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A Nation at Last

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'Would they go on for ever with New South Wales divided from Victoria by a narrow stream and a line of customs houses?'
Henry Parkes, speaking at the banquet for the National Australasian Convention, Sydney Town Hall, 2 March 1891.

In April 1899 Mr P. MacDonnell, licensee of the Punt Hotel, Gooramadda, was fined fifty pounds by the government of Victoria. He had failed to pay duty on gloves imported from New South Wales.

Less than two years later, on 1 January 1901, the customs barriers throughout Australia were torn down. On that day, the six virtually independent colonies on the continent became states of the Commonwealth of Australia. An Australian government was appointed to deal with national affairs and on 9 May the first Australian Parliament was opened in Melbourne.

The idea that the six Australian colonies ought to create some form of national government had existed since the 1850s. By the 1880s colonial leaders were becoming concerned about matters such as defence and immigration which affected the whole continent. Might not such issues be better handled by a national government?

It was only at the beginning of the 1890s that serious moves towards federation began. This exhibition tells the federal story. It follows the constitutional events of the 1890s - the conventions, the so-called popular movement towards federation, the vote on the constitution and the celebrations for the birth of the Commonwealth.

The creation of the Commonwealth is part of that wider story of how Australia, in Henry Lawson's words, became 'a nation at last'.

 

Alternate image text
Vigilant colonial customs officers at Her Majesty's customs station, Wahgunyah, Victoria in the 1890s.
Melbourne University Archives