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Australians Celebrate the Commonwealth

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''We did not flaunt any Federal flags...Nor did the pubs run dry, as some of our best drinking men were on a visit to Sydney.'

Description of Federation day in Moree, New South Wales, as reported in the Maitland Daily Mercury, 3 January 1901.

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Western Australian officers in Melbourne for the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament, 1901.
Battye Library, 1658P

To celebrate the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901 the people of Glen Innes, New South Wales made a 'Federal pudding'. It was no ordinary pudding but a 'Mammoth' which was paraded through the streets on a 'gaily decorated trolley'. After a celebratory sports carnival at the showground the pudding was cut and distributed among the crowd.

In Sydney and Melbourne grander ceremonies announced the declaration of the Commonwealth in January and the opening of its first Parliament in May. Splendidly dressed troops marched and rode under great arches, choirs sang, children danced round maypoles and a Royal Duke and Duchess arrived to add grandeur to the events.

How involved were Australians in these festivities? As some of the items in this display show perhaps a little more than poet Henry Lawson cared to admit. Lawson disliked the pomp and ceremony. Most of it, he felt, was an indulgence by the colonial middle classes anxious to impress their royal guests. For Lawson the 'Men who made Australia' - 'the men who made the land' - did not attend.

The rich and influential appear to have been most involved in the official ceremonies. Their central position can be seen in the official record of photographs and invitations. Ordinary Australians, who did not participate in or watch the grand parades, probably welcomed the arrival of national unity and celebrated it in some way, however slight. But we still have some way to go before we can appreciate the role of federation in the development of an Australian identity.