of Australia that spectacularly failed to come about. Federal anniversaries were indeed celebrated but, as Hirst remarks, in Australia, any history will do: the explorer Charles Sturt, dead since 1869, was a popular figure in the 1951 half-century celebrations. By contrast, an application for commemorative funding from the town of Corowa, scene of a famous federation conference in 1893, was shunted around the bureaucracy - and then rejected. Edmund Barton, the country's first prime minister, was forgotten.2 In 1901, the creators of the Commonwealth had tacitly agreed to elevate Henry Parkes to the status of Founding Father. Not only dead, he had also had the advantage of a Jehovah-like aura which conveniently blotted out the embarrassing lack of enthusiasm shown towards federation by his own colony, New South Wales. In later generations, an apostolic succession through Walter Murdoch to J.A. La Nauze elevated Deakin of Victoria - or, at least, a visionary, tormented version of Affable Alfred - alongside him in a national pantheon that nobody had bothered to erect.3 When Great Men lead a mighty movement, ordinary historical analysis seemed unnecessary.

Such histories of the federation movement as appeared were either narratives of events or gossipy and partisan sketches of personalities. (Deakin described his own memoirs as 'very personal and unflinching in their candour': he need not have worried since his Federal Story was not to see the light of day until 1944.4) Until the 1960s, the historical profession was tiny, under-funded and more concerned to widen Australia's horizons rather than deepen appreciation of its own past. In the absence of historical monographs on federation, the vacuum of causation was substantially filled by two political scientists. As political scientists do, they identified major themes of the ought-to-make-sense variety and elaborated them with available evidence. In 1950 R.S. Parker argued that federation came about because the existing colonial boundaries overlapped with emerging natural economic zones, and had to be replaced with a national tariff union.5 Fifteen years later, L.F. Crisp made sense of the Titanic-like compartmentalisation of Australia's constitution by claiming that it had been so designed by 'Conservative Men of Property' to create a bulwark against the emerging radicalism of the 1890s labour movement.6

As social scientists, Parker and Crisp believed that arguments operate in a single direction, an efficient assumption that clashes with the chaotic causal universe of the historian. The evidence about colonial boundaries was based largely on the Murray valley, where they had been inconvenient for several decades without bouncing anybody into a political deal. At most, Parker's argument pointed to a customs union, not a federal government. In any case, the mere fact that a line on the map was artificial did not mean that everybody who lived alongside it wished to see it swept away. Victorian stockbreeders were very attached to a barrier that cut across the natural inland route for Queensland cattle-drovers, while Darling Downs farmers displayed a deplorably un-Australian hostility to New South Wales fruit and vegetables.7

Crisp's theory was also open to challenge. It was not in itself surprising that the conservative and propertied males dominated the process of drafting a federal constitution for Australia: in the 1890s, they still exercised a disproportionate influence over most spheres of public activity. Yet this is to say neither that they acted solely in their own interests, nor that they had the united support of their class. Queensland conservatives were notably suspicious of the movement: as late as 1899, one of their leaders damned the constitution as 'the Federated Social Democracy scheme'. Chronology also throws some doubt on Crisp's grand theory: the movement for federation gathered ground in 1890-1, before the outburst of labour militancy, and then faltered for several years, only to re-emerge when the working class revolt had burnt itself out.

Crucial to Crisp's theory is the linking of conservative social interests to small state particularism. In the markedly undemocratic upper house one third of the population would return two-thirds of the Senators, while a majority of states as well as a majority of voters would be required to amend the constitution. Even these provisions were not free of concessions to mass democracy, since the Fathers of 1891 would have preferred indirect election of Senators by state legislators. Unfortunately, the nexus postulated by Crisp, between rich men and small states, is not at all persuasive. To gamble their security upon the four small colonies was surely very risky. Queensland, the largest of them, only had a population of half a million. In 1899-1900, the referendum turn-out in the four colonies was 80,000 in Queensland, 83,000 in South Australia, 65,000 in Western Australia and 14,000 in Tasmania. In other words, relatively small numbers were needed to capture control of any of them, as was proved by the way in the way in which the goldfields swung the reluctant West into the Commonwealth. Like Queensland and Tasmania, its mineral boom was of recent origin. South Australia had an older and smaller mining sector, but it also controlled the largely unknown Northern Territory: only an accident of longitude had robbed the province of Broken Hill. Charters Towers, Mount Lyell and Kalgoorlie were products of the last two decades of the nineteenth century, and there was no reason to assume that they would be the last bonanza towns into which would pour hordes of footloose turbulent voters. If the constitution had been framed to give equal Senate representation to Vaucluse and Toorak, we might indeed conclude that the propertied conservatives were up to no good. To shape a constitution around four potentially radical rotten boroughs was almost suicidal. When Labor did triumph at the polls in the national election of 1910, it won big in both houses, largely thanks to the winner-take-all system of electing the Senate. It is conventional to point to Labor's failure to carry centralising amendments to the constitution at the 1913 referendum. However, we should not forget that an Australia-wide pro-amendment vote a shade over 49 percent translated into an outright Yes in three of the four small states. In other words, the conservative men of property came within a whisker of being hoist with their own petard. It is axiomatic that conservative men of property were smart operators. It seems inconceivable that they failed to appreciate how a constitution that gave unequal weight to the smaller states also potentially placed disproportionate power in the hands of the most rootless and radical constituencies of voters.

In the second half of the twentieth century, the historical profession expanded rapidly. Senior scholars offered provocative interpretations of Australian identity, and a new generation of idealistic graduate students explored and elaborated their ideas. An unofficial consensus emerged that located the assertion of a distinctive Australian experience in the quarter-century culminating in Gallipoli, the cumulative product of the Legend of the Nineties and the Anzac tradition. Yet few gave more than passing consideration to federation, still less thought of it as the pivotal and defining event of period.8 The Centenary Companion tells us that Brian de Garis 'has been interested in the Federation movement on and off since the 1960s'.9 Scott Bennett not only continued but elevated the Parker-Crisp tradition by writing thoughtful history from a Political Science Department.10 The 1970s saw two important books, J.A. La Nauze's The Making of the Australian Constitution, which dealt specifically with the document itself, and a wide-ranging study by Ron Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth, whose scope was defined by its sub-title Australian Federation: Expectations and Fulfilment 1889-1910.11 Both were brilliant but - and herein lay their brilliance - neither was particularly helpful in the sense of explaining why federation happened. La Nauze, in any case, felt that he had told that story in his monumental biography of Deakin. His minute scholarly account of the committees and compromises that shaped the constitution clause-by-clause was enough to blow Crisp's fundamental assumption out of the water and, as we shall see, remains in the lion in the path of Helen Irving's Utopian theory. Crisp assumed that the constitution had been deliberately written to set states against Commonwealth and Representatives against Senate, so providing breakwaters against radical change. La Nauze's account made abundantly clear that no single brain had shaped the document, and underlined that some key provisions had been inserted against conservative opposition.

From Ron Norris came an even more insidious challenge. Since Australia was one of the most complete democracies in the world, it had seemed to provide staple fare for standard historical methodology. The reasons the politicians gave for federation must equal the reasons why the people supported them, the whole package being copper-bottomed when the new system delivered the promised legislative goods. Yet when he examined the decade on either side of Federation, Norris found a marked disparity between promise and performance. This was particularly marked in the handling of defence. It is an easy task to compile a collage of warnings by politicians that assorted European or Asian navies would turn up and fire shells into the streets of Adelaide unless the colonies united. There was an always an element of the bogus about this rhetoric, as a Perth newspaper wordily pointed out in 1899: 'Federation possesses no alchemist's power of mystery by which through the mere act of union insufficiently defended States can be made impregnable.'1213 The most that might plausibly have been argued was the federation was the necessary precondition to creating an Australian army and navy. Hardly anybody seems to have taken the notion of an army very seriously in the early years of the Commonwealth, but some naïve souls were surprised when the first Federal Parliament debated defence in August 1900 without planning for a navy. The prime minister, Edmund Barton, reported to the governor-general that 'many members are at a loss to account for the absence of any prominent provisions as to naval matters'. He could not share their concern: 'how imprudent it would have to attempt to deal with Naval Defence at this stage!' Before federation, he had uttered dark warnings of 'pillage and bloodshed', but once it was in the bag, prudence was the watchword. Playing up the external threat had been useful in alarming the voters and wrong-footing the opposition, while enabling the leaders of the campaign for federation to sound statesmanlike in their knowing references to world affairs and international rivalries. Deakin was still doing it in 1905, after he had served his first (admittedly brief) term as prime minister. After the Japanese shattered the Russian fleet in 1905, he solemnly warned that Australia's coastline was undefended, apparently implying that somebody should do something about it.14

As to the claim that the newly launched Commonwealth had immediately passed an Immigration Act ensuring a White Australia, Norris pointed out that it was equally the case that the first parliament merely passed legislation based on the existing discriminatory policies of the six colonies - a mere political dodge to assure the electorate that there had been some need for a central government after all. W.K. Hancock later made a brave attempt to claim that the separate colonies 'found it difficult to close every gap through which unwelcome immigrants might squeeze', suggesting a beguiling image of hordes of cunning aliens fanning out into New South Wales and Queensland through an unguarded loophole at the Tweed Heads.15 For all the new ground that was broken by the first Immigration Act, the Commonwealth might just as well as have been credited with frightening the elephants away as keeping the Chinese out.

Presumably, even the most fortunate of lucky countries will eventually feel the need to examine its own political origins. In the public arena, the 1975 crisis generated a slow-burn introspection that culminated, not always logically and certainly not immediately, in the demand for a republic. So far as the academic world was concerned, two confident predictions might have been made for the 1990s. The first was that the success of the Bicentennial in 1988 would turn the eyes of historians (and their fellow travellers in political science) towards the centenary of federation in 2001. The second was that the idea of the Australian nation would be conscripted to account for the creation of the Australian state. A generation of Australian historians had earnestly contemplated the wattle they had so reverently inserted in their own navels. Now they would have to measure the extent to which the unique Australian identity of their perception had created the complex Commonwealth state.

It is a truism that History stands at the frontier between the humanities and the social sciences because it combines narrative and analysis. Its strength, and sometimes its weakness, is that the medium can become the message. This is demonstrated by Part I of the Centenary Companion to Australian Federation, six very useful essays collectively headed 'The Colonies' Path to Federation'. Telling the story, six times over, goes far towards answering the 'how?' questions, but the very wealth of beguiling detail tends to blanket out the 'why?'. Even the order of the chapters subtly conveys its own interpretation. The six slices are served up in alphabetical order, which puts reluctant New South Wales first and relegates energetic Victoria to fifth place. It is unlikely that any serious study of federation for the next hundred years would be wise to ignore the Centenary Companion, which also includes a comprehensive historical dictionary of the subject. The colony-by-colony approach undoubtedly has its value: who could fail to be struck by the comment of Geoffrey Bolton and Duncan Waterson that Queensland may have contributed most to the 1897 Convention by its 'providential absence'?16 Had the Queenslanders turned up, the majority of delegates would almost certainly have insisted upon a Senate with powers unacceptable to the two largest players.

Hirst, Irving and McMinn have produced three highly readable books, models of clarity and stimulating examples of different approaches to the writing of history. Irving straddles chronology to offer repeated forays of analysis in the Annales style. She pursues theme after theme, such as race, citizenship and gender, in chapters that evoke contemporary Australian values, each reconnaissance culminating with an assessment of its specific impact on the crafting of the constitution. Hirst begins with a series of dissolving views of the misty themes of Destiny and Identity and imperceptibly steers the reader into an account that manages to combine attractive atmospherics with a solid chronological underpinning. He writes with a beguiling intermixture of short sentences that convey wry tolerance of human frailty, while leaving tantalisingly undefined the question of whether they are causally linked or merely serially associated. McMinn reads (and this is a compliment) like an extended First Class Honours essay, with fast-moving and sometimes paradoxical stocktaking of every landmark in the story. Thus he sees a twofold outcome to the 1898 referendum in New South Wales, in which federation headed the poll but failed to poll the required 80,000 votes. First, obviously enough, supporters were encouraged to try again but, secondly and perhaps even more important, opponents were given a worthy excuse to switch sides and find the means to give effect to the popular will. The two streams combined to force concessions from the other colonies. Part of the essay-like quality of McMinn's book is its absence of footnotes. Most of his sources are easily deduced from allusions in the text, but occasionally readers might welcome more guidance.

Thanks to these impressive books, we have many answers about Australian federation - but have we asked the right questions? Perhaps by taking a step backwards we might frame alternative enquiries that can throw light on the subject. First, we might ask whether the idea of intercolonial union was something that was deduced from contemporary problems, such as inconvenient boundaries or external threats, or did it arise independently as a vision which eventually imposed itself as a solution to the challenges issues of the day? What sort of union was envisaged, and why? How did the idea come to dominate public debate so that eventually, all other political issues, from women's suffrage to industrial arbitration, were obliged not merely to navigate around federation but to come obediently aboard? Lastly, we need to assess the movement to unite the colonies within two overwhelming and unyielding contexts, those of Time and the British Empire. Whatever structure Australians were creating in the 1890s, it was intended to form part of the Empire. But what sort of Empire would that be, for how long would it endure? In short, what perceptions of the future informed the decisions of the present of that pressured decade?

There is a chicken-and-egg side to the first question. Once the Americans had created a federation on a semi-continental scale, the idea of similarly uniting Australia might appeal primarily to poets, a point that Hirst regards as a strength, but it was hardly constitutional rocket science, especially once the Canadians followed in 1867. From about 1850 onwards it is possible to assemble a collage of speculations, projects and visions of a united Australia, but it is hard to argue that they were logically deduced from existing intercolonial problems, mainly because the colonies were too remote from each other to experience more than peripheral friction. Governors preached that railways or tariffs or the spirit of Empire would work for unity, but that is what governors were for. Just as modern prime ministers eventually become bored with factitious minutiae and embark on crusades for World Peace, so long-serving Australian politicians were tempted to identify themselves as colonial statesmen by engaging in federal oratory, usually post-prandial. What, then, fuelled the pristine notion of uniting the colonies? Hirst and Irving conscript nationalism as the answer. In Irving's wide-ranging study, the constitution emerges from the larger culture like a star from a galactic gas cloud. It is persuasive, but it is also tautological: in constitutional societies, such a relationship must always exist, but culture is very rarely uniform, even in apparently homogeneous Australia. (Cardinal Moran's attempt to get himself elected to the 1897 Convention revealed the strength of sectarian divisions, but none of the works under review fully confronts this divisive element.) Hirst embraces destiny, opening his account with the ringing and surely ironic sentence: 'God wanted Australia to be a nation'.17 McMinn will have none of it. Through episode after episode, he dismisses the portrait of a triumphant wave of nationalism sweeping away the petty colonial jurisdictions. Indeed, more than a third of his account deals with the Commonwealth after 1900, underpinning his argument by pointing to the slow growth of Canberra authority in the face of public resistance to centralisation.

The two viewpoints are not necessarily entirely incompatible. As Hirst points out, a popular movement does not have to be a mass movement: it merely has to sweep up sufficient people to win an electoral majority in a voluntary turnout. However, when we focus on the kind of union that was demanded, the strength of national feeling begins to look very muted indeed. The existence of different blueprints should not be seen as alternative paths towards the heaven of unity. In British North America, where the choice was long seen as lying between legislative union and federation, the alternatives were mutually antagonistic. The first was British, the second American; fusion into a single state would outnumber and contain the French, federation would dangerously guarantee their autonomy. The Canadian achievement of the 1860s was to blend these apparently irreconcilable approaches into a meld misleadingly called 'Confederation' (the direct translation of the term into French lies at the root of Quebec dissatisfaction with the constitution.) This fudge was roundly dismissed by Australian leaders, a point admirably dealt with by Irving. For them, the choice was between a loose grouping, strictly speaking merely confederal, and an American-style federation handily re-branded by James Bryce as a 'Commonwealth'. The historical conundrum of the Federal Council is to decide whether it was a failure or a success. More to the point, as McMinn constantly hammers home, however strong the abstract sentiment of national feeling, it broke down into horse-trading when a formal structure was designed. Federation was not simply about achieving unity; it was also crucially about maintaining autonomy. As Australians, they wanted to be one. As Queenslanders and Victorians they did not greatly trust each another or, at least, they did not trust New South Wales. When George Dibbs suggested quasi-fusion with Victoria in 1894 (subordinate legislatures would have continued as glorified local councils), he got nowhere, despite arguing that his plan would inspire confidence in overseas investors. McMinn constantly interrogates Barton's memorable slogan (even if was apparently born as a throwaway line) of 'a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation', but it is surely more significant that Australians were not grabbed by the thought of One People, One Parliament; One Continent, One Government.

How, then, did the fragile fig-leaf of federation manage not merely to conjure the lions of localism out of its path, but came to dominate political debate in the 1890s? The question becomes even harder to answer when we put the decade under the microscope of chronology. McMinn's hindsight may regard federation as inevitable from 1894, but there were phases in mid-decade when the issue was dormant and fervent federalists like Deakin were gloomy about 'the inexhaustible vis inertiae of our populace as a whole'.18 Modern conspiracy theory takes for granted that the political agenda is manipulated by control of the media. For Australia in the 1890s, this does not persuade. The two most feared publications on the continent, the Melbourne Age and the Sydney Bulletin, were hesitant converts, bowing to the force of federalist sentiment as much as creating it. Hirst gives a delightful Bulletin cartoon from 1898 by Norman and Lionel Lindsay ridiculing Deakin as he leads a motley band of flapdoodlers, boosters and boodlers along the road from Freedom to Federation. Other large-circulation newspapers, such as the Sydney Daily Telegraph, churned out ferocious opposition.

Where, then, can we locate the X-factor, the 'oomph', that boosted federation into political orbit? Consistent with her holistic approach to Australian society, Irving argues for a 'Utopian moment', a frontier in time where disillusion with the past coexisted with a confident belief in ability to design structures for the future. It is an attractively all-embracing explanation, but there are problems. One is shared by all the 'macro-' explanations: they cannot account for the roller-coaster of peaks and troughs in the federal movement throughout the 1890s. The Utopian moment was punctuated by repeated nanoseconds of apathy. The constitution was not so much a single idealistic blueprint as the outcome of an untidy polygon of forces pulling in diverse directions. The Utopian William Lane turned his back on the real Australia to found a new one in Paraguay. Similarly, the two most doctrinaire federalists, Andrew Inglis Clark and Henry Bournes Higgins, eventually rejected the document that, ironically, they had done much to shape. Irving does discuss to New Zealand (which does not even appear in McMinn's index) but the Utopian theory does not explain why the colony that had travelled furthest towards creating a legislative paradise should have been the least interested in becoming part of the brave new world.

Hirst argues that New Zealand proves the equation by showing what happens when pan-Australian nationalism is omitted from the picture. But in every colony Australian identity existed alongside local patriotism.19 In New South Wales, for every Edmund Barton there was a Jack Want. Discounting New Zealand on these grounds may be to confuse the outcome with the process. Nonetheless, Hirst's interpretation is intriguing if occasionally paradoxical. The climax to chapter 3 offers the triumphant thought that the poets succeeded in dreaming a nation when the conservative men of business could not even cook up a customs union. Perhaps Hirst has a deeper faith in poets than most of us: did some gothick imagination also rhyme the Braddon Clause on state financing? Hirst's title derives from a remark by Inglis Clark in 1890 that 'the sentimental side will prove to be the practical, or the basis of the practical' in bringing about federation.20 As already noted, for Clark, by the end sentiment was not enough. The Sentimental Nation is a wonderful title, but we may regret it. Just as Donald Horne's sardonic labelling of The Lucky Country was adopted as a byword for 'she'll be right', so no doubt Hirst's selection will become the watchword of those who believe Edna Everage represents the essence of the Australian experience.

The Utopian moment and divinely ordained national destiny may not be wholly persuasive explanations but they are at least large and satisfying. By contrast, McMinn's relentless discounting of nationalism paints him into a corner. If it was neither the visionaries nor the dreamers who created the Australian Commonwealth, how did it come about at all? McMinn's interpretation requires the intervention of a deus ex machina, who appears in the unlikely form of George Reid. To the history books, he is Yes-No Reid, the New South Wales premier who felt bound to vote for federation in 1898 but who hinted more than broadly (for he was, as Hirst affectionately reminds us, more than broad) that nobody should follow his lead. To contemporaries like Deakin, he was one of the foul-weather federalists who pretended to be 'pining for an opportunity of action which neighbouring Colonies refuse to give them'.21 For forty years, McMinn has contested these negative impressions.22 He sees Reid as the brilliant tactician, perhaps the only politician who could have led his reluctant colony into federation, blunting opposition within, bulldozing obstacles without. The problem is that Reid's strategy could only work, and indeed Reid himself would probably only have made the attempt, on the assumption that there was an independent and committed sentiment in favour of federation, even among the reluctant population of the senior colony.

Somehow, the federationists succeeded in seizing the high ground of public debate, but they themselves were not confident of maintaining momentum. One of the arguments for a Yes vote in the 1898 referendums was that the opportunity might not recur, the issue might crumble. Federation was Australia's destiny but - blink and you might miss it. This ambivalence is symbolic of a larger opacity: what sort of future did the Fathers contemplate? Federation for what? Myopia rather than utopia characterised their collective thinking. Most of them failed to foresee that the Commonwealth parliament would be operate through party politics not regional blocs. If they feared industrial militancy, they surely underestimated the potential of political Labor. Nationalism for what? A modern 'decolonisation' specialist might knowingly classify Australian federation as a convenient preliminary to hauling down the Union Jack. But hardly anybody argued for a united Australia as leading to an independent Australia. Indeed, the federation movement peaked as pressure for a republic evaporated. Until we have a firmer collective notion of what sort of Australia the Fathers wished to create, the problem of explaining their actions will continue to elude us.

This review article closes with two suggestions and two reflections. The response of the New Zealand government to the challenge of federation was the predictable holding device of a Royal Commission, which did not go out of its way to find evidence in favour of joining. However, its report contains an interesting but neglected appendix. In March 1900, its members crossed to Sydney, where they ambushed the skeletal federal ministry. Unprepared, Barton and his colleagues nevertheless gave long interviews to the visitors.23 It was something of an eggshell-treading encounter. While the Commissioners were obviously hostile, it might be possible to appeal over their heads to the people of New Zealand, if not immediately then sometime down the road. Deakin did not hold out much hope of winning them over, but Quick and Garran, the encyclopaedic spin-doctors of federation, were more optimistic.24 On the other hand, with their referendums in the bag, there was good reason to talk down messianic expectations within Australia itself. It is an encounter that merits investigation by historians.
Secondly, there is the famous 'lion in the path', the relationship between federation and tariffs. Each of the three monographs touches upon the issue, but somehow the historiography of federation does not seem fully to have engaged with it. The Centenary Companion directs attention to G.D. Patterson's 1968 study of the tariff in Australia, a work not cited in the other three bibliographies.25 All that can be offered here is guesswork posing as hypothesis. We are accustomed to thinking that the great divide in electoral politics was between protection and free trade. In colonial reality, this may have been more symbolic than practical. Britain operated as the world metropolis of free trade (and even Britain maintained a tariff schedule) largely because it had alternative sources of revenue, notably from income tax. In the colonies, customs duties of necessity formed a substantial source of government revenue: the need to service the debt helped to dictate their levels. (New South Wales had about ten percent more people than Victoria, but its debt was twenty-five percent larger.) Bernhard Wise thought the issue 'lost its basis' as tariff levels rose generally in the 1890s, at least outside New South Wales, and others have talked of the emergence of the hybrid 'freetection'.26 True, the first decade of Commonwealth politics continued to polarise around the tariff issue, but the three elevens on the field made a languid game of it until, in 1909, the Gentlemen decided to join forces to resist the Players. Maybe the poets did hymn the money-changers out of the Australian temple. But it would be a more satisfying explanation if someone could prove they were packing up to leave anyway.

Finally, the two reflections. The movement for Australian federation stands as one of the most notable episodes in the unity of English-speaking people. Yet Pember Reeves could jocularly complain that 'eleven years of speech-making and article-writing' had produced very few striking phrases, praising in particular Parkes for the 'crimson thread of kinship' and Barton for eliding nation with continent. 'For eleven years this is not a large sheaf of good sayings. A French convention would turn out more epigrams in eleven weeks.'27 It has taken a long time, but at least we can now add the Utopian moment and the sentimental nation to the quotable tags. All three authors have produced books that are exceptionally well-written and carefully accurate.28 Similarly, the 'colony' chapters in the Centenary Companion are models of essay writing.

Their collective triumph in the mobilising of language brings us back to that frontier position of History, its face turned towards creativity while up to its elbows in the quasi-scientific pursuit of causation. Turgid prose will never provide the explanation but, paradoxically, fine, racy, fast-paced, memorable writing may disguise us that we still do not know why federation came about. Deakin's insider assessment hovers over all accounts of the episode: 'its actual accomplishment must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles'.29 Perhaps the poets did indeed seize the Utopian moment to sweep up the 422,788 Yes voters to whom Hirst dedicates his volume into a sudden tidal wave that converted a powerfully vague sentiment of nationality into an ambiguous state structure. We may never know but these four volumes demonstrate that the historians have finally reclaimed one of the most fundamental issues in the Australian experience.
ENDNOTES

[1]. B.R. Wise, 'The Commonwealth of Australia', National Review, July 1899, p. 829.

[2]. He finally achieved a scholarly biography by G.C. Bolton in 2000.

[3]. Walter Murdoch published Alfred Deakin - a Sketch in 1923. J.A. La Nauze, a former student of Murdoch, followed with Alfred Deakin: a Biography (2 vols, Melbourne, 1965). Parkes had proposed the construction of a pantheon as part of the 1888 Centennial celebrations.

[4]. Alfred Deakin, The Federal Story (ed. J.A. La Nauze, Melbourne 1963 ed.), p. 1 and cf. v-xii for publication history.

[5]. Parker's article is best consulted in J.J. Eastwood and F.B. Smith, eds, Historical Studies: Selected Articles, first series (Melbourne, 1964), pp. 152-78.

[6]. L.F. Crisp, Australian National Government (Melbourne, 1965), pp. 1-39. In what would become for two decades the standard general textbook, Robin Gollan specifically accepted Crisp's interpretation: 'Nationalism, the Labour Movement and the Commonwealth 1880-1900', in G. Greenwood, ed., Australia: A Social and Political History (Sydney, 1955), p. 189.
[7]. For a review of the 'Parker-Blainey' controversy, Ged Martin, Australia, New Zealand and Federation 1883-1901 (London: Menzies Centre, 2001), pp. 63-67. Jeff Brownrigg has recently made a brave attempt to trace the origins of the federation movement of the 1890s back to agitation against the Murray River tariff barrier forty years previously. The argument requires not only a leap of faith but also a considerable vaulting of chronology. The link does not seem to have been especially strong. 'Federation be it then!' exclaimed an Albury editor in 1867, although he acknowledged that it was 'presumptuous for an inland community like ours to bind the whole continent of Australia'. Jeff Brownrigg, '"Obnoxious Border Customs": A Catalyst for Federation' in L. Cardinal and D. Headon, eds, Shaping Nations: Constitutionalism and Society in Australia and Canada (Ottawa, 2002), pp. 73-89, esp. p. 86.

[8]. Federation appears only in passing in Russel Ward's influential The Australian Legend (Melbourne, 1958). K.S. Inglis, The Australian Colonists: An Exploration of Social History 1788-1870 (Melbourne, 1974) alludes to events as far as 1885, but is overshadowed by Gallipoli. Federation, which occurred midway, is not even mentioned in the closing invocation of oncoming nationhood (pp. 274-77). The federation movement merits two pages in R.M. Crawford, Australia (first ed., 1952, rev. ed. 1970), pp. 128-29, but almost no mention in Geoffrey Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance (Melbourne, 1966), even though it is a case study of his theme. Portraying Australia as a living organism, John Ritchie equated federation with marriage in his illustrated study, Australia As Once We Were (Melbourne, 1975), pp. 167-74, but this apparently generous allocation included a double-page photograph of the interior of a Fremantle shop, as well as reflections on the Australian flag, William Farrer's 'federation' strain of wheat and the delay in issuing a national postage stamp and selecting a site for the Commonwealth capital. For a review of the way single-volume histories have skimmed the surface of causation, Ged Martin, Australia, New Zealand and Federation, pp. 4-11.

[9]. p. xiii.

[10]. The Making of the Commonwealth (Melbourne, 1971) and his valuable edited collection, Federation (Melbourne, 1975). Bibliographical notes in the Centenary Companion and Sentimental Nation give an overview of recent work on the subject.

[11]. J.A. La Nauze, The Making of the Australian Constitution (Melbourne, 1972); R. Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth. Australian Federation: Expectations and Fulfilment 1889-1910 (Melbourne, 1975).

[12]. Quoted, To Constitute A Nation, p. 83. For shells falling in King William Street, Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 118.

[13]. Hopetoun House, Hopetoun MSS, 1629/8, Barton to Hopetoun, 1 August [1901]. For Barton's earlier warnings, F.K. Crowley, ed., A Documentary History of Australia, vol. 3: Colonial Australia 1875-1900 (West Melbourne, 1980), p. 506 (interview with the Age, 26 April 1897).

[14]. La Nauze, Deakin, ii, pp. 517-18.

[15]. W.K. Hancock in Cambridge History of the British Empire: Australia (Cambridge, 1933), p. 500 and cf. Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 65.

[16]. Centenary Companion, p. 105.
[17]. Hirst, Sentimental Nation, p. 4.

[18]. Quoted, Irving, To Constitute A Nation, p. 144.
[19]. A survey by a Wellington newspaper in 1899 reported that 20 out of the 70 members of the New Zealand House of Representatives were favourable towards joining the Australian federation (with 25 undecided, 6 not contacted and a minority of 19 definitely opposed). By contrast, Forrest claimed that only two of his 25 supporters in the Western Australian Assembly had supported federation. The first Federation League was formed in Queensland as late as July 1898; similar organisations were reported in Auckland and Christchurch in 1899. K. Sinclair, 'New Zealand' in J.J. Eddy and D. Schreuder, eds, The Rise of Colonial Nationalism (Sydney, 1988), p. 115; La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 218. See Ged Martin, Australia, New Zealand and Federation, pp. 88-121.

[20]. Quoted, Hirst, Sentimental Nation, p. 98, and cf. p. 61 for the triumph of the poets.

[21]. Quoted, Irving, To Constitute A Nation, p. 144.

[22]. McMinn first defended Reid in an article in [Australian] Historical Studies in 1962. His biography appeared in 1989.

[23]. The Report appeared in Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, vol. 1 (1901). For a recent study, P. Mein Smith, ‘New Zealand Federation Commissioners in Australia: One Past, Two Historiographies’, Australian Historical Studies, xxxiv (2003), 305-25.

[24]. J. Quick and R.R. Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Common-wealth of Australia (Sydney, 1901), p. 251; A. Deakin, Federated Australia: Selections from Letters to the Morning Post 1900-1910 (ed. J.A. La Nauze, Melbourne, 1968), p. 23.
[25]. G.D. Patterson, The Tariff in the Australian Colonies (Melbourne, 1968).

[26]. B.R. Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth 1889-1900: A Stage in the Growth of the British Empire (London, 1913), p. 37; J.J. Eddy, 'Politics in New South Wales: The Federation Issue and the Move Away from Faction and Parochialism' in B.W. Hodgins et al., Federalism in Canada and Australia: The Early Years (Waterloo, Ont., 1978), p. 198. The test of the 'bite' of a tariff would be its impact upon the import of goods from Britain. In 1899, these ran at just under £5 per head in New South Wales, and just under £4 in Victoria. This may be variously interpreted as a 25 percent variation - or a difference of five pence (decimal 2 p.) per week.

[27]. W.P. Reeves, State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand (2 vols, London, 1902), pp. 178-79. He also liked Reid's jibe that federation for free-trading New South Wales would be akin to a teetotaller setting up house with five drunkards. He added honourable mentions for the 'Braddon Blot' and, as a New Zealander, was taken by Sir John Hall's claim that twelve hundred miles of sea amounted to twelve hundred good reasons why his colony should stand aloof.

[28]. Even McMinn's parting protest against the cultural influence of 'the MacDonald [sic] hamburger franchise' may be regarded as a subconscious assertion of Australian identity.

[29]. Deakin, Federal Story, p. 173.

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