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Australia's Federation started in Corowa, NSW in 1893

Federation and Corowa

Visit the Federation Museum, Corowa

After 1854, Australia began to grow and the people wanted to govern themselves. They met and marched through the streets of Melbourne and Sydney. the diggers of Eureka wanted self-government. they wanted the vote for every man, no matter how poor - the fight at Eureka helped to win these things for the people of Australia. In 1855, New South Wales and Victoria were given self-government and in 1856 South Australia and Tasmania were allowed to govern themselves. The idea of Australia Federation was born when Victoria was first separated from New South Wales. In 1847, Earl Grey, British Minister in charge of the Colonies, was drawing up a plan to divide Victoria from New South Wales. There was not much interest for Earl Grey's idea. Only a few far-sighted men saw the need for Federation in the early days, among them were the chartists who had worked for an English Parliament where the people had a say in the government.

On July 25th, 1839, a young chartist migrated to New South Wales with his wife and two day old baby, his name was Henry Parkes. He was only 24 years old and landed in Sydney with 4 shillings in his pocket, but he was to become known as the "Father of Federation". Henry found a miserable little house for his family. They had no money, their furniture was one wooden box. Henry got a job for 10 shillings a week on a farm at Penrith. He managed to save up enough money to start a business of his own in Hunter Street, Sydney.

In 1857, when New South Wales became self-governing, Parkes was elected to the first Parliament. He had many good ideas and the were popular with the people. The 1880's were good years for Australia. Compulsory education for all children was introduced, and trade unionism became firmly established, but by 1890 times were very hard. The employers said they would not be able to pay such high wages any longer. The banks failed and many men lost their jobs. One such man was David Parsons who worked on the Sydney wharves. 1890 was the year of the great strike. David Parsons went on strike with 30,000 working men from the mines, the ships, the wharves and the shearing sheds of Australia, but the big strike failed. In 1891, David Parsons got his wish. He voted for a new party, the Australian Labour Party, but he had lost his job and could not find work in Sydney.

He decided to shift to Corowa, a town situated on the New South Wales bank of the Murray River, just across the water was Victoria. Because of the different laws in both states there were many difficulties for the people living in those border towns. New South Wales was free trade but Victoria was protectionist - Victoria protected her own industries by charging a high tax on all goods coming into the state. Because of the trouble over free trade and protection the people living on both sides of the Murray River were very interested in Federation.

They formed Federation Leagues to work for a united Australia. On August 1st, 1893, Corowa held a Federation League Rally. Among the men who attended were Dr Quick, one a puddler in a Bendigo goldmine, and Robert Garran, 26 year-old friend of Edmund Barton, now the leader of the Federalists in New South Wales. Henry Parkes could not attend because of ill-health. Dr Quick moved that the Australian people themselves would vote for Federation.

Five years later, the Australian people did vote. Two years later, in 1898, the Federal Convention met in Melbourne to draw up a plan for Federation. The convention decided on Dr Puick's plan to let the people themselves vote for Federation. New South Wales had to get 80,000 'yes' votes before the referendum could be passed.

Edmund Barton spoke in halls and balconies ito get votes to pass the bill, but New South Wales did not get her 80,000 votes. In 1899 a second referendum was planned. Edmund Barton drove his gig and horses for hundreds of miles through New South Wales and Queensland, calling on the people to vote 'yes' for Federation. Newspapers, books and pamphlets carried the ideas of Federation into many a little corner where the Federalists themselves could not reach. June 21st was Referendum Day. They won! But the six Australian colonies were still not Federated. In Western Australia Sir John Forrest, the Premier, said that his friends, the farmers and country businessman, did not want Federation. On September 13th, 1899, the miners met at Coolgardie. The miners sent a petition to Queen Victoria asking for separation from Western Australia. The petition was signed by 27,733 goldfields people.

Five leading men, from every Australian state, except Western Australia, sailed for London to talk over Federation with the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. Chamberlain asked Barton, Deakin and Kingston to dinner, and at last they were able to agree to Federation. On April 27th, 1900, Chamberlain sent a telegram to Perth: 'Because of the agitation on the goldfields, it is very important that Western Australian join in Federation at once'. And on July 31st, 1900, a very large number of West Australians voted 'yes' for Federation.

On January 1st, 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia celebrated in Centennial Park, Sydney. The great procession from the Domain to Centennial Park was led by a band of Australian shearers. The city teemed with thousands. Three months later, on March 21st, 1901, the people of Australia again voted for a Federated Australia, and the vote was one!! 75 men were elected to the House of Representatives, because many of the voters were working men like David and Harry Parsons, the Australian Labour Party gained 16 seats in the new Federal Parliament.

The rest of the house was divided fairly evenly between the free traders and the protectionists. These men crated a High Court, and a Commonwealth public service, they took over postal services, paid old age and invalid pension, gave the vote to women, sent the Kanakas home from the Queensland cane fields, allowed no more Asiatics into Australia, set up a Federal Arbitration Court to settle strikes, and decided on interstate free trade with Commonwealth tariff to protect Australian industries. On May 9th, the Duke and Duchess of York opened the first Parliament in Australia in the Exhibition Building, Melbourne.

What was Corowa's Role?

The Corowa Branch of the Border Federation League organised and hosted a conference which was really the birth of the push by the people. The Federation Movement became a people's movement as a result of the motion unanimously accepted at the Corowa conference in 1893.

How Corowa fits into the Federation picture

1863 The first Inter-Colonial Conference was held to discuss the matters of mutual concern to the colonies, for example uniformed customs duties.
1885 Federal Council of Australia was set up but was not very effective as NSW did not join.
1889 Sir Henry Parkes, in a speech at Tenterfield, called for the replacement of the Federal Council with a strong Central Government for all Australia. He urged the setting up of a constitutional convention.
1890 Premiers met to discuss Parkes' federation proposals and agreed to call a convention the following year.
1891 The first Federal Convention (National Australasian Convention) met in Sydney to prepare a draft constitution. This draft did not get sufficient support from the colonial parliaments.
1893 The Corowa branch of the Australian Federation league, inspired by the Berrigan brand of the Australian Federation league, organised a conference at Corowa. Seventy four (74) delegates representing various public bodies from New South Wales and Victoria, as well as politicians from both colonies attended. This conference unanimously accepted Dr. John Quick's motion proposing that another convention be organised, and the delegates to this convention be elected by the people. Also that the constitution drafted at this convention be put to the people at the referendum.
1895 The Premiers met in Hobart and agreed to the proposal put to the Corowa conference by Dr. Quick.
1896 Unofficial "Peoples' Federal Convention" held in Bathurst, discussed distribution of Commonwealth Revenue once the State Custom Duties ceased.
1897 1897/98. The second Constitutional Convention (national Australasian Co. Convention) whose delegates were elected by the people met in three sessions and prepared a revised draft constitution.
1898 The draft constitution was pt to the people in referendums. It received approval in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania but not in New South Wales (Referendums were not held in Queensland or Western Australia).
1899 Premiers met and made amendments to the draft constitution. The revised draft constitution was put to the people for approval in each colony (except Western Australia) and was approved.
1900 Queen Victoria gave assent to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act to unite the Australian colonies under a federal constitution.
1901 On 1st January the Commonwealth of Australia officially came into existence, with Edmund Barton as the first Prime Minister.
 
Information supplied by Corowa District Historical Society 'Federation Museum' Corowa
 

 



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