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M. B. Synge

The Australian Commonwealth

In spite of the triumphant success of Federation in Canada, the passing years found Australia still holding aloof from the idea of union. At the close of the century there were six great self-governing colonies—Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, and the Island of Tasmania.

Each of these had their own separate existence, their own Governor, Government, and trade regulations. In addition to this, the States were separated from one another by six hostile tariffs, six postal and telegraphic systems, and six defence forces. But as the railway system spread from town to town, breaking down the barrier boundaries, inevitable quarrels arose, long-smouldering jealousies burst forth between State and State, and impossible situations were created.

Gradually the idea of union grew, and in 1889 an important step was taken by Sir Henry Parkes, resulting in a great conference being held at Melbourne, with representatives from each of the seven States. In 1891 he presided over a National Convention at Sydney, and resolutions were drawn up, but the obstacles to a closer union seemed insurmountable, and no definite results were achieved.


Sir Henry Parkes.

In the year 1897, the Premiers having returned from attending the Queen's Diamond Jubilee in London, another convention met at Adelaide at which all the States save New Zealand were represented. A Constitution was drafted, but it was not till 1900 that it met with the final approval of the six States of the Australian nation and was dispatched to England for the royal assent.

The Bill provided for a Governor-General to represent the sovereign, two Houses, consisting of a Senate with six representatives from each of the six States, to be elected for six years, and a House of Representatives, containing twice the number in the Senate, elected for three years—all members to receive £400 a year for their services. It was the last important document signed by the Queen, some six months before her death, and in order to show her sympathy with this act of true courage on the part of her daughter nation, she wished that her grandson, the Duke of York, and his wife, should go in person to Australia to open the first Federal Parliament.


The Duke of York, afterwards King George V.

Though the Queen herself passed away in the New Year of 1901, it was the new King's wish that his mother's command should be loyally obeyed. And it was a memorable day in the short history of the island-continent when the great white Ophir steamed into Melbourne Bay, and the heir-apparent to the British throne set foot on Australian soil.

His welcome was cordial and enthusiastic, as through gaily decorated streets, lined with some twelve thousand troops from all parts of Australia, the future king and queen went to the great Parliament House. As the Prince declared the Parliament open, a message of congratulation was flashed from the King in England: "My thoughts are with you. Most fervently do I wish Australia prosperity and great happiness." Then trumpets blared, guns fired a royal salute, and the vast crowds, still in mourning for their late Queen, cheered to the echo, while at a given signal the Union Jack was hoisted on every school in the new Commonwealth.


The Ophir.