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

This introduces the subject and seeks to define the time-frame of the movement for federation.











Ged Martin

  Menzies Centre for Australian Studies

King's College London


©  Ged Martin 2001


All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this work may be made without written permission.


The author, Ged Martin (Gerald Warren Martin) asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.




Published in the year 2001 by


Menzies Centre for Australian Studies

School of Humanities

King's College London

28 Russell Square




New edition, 2006


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

ISBN 1 85507 115 0







In the early nineteen-seventies, as a young academic at Cambridge, I had the pleasure of welcoming a distinguished Australian historian to the University. Our meeting was brief, as I explained that I had to deliver a lecture about the Parker-Blainey controversy on the origins of Australian federation. The visitor seemed taken aback, and at the time I hoped he was surprised to find that Commonwealth History at Cambridge should have been aware of an abstruse controversy among Australian scholars. Later, after taking up an appointment in Canberra myself, it occurred to me that his reaction might have been one of amazement that anyone should still have been telling students about a debate that seemed to have run its course in Australia.

That long-lost Special Subject lecture also dragged another dispute from the pages of an academic journal, the New Zealand "Plain Nonsense" controversy. Parker-Blainey had represented an attempt to explain why the disparate Australian colonies had joined together in federation. The "Plain Nonsense" debate, on the other hand, seemed to have settled the mirror-image question of why New Zealand had remained aloof. Although the apparently cut-and-dried nature of the latter generated good lecture material, it was even then possible to regret that the two discussions had been carried on in the watertight compartments defined by the two south Pacific nations. After all, Australia and New Zealand are distinct countries partly because they had emerged as such from the process that was being studied, so the approach was somewhat circular. Such was clearly not the intention of F.L.W. Wood, who had launched the "Plain Nonsense" debate and coined the phrase. Australian-born and a distinguished interpreter of both countries, Wood had sought to re-open the whole question of federation by a direct challenge to the Australian Yes. In the event, nobody beyond Wellington bothered to respond, and "Plain Nonsense" focused exclusively upon the New Zealand No. These two journal-article debates form the core of the present study.

A senior colleague from those Cambridge days once related an amusing episode that had befallen him during a lecture tour of Australia. When asked to identify the Australian city in which the embarrassment had arisen, he unhesitatingly replied, "Auckland". A historian based in Britain may plead that the long view justifies an attempt at an overview of the responses to the issue of federation a century ago by both Australians and New Zealanders. The heirs and descendants who have inherited those two countries may perhaps be tempted to suspect that the approach reveals yet another Pom who has failed to distinguish between two very different nations. I should therefore make clear that I have never entertained the slightest doubt, through three decades of acquaintance with both countries, that Australia and New Zealand are entirely distinct nations. I do, however, cling to the possibility that, like Ruth, the maid of all work in The Pirates of Penzance, they have gradually got so. For Ruth, after all, the evolutionary process extended over forty-seven years, and we are now more than twice that distance in time from the establishment of the Australian Commonwealth. At all events, we should not simply abandon ourselves to the easy conclusion that Australia and New Zealand adopted diametrically opposite responses to the question of federation simply because they were already diametrically opposite countries. Not only would such an approach be intellectually lazy, but it would fly in the face of much that was evidently shared on both sides of the Tasman in the eighteen-nineties - including the simple fact that Australians invited New Zealanders to take part in their movement, albeit with little optimism about their response.

Historians have two tasks, one of description, the other of explanation. In writing about the past, it is obviously necessary first to reconstruct what happened, to tell the story and so answer the question, how? But if history is to transcend mere narrative, the process should also extend to analysis, to satisfy the demand, why? To some extent, the two may be inter-related. An account of the process by which Tasmania secured the same representation in the Senate as New South Wales, despite a six-fold difference in population, will to some extent go beyond mere description and constitute its own explanation. Nor is historical narrative a neutral exercise. If there is such a thing as fact-hood, it is sometimes, and perhaps more often than just sometimes, conferred upon pieces of information and scraps of opinion because they happen to bear favourably upon the causal theory that appeals to the writer who is selecting the evidence. The way in which those facts are arranged and classified is also of importance. For instance, if the historian is challenged to account for the success of the movement for Australian federation, it is first necessary to determine the temporal scope of that movement. When did it pass from the realm of the speculative to the sphere of the practical? To a surprising degree, the explanations advanced by historians to explain the failure of early proposals for federation resemble the reasons cited for its eventual success. But why should we assume that arguments that had failed to bring about federation prior to 1896 suddenly became persuasive thereafter?

In the case of Australian federation, there is a great deal of how? to be disentangled before it is possible to get to grips with why? The issue was discussed intermittently over several decades, and the more serious it became, the more complex were the specific problems requiring resolution. Hence it has been possible for historians to concentrate on description without venturing very far into the morass of explanation. One of the finest books on the period, J.A. La Nauze's The Making of the Australian Constitution (1972), is essentially a nuts-and-bolts account of the way the document itself came into being. (Full references to works mentioned in this Introduction are supplied in the Endnotes.) Thanks to La Nauze's careful scholarship, we can hear the rivets being driven home, but in writing the book, one of Australia's greatest scholars was not concerned to explain why the builders had chosen to wield their hammers. (La Nauze had, of course, addressed that larger issue in his biography of Alfred Deakin.) If it was possible to write a whole book essentially descriptive of the coming of federation, it is no wonder that many shorter accounts, in more general textbooks, leave the reader with the feeling of having digested a satisfying amount of information without any accompanying measure of real understanding. Add to that a shift in historical fashion towards exploration of the challenges of race, class and gender, and a century after the achievement of the political expression of Australian nationhood, the reasons behind it remain remarkably obscure.

While the present study can trace its origins to a lecture delivered thirty years ago, it certainly does not represent the fruit of three decades of academic research. My primary work has indeed concerned the movement for the political union of self-governing colonies, but in British North America, not Australia and New Zealand. If there is such a thing as a textbook consensus, Canada's historians had tended to view Confederation in 1867 as the logical response to the problems of the time. It was not surprising that such an interpretation would emerge. Historical explanation is based upon the evidence provided by contemporary participants, and the dominant politicians explained to the people and to each other that a union of the British provinces in North America made sense. Like most people who live in decent societies, Canadians are patriotic about their country, and have naturally embraced the thought that its emergence was the product of a logical and necessary process.

Over the years, I became less persuaded by the very neatness of this cut-and-dried approach. Many of the arguments advanced for Confederation struck me as unconvincing and even contradictory. Here of course, a warning light should have flashed: who was I to sit in judgement over a century later on opinions that had apparently carried the day in their own era? In due course, I discovered that the doubts that troubled me had also been voiced by cogent and influential figures at the time. Thus I was increasingly drawn to concentrate on the role of argument in political and constitutional debate, a methodological issue that was to surface in both the Parker-Blainey and "Plain Nonsense" exchanges. Most historians had interpreted Confederation as the product of argument and analysis about Canada's challenges and needs. I preferred to see Confederation as an idea in its own right, one that somehow managed to impose itself upon both political debates and political structures as a new organising principle during the middle years of the eighteen-sixties. In an excursion into the origins of the Union of South Africa, I found argument used in a different sense. My purpose was to enquire how far a constitution resembling that of Canada had been directly inspired by precedents from the senior Dominion. I found that most of the information about Canada, some of it selective and tendentious, was contributed by just three public figures - de Villiers, who was a judge, plus Smuts and Merriman, who were prominent politicians. In a small settler community (the total white population of South Africa in 1910 was about that of New Zealand, and nobody else was consulted), a self-proclaimed elite could manipulate information to underpin their own "expert" status as constitution-makers.

In some respects, New Zealand's response to the challenge of Australian federation resembled that of white South Africa, except that in the New Zealand case, the political elite managed to control the issue principally by ignoring it. By contrast, during the second half of the eighteen-nineties, the Australian picture resembled that of Canada three decades earlier. The idea of federation seemed to take on a life of its own, sweeping up other emerging issues such as women's suffrage and industrial arbitration as soon as they crossed its path. Were I tempted to mask intellectual puzzlement behind cultural pretension, I might say that I am reminded of the finale of Benjamin Britten's Variations on a Theme of Purcell, in which the original theme majestically reasserts itself over the quarrels of the orchestra to close in musical triumph. It is a pleasant analogy but, alas, humility requires the admission that it is not enough. Britten imposed his theme by allocating it to the brass section, the orchestral equivalent of the political speech-makers. With Australian federation, we do not even comprehend how the disparate musicians were made to follow the same score, let alone why the brass adopted the federation theme, or the New Zealand string quartet went off to play on its own.

Humility, then, offers a safer guide to identifying the origins of the present work. Part I is based upon a lecture delivered at the Royal Over-Seas League in Edinburgh on 14 December 2000. It seemed eminently appropriate that the premier Commonwealth organisation in Scotland should commemorate the centenary of the Australian constitution, and Edinburgh University's Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities joined in co-sponsorship. For me, the lecture offered a specific opportunity to pay tribute to my friend and colleague, Dr Ian Duffield, who has made Edinburgh one of the beacons for the study of Australian history in the northern hemisphere. (Ian Duffield's work is mainly in the social history of the convict era, which explains why I was the speaker and he took the chair.) As sometimes happens to academics who try to commit their lectures to paper (a rare enough experience in these pressured times), I found that the material would support a larger publication. Part I preserves the allusions to Scotland and emigrant Scots but in a manner that I hope will not prove intrusive to those who are unmoved by the land of heather and haggis. All history is written from a perspective. Even though mine is one of temporary residence rather than of personal identification, it seemed worth preserving the Edinburgh vantage point as a reminder that this study is the product of a distant view.

It is the product, too, of a survey of available sources. I shall not be the last historian to owe a special debt to The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation (1999). Not only is it a work that is frequently cited in the Endnotes, but readers are referred to its pages in support of those passing items of information that the author has irritatingly treated as too basic to need citation. Special thanks are thus owed to its authors: its editor, Helen Irving, who also wrote on New South Wales, Geoffrey Bolton and Duncan Waterson (Queensland), J.C. Bannon (South Australia), James Warden (Tasmania), Marian Quartly (Victoria) and Brian de Garis (Western Australia). The essay section of The Centenary Companion is supplemented by a historical dictionary of useful shorter entries. For the Parker-Blainey controversy, I went back to two collections, the Second Series of Selected Articles from Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand, edited by J.J. Eastwood and F.B. Smith (1967) and Essays in Australian Federation, edited by A.W. Martin (1969). To review the use of argument in the federation debates, I turned to three impressive collections of documents. Scott Bennett edited a specific collection on Federation (1975) for the Cassell series Problems in Australian History. Frank Crowley's Colonial Australia 1875-1900 (1980) completed his three volume Documentary History of Australia published by Nelson. There was valuable material, too, in the second volume of Manning Clark's Select Documents in Australia History 1851-1900, published by Angus and Robertson in 1955. My use of these, and other cited works, has been limited to short quotation for the scholarly purpose of comment and appraisal. The best tribute to a collection of documents is surely to put it to use in historical discussion. It would, of course, be foolhardy to reach negative conclusions, to pronounce that such-and-such argument was absent from the discourse, merely on the strength of a survey of already filtered sources. Any evaluation of the movement for Australian federation must call to its aid the revisionist work of Ron Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth (1975). It is thanks to his detailed research that it is possible to conclude that the arguments which historians had assumed to be of importance in the coming and shaping of federation, those based upon nationalism, defence and immigration, seem in fact to have operated more as oratorical froth than as positive incentive.

The conclusions reached by Norris demolish hallowed assumptions about the federation debate in Australia. Perhaps equally important, they provide a bridge to New Zealand, where these three mega-explanations also cut very little ice. In 1990, the Government of New Zealand generously presented the Library of its High Commission in London to Edinburgh University. This made possible a research project on the 1901 Royal Commission that progressed through both islands assembling a sometimes bizarre collection of comments on the possibility of uniting the colony's destiny with Australia.

Thus the particular feature of this book is that it attempts to examine the use of arguments about federation in both Australia and New Zealand, and to attempt some comparison between the two. This is not to say that the material in the two Parts is directly comparable. There is a great deal of sleight-of-hand in the writing of history. One of the tricks of the trade is to assemble collections of contrasting opinions on an issue and label them a "debate". For Australia in the eighteen-nineties, the term is defensible: politicians and journalists were undoubtedly engaged in a continuing discussion of the practical implications of a political union, even if there were periods when the subject fell into abeyance. The evidence thrown up by the New Zealand Royal Commission was of a different order. As the circus lumbered from Invercargill to Auckland, there is little indication that witnesses were responding to arguments advanced in earlier sessions. It would perhaps be unfair to dismiss the Commission's Report as a massive government-funded trawl of saloon-bar attitudes. Rather, it would be reasonable to regard the views that it recorded as the raw material for a potentially informed and focused debate on closer relations with Australia. The reasons why the political elite declined to embark upon such an exercise - for it was probably only established politicians who could have mobilised support - remain obscure.

In one respect, however, 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. After touring their own colony, members of the New Zealand Royal Commission crossed to Sydney to interview members of the fledgling Commonwealth cabinet as well as New South Wales critics of federation. The responses gleaned, at least from the former category, were comprehensive and carefully worded. It is a source that merits incorporation in some future history of that period.

Because the New Zealand opinions came from second-rank figures, mainly local rather than colony-wide opinion-formers, textual identifications and biographical citations have been supplied where possible. For Australia, this seems less necessary. Most of the participants in the debate on federation were, virtually by definition, established public figures. Freshmen legislators came and went in the colonial parliaments, but the device of electing convention delegates by popular vote in 1897 produced an assembly in which political veterans were unusually dominant. None the less, whether the scholarly debt is openly cited or merely silently acknowledged, grateful homage is owed to two great scholarly projects, the Australian Dictionary of Biography, and the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.

In my capacity as a "Canadianist", I have ventured two discursive Endnotes, one on the use of the Canadian precedent, such as it was, at the time and the other sketching how a historical comparison might be attempted between New Zealand and Newfoundland.  The Canadian parallel confirms the truism that history does not repeat itself, but lends some colour to the charge that historians do repeat each other. It is a modest aim, but I hope at least to persuade Australian scholars to stop referring to the Quebec "Convention" of 1864, an inaccurate usage apparently first perpetrated by Sir Richard Baker 110 years ago.

In a brief Afterword, I fall back on that last infirmity of historical analysis, to plead that further research may lead to greater understanding. The conditional verb form should be noted. Collecting more information from those times past may help, but it will not solve the core problem. It is the ambiguity of historical methodology that prevents us from explaining why Australians adopted federation and New Zealanders did not. To do that, we need to understand better how the process of argument worked in the political discourse of a free society, to identify when it was poorly informed and merely reactive, when it reflected genuine explanation of personal motive and when it operated as a weapon against opponents and a device to galvanise supporters. Federation created the political framework of Australian nationhood, and reinforced the separate existence of New Zealand. It remains an episode that deserves more serious attention.

I am grateful to the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies at King's College London for agreeing to publish this book, and express particular thanks to Professor Carl Bridge and Ms Kirsten McIntyre for their help. Part II appeared in an earlier version in the British Review of New Zealand Studies, 11 (1998), and I am grateful to the editor, Professor Guy Robinson, for his encouragement to use the material again here.





Monetary values are given in pounds (£), the currency then used in Australia and New Zealand and, at the time of writing, still the official basis of the British monetary system. The £ was divided into twenty shillings, each of twelve pennies (or pence). In longhand, shillings were often represented by the symbol "/-", as in the example on page 88. A few statistics have been converted into Britain's post-1971 decimal currency. When Australia adopted a decimal currency in 1966, the £ (which had by then diverged in value from its British counterpart) was abandoned in favour of a local dollar, on the basis of £1 = $2. New Zealand adopted the same system the following year.

Distances are given in miles. One mile equals 1.609 kilometres: as a rough measure, two miles are the same as three kilometres. Not for nothing is the mile still referred to as an "imperial" measurement: it will take the metric system a very long time to equal its permeation of the culture of the English-speaking world. By modern standards, no doubt New Zealanders ought to have debated the 1930.8 kilometres of ocean that lay between them and Australia. In their own time, they were mesmerised by twelve hundred miles of water. Acres are used for some New Zealand agricultural statistics. Ten acres roughly equals four hectares.

The component parts of Australia prior to federation are referred to as "colonies".  Technically this is incorrect, since South Australia was styled a "Province", but the simplification serves to distinguish their status as States of the Commonwealth after 1901. The same term is also applied to New Zealand for the period before 1907, when "Dominion" came into general use, much as New Zealanders proudly used it themselves. From time to time, I have referred to New Zealanders as "Kiwis", to avoid the monotonous over-use of the more formal term. I hope I may be forgiven this, and all other infringements of usage and labelling.











Whereas the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth under the Crown of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and under the Constitution hereby established:


And whereas it is expedient to provide for the admission into the Commonwealth of other Australasian Colonies and possessions of the Queen:


[From the Preamble to the

Commonwealth of Australia

Constitution Act, 1900]









A Perspective from Scotland  


It was around noon on the first day of January 1901 that the viceregal procession drew into Sydney's Centennial Park. At an open-air ceremony, the governor-general of the new Commonwealth of Australia, the Earl of Hopetoun, proceeded to swear in the first federal cabinet, headed by Edmund Barton of New South Wales. Thousands of miles away, the New Year had only just arrived in Edinburgh and, to the west of the city, the great baroque palace that was Lord Hopetoun's family home stood dark under the midwinter sky. The traditional Hogmanay Watch Night services at St Giles and the Tron Church greeted not simply a new year but a new era. "Enter, with a New Century, a New Commonwealth on the stage of history," remarked the Scotsman, in a celebratory review of Australia's path to federation.1 Perhaps some of the revellers first-footing on the streets of Scotland's capital raised a cup of kindness to the birth of the Australian Commonwealth. Certainly Scots had played a notable role in its achievement.

It is worth pausing to underline that point. The Scots are conventionally associated with Canada and with New Zealand, but somehow the assumed link with Australia seems much weaker. Perhaps this is a by-product of the persistent counter-mythology that can never wholly forget Australia's convict origins, for convicts are assumed (wrongly, as it happens) to have been exclusively English felons or Irish patriots. Perhaps the under-emphasis is related to the fact that one of the most notable modern Australians of Scots descent, indeed a Knight of the Most Ancient and Most Noble Order of the Thistle, insisted upon calling himself "Menzies". Everyone in Scotland knows that he should have rhymed his name with that of a young Swiss tennis star. Perhaps, too, we should note that organised Highland and Gaelic settlements were rare in Australia, so that - in contrast to Canada - conventionally romantic aspects of Scottishness were eclipsed by less appealing qualities of Lowland individualism. A visiting English cleric in 1889 commented on the prevalence in Victoria of those "characteristic qualities of the Scottish people - their industry, fortitude, tenacity, courage, thrift, and shrewdness" which he identified as "the admiration, where they are not the terror, of mankind".2 Indeed, it was not only Lowland Scots who aroused hostility. A critic archly noted that Victorian politician Allan McLean opposed federation with "that confident air which in anyone save a clever Highlander might easily be mistaken for arrogance". (Although born in Oban, McLean had been brought to Australia at the age of two.)3 A Punch cartoon of 1923 makes the point more cruelly. "I'm thinking there'll be a lot of my countrymen in Australia?" remarks the Scotsman to a visiting colonial. "That's so," comes the reply, "but our worst trouble is the rabbits."4


Early Proposals of Australian Federation


Nobody ever likened John Dunmore Lang to a rabbit. Born in Greenock in 1799, and a graduate of Glasgow University, Lang was a fissiparous and hyperactive Presbyterian minister, who somehow seems to have been reincarnated in the Reverend Ian Paisley. In the age of the sailing ship, he virtually commuted between Britain and her southern colonies, devoting his shipboard captivity to writing book-length manifestos of his vision of Australia's future. The Coming Event of 1850 and his Freedom and Independence for the Golden Lands of Australia two years later represented the first extensive federal proposals. In some respects, Lang was a poor prophet. His schemes were for republican independence, and he thought New Zealand a more likely member State than distant and struggling Western Australia.  However, in the more muted form of a "Commonwealth", his vision endured in the mind of Sir Henry Parkes, the Birmingham-born patriarch of the federation movement of the eighteen-nineties. One of the first attempts to incorporate federation into the legislative agenda was made in 1857 by Edward Deas Thomson, Edinburgh-born and a product of the town's High School.  Thomson's report to the New South Wales upper house outlined many of the arguments for a union of the colonies that were to be heard four decades later, a warning to historians against assuming that arguments in favour of a measure equate with explanations for its success.1 At most, we can claim that our Australian Scots were forward-looking and ahead of their time. Most notable of these was James Brunton Stephens, who became the pre-eminent poet of Australian federation. Born in Bo'ness (he was to find bush life on the Logan River in Queensland very dull), Stephens was a product of Edinburgh University. Within a year of his arrival in Australia in 1866, he was inspired by the founding of the new Canadian nation to pen "The Dominion of Australia". Like Lang, he saw unity as a matter for the future but one dictated by destiny:


Not yet comes her day. How long "Not Yet"?

There comes the flush of violet!

And heavenward faces, all aflame

With sanguine imminence of morn,

Wait but the sun-kiss to proclaim

The day of the Dominion born.2


As we shall see, it was not for lack of competition that Stephens remained the Bard of Federation.

Thus far it might seem that federation was something that drew on the cultural heritage and good sense of Australia's Scots. Unfortunately, a shared sense of identity did not always point to common action. The establishment of the Federal Council of Australasia in 1883-1884, to which we must return, was the outcome of discussions between the premier of Victoria, James Service, who hailed from Kilwinning, Queensland premier, Thomas McIlwraith, practically a neighbour from Ayr, and an Edinburgh man, the premier of New South Wales, Alexander Stuart. At an intercolonial convention in Sydney in 1883, the premiers of Victoria and New South Wales quickly slipped into terms of cordiality that promised to rise above the traditional (or at least, 33-year-old) rivalry between their two colonies. Service sprinkled his remarks with "occasional Scotticisms ... unintelligible to all but Mr. Stuart, who relished them immensely".3 However, it was not enough to get New South Wales to join the Federal Council. Indeed, there was no single Scots role in the emergence of the Australian Commonwealth. We may set Josiah Symon, from Wick, who was a major force behind the federation movement in South Australia, against Thomas Nelson, the Kilmarnock-born pastoralist, who kept Queensland resolutely out of intercolonial negotiations during his five-year term as premier, 1893-98.4

Intriguingly, one Scots-born politician managed to secure a foothold in both camps. Physically gross and personally vulgar, George Houston Reid had left Scotland when a few months old and consequently was rarely associated with his birthplace, Johnstone near Paisley. As premier of New South Wales at the time of the referendum of 1898, Reid announced that he felt bound to vote for federation, since he had been a delegate to the Convention that had drafted its constitution. However, he was unable to recommend anyone else to follow his example. Historians have long debated whether Reid's "Yes-No" policy was a brilliant strategy designed to win the last-minute concessions needed to steer a divided colony into federation, or an even more cunning device to enable George Houston Reid to come down on the winning side. Another divided soul was Andrew Inglis Clark, Tasmanian-born but the child of parents from Kinghorn and Kirkcaldy. Identified in recent times as one of the authors of the first version of the federal constitution, Clark turned against the scheme because he thought it insufficiently democratic.5

Perhaps the most notable Scots contribution to the federation imbroglio was to be found in the profound complication inspired by David Syme, the mighty proprietor of the Melbourne Age. If industrial Kirkcaldy is for ever associated with nineteenth-century Britain's policy of free trade as the birthplace of Adam Smith, then genteel North Berwick that faces it across the Firth of Forth, where Syme was born in 1827, must equally be regarded as the shrine to Australian protectionism in that same era. Syme made the Age the mightiest newspaper in the colonies, virtually dictating the adoption by the colony of Victoria of the heretical policy of tariff protection. In 1890, Service was to describe the problem of rival tariff policies - for New South Wales was just as dogmatically devoted to free trade - as the "lion in the way" (subsequently misquoted as "path") of the federal movement.6 Syme belatedly swung behind that movement, but just why his lion turned into a pussy-cat remains a mystery to be explained.


Federation in the Writing of Australian History 


Reluctantly, then, we must dismiss the notion that would classify Australian federation alongside the pneumatic tyre and the steam engine as the peculiar product of Scottish genius. Before seeking some rival explanation, we should note two related paradoxes, one contemporary and the other retrospective. Between 1897 and 1899, voters in four of the Australian colonies went to the polls on three occasions, once to choose delegates to a drafting convention, and twice more to vote on versions of the constitution that they produced. By 1900, each of the six colonies had endorsed federation in a popular poll in which most adult males (and, in South Australia, women too) were eligible to vote. By no means everybody was impressed by this form of communal validation. The British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain thought it would be "putting too great a strain on the principle of the referendum" to assume that Yes votes implied assent to every last detail in the package, and he successfully insisted upon changes.1 Formally, then, the movement for Australian federation broke new ground, on the world stage, in the involvement of the people in the shaping and accepting of a new system of government. Yet, in practice, the federation movement was very much elite-driven. In each colony, voter participation rates were usually around half those achieved at the most recent general election. Moreover, as we shall see, many people were confused by contradictory propaganda. The New South Wales elector who reportedly feared that federation would mean his deportation to Victoria may have been exceptionally muddled, but there seems little doubt that popular participation was hardly matched by public understanding of the issues involved.2 A century later, as the British electorate faces a referendum on joining the Euro, a historian on the far side of the world can sympathise with Australian perplexity.

"The significance of the decision to federate has become more and more clear with the passage of time", observed Brian de Garis in 1974.3 It would not be entirely surprising if posterity invested the episode with more importance than some were able to discern at the time. Back in 1899, Bernhard Wise, one of the more florid campaigners for federation, had predicted "that the published and secret details of the struggle for Australian union ... will be investigated in years to come with the same reverential curiosity that is now directed towards the details of the struggle for American union".4 Unfortunately, those participants in the federation movement who turned historian - including Wise himself - concentrated upon narrative details, so that curiosity about the causes of the movement, the motive forces that impelled Australians towards unity, had to remain reverential for lack of authoritative information. Few were closer to the heart of the campaign to create the Commonwealth of Australia than John Quick and Robert Garran. In 1901 they produced an encyclopaedic volume entitled The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth. It included a 140-page survey of "The Federal Movement in Australia", but their account was essentially an episodic record of events. Perhaps in 1901 it would have been too risky to claim that federation was "caused" by this or that problem: such an explanation would have provided hostages that the infant Commonwealth might not have been able to redeem. However, in his subsequent chapter for the Cambridge History of the British Empire, Garran also confined himself to a descriptive and formal account of the federation movement. For a volume published in 1933, this was surely a missed opportunity: the events were sufficiently remote for Garran to have lifted the lid on incidents and personalities that, as his subsequent memoirs showed, remained clear in his memory. Indeed, Bernhard Wise did little to stimulate the historical debate that he had himself predicted. In 1913 he published a study of The Making of the Australian Commonwealth 1889-1900. It was fresh, even racy, in tone, splendidly rich in contemporary quotation and attractively irreverent in dealing with personalities. Yet Wise did not offer any real explanation of the coming of federation. In short, his book was strong on the who? of the federal movement, but it barely seemed to consider the why?.5

These pioneer works bring us face to face with the inherent duality of historical writing itself. As a broad generalisation, it can be said that history has two functions, one to describe and the other to explain. The two are interwoven: so much so that the French language has no problem in using the word "histoire" to describe both narrative and explanation. The way in which a story is told will influence the deductions about cause-and-effect that it will support. Thus an account of the movement for Australian federation confined to the years from 1897 will convey a notion of unstoppability that is markedly absent from a survey of the preceding decades of intermittent and forlorn endeavour. Moreover, although mere narrative cannot constitute the "A caused B" form of explanation, it is often effective in supporting a lesser but none the less useful form of elucidating secondary matters. An intelligent general reader wishing to discover why the Australian colonies federated in 1901 would almost certainly also be interested how it came about that, in one of the world's most consistently democratic countries, one-third of the population living in the four smaller States has the right to elect two-thirds of the members of a very powerful upper house. Through a recital of confrontations and compromises, history in its narrative form can provide a very satisfying account of the origins of the principle of the equal representation of the States in the Australian Senate. As it is generally agreed that Australia's federal constitution is an unusually complex document, it was easy enough for historians to provide a great deal of descriptive elucidation of its specific features.

The problem of the overlap between narrative and explanation is exacerbated by the obvious fact that federation constitutes just one episode in Australia's history, an achievement that in general surveys of the country's past must be dealt with in a few pages. Thus it is easy enough for historians to leave the general reader feeling satisfied with a compacted coverage that appears to convey much more than is usually the case. Indeed, the chief shortcoming of the brief narrative form characteristic of the single-volume textbook was that it encouraged an associational rather than a causative account of the coming of federation. That is to say, the historians wove into half a dozen narrative pages allusions to railways, rival tariffs, artificial borders, defence scares and racial and national feeling, all of them somehow linked to the coming of the Australian Commonwealth. By an almost subliminal process, the reader may be left with the impression that these elements were responsible for federation. Yet, when the text is closely analysed, it appears that most historians have limited themselves to suggestion and inference, avoiding commitment to explicit claims of explanatory connection. Generations of undergraduates set to study the subject have certainly ignored the unwritten small print to produce essays bristling with lists of "causes". In reality, only a handful of texts actually pose Noel McLachlan's question: "So how did federation come about?" When Cain and Hopkins were crafting their overview of the financial imperialism of British "gentlemanly capitalism", published in 1993, they took account of the hypothesis that Australian bankers supported federation as a safeguard against a recurrence of the economic crisis of the early eighteen-nineties. Many historians had hinted at a connection, but Cain and Hopkins were driven to footnote the argument to Manning Clark's Short History of Australia, published as far back as 1963, simply because Clark was one of the commendable few bold enough to move from explanatory hint to outright causal assertion.6

Occasionally, a historical overview transcends mere narrative and rises to the heights of literary analysis. The problem here is that literary analysis is something of a contradiction in terms: analysis is precise, literature is evocative. The dangers can be seen in perhaps the most impressive of recent surveys of the Australian experience, Stuart Macintyre's inadequately titled Concise History of Australia. Persuasively enough, Macintyre points to the confusions of the early eighteen-nineties as the seed-bed of the movement for federation. As rocketing economic growth abruptly ended, "the belief in progress faltered... the liberal consensus fractured." Alternative ideologies were required to rebuild a society in conflict. Macintyre identifies socialism and feminism, both of them "universal in scope and international in operation", as key challenges. "In response to these challenges an alternative collectivity was asserted, that of the nation." The nation was "institutionalised" as "a federal Commonwealth with restricted powers". Thus "the crisis of colonial coherence" was used to create "a binding Australian nationhood".

By any standards, this is an impressive piece of prose, but its very elegance may serve to disguise weaknesses in the assumed argument. Most notably, there is an elision between nationhood, a shared sentiment in the hearts and minds of a people, and State structures, which are habitually embraced with much less enthusiasm. At a more basic level, there is an unresolved chicken-and-egg problem. Was nationhood a pre-existing sentiment that was mobilised to create an Australian State, or was federation the device employed to forge patriotic sentiment into a nationalist dogma? If the first were the case, we are left wondering what process was employed to manipulate those who cheered for an Australian cricket eleven into endorsing the binding institutions of political union. If the argument centres rather on the second alternative, we are left with an even more substantial "first cause" problem: if it was federation that brought about nationhood, what on earth caused federation? Macintyre's luminous evocation points to a reactive process, designed to outbid the globalised challenges of feminism and socialism. To accept this as the explanation for federation, we are surely entitled to ask for corroborative evidence, a smoking gun or secret protocol. Where is the evidence of a pact in which men of power identified the women and the leftists as a threat and agreed to play the national card against them? Such a strategy could hardly have been adopted across six disparate colonies by mere telepathy. We should expect correspondence, reminiscences, hints and appeals in speeches and newspaper articles. As will be argued below, such "evidence" is remarkably thin. Indeed, two pages further into his account, Macintyre himself remarks that "the process of federation was initiated too early for members of the labour or women's movement to participate and shape it".7 If the twin challenges were of a potential rather than an actual nature, then the supporters of federation were almost diabolically clever in getting their retaliation in first. Moreover, was it likely that women and workers would wish to participate in a strategy designed to marginalise them? Rather the story of federation in the eighteen-nineties suggests a remarkably eel-like movement, capable of accommodating itself to the social and intellectual challenges posed by class conflict and gender enfranchisement.

With a few honourable and highly scholarly exceptions, federation - the political expression of Australian nationhood - has attracted remarkably little attention from the country's historical profession. For the first two-thirds of the twentieth century, Australia's universities were poorly funded.  Since travel within the country remained slow and expensive, no academic could muster the time or resources necessary to study the movement for nationhood in all six States. By the time a research culture became financially and technologically possible, scholarly fashions began to swing away from political history. The explosion of the Australian historical profession from the nineteen-sixties coincided with interest in new agendas of race, class and gender. Probably because federation was a predominantly masculine affair, and one so intimately associated with blatant racism, it failed to catch on as a symbol of national identity. In any case, the rising generation of late twentieth-century Australian historians was motivated by a lofty intellectual patriotism that sought to identify the distinctiveness of the country's human experience. Here, again, federation represented an ambiguous focus. Edmund Barton, the first prime minister of the Australian Commonwealth, had hit upon a happy phrase, talking of a continent for a nation and a nation for a continent.8 Yet while Barton and his contemporaries had resented metropolitan British pretensions and resisted official British interference, they had none the less seen their Australia as part of a wider imperial world. With the mixed blessings of hindsight, historians knew that Australians would pay a high price on the peninsula of Gallipoli and in the flawed fortresses of Tobruk and Singapore, buying protection that the British empire would fail to deliver.

The combined effect of these various inhibiting factors may be seen in the stalled and faltering saga to sustain an "A caused B" debate on the reasons why Australians voted as they did in the federal referendums of 1898 and 1899. The initial controversy, which focused on economic motives, especially in border regions, was triggered in an exchange of articles between R.S. Parker and Geoffrey Blainey in 1949-50. This seemed to have run its course by 1953, although it was revived by Allan Martin in a book of essays fifteen years later. One oddity of this lopsided debate is that we know a certain amount about a small Victorian town called Maffra, where voters endorsed federation in 1898 by 78 votes to 77, despite the fact that the local economy depended upon the processing of sugar beet, an industry unlikely to survive unrestricted competition from the Queensland canefields. Yet as Marian Quartly pointed out in 1999, half a century after the birth of the controversy, nobody has ever attempted a "Parker-Blainey" analysis for Victoria as a whole, even though the Victorian drive for federation is generally assumed to have been linked to David Syme's protective tariff.9

Put the two together, contemporary perplexity and the relative neglect of posterity, and we have a historiographical conundrum. Much scholarly work on late nineteenth-century Australia has little to say about federation. Is this because federation was a marginal issue at the time or because it has become a non-subject since? Beverly Kingston's volume of the Oxford History of Australia, published in 1988, offers a refreshing portrait of the years from 1860 to 1900 under the title Glad, Confident Morning. Allusions to the federation movement appear naturally and comfortably where we would expect them, but it can hardly be said that the drive to unite Australia and Australians forms a central theme in the story. Brian de Garis gave greater emphasis to the issue in his chapter in a nineteen-seventies textbook, but was this because de Garis was, unusually, a specialist in the topic?10 Perhaps the most remarkable example can be found in a collection of essays on The Emergence of the Australian Party System, published in 1978 and explicitly focusing on the twenty years from 1890. These were the decades which saw politics move from factional instability to a series of two-party systems, Labor and non-Labor, at colonial, State and federal level. This, it would seem, must surely be more than just a coincidence. It is easy to leap to the conclusion that federation itself must have been either the cause or the catalyst or the outcome, perhaps a mixture of all three, that explains this structural change in the country's politics.  Yet in chapter after chapter, the issue appears just as marginal as in Kingston's predominantly social and cultural evocation of the same period. The coalitions of personalities and interest groups congealing into disciplined alliances found themselves navigating around federation just as if it were something extraneous to their natural processes of development. The eight contributors to The Emergence of the Australian Party System were not merely the leading authorities in the field. They included R.S. Parker, Allan Martin and Brian de Garis, three of the small band of scholars who had studied the origins of the Australian Commonwealth. If the movement for federation seems to have played almost no role in the shaping of Australia's emerging party system, the reason can hardly be found in the perspectives of the writers.11


Colonies and Issues 


On the face of it, the methodological foundations for explaining Australian federation ought to be simple enough. Historians should simply draw a geographical box around the colonies, assign temporal boundaries to the federal movement and proceed to account for the fact that the second took hold among the first. Yet even these decisions are far from straightforward, and the selections that we make will powerfully influence the narrative that we create.

Which colonies shall we include in our analysis?  If we limit ourselves to the six that joined in 1901, we constrict ourselves by the teleological assumption that only those six could have joined, thus blanketing out the possibility that New Zealand might have thrown in its lot with its Australian neighbours. We are thus prevented from exploring why arguments for federation deemed to have been compelling on one side of the Tasman proved, so it would seem, ineffectual on the other.1 Should we focus on the four south-eastern colonies (or, strictly, three colonies and one province, for South Australia was always a little particular about its non-convict origins) that drove the movement in 1897-98? For Queensland and Western Australia, the debate was to a considerable extent not so much on the positive merits of continental union as about the negative consequences of staying out. However, in that, they differed only in degree from Tasmania and South Australia. In short, are we talking about a for-and-against debate across the whole of Australasia, or focusing upon what we have determined in advance to be the driving force of Victoria and New South Wales?

By turning to the pages of Whitaker's Almanack for 1900, we can obtain a bird's-eye view of "Greater Britain: The Australasian Colonies".2 There were two relatively populous colonies, New South Wales with 1.357 million people and Victoria with 1.176 million, "including about 8,000 Chinese and aborigines", the latter not even receiving the courtesy of capitalisation. Then came the middle-sized group, New Zealand with 743,000, including about 40,000 Maori, Queensland with 498,000 and South Australia with 362,000. Trailing at the rear were tiny Tasmania, with a population of 178,000 and the massively empty colony of Western Australia, estimated in 1899 to contain just 168,000 settlers. Even this was a considerable improvement on 1891, when its population of 33,000 was about equal to that of the Norfolk town of Great Yarmouth. To put these numbers into a contemporary Scottish context, the two largest colonies were each roughly twice the population of modern Glasgow. Queensland, which is more than twenty times the area of Scotland, in 1899 contained barely more people than Edinburgh in 1999.

What meaning can we draw from these statistics? For Henry Parkes, what mattered was the total figure: with three and a half million people, Australia by the eighteen-nineties had reached the same stage of national growth as the Americans when they had formed their United States. This, of course, was inspirational rhetoric rather than serious political analysis. Demographically speaking, the devil lay in the detail. New Zealand, for instance, might plausibly hope to flourish on its own, but the four smaller mainland colonies really had very little option. "Our position ... would be largely settled by the attitude assumed by New South Wales", announced one Queensland orator as late as 1898.3 "The people of Queensland must bear in mind that their vote ... will not prevent the union of the Southern colonies," a federalist newspaper counselled the following year. The most that a No vote could achieve was the transformation of the colony into a "Newfoundland under the Southern Cross!"4 Newfoundland, still aloof from the Dominion of Canada, spent much of the eighteen-nineties teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.5 "Tasmania was strong on federation," a South Australian politician explained in 1890, "because Victoria, just across the strait, was the market for her produce."6 In his referendum manifesto in 1898, its premier bluntly stated that "if the colonies of Australia federate Tasmania must join ... she cannot stand alone".7 The premier of Western Australia told a visiting delegation from New Zealand that "it would be of no use our trying to stand against the Commonwealth; it would be too powerful for us", although Forrest was perhaps less than tactful in adding that without a railway to the eastern seaboard, "Western Australia might just as well be an island in the ocean". 8

The economic and political realities of small populations were to some extent in conflict. Smaller colonies meant smaller-scale manufacturing: in South Australia, as in New Zealand, boot and shoe manufacturers feared Melbourne competition, for Melbourne meant mechanisation on a large scale. In Queensland, even "lollies" (children's sweets) were mobilised against federation. The colony's lolly-manufacturers pointed out that each of the five rival factories in New South Wales and Victoria were equal in size to the entire Queensland industry. Bigger and better was not the answer for half a million people. "The Federalist tells us we should get machinery equal to that of the South [i.e. New South Wales and Victoria], but forgets that four months' work with such machinery would supply Queensland's needs for a whole year." 9

Luddite lolly-manufacturers fearful for what a North Queensland newspaper dismissed as "their tin-pot manufacturies"10 are a reminder that the numbers involved in each economic interest group could be very small. However, in terms of political impact, small populations could have diametrically opposite implications. The Sydney Morning Herald's description of the referendum turn-out of 180,000 voters in New South Wales in 1899 as "so magnificently large" is an indication of the microscopic character of the process.11  "These figures look small", R.R. Garran admitted to a later generation of Australian readers, "but it must be remembered that women had not yet votes in New South Wales."12 The previous year, opponents had set a threshold of 80,000 Yes votes. Shades of Scotland in 1979: the Yes side had won, but achieved only 71,595 votes.13 Unlike Scotland, the Yes side fought again twelve months later - the New South Wales comparison points to the enormous significance of the collapse of organised pressure for devolution within the United Kingdom in the nineteen-eighties ─ but, even when triumphant second time around, the vote for the Bill was just under 36 percent of the total electorate. In small communities, which could support only one or two newspapers, the press could be disproportionately influential. So, too, was speech-making. One study has suggested that the pattern behind the referendum vote in New South Wales country towns is best explained in terms of visiting orators: towns visited by "Billites" voted Yes and vice-versa.14 It is possible that, as in modern election campaigns, the most prominent figures chose to speak in the places where they could count on the most support. However, contemporaries pointed to individual campaigners as being particularly influential in their districts, while William Trenwith, the sole prominent labour federationist, seems to have made some impact among working-class voters.

By the early eighteen-nineties, it was clear that the price of an Australian federation was going to be equal representation for member states in its upper house. This would mean that one and a quarter million Australians in the four smaller colonies would have twice as many representatives as the two and a half million people of New South Wales and Victoria.  To a considerable extent, the debate over federation focused not so much on the principle itself as upon the issue of the composition and powers of the upper house. The controversy was strident and tedious, but if we pass over it, we miss the enormous significance of the fact that so many people supported federation despite the recipe for conflict between majority and minority that seemed virtually inherent in its structure. By 1898, the prospect of small-State domination was something more than an oratorical bugbear. A clause had been added to the draft constitution, naturally enough at the behest of Tasmania's Sir Edward Braddon, requiring the Commonwealth government to hand over three-quarters of its customs and excise revenue to the States. Since small States cost disproportionately more to run than large ones, anti-Billites warned that high tariffs would be needed - and, of course, dictated by the Senate - to keep the poorer members of the Commonwealth in the style to which they were accustomed.

Of course, it could be objected that New South Wales and Victoria were not likely to act together and alone, although this did not prevent Sydney Anti-Billites from arguing against the injustice of the Senate to their own colony. New South Wales, the "mother colony", had never forgiven Victoria for breaking away in 1850, an offence made far worse by the southern colony's rapid rise to gold-fuelled prosperity. In fact, the older colony began to catch up, both in wealth and in numbers, overtaking Victoria in population by 1901. One reason for this was that New South Wales adopted a low tariff policy that encouraged Sydney with its magnificent harbour to develop as an entrepot for much of the continent. By contrast, Melbourne suffered harshly during the depression of the eighteen-nineties. It seems clear that the Victorian drive for federation was largely powered by a wish to extend its tariff wall.15

It is possible to suggest that, by the eighteen-nineties, the real difference between free trade and protection was beginning to narrow, since almost all politicians accepted the need to impose customs duties to raise revenue. "The question of the tariff is a mere dwarf compared with the great overshadowing question of a living and eternal national existence", declaimed Sir Henry Parkes in statesman mode in 1890.16 Garran ingeniously argued that federation simultaneously enlarged the free trade zone available to New South Wales while extending the Victorian tariff wall around the whole continent: New South Wales could still buy her manufactured goods cheap so long as she took them from Victoria instead of from Britain.17 In 1899, imports per capita from Britain ran at £4.88 in the mother colony, and £3.94 in Syme's paradise of protection.18 The difference (about eighteen shillings and ninepence [94 pence] per head) was hardly enormous. Moreover, some Australian purchases from Britain were determined by factors other than by price: about ten percent of imports in both Victoria and New South Wales consisted of woollens, which could easily be made locally but were presumably preferred for their quality. Cockburn was probably correct when he praised his fellow federalists for giving the tariff issue "a wide berth" so that it sank into "insignificance".19 As Wise put it, in the decade after 1890, the move towards protection in every colony except New South Wales was so pronounced that objections based upon rival tariff policies "lost their basis".20 In 1891, Barton, although a protectionist himself, had insisted that "there can be only one useful Protection, and that is a Federal Protection". His reluctance to support any alteration of the colony's tariff policy that might harm the cause of federation was one of the elements in the emerging hybrid of "free-tection".21 Arguably, the one colony that lost out in the sleight of hand that elided a continental free trade zone with a common external tariff was Western Australia,  peripheral and still massively underdeveloped. The later Westralian secession movement, which peaked in 1933-34, was partly driven by resentment against the artificially high price of capital investment, for instance in buying railway rolling stock from the eastern States.22

None the less, the only occasions when Victorian federal enthusiasm faltered were the moments when its precious tariff seemed to be threatened. Alfred Deakin, Victoria's most passionate federalist, confided a moment of panic to his diary in 1891 as the colony's banking system began to collapse. "Federation if carried as it is, other colonies will combine for Free Trade and adopting Free Trade [would] lead to terrible blow to Melbourne and to a local uprising like a revolution."23 There was another wobble in 1898 when Syme threatened to swing the Age into the No camp to resist the challenge of federation to the North Berwick School of economics.24 Even if the gap between the two fiscal systems was narrowing in practice, it took until 1909 for the rival factions to coalesce into a coherent free-enterprise party on the Commonwealth political stage, and then only in the face of a rising challenge from Labor.

A second reason for the gradual catch-up of New South Wales lay in the fact that the colony was considerably larger in area than Victoria. Consequently it took longer to develop its railway network, but as lines snaked westwards, so Sydney tapped into an ever larger hinterland. Even in 1900, railway mileage in Victoria exceeded that of New South Wales by about twenty percent, but Victorian lines were more likely to be local feeders, whereas in New South Wales long-distance lines reflected the relative thinness of population away from the coastal strip. Part of the federation prize for Victoria was access to the pastoral districts of the Riverina, the area of south-western New South Wales on the north bank of the Murray River. The Riverina was unusual for an interior district in that it had three potential trade outlets, by water through South Australia, by short railway links to Melbourne and by much longer lines to Sydney. The final terms hammered out to secure New South Welsh adhesion in 1899 included elaborate constitutional guarantees to prevent territorial transfer between States, a reflection of the mother colony's suspicions of the "hurlie lassie" who had abandoned her half a century later.

James Service would have been wise to have limited himself to that Scotticism in his notorious speech of 1884. Returning to a banquet in Melbourne after the first intercolonial "Convention" at Sydney, the Victorian premier unburdened himself of criticisms of Sydney sloth and of New South Wales politicians, some of whom darkly suspected that "Victoria, by some intrigue, had come to take possession of the whole of the Riverina". Service, who had never before visited the shores of Port Jackson, confessed himself amazed at finding "the most intense jealousy on the part of Sydney in respect to Melbourne". His lack of tact provoked a renewed outburst of intercolonial hostility. One New South Wales politician claimed that his colony was as far above Victoria as heaven was above earth, while another elaborated the metaphor to describe the southern colony as a "mere cabbage garden".25

Three years later, resentment surfaced again. The New South Wales premier, Sir Henry Parkes, was making grandiose plans to celebrate the centenary of the arrival of the first convicts in 1788, plans which included the commemorative park where Lord Hopetoun inaugurated the Commonwealth in 1901, and a mausoleum for dead colonial politicians that was never built. To Parkes, the centenary also seemed the right moment to close the book on convictism by abandoning a name redolent of Botany Bay that commemorated no more than Captain Cook's fancy that its coastline bore some resemblance to Wales. The convict hell of Van Diemen's Land had vanished under the euphonic tones of Tasmania, and now New South Wales should be consigned to the scrapheap as well. A retired chief justice boldly proposed the adoption of the name "Australia". Parkes could not see why any other colony could object. And this was the same Henry Parkes who claimed to have seized every opportunity for twenty years past to argue for a federation of all the colonies. The veteran premier saw no contradiction. "Do you think you will ever beg your way into a federal union? You must go proudly into it, strongly into it, or your position will be worse than before. ... No one has a right to take offence." In the event, it was not annoyance so much as ridicule that consigned the renaming project to the same fate as the mausoleum. One Melbourne newspaper cruelly reminded the mother colony of both its areas of sensitivity by proposing the alternative name of "Convictoria".26

Clearly, then, historians have enough on their hands explaining how the venomously quarrelsome mother and daughter managed to sink their differences, let alone persuade on board four smaller colonies and accord them potential political dominance through the federal Senate. Yet if we draw our geographical box simply around the six colonies that formed the Commonwealth, we should at least ensure that it is not soundproof, that we do not limit our analysis to those who wanted a nation for a continent and a continent for a nation. The same arguments for and against federation were thrashed out, if with perhaps less enthusiasm, in New Zealand. New Zealanders certainly found them less compelling, but that cannot be the whole story. We should at least note that the New Zealand dimension demonstrates that arguments based on defence and immigration policy cannot in themselves be assumed to have been the federal trump cards. If Kiwis were not persuaded that federation would ensure their defence or safeguard them from alien immigration, why should we assume that the same arguments swept West Australians or Queenslanders into acquiescence? As a distinguished New Zealand historian has written: "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".27


When was the Federation Movement?


To identify those causal arguments we must first define not only our geographical box but also the temporal limits of the enquiry. In short, when does the federation movement begin? We are on reasonably safe ground in dismissing Dunmore Lang and Brunton Stephens as prehistory, even if the ideas of the one and the verse of the other resonated in the mind of Henry Parkes. Yet this still leaves us with a range of possible start dates for the main story, and the inclusion or exclusion of each one predicates the events, and so the arguments, that we take into consideration in our search for causes. Geoffrey Serle began with the banquet in the engine shed at Albury railway station in June 1883, when one thousand dignitaries from the two largest colonies gathered to celebrate the linking of Sydney and Melbourne by rail. True, the two cities were not linked by train, since the rival systems had been built to different gauges, and it would be decades before federation eliminated that particular nuisance. More to the point, so Serle relates, invitations to the Victorians had specified morning dress, while the New South Wales revellers turned up in evening wear.1 "It was a federal event", remarked the Melbourne Argus, "... and under those circumstances it was as natural that the oratory should be of a federal character as that squatters should converse about sheep or ladies about their dressmakers and children".2 What added reality to the rhetoric were the frantic efforts of the Australian colonies to persuade the British government to keep the Germans out of New Guinea and the French out of the New Hebrides. The British Colonial Secretary caustically asked whether the Australians would like to be given their own planet, and seemed surprised when the suggestion was favourably received.3 The upshot was the creation of a Federal Council, initially conceived as including New Zealand and Fiji. Unfortunately, it was partially overtaken by Service's robust defence of his hurlie lassie. The New South Wales Assembly reacted strongly against cabbage garden statesmanship and refused, by one vote, to adhere to the Council.

Our next possible starting point is the Tenterfield Oration delivered by Sir Henry Parkes in October 1889. Parkes had paid a visit to Brisbane, presumably to preach federation, only to find that the premier of Queensland was on unofficial sick leave. On his return journey, Parkes stopped off to deliver a rallying call for federation to the people of the northern New South Wales town of Tenterfield. (Many Australian place-names are borrowed from the map of Britain. Tenterfield is unusual in being named not after a town or village but after a house, which still dignifies the East Lothian town of Haddington.4) Parkes really unburdened himself of very little at Tenterfield that he had not preached at various times in the past. However, whereas in 1883 the Sydney Convention had agreed that "the time has not yet arrived at which a complete federal union of the Australasian colonies can be obtained", Parkes now announced that "the time was close at hand when they ought to set about creating this great national government".5 Bernhard Wise thought the town was selected as the venue for the speech because "by reason of its situation, it is comparatively free of provincial prejudice". It is equally likely that Parkes felt he owed the citizens a rousing speech since they had generously elected him as their absentee representative to the previous parliament after he had lost his long-term seat in East Sydney. If Wise was perhaps starry-eyed about Parkes's motives for choosing the location, he may also have exaggerated the importance of the oration when he claimed that "from this day forth, the desire for Union, which had floated before men's minds as a vague aspiration for many years, took definite shape".6

To Victoria's premier, the Glaswegian Duncan Gillies, that "vague aspiration" already possessed a definite shape, in the form of the Federal Council. Unfortunately, in an increasingly tart correspondence, he failed to persuade Parkes that the best way forward would be for New South Wales to join.7 Instead, a federation conference met at Melbourne in February 1890 and called for a National Australasian Convention.8 This brought the leading figures in the seven colonies, chosen by their respective parliaments, to deliberate in Sydney for over a month the following year, and produced a detailed draft constitution. Australia was already being swept by a blizzard of massively disruptive strikes. Now followed an economic hurricane. Not a single colonial legislature found time to discuss the blueprint for federation.

From 1891 through to Federation, starting and stopping points multiply. "Left for dead by the politicians," proclaimed Garran, "federation was brought to life by the people."9 This was a piece of federalist spin-doctoring, designed to portray unofficial conferences at Corowa in 1893 and Bathurst in 1896 as expressions of popular enthusiasm for Australian unity. The meeting at Corowa, a small town on the banks of the Murray, was portrayed as a people's protest against artificial borders. (It was also, by Riverina standards, conveniently close to the railway at Albury. Even so, the two-day gathering in late July 1893 drew only 72 participants.) In reality, it was stage-managed as part of the so-called "New Federation" movement inspired by businessmen who believed that political unity would help restore Australian credit in the eyes of overseas investors. "What Federation tends to promote is that confidence which is so conspicuously absent in Australia now."10 Another way of putting this is to conclude that they were desperate to find a way out of the depression.

In the long run, the Corowa conference is remembered for passing a resolution calling for a popularly elected convention to frame an Australian constitution. This has seemed more of a landmark in retrospect than at the time, if only because the National Australasian Convention had already placed such a constitution before the people. Textbooks obscure the origins of the Corowa scheme, which seems to have been seized upon by exasperated delegates. It was associated with Dr John Quick of Bendigo,11 whose inspiration can probably be traced to Fifty Years in the Making of Australia History, the memoirs published by Sir Henry Parkes in 1892, ostensibly as a farewell to politics after losing the premiership that year, but really to indicate that he was still available to lead anyone willing to be led. "The fault does not lie with the people," ruminated Parkes of the abandonment of the 1891 constitution, "but in the multiplicity of petty interests which block the way in Parliament, and in the jealousies and cross purposes of men who have not been elected to deal with a mighty question which is wholly new to their experience and extends itself far beyond their accustomed vision." It was up to the people to refuse "to allow the destiny of Australia to be made the sport of paltering politicians ... if the question is too big for their Parliaments, let them take it into their own hands. There is nothing to prevent the election of a Federal Congress representing all the colonies and chosen by the whole people."12

Of course, there was a great deal to prevent such an event, notably the six (or seven) colonial parliaments which would have to agree to the scheme. If Corowa was intended to foreshadow an alliance of Parkes and people, it still did not kick-start federation back into life. In January 1895, Reid hijacked the Federal Council, which New South Wales still refused to join, and turned it into the Hobart Premiers' Conference, in order to secure a cautious endorsement of the Corowa plan for a directly elected constitutional convention. Nonetheless, progress was sluggish. Indeed, the Sydney Morning Herald went so far as to denounce the scheme for a directly elected convention as a device "to postpone Federation indefinitely".13

In November 1896, the Bathurst People's Federal Convention tried to regain the initiative. Bathurst is located about as far from inconvenient colonial boundaries as it is possible to be without becoming lost in the backblocks of New South Wales and the gathering owed its origins to the local mayor, the splendidly named Thomas MacHattie. The Convention took itself very seriously, rebuking those who casually styled it a mere "conference": MacHattie called it "a spontaneous effort of a people crying aloud for more light, and refusing to rest until it was granted". (That was MacHattie opening the Convention. Subsequently he shifted his ground to claim that it "had given an impulse to the cause of Australian Federation and stirred numbers, previously indifferent, to give some thought to the subject.")14 In fact, this massive uprising involved about two hundred participants, around one third of them unofficial visitors. The growing network of Federation Leagues was mobilised to involve people such as labour representatives who would counteract the suspicion that the movement was the preserve of "swells". Not surprisingly, only one delegate put in an appearance from Western Australia, and his presence in the east was largely fortuitous. More surprisingly, only two Queenslanders took part.15

The downside of the Corowa-Bathurst strategy of stimulated (or perhaps simulated) federal endeavour was that some new gimmick was required on each occasion. At Bathurst, the delegates simply usurped the task that was supposedly to be entrusted to a popularly elected Convention and committed themselves to agree upon a detailed scheme of government.  With six days of discussion planned in the local School of Arts, the strategy more or less compelled them to work from the only draft constitution available, that of 1891, which rather undermined the point of a wholly new and popularly elected Convention. Bathurst was useful in exploring the problem of federal finances, although it was something of an embarrassment when the secretary to the Convention was arrested for debt midway through the proceedings.

Bathurst was a curtain-raiser for the elections, in March 1897, to choose delegates for the real Federal Convention of 1897-98. Four colonies went to the polls. In Western Australia, the local elite was alarmed by the influx of goldminers and reserved the decision to the legislature; Queensland stood aloof. Each colony voted as a single constituency, which stirred rural resentment against Sydney and Melbourne: in Victoria, for instance, the Age ticket swept the board.16 It also further fuelled suspicions that the proposed federal upper house, which would be similarly elected, was intended to block the political influence of the vigorous but still minority Labor movement. The personalia of the campaign ensured that the turn-out, although usually below the level of general elections, was at least respectable, and one study has argued that the campaign did indeed exercise an educative effect upon the voters.17 The most exotic feature of the campaigns was the candidature of Cardinal Moran in New South Wales, surely a unique instance of a Prince of the Church of Rome running for public office? The Cardinal polled well, but his hope of running on a pan-Christian ticket was torpedoed by the tactical votes of the Grand Orange Lodge so that he narrowly failed to make the top ten. Overall, the delegates were conservative, predominantly Protestant and generally colourless, worthy men. South Australian voters even cast 700 ballots for a candidate who had died during the campaign. Worse still, the province, which had enfranchised its women two years earlier, passed up the only chance on offer to send a Founding Mother to the Convention. Even more striking was the fact that all but one of the chosen delegates was a practising politician, and two-thirds of them had held ministerial office. This outcome was in sharp contrast to colonial general elections, which almost invariably produced at least a handful of first-time legislators. It is hard to better Stuart Macintyre's comment. "The politicians, having impugned their own calling, called forth a voice that could restore its legitimacy: they reinstated the people as a disembodied presence capable of an altruism that they themselves could not achieve."18 Bernhard Wise thought the task of constitution-making was best entrusted to politicians, although not on grounds of superior judgement. "Only picked men could have survived the toasts and banqueting!"19

Albury, Tenterfield, Corowa, Hobart, Bathurst - now at least the plot begins to trigger some action. The Federal Convention of 1897-98 was a prolonged undertaking, with individual sessions stretching for weeks and the whole peripatetic exercise spread over a full year. (Australian co-operation got off to a poor start when the premier of South Australia successfully intrigued to get the meeting place changed from Melbourne, on the grounds that Adelaide had not previously hosted a federal meeting. A lengthy adjournment was needed to enable the more prominent delegates to sail around the world and take part in Queen Victoria's Jubilee, after which proceedings resumed in Sydney to mollify the New South Welsh. This, of course, dictated a balancing excursion to Melbourne.)20 Although thousands of pages of official records were generated, much of the Convention's work was unofficial, laying the groundwork for the personal relationships vital to launch the Commonwealth four years later. Even so, it does not follow that the relative success of the 1897-98 gathering can be taken as evidence of the onward march of the federal cause. J.W. Hackett of Western Australia frankly regarded the assemblage of so much political talent as a one-off achievement that could not be indefinitely replicated in a Commonwealth parliament. "In a twelvemonth the best men would almost certainly be out of it, or most of them," he warned Alfred Deakin.21 Moreover, it is clear from Deakin's own memoir that there were also poisonous rivalries within some delegations, as well as friction between them. In one sense, this was evidence that the federation issue had finally arrived, rather like a gatecrasher at a party whom everyone assumes has been invited by somebody else. It was an objective to which politicians now found it prudent to include in their personal agenda even if, like Premier Turner of Victoria, "the Commonwealth Bill appealed no more on the emotional side than a measure for municipal rating".22 Yet, even so, the ship of federation almost foundered on the rocks on colonial rivalry.

The crisis came three weeks into the initial session at Adelaide over the predictable issue of the taxation powers of the Senate, and hence of the smaller colonies. As usual, the larger issue was complicated by a minor squabble, this time over nomenclature. Classically-educated delegates disliked the term "Senate" as implying a collection of old men, and argued instead for "States Assembly", but others objected to the novelty of the abbreviation "MSA".23 With a couple of absentees and one renegade defection from New South Wales, the small States were able to uphold their position, that the Senate must have an equal voice in the raising of taxes, by 26 votes to 22. The 1891 Convention had skirted around the issue by conceding to the upper house the right to make "suggestions" about financial legislation, a compromise that was ultimately accepted second time around, with nobody seriously asking - until 1975 - what would happen if the Senate dug in and insisted on the acceptance of its "suggestions". Complete equality between the population-based lower house, in which they would have the controlling voice, and the upper chamber in which they would be outvoted, was unacceptable to all but one of the delegates from New South Wales and Victoria. Federation was doomed unless some of the small States men changed sides.

First to shift was Patrick McMahon Glynn, the Irishman from South Australia. Glynn's contribution to drafting is best remembered for his successful one-man crusade to insert a reference to divine providence into the preamble. Now it occurred to him that getting God into the constitution was not enough, and he announced that he was "not prepared to end the probability of Victoria and New South Wales coming in by sticking to a point which is really only an expression of academic opinion", the final sally perhaps explaining why his concession is so rarely mentioned in historical textbooks. He was followed by John Henry. A Shetlander by birth, Henry declared that he was now a loyal  Tasmanian, but nobody could accuse him of insularity when he announced that it was his duty to put the cause of federation first. Eventually, after a night of frantic lobbying, two more Tasmanians were persuaded to change sides, and the renegade New South Welshman agreed to put the interests of his colony before his abstract enthusiasm for bicameralism. The Senate's powers of taxation were clipped by 25 votes to 23, and the moment of crisis passed.24

In a curious manner, it was the two smaller and more reluctant colonies which swung the balance to the big battalions from Melbourne and Sydney. Edmund Barton, the Convention's unofficial prime minister, made the point that the Western Australians were the most rigid in their determination to entrench the powers of the upper house - but there was not the slightest guarantee that their colony intended to join the Commonwealth at all. (One of the absentees was a Westralian, while the other non-voter was a South Australian who had been voted into the chair presumably because he was the only delegate who was an Old Etonian.) It was not surprising that it should have been the Tasmanians, who desperately wished to tie themselves to the Victorian market, who made the crucial concessions. Yet most important of all was the total absence of the Queenslanders. As Bolton and Waterson have pointed out, had Queensland been represented at Adelaide, there would have been ten additional votes for the small-State position, and New South Wales and Victoria would probably have withdrawn altogether. Thus the Queensland attitude, which at the time seemed dog-in-the-manger, acquires in the longer perspective rather the significance of the dog-in-the-night. "Perhaps Queensland contributed most to the federal movement by its providential absence from the Convention."25

Referendums on the proposed Bill were held in four of the colonies early in June 1898, with Queensland and Western Australia still standing aside. Federation was carried comfortably in three but, as we have seen, failed to achieve the 80,000 vote hurdle in New South Wales. The ambiguous result nicely reflected the attitude of the colony's premier, George Reid, which detractors summarised as "Yes-No". Reid indignantly repudiated this slur, insisting that his true policy was "No-Yes".26 To add to the torture, double-counting of votes on referendum night triggered "twenty golden minutes" in which federalists thought they had just shaded above the target. In Sydney, federalists "wept silently for joy". In more extrovert Hay, they paraded the streets singing "Marching through Georgia", a singularly inappropriate borrowing from the world's greatest failure of federalism, the American Civil War. However, even the ferocious anti-federalist J.H. Want predicted on referendum night that "these men who have been booming this fraud and sham ... will be starting to-morrow to try and run another monkey show".27 Historians have agreed that the Yes vote of 71,595 to 66,228 was a moral victory: "the actual majority of affirmative votes in New South Wales made it inevitable that this defeat was not the end of the matter".28

From the perspective of Scotland a century later, the general assumption that the near-miss was not the end of the story is noteworthy. On a snowy day in February 1979, Scots voted by 1.23 million to 1.15 million in favour of legislative devolution. Unfortunately, the threshold for success was not simply a majority, but a Yes vote equal to forty percent of the registered electorate. The winning majority was proportionately smaller in Scotland than in New South Wales eighty years earlier, although the overall numbers were distinctly more impressive. Unfortunately, at a shade under 33 percent of the total electorate, the Yes vote fell short of the threshold target. The 1979 parallel is extended by the coincidence that both Scotland and New South Wales headed straight into a general election immediately afterwards. But there the resemblance ends. One difference lay in the fact that Scots were voting in a United Kingdom election which ushered in a Conservative government opposed to constitutional change. Yet even in the hearts of the people, the moral victory of the referendum simply vanished. The Scottish National Party lost nine of its eleven Westminster seats, and failed even to cash in on the perennial protest vote of by-elections for a further nine years. A sympathetic commentator was to describe the nineteen-eighties as "a decade best forgotten by supporters of Scottish nationalism". A more recent historian has concluded that by the end of 1979, the outlook for the cause of Scottish devolution was "bleak". Despite the narrow Yes vote in the referendum, "there was a sense of defeat and disillusion that a historic opportunity had not been embraced with more enthusiasm."29

The Scotland-'79 comparison throws its own light on the standard assumption that New South Wales was dragged reluctantly into the Australian Commonwealth. It is reasonable to assume that there was some degree of consistent pressure behind the movement for federation in New South Wales. The mother colony did not burn with federal enthusiasm but the parameters of the 1898 election campaign point to the centrality of the issue. Both the free traders and protectionists promptly incorporated the word "Federal" into their party titles, and Edmund Barton challenged Reid in his own electorate. The premier, who insisted that he was "as good a Federalist as Mr. Barton",  held his own seat but lost his overall majority in the Assembly. He clung to office for a further year until Labor decided to install W.J. Lyne and the protectionists.30 It was now clear that George Reid needed federation at least as much as the federalists needed New South Wales. By the time of the Premiers' Conference of January 1899, we are no longer looking for starting points. This was the endgame.

Facing his fellow premiers, Reid was in something of the position of Harold Wilson when he sought to re-negotiate the terms of British membership of the Common Market in 1975: basically, he had to take whatever the others would give him and proclaim a victory. Some of the concessions were at best technical, if not fantastical: Reid guarded against cabbage-garden subversion of the Riverina by effectively copper-bottoming existing colonial boundaries. The Braddon Clause was to run for ten years, although there was no guarantee that the smaller States would not force its renewal. (Eventually, in changed circumstances, it was to be New South Wales that most roundly demanded its continuation.) Perhaps the most flamboyant provision proved to be a short-term own-goal. Reid secured agreement that the future federal capital would be located within his own colony.31 However, there was a double price to pay. In the interim (which proved to be more than a quarter of a century), the Commonwealth parliament would meet in Melbourne which, as it happens, was the only city endowed with legislative buildings grand enough to provide the necessary accommodation.32 Moreover, the eventual site was to be at least one hundred miles from Sydney. Bombala promptly advanced its claims and there seems to have been a bored frisson of interest in Nowra; Yass accused Goulburn of unfair self-promotion. Queanbeyan, which eventually won the prize, continued to register a No majority. Indeed, most of the district around Canberra "withstood the temptation of the capital bribe".33 Set against that was a self-pitying outcry against the "undeserved stigma upon the City of Sydney" that it was unworthy even to be considered as Australia's capital.34

None the less, a fresh series of referendums confirmed the deal. In Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, the 1899 votes were not so much confirmations as coronations. New South Wales swung into line, but with both Yes and No votes increasing substantially. In September of that year, Queensland voted itself in, grudgingly and over the objections of Brisbane and the colony's southern districts. Western Australia held its one and only referendum in 1900, while the Commonwealth Bill was already on its way through Westminster. Attempts to gain concessions had met with a response of take-it-or-leave-it, and in the end Western Australian voters decided to take it. New Zealand received an equally discouraging response to Premier Seddon's last minute efforts to reserve a special status, and stayed out.  Royal assent was given to the new constitution in July 1900, three weeks before the Western Australian referendum. Five months later, Lord Hopetoun rode in state to Sydney's Centennial Park.


An Inevitable Trend?


Telling the story, or stories, of these various thrusts towards federation does not in itself solve the problem of defining the box of time for explanatory purposes. What are we to make of the fact that there seem to have been three "federal" episodes, loosely in 1883-85, 1889-91 and sporadically thereafter with a peak in 1897-99? Should we see federation as a powerful option that was constantly knocking at the door, or as a weak sentiment perennially incapable of locating the keyhole? "It will come of course: only a question of terms", George Reid remarked to Sidney and Beatrice Webb when they earnestly quizzed him on the subject in September 1898.1 Anti-Billites capitalised (literally) on the assumption that federation was inevitable in the hope of  blocking its current manifestation: "DELAY WILL GIVE A BETTER FEDERATION" headlined the Sydney Daily Telegraph on Referendum Day, 1898. Similarly in Victoria, where support for federation was at its strongest, it suited the No campaign to argue that "the federal sentiment has sufficient vitality to stand the test of matured judgment and calm deliberation". It was to combat this attitude that the premier of South Australia sought to write earlier bids out of the record. "History tells ...that each era of Federal effort and activity was succeeded by a lengthy period of lethargy in which intercolonial differences ... became more marked, and bade fair to develop into deep-seated grievances." The Melbourne Argus projected the lesson forward into the future. "The whole impetus towards union would be defeated" if the referendums failed. "The colonies would draw further apart" and "the interests which are hostile to a federated Australia will grow stronger". These admissions of insecurity on the part of the supporters of federation tend to undermine any notion that it represented a tidal wave of historical inevitability. Despite his pursuit of better terms for New South Wales, even Reid himself warned against insisting upon the ideal. "If we have to wait for a perfect bill to be framed, let us abandon the idea altogether."2

If we start our federal story in the engine shed at Albury in 1883, then we must confront the role of the Federal Council, created in 1885 but virtually defunct ten years later. The resolution at the Sydney Convention of 1883 calling for its establishment implicitly assumed that the Council was a half-way house, since "a complete federal union" was still impracticable. How, then, can we explain both the failure of the smaller venture and the success of the more ambitious scheme? Although the Council had a regularvenue, Hobart, it had no continuing existence - no secretariat, no elected members, no ministerial structure. Deakin dismissed it as "little more than debating society" although he conceded that it was "very useful as a milestone and a meeting place". Similarly, Irving accepts that its achievements were "slight" but defends it as "a generator of considerable 'federal' political experience".3 This praise is remarkably faint. From the point of view of historical explanation, the failure of the Federal Council is a distinct complication, not least because it was established largely to co-ordinate colonial responses to threats from without, one of the textbook "causes" of Australian federation.

Of course, the inherent weakness of the Federal Council can be traced to that one-vote majority in the New South Wales Assembly that blocked the participation of the mother colony. The angry response to Service's incautious criticism made it "a point of patriotism" among many New South Wales politicians to "belittle and oppose" the Council. However, the mere existence of the Council may have furthered the cause of federation in a more Machiavellian way. Deakin argued that two of our putative starting points, Parkes at Tenterfield in 1889 and Reid at Hobart six years later, were triggered by fears that the Council was about to develop into an effective central body. In 1889, South Australia seemed ready to take part, which would have left New South Wales isolated, and its premier even made noises about converting the Federal Council into a true federation. In 1895, membership was expanded from two representatives for each colony to five, a device that made space for opinion-forming parliamentarians, such as Victoria's Alfred Deakin, who was not then in office. This was a clear signal - so Deakin himself claimed - that the meeting was seriously intended to launch co-ordinating legislation. Hence the pressure upon two successive premiers of New South Wales to unleash some more impressive counter-stroke. "The Federal Council became influential by the excitement it occasioned around Port Jackson."4

A century later, and half the world away, we may be forgiven if this argument reminds us of a speech delivered by John Major in March 1991: "I want us to be where we belong. At the very heart of Europe." It soon became clear that there was no real domestic support that could be mobilised behind such a sentiment. Furthermore, the Franco-German ventricles of the European body politic clearly had a very different anatomical metaphor in mind for the United Kingdom.5 If we accept Deakin's hypothesis of the motives that impelled Parkes and Reid to out-Major Major, two questions arise: why was it so important to so many people in New South Wales to "belong" at "the very heart" of Australia, and why did the other colonies tolerate such pretensions?

"Hopes of the ultimate federation of Australia animate the people of all the colonies", remarked the Sydney Morning Herald in the week of the Centennial celebrations of 1888. The sentiment was hardly new but the aim was decidedly premature, although the Herald concluded that New South Wales opinion was "on the side of union".6 Yet, just as bouts of British europhilia often mask attempts to conjure up the nostalgia of lost imperial leadership, so, for New South Wales, Australian unity represented a hankering to absorb her breakaway neighbours. In 1894, the colonial government privately suggested outright re-unification to the Victorians, leaving the smaller colonies the no-option choice of eventual re-absorption.7 In the circumstances, it is remarkable that the rest of Australia proved so responsive to the thinly disguised pretensions of the senior colony. One explanation may be found in that same difference of tariff policies that is more often cited as a barrier to political integration. So long as New South Wales was committed to low import duties, its attractive market was open to its neighbours. But the prognosis for pure free trade in the Australian context did not seem encouraging. In more recent times, Canadians accepted a trade treaty with the United States in 1988 partly because they feared they might otherwise lose the privileges they had already won. Similarly, one theme in the federation debates in the other eastern colonies was the danger that New South Wales might go over to protection.  William Lyne, leader of the protectionist party in Sydney, was a particular bugbear, as Lord Hopetoun discovered on commissioning Lyne to form the first Commonwealth government. The legendary orator who appealed to his fellow Tasmanians to "found a great and glorious nation under the bright Southern Cross" also assured them that, with federation, "if Sir William Lyne does come back to power in Sydney he can never do you one pennyworth of harm".8

The Federal Council was not the only manifestation of a spirit of co-operation among the colonies. The eighteen-nineties also saw the development of intercolonial organisations representing employers as well as Methodists and Presbyterians. The first intercolonial trades union congresses had met as far back as 1879 and 1884; an Australian Labour Federation was created in 1890. If federation was indeed a bourgeois response to a working class threat, chronology alone suggests that it was a remarkably lethargic one. In any case, the historian must determine whether in what sense these ad hoc initiatives can be regarded as the harbingers of a united political structure. Were they failures that demonstrated the need for serious and structural change in the system of government or examples of joint action so successful that they would seem to have rendered any further action unnecessary? In 1887, the colonies had agreed with Britain to establish a naval squadron in Australasian waters. The following year, six of the seven colonies (New Zealand took part, Western Australia stood aloof) established a joint Royal Commission to examine the possibility of eradicating the rabbit menace.9 (The rabbits took no notice of the Royal Commission but they were also to ignore the subsequent Commonwealth.) In 1891, the colonies adhered to the Universal Postal Union. A federalist might note that this ended the anomaly by which Australia was "the only great civilised country" not to have joined, but an anti-federalist might equally have retorted that the disparate colonies had found a means to co-operate without political union.10 Similarly, it was as distinct jurisdictions that the colonies agreed in 1894 to adopt a common system of time zones across the continent. This involved a host of local adjustments, and recently Graeme Davison has given us a memorable picture of the Town Hall clock at Adelaide stopping for fourteen minutes and twenty seconds on 1 February 1895, the longest midnight in Australian history.11 A White Australia conference met at Sydney in March 1896, the six participating governments unanimously resolving to convert laws against the Chinese into a more general bar on non-European immigration.12 The Premiers' Conference, the result of Reid's hijacking of the 1895 meeting of the Federal Council, met again in 1898. On this occasion, Queensland refused to sign up to the precise terms of proposed intercolonial legislation on non-white immigration, leading the Age to speak of "the need of some federal authority which would have the power to speak on all such things in the name of Australia".13  It was a fair point, but open to the objection that under a true federal system, it would be unwise if not impossible to override a determined member State on a fundamental issue. We cannot simply conclude that the increasing practice of ad hoc co-operation was part of a trend towards formal federation. Of the claim by S.R. Davis that, by 1901, informal consultation "had become an integral feature of inter-governmental relations in Australia", Don Wright bleakly commented that "consultation all too frequently led not to cooperation but to recrimination".14 The explanatory dilemma remains unsolved. If consensus-seeking through intercolonial meetings was a success, then why bother with the complexity of political union? On the other hand, if there were issues that could not be so resolved, why should dissident colonies tie themselves hand and foot within a structure in which their objections might be outvoted?






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)







A Perspective from Scotland


1.      Scotsman (Edinburgh), 2 January 1901.

2.      R.W. Dale, 1889, quoted Crowley, Documents, p. 269.

3.      Argus (Melbourne), 6 June 1898, quoted Bennett, p. 97.

4.      Punch, 10 January 1923, p. 34.


Early Proposals for Australian Federation


1.      For early proposals of federation, see Irving, ed., Companion, pp. 2-6; C.D. Allin, The Early Federation Movement of Australia (Kingston, Ont. 1907); J.M. Ward, Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies 1846-1857: A Study of Self-Government and Self-Interest (Melbourne, 1958). For biographies, see D.W.A. Baker, Days of Wrath: A Life of John Dunmore Lang (Melbourne, 1985); A.W. Martin, Henry Parkes: A Biography (Melbourne, 1980).  Deakin made light of the term "Commonwealth" when writing to Lord Hopetoun in 1897. It was "a small matter & in no sense indicative of anything beyond a desire for a name of our own. Canada is the Dominion & we did not wish to be second even to Canada. We wish to be the Commonwealth as they are the Dominion & South Africa will probably be the Federation."  Hopetoun MSS, Box 1621/2, Deakin to Hopetoun, 20 August 1897.

2.      Quoted Clark, Documents, p. 469 and Wise, p. 7.

3.      Serle, Essays, p. 30. ADB, vi, pp. 106-12 (Service); vi, pp. 211-14 (Stuart). Stuart enrolled in the first-year Literature class at Edinburgh University in 1837, and proceeded to second year in 1840. Information from Peter Freshwater. Nelson was also a student at Edinburgh University.

4.      ADB, xii, pp. 156-58 (Symon); x, pp. 677-78 (Nelson). The argument assumes, of course, that Symon was an asset to any cause he espoused. His colleagues in early Commonwealth politics complained of his "fiendish ingenuity and sinister powers"; J.A. La Nauze likened him to Shakespeare's Iago, the manipulative villain of Othello. La Nauze, Deakin, ii, pp. 383-84.

5.      ADB, xi, pp. 347-54 (Reid); iii, pp. 399-401(Clark) and La Nauze, Making,  pp. 24-26.

6.      Irving, ed., Companion, pp. 392-93.



Federation in the Writing of Australian History


1.      Crowley, Documents, p. 601.

2.      Hewett, Essays, p. 177.

3.      B.K. de Garis in Crowley, New History, p. 245.

4.      B.R. Wise, "The Commonwealth of Australia", National Review, July 1899, p. 823.   (Cambridge University Library, Royal Commonwealth Society Collection offprints).

5.      J. Quick and R. Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth (Sydney, 1901), pp. 79-252; R. Garran in CHBE (Aust), pp.425-53; and his Prosper the Commonwealth (Sydney, 1958); Wise, passim.

6.      Noel McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution: A History of Australian Nationalism (Ringwood, Vic., 1989), p. 171. Manning Clark, A Short History of Australia (New York, 1963), pp. 171-76. For Cain and Hopkins, see below (Economic Motives). For a selection of the treatment of federation in other general histories, see R. Gollan in G. Greenwood, ed., Australia: A Social and Political History (London, 1955), pp. 181-95; A.G.L. Shaw, The Story of Australia (London, 1972 ed.), pp. 182-96; B.K. de Garis in Crowley, New History, pp. 245-56; F.G. Clarke, Australia: A Concise Political and Social History (Oxford, 1989), pp. 138-47. By contrast, R.M. Crawford, Australia (London, 1952), pp. 128-29 is remarkably sparse, while Douglas Pike, Australia: The Quiet Continent (Cambridge, 1970 ed., first published 1962), pp. 140-45 is little more extensive. Two specialist works provide useful overviews: L.F. Crisp, Australian National Government (Hawthorn, Vic., 1973 ed.), pp. 1-39 and W.G. McMinn, A Constitutional History of Australia (Oxford, 1979), 92-118.

7.      Stuart Macintyre, A Concise History of Australia (Cambridge, 1999), pp. 136-38.

8.      Pember Reeves jocularly complained that Barton's remark was one of the few striking sentiments to emerge from "eleven years of speech-making and article-writing". He regarded as equally memorable the invocation by Parkes of "the crimson thread of kinship" and George Reid's ridiculing of the thought that free-trading New South Wales would federate as like a "tee-totaller setting up house with five drunkards". Honourable mention went to the "Braddon Blot" and to Sir John Hall's "twelve hundred obstacles" that allegedly prevented New Zealand's participation. "For eleven years this is not a large sheaf of good sayings. A French convention would turn out more epigrams in eleven weeks." W.P. Reeves, State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand (2 vols, London, 1902), i, pp. 178-79.

9.      For the Parker-Blainey controversy, see HSSA, pp. 152-198 and Essays. The debate is discussed in Economic Motives, below; Quartly in Irving, ed., Companion, p. 222.

10.  B. Kingston, The Oxford History of Australia: iii: 1860-1900: Glad, Confident Morning (Melbourne, 1988); B.K. de Garis in Crowley, New History, pp. 245-56 and cf. Essays, pp. 94-121.

11.  P. Loveday, A.W. Martin and R.S. Parker, eds, The Emergence of the Australian Party System (Sydney, 1977). Another authoritative study of the period that makes little allusion to the federation movement is John Rickard, Class and Politics: New South Wales, Victoria and the Early Commonwealth, 1890-1910 (Canberra, 1976).


Colonies and Issues


1.       See Part II, "New Zealand and Australian Federation", based on "New Zealand, Australian Federation and the 'Plain Nonsense' Debate" in British Review of New Zealand Studies, 11 (1998), pp. 67-101.

2.       Whitaker's Almanack for 1900, pp. 495-506.

3.       T.J. Byrnes, May 1898, in Crowley, Documents, p. 548.

4.       Progress (Brisbane), 5 May 1898, in Bennett, pp. 199-200.

5.       Canadian (and Newfoundland) parallels played little part in the movement for Australian federation. However, it was a conversation with the governor of New South Wales, Lord Carrington, about the comparative positions of Canada and the Australian colonies within the Empire that prompted Parkes into a famous boast that he could federate the continent within twelve months. Edmund Barton's brother later commented that the British North America Act was regarded "as a piece of 'old fogeyism' that ... would never suit Australian democrats" and that it "never received a moment's serious consideration". Alfred Deakin more apologetically wrote to a Canadian correspondent that the Fathers "naturally and indeed inevitably turned to precedents from the United States rather than to your own". Inglis Clark pressed strongly for the American model. The Canadian constitution was cited by R.C. Baker of South Australia in the handbook of precedents that he drew up for the 1891 Convention, but Helen Irving has shown that it was generally dismissed as too centralised for Australian conditions. At the Bathurst Federal Convention of 1896, reference was made to a speech delivered in Sydney four years earlier by a visiting Canadian politician, Mackenzie Bowell, who had stressed that federation had permitted the Dominion government to borrow at cheaper rates than those available to the separate colonies. Given the financial problems of the eighteen-nineties, it is remarkable that more was not made of this parallel. The long-serving Canadian prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald (whose name Baker mis-spelt)  was "very sorry" in 1884 "to see that New South Wales has for the present thrown Australasian Federation overboard. If they were united, the two Auxiliary nations, Australia & Canada, making common cause with England by a quasi Treaty would greatly strengthen the shaky old mother in European eyes". In 1889, Macdonald was also "sure (almost)" that if the British government had allowed Canada to adopt the style of "Kingdom" in 1867, "the Australian Colonies would, ere this, have been applying to be placed in the same rank". His comment tends to confirm G.B. Barton's view of Canadian thinking. The following year, Parkes sent Macdonald a copy of the proceedings of the Melbourne conference. The Canadian prime minister replied, wishing success to the movement and undertaking to supply information from the Canadian experience. Deakin, who was usually well informed about the world, seems to have missed the point of the Canadian experiment. In 1907 he wrote that he could have "no confidence" in the Dominion "until a British majority in both Houses can exist apart from the Quebec vote". Overall, the absence of comment on Canadian precedents in Australian debate contrasts strongly with the movement for union in South Africa, where a small group of well-informed public figures seems to have used their knowledge to elevate themselves to "expert" status. A.W. Martin, Henry Parkes, p. 383; E. Wallace, Goldwin Smith: Victorian Liberal (Toronto, 1957), p. 250; A. Brady, Democracy in the Dominions (Toronto, 1947), p. 142; Irving, ed., Companion, p. 200; La Nauze, Making, pp. 14-18, 24-28; R.C. Baker, A Manual of Reference to Authorities... (Adelaide, 1891); Helen Irving, To Constitute a Nation: The Cultural History of Australia's Constitution (Cambridge, 1997), pp. 63-67; Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 50; National Archives of Canada, Gowan Papers, microfilm 1898, Macdonald to Gowan, private, 3 November 1884; Joseph Pope, Memoirs of the Right Honourable Sir John Alexander Macdonald (2 vols, Ottawa, 1894), i, p. 313; J. Pope, ed., Correspondence of Sir John Macdonald (New York ed., 1921), p. 470; La Nauze, Deakin, ii, p. 483; Ged Martin, "The Canadian Analogy in South African Union, 1870-1910", South African Historical Journal, 8 (1976), pp. 40-59.

6.       Tom Playford, April 1890, in Crowley, Documents, p. 299.

7.       Sir Edward Braddon, May 1898, in Bennett, p. 111.

8.       Quoted British Review of New Zealand Studies, 11 (1998), p. 87.

9.       Bennett, pp. 204-5 (August 1899).

10.   Morning Post (Cairns), 10 August 1899 in Bennett, p. 207.

11.   Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 1899 in Crowley, Documents, p. 566.

12.   Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 129.

13.   See When Was the Federation Movement?, note 24.

14.   R. Pringle, "Public Opinion in the Referendum Campaigns in New South Wales 1898-1899", Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 64 (1978), but cf. Hewett, Essays, pp. 183. A Queensland observer was troubled that "the man with the most 'gab' has the largest following". Bennett, p. 201.

15.  For Melbourne in the eighteen-nineties, G. Davison, The Rise and Fall of Marvellous Melbourne (Melbourne, Carlton, Vic., 1979 ed.).  The city found it all the harder to cope with an economic downturn since the previous four decades had been an era of rocketing prosperity. For the key role played by Victoria, Henry L. Hall, Victoria's Part in the Australian Federation Movement 1849-1900 (London, 1931) and Serle, Essays. For an analysis of the reasons why New South Wales seemed to be overtaking Victoria, see Bennett, pp. 163-66. 

16.  Crowley, Documents, p. 292, where Parkes is quoted as speaking of "a living and eternal natural existence" (emphasis added). The context suggests that he said "national".

17.  Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 97.

18.  Whitaker's Almanack for 1900.

19.  J.A. Cockburn, Australian Federation (London, 1901), p. 39.

20.  Wise, p. 37.

21.  Wise, p. 159; J.J. Eddy, "Politics in New South Wales: The Federation Issue and the Move Away from Faction and Parochialism" in Federalism, pp. 195-210, esp. p. 198.

22.  E.D. Watt, "Secession in Western Australia", University Studies in Western Australian History, 3 (1958), pp. 43-86.

23.  Quoted by Quartly in Irving, ed., Companion, p. 239.

24.  La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 70-77; Quartly in Irving, ed., Companion, pp. 270-72; Federal Story, pp. 92-96.

25.  Clark, Documents, pp. 453-55; Federal Story, p. 16.

26.  Serle, Essays, pp. 34-36; Crowley, Documents, pp. 234-36.

27.  F.L.W. Wood, "Why did New Zealand not join the Australian Commonwealth in 1900-1901?", NZJH, 2 (1968), p. 116.


When Was the Federation Movement?


1.      Serle, Essays, pp. 1-2.

2.      Argus, 15 June 1883, Crowley, Documents, p. 137.

3.      A.W. Martin, Parkes, pp. 380-85; Crowley, Documents, pp. 280-82.

4.      Tenterfield House has recently been converted into flats.

5.      Crowley, Documents, pp. 147, 281.

6.      Wise, p. 4. Pember Reeves memorably called Parkes "Danton masquerading as Father Christmas" but acknowledged that the Tenterfield speech was "usually reckoned as the beginning of the final converging movement of the six colonies". Reeves, State Experiments, i, pp. 144-45.

7.      Henry Parkes, Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History (2 vols, Freeport NY ed. 1971, first published 1892), ii, pp. 337-57.

8.      R.C. Baker seems to have been responsible for the persistent error that the Quebec Conference of 1864 was styled a "Convention". Australia's politicians almost certainly used the term to appeal to American precedent. R.C. Baker, A Manual of Reference to Authorities..., pp. 21-24, 195, and cf. Irving, ed., Companion, p. 9.

9.      Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 101.

10.  Australasian Pastoralists' Review, 15 May 1893 in A.W. Martin, "Economic Influences in the 'New Federation' Movement", HSSA, p. 221.

11.  The visiting British trade union leader, Ben Tillett, would have done well to have kept out of the federation controversy. His characterisation of John Quick as "Dr Quack" was not only crude but misleading: Quick's doctorate was in Law. Bennett, p. 89. Garran claimed that Quick's motion for a directly elected convention "swept the movement out of the doldrums". CHBE (Australia), p. 438.

12.   Parkes, Fifty Years in the Making of Australian History, ii, pp. 377-78, 380.

13.  Wise, p. 207.

14.  Quoted Irving, ed., Companion, p. 64.

15.  Irving, ed., Companion, p. 109.

16.  Bennett, p. 93.

17.  R. Pringle, "The 1897 Convention Election in New South Wales: A Milestone?", Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 58 (1972), pp. 217-25.

18.  Macintyre, Concise History, p. 139.

19.  Wise, p. 229.

20.  La Nauze, Making, pp. 97-238.

21.  J.W. Hackett to Deakin, 23 May 1898, Bennett, p. 225.

22.  Federal Story, pp. 74-84, 93.

23.  La Nauze, Making, p. 141.

24.  La Nauze, Making, pp. 139-46.

25.  Bolton and Waterson in Irving, ed., Companion, p. 205.

26.  Reid's joke was taken to be an allusion to a Sydney firm, Noyes Brothers, who were known to finance his campaigns. Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, pp. 127-28.

27.  Wise, p. 280-81. For referendum results, Irving, ed., Companion, p. 416; Clark, Documents, pp. 510, 517. Some local statistics are given in Norris, Essays, p. 166 (for South Australia) and Hewett, Essays, p. 185 (for south-eastern New South Wales). For celebrations in Hay, Bennett, p. 60.

28.  Irving, ed., Companion, p. 80.

29.  R. Levy, Scottish Nationalism at the Crossroads (Edinburgh, 1990), p. vii; T.M. Devine, The Scottish Nation 1700-2000 (London, 1999), pp. 587-90, 599-601.

30.  P. Loveday, A.W. Martin and P. Weller, "New South Wales" in Loveday et al., eds, Emergence of the Australian Party System, pp. 216-17; Wise, p. 287.

31.  Clark, Documents, pp. 510-16. A.G.L. Shaw points out that critics of the Braddon Clause never explained their assertion that it would lead to high indirect taxation. Reid's "success" in limiting its life in fact deprived the States of guaranteed income and would leave them increasingly dependent upon Commonwealth grants. Shaw, Story of Australia, pp. 191-93.

32.  Although Melbourne's Parliament House was architecturally a splendid building, it lacked indoor plumbing. La Nauze, Deakin, ii, p. 236.

33.  Evening Penny Post (Goulburn), 22 June 1899, Hewett, Essays, p. 182.

34.  Bennett, p. 188.


An Inevitable Trend?


1.      A.G. Austin, ed., The Webbs' Australian Diary (Melbourne, 1965), p. 27 (September 1898).

2.      Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 3 June 1898; manifesto, Argus (Melbourne), 7 May 1898; C.C. Kingston, 26 May 1898, Bennett, pp. 172, 95, 133-34; Argus, 17 March 1898, Crowley, Documents, p. 530; Reid, Bennett, p. 176.

3.      Federal Story, p. 17; Irving, ed., Companion, p. 28.

4.      Federal Story, pp. 17-18, and cf. Clark, Documents, pp. 461-63.

5.      Anthony Seldon, John Major: A Political Life (London, 1998 ed.,), p. 167.

6.      Sydney Morning Herald, 28 January 1888, Crowley, Documents, pp. 244-45.

7.      Irving, ed., Companion, pp. 45-46; Wise, pp. 196-98.

8.      Parker, HSSA, p. 174. The story is suppsoed to date from 1898, but Lyne was only knighted in 1900. For other evidence of fears of New South Wales protectionism, Bennett, pp. 84, 129.

9.      Crowley, Documents, pp. 248-49, 303-4.

10.  South Australian Advertiser, 1 October 1891, Crowley, Documents, pp. 358-59. The report was not linked to the movement for federation.

11.  Graeme Davison, "Punctuality and Progress: The Foundations of Australian Standard Time", Australian Historical Studies, 99 (1992), pp. 169-191.

12.  Crowley, Documents, pp. 498-99.

13.   Age (Melbourne), 18 March 1898, Crowley, Documents, pp. 534-35.

14.  Don Wright, "An Open Wrestle for Mastery: Commonwealth-State Relations, 1901-1914", Federalism, p. 212n.  The same criticism might be levelled at K.T. Livingstone, "Anticipating Federation: The Federalising of Telecommunications in Australia", Australian Historical Studies, 26 (1994), pp. 97-117. As far back as 1933, F.L.W. Wood pointed out that the Commonwealth constitution apparently did not satisfy all needs for central decision-making. Premiers' meetings took place almost annually from 1901. In 1924, the Commonwealth and State governments jointly created a Loan Council to co-ordinate government borrowing at all levels. F.L.W. Wood, The Constitutional Development of Australia (London, 1933), p. 229.