We acknowledge and pay respect to the previous owners of the continent, the Aboriginal nations who lived here for 50,000 years before the coming of Europeans.

British beginnings  

Illustration of a convict ship about to depart for Australia. ©Getty Images

Illustration of a convict ship about to depart for Australia. ©Getty Images

1770 - Captain James Cook mapped the east coast and claimed the continent for Britain.  

1788the First Fleet arrived and a prison colony was established in Sydney.

1860 - there were six British colonies in Australia. The main laws of the colonies were made by the British Parliament. The colonies were completely separate, and had very little to do with each other.

1872 - telegraph linked the colonies, increasing communication between them.  The idea of being 'Australian' rather than British began in songs and poems, and by the 1890s the idea of  federation was becoming stronger as people in the colonies started talking about joining together to be one nation instead of six little colonies.  They began to realise that for matters like defence, controlling immigration and economy, a nation would be stronger than individual colonies.  Each colony was now able to elect its own government, but still the big decisions were made in Britain, and people were starting to feel these decisions were being made hundreds of miles away by people who'd never seen and experienced Australia.  

1890 - The Premier of New South Wales, Henry Parkes, convinced the other premiers to discuss federation and the Australasian Federation Convention, including representatives from New Zealand, was held in Melbourne.  

Edmund Barton, who became Australia's 1st Prime Minister.

Edmund Barton, who became Australia's 1st Prime Minister.

1891 - a National Australasian Convention was held in Sydney. Each colony sent seven representatives.  From these, a committee was chosen to begin work to write an Australian constitution.  A constitution is a set of basic rules and principles of how an organisation, or club or nation is governed.   A draft constitution was drawn up by  Edmund Barton (New South Wales), Andrew Inglis Clark (Tasmania), Samuel Griffith (Queensland), and Charles Kingston (South Australia). To help them, they looked at the constitutions of Great Britain, the United States, Canada and Switzerland.

1893 - there was a conference of pro-federation groups after hard times had drawn people's attention away from federation for a few years. The conference agreed that a national meeting would redraft the constitution and that all Australians should have a chance to agree with the constitution by vote.

1897 and 1898 -  The National Australasian Convention met.  Each colony elected representatives to attend, except Queensland, which did not support federation. Committees debated each paragraph of the draft constitution, changes were made, and a new constitution was drafted by Edmund Barton, John Downer and Richard O'Connor.

The federation flag was designed to encourage support for federation.

The federation flag was designed to encourage support for federation.

The smaller colonies were afraid that the larger ones would have more say in a federal parliament.  

So the conference adopted the practice of the United States: in the House of Representatives each state is represented according to the number of residents;  but in the Senate each state has the same number of representatives.

A special election called a referendum was held so that people in the colonies could vote on the re-drafted constitution.  Queensland and Western Australia did not take part, and in New South Wales it did not get approved.

1899 - the premiers met to find ways of meeting the concerns of those three colonies. Among the changes that were made was the decision that a new capital city be established between Sydney and Melbourne, both of which wanted to be the nation's capital.

The amended constitution went to referendum once again in all colonies except Western Australia, and the Bill was passed. The Western Australians did not believe federation was the best thing for them.

1900: Federation: The Creation of a Nation

The major laws affecting Australia were still made by the British Parliament, which would have to make a new law to allow federation.  In 1900 a delegation of five, plus an observer from Western Australia, took the draft constitution to London to present to the British Parliament.

Queen Victoria in 1900 ©Getty Images

Queen Victoria in 1900 ©Getty Images

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900 was passed by the British Parliament in May, and was signed by Queen Victoria on 9th July 1900, and so became law.

The Act declared that on 1st January 1901, the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania would be united and known as the 'Commonwealth of Australia'.

About this time, there was a gold rush in Western Australia. Many people went there to seek their fortune. This contact with people from the other colonies began to change ideas about federation in Western Australia.  In August 1900 a referendum was held in Western Australia, and the people of the colony voted to join the Commonwealth.

1901 - The Commonwealth of Australia became a reality.  The colonies became States, and a Federal Parliament was formed according to the Constitution.  

On 1st January 1901 the Commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed in Centennial Park, Sydney by Lord Hopetoun, the first Governor General.  Edmund Barton was the first Prime Minister of Australia.

Parliament 'Firsts'

Melbourne Exhibition Building ©Getty Images

Melbourne Exhibition Building ©Getty Images

The first Commonwealth Parliament was opened on 9 May 1901, at 12 p.m in the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, followed by the first sitting of the Senate in the Legislative Council chamber of the Victorian Parliament House at   1.10 p.m.   At 2.30 p.m. the House of Representatives met in the Legislative Assembly chamber.

 

Old Parliament House in Canberra

Old Parliament House in Canberra

On 9 May 1927 Commonwealth Parliament first sat in Canberra in the provisional (temporary) Parliament House, which is now called  'Old Parliament House'. 

 

Parliament House, Canberra ©Getty Images

Parliament House, Canberra ©Getty Images

 

 

On 10 May 1988 Commonwealth Parliament sat in the new Parliament House in Canberra. 

The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900, signed by Queen Victoria,  was presented to Australia in 1988, and is on display in Parliament House, Canberra.

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Read about the first and the present Australian Coat of Arms:

http://www.itsanhonour.gov.au/coat-arms/

Read about The Australian Constitution : 

http://www.peo.gov.au/learning/closer-look/the-australian-constitution.html