Australia, New Zealand and Federation, 1883-1901 - Section B

This reviews some of the explanations offered by historians.

 Three Mega-Explanations: Nationalism, Defence and Race


At this point, it might seem more productive to stand back from the detailed contents of our box of time and seek to explain Australian federation through three mega-explanatory factors, each of them big enough to sweep aside exceptions and quibbles. The three are Australian nationalism, defence and the White Australia policy. They can each be dealt with fairly briefly and relatively irreverently, thanks largely to the brilliant revisionist study of the years 1889 to 1910 by Ron Norris in his book, The Emergent Commonwealth.1 But before abandoning ourselves to the delights of historical agnosticism, we should consider a methodological reservation. It can be plausibly contended that neither nationalism nor defence nor White Australia can be identified as the "smoking gun", the trigger cause that crucially drove Australians into the acceptance of political union. Yet each and all of these mega-explanations may have acted in a more general, contextual way: "factors" is the mealy-mouthed term used by historians to classify arguments too obvious to be omitted but too implausible to be identified as "causes".2 Somebody voting at a referendum might be the more inclined to accept more practical arguments in favour of federation because they had been put forward within an atmosphere of national pride in a future united Australia, or of communal unease about the dangers of immigration from Asia. "Establish the Commonwealth of Australasia," Josiah Symon told a gathering of South Australian federalists, "and they would have a place in the eye of civilization which it had not entered into the heart of man to conceive."3 Rhetoric of this kind might not in itself win a single vote, but such a flight of fancy would hardly have made sense unless the orator felt sure that his audience would treat such sentiments with respect.

"Nationalism" in Australia has traditionally been a milder sentiment than in most of the rest of the world. Indeed, when Richard Jebb, nephew of an Edinburgh professor, wrote of "colonial nationalism", he was flirting with oxymoron, the pairing of irreconcilable opposites, to an extent which has been overlooked by the subsequent co-option of his phrase into the textbooks.  (Indeed, Jebb himself was sceptical about its practical effectiveness. "The Australian federalist", he wrote in 1905, "may be excused if he is inclined to exaggerate the force of spontaneous nationalism".)4 An "Australian Nationalist", stated a writer of 1888, was "one who looks forward to seeing this Continent the seat of a united and independent Nation".5 "Why should not the name of an Australian be equal to that of a Briton?", Parkes asked in 1890, as he criticised the sentimental use of the term "Home" to describe those distant islands off the north-west coast of Europe. This was fine rhetoric, if perhaps a trifle inconsistent coming from Henry Parkes, with his two British knighthoods and his endless name-dropping of famous contacts in the old country.6 Newspaper reports demonstrate that such sentiments were loudly cheered at public meetings, but that does not prove that they were conclusive in marshalling support for federation. In fact, there are two areas of complication and two of objection that considerably undercut the argument for the causal significance of Australian nationalism.

The first of the complications was identified by Norris: if Australian nationalism was a force behind federation, then it would be necessary to conclude that Victorians and Tasmanians, who voted overwhelmingly for the Commonwealth Bill, were more nationalistic than the far less enthusiastic populations of New South Wales and Queensland.7 One sub-plot identifies the miners of Charters Towers and Kalgoorlie as unusually "Australian", simply because they were jumbled-together communities that had arrived from other parts of the continent in very recent times. It was North Queensland that counterbalanced the hostility to federation of the Brisbane area, while in Western Australia, the gold-miners were familiarly known as "T'othersiders". Some scholars have speculated that we may find here an Australian adaptation of the theories of Frederick Jackson Turner, who argued that the United States became distinctively "American" thanks to the democratic crucible of its moving frontier. Unluckily, the continent's other great mining centre, at Broken Hill, voted solidly against federation, so shattering more than one plausible interpretation.8

The second complication is the one that tends to identify nationalism with nativism. The term "native" had acquired a double resonance at least half a century before federation: implicitly, it outbid the claim of Black Australians to ownership of the land, relegating them to a pluperfect prologue of an "Aboriginal" world.9 It was an assertion designed to counteract the assumption that external (that is to say, British) influences were correct, while their local manifestations were debased and inferior. Demographically, by the eighteen-nineties, Australia was moving more firmly into the "native" column. In 1891, 2.17 million people had been born in Australia, against 830,000 in Britain and Ireland. By 1901, the balance was tipping sharply: there were 2.9 million locally born against 685,000 British and Irish migrants.10 Hence Deakin could announce in 1898 that a "united Australia ... can only come to be with the consent of and by the efforts of the Australian-born". 11 

Yet to argue this was far from proving that the Australian Commonwealth was the product of victory of native over newcomer. Immigrants were much more strongly represented among the adult population, as can be seen from the biographies of the delegates to the various federal conventions. In 1891, almost one and a half million Australians were under the age of twenty, and these were overwhelmingly native-born; by 1901, this youth cohort had grown by 200,000. The immigrant surges of the gold-rush years might be dying off, but their places as adult citizens and voters had yet to be filled from Australia's fecund cradles. The modest extent of the shift of influence towards the native-born is suggested by a comparison of the birth-places of participants in the 1891 Convention with those of 1897-98. In 1891, 17 delegates had been born in Australia, as against 25 overseas. (Three New Zealanders, all overseas-born, are omitted from the calculation.) By 1897-98, the balance had shifted, with 29 locally born delegates compared with 25 from overseas. In one respect, the classification is not especially helpful: nine of the immigrants had arrived in Australia before the age of ten and may be assumed to have shared the world picture of their cornstalk contemporaries. The dedicated federalist John Quick, for instance, had left Cornwall as a baby.

Even a cursory survey is sufficient to cast doubt on any hypothesis that might link the coming of federation with the triumph of the Australian-born. The two colonies to register the largest "swing" towards choosing native-born delegates between the conventions of 1891 and 1897 were New South Wales (which went from 4-3 to 7-3) and Western Australia, where the balance changed from 3-4 to 9-5. Neither can be described as forming part of the vanguard of the movement, whereas Tasmania, which shifted in the other direction (3-4 in 1891; 3-7 in 1897-98) was fervently in the federalist camp.12 In any case, why should we assume that the native-born were more likely to be "Australian" than the immigrants? The latter had uprooted themselves from their homelands to make their lives on a southern continent; only a minority among the former had ever been forced to interrogate their identification with the separate colony in which they were born. Perhaps the most apparently "Australian" of all the delegates was William Lyne of New South Wales. Born and raised in Tasmania, he had tried his luck in the Queensland Gulf country before eventually settling down as a pastoralist in the Upper Murray, one of the border regions usually described as chafing against the artificiality of colonial boundaries. Unfortunately, Lyne was a determined opponent of Australian federation.

Why, then, should a politician so shrewd as Deakin have engaged in a sentiment that risked alienating a powerful section of the continent's voters? The answer lies in the fact that he was addressing a meeting of the Australian Natives' Association. "The history of the A.N.A.", its President proclaimed at that same gathering, "... was the history of the federation movement."13 In reality, we might invert the conventional textbook link and suggest that, far from federation having been masterminded by the Australian Natives' Association, it was rather that the ANA had piggy-backed upon the closer union sentiment to raise its own profile. The origins of the ANA could be traced back to a small friendly society formed in 1871 to provide welfare support and pay medical bills to its exclusively male membership, a riposte by the locally-born to the miscellany of St Andrew's and St Patrick's Associations that fostered fellowship and nostalgia for distant homelands. "It has never been a Victorian, but always an Australian Association," Deakin claimed in 1898. If so, the rest of Australia did not seem to have been aware of the fact. By 1890, it had a membership of 7,400, all but a few hundred of them living in Victoria. There the Natives, with their motto "Australia for the Australians", undoubtedly provided the cause of federation with a grass-roots network of enthusiasts.14

When the ANA sought to take its message to other colonies, the results were discouraging. In New South Wales, native birth probably remained subconsciously associated with convict parentage. In 1885 a branch was reported to have been established in Mudgee, which is a fine town but not the most obvious launch-pad for a social and political movement. A successful foothold in Sydney had to wait another three years. Indeed, the ANA portrayed its infiltration of the mother colony in terms calculated to arouse New South Welsh suspicions. "The great body of native-born electors in the Riverina should be aroused to a sense of the possibilities that may follow their co-operation with brother Australians", announced the annual report for 1894, proudly adding that "the Victorian Association has pierced its way to Berrigan in New South Wales".15  Berrigan is not a long way inside New South Wales. In South Australia, a handful of branches sprang up between 1887 and 1890, along with a parallel organisation, the Wattle Blossom League, for native-born women and immigrant wives. At its peak, South Australian membership was about 600, but the depression of the early eighteen-nineties destroyed the infant movement outside Adelaide itself. Even there, the branch collapsed in 1896, despite having resorted to the desperate expedient of extending associate membership to non-native males. The South Australia ANA began to revive from 1900 onwards. The negative correlation with the peaks of popular involvement in the federation movement from 1897 to 1899 is indeed striking.16 Tasmania was another colony where enthusiasm for federation evidently exceeded support for the ANA. "The most cheering news comes from Hobart", the Association announced in 1894, merely because sympathisers there had sent a request across the Bass Strait for help to organise a branch.17 Tasmania was already strongly pro-federal. It had by far the lowest percentage immigrant population of any Australian colony - not to mention a profound sensitivity about ancestry. Fundamentally, the ANA sought to steer the concept of a national identity against the mainstream of Australian democratic thinking. "By the term Australian we mean not those who have been merely born in Australia," remarked the Bulletin in 1887. "All white men who come to these shores - with a clean record - and who leave behind them the memory of the class-distinctions and the religious differences of the old world ... are Australian."18

However, the Bulletin's definition of an Australian identity defined not by birthplace but by shared egalitarian (though racist) values leads us to the first of the major objections to the assumption that federation was the product of nationalism. For the Bulletin, the true overseas-born Australians were those who placed "the advancement of their adopted country before the interests of Imperialism". The ANA may have talked of waving "the flag of the United States of Australia", but no major figure in the federation movement talked (or even, one suspects, dreamed) of independence from the British empire.19 At federalist rallies, the most popular song was Rule Britannia!20 "Loud and continued cheers" greeted the peroration of a speech by Victorian Premier Sir George Turner at St Kilda in 1898, when he called for "a powerful federation - a noble Commonwealth, under that flag which we all respected and revered, the grand old Union Jack".  Applause punctuated George Reid's "Yes-No" speech when he assured his audience that federation was "to be a union under the Crown".21

From the perspective of Edinburgh one hundred years later, it is possible to speculate whether such rhetoric was a forerunner of the tactical ambiguity of the Scottish Nationalist slogan, "Independence in Europe". But a radical Tasmanian opponent of the "fetteration" scheme anticipated another slogan of the nineteen-nineties, that of Australia's republican movement, when he objected that the governor-general of the Commonwealth would be an imperial appointment and probably a British aristocrat. "Thus federated Australia cannot even anticipate the position being filled by an Australian. So much for the alleged Nation!"22 Nor was this the product of oversight. An attempt to persuade the Bathurst Convention to endorse the idea of electing a governor-general by popular vote was rejected by "an almost unanimous vote". In doing so, Thomas MacHattie reported, the delegates were showing "their appreciation of the benefits which Australians receive ... [as part of] the greatest Empire of the world".23

It is possible to reinterpret Australian enthusiasm for the empire, as Keith Sinclair did for New Zealand attitudes towards imperial federation, as a surrogate form of local nationalism. Even so, it remains noteworthy that the form should have been merely surrogate.  Alfred Deakin may be accused of special pleading when he assured Lord Hopetoun in 1897 that there was "not one" Australian politician who was "favourable to any severance of the ties that unite us - or rather it does not need ties - we feel united - we feel one & are determined to remain one". Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee had exercised "a powerful effect here in reawakening the sense of Imperial unity & of national pride. I for one have never hesitated to point out upon the public platform that Australian federation is the necessary preliminary to closer political relationships throughout the Empire."24 Similarly, it is possible to agree with La Nauze's carefully qualified suggestion that "the fortuitous coincidence of the Boer War with the attainment of Australian national union provided emotionally some kind of substitute for a real war of independence".25 But even this gloss upon popular enthusiasm for the conflict in South Africa risks rewriting the reality of imperial sentiment, as the handful of brave opponents of the war could testify. Henry Bournes Higgins lost his seat in the Victorian parliament, Professor G.A. Wood came close to forfeiting his Chair at Sydney University.26 As the South Australian contingent marched to the docks, Adelaide's leading newspaper claimed that "their departure for the Transvaal proclaims to the world the priceless truth that the silken cords still tightly bind the Austral daughter to her mother England".27 That was written in November 1899, five months after South Australians had endorsed federation by a majority of almost four-to-one. In 1905, it was the Australian premiers who insisted that Empire Day should be celebrated as a public holiday "to imbue children with the Imperial sentiment" - in the words of one Sydney journalist, to be taught to "look up to the one flag as they do to the one sun".28 In August 1914, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher (another Ayrshire Scot) pledged that Australians would  defend Britain to their last man and their last shilling and even the Bulletin burst into imperial song:


For Britain! Good old Britain!

Where our fathers first drew breath,

We'll fight like true Australians,

Facing danger, wounds or death.29


We should not discount patriotic and nativist sentiments as a motivating and organising force that helps to explain the role played by at least some the activists in the movement. But it would be a distortion to categorise nationalism as a major explanation for the movement for closer union. It would also perpetuate a misleading notion of Australian nationalism itself.

The second major area of objection to an association between federation and nationalism is that it implies that a popular upsurge of pan-Australian sentiment took the form of a movement for political and constitutional change. "A national movement?", the sceptical George Reid had scornfully asked in 1891. "No!" Pressure for federation was "confined to the great ambitious statesmen of Australia", manoeuvrings which Reid insisted were no substitute for "a great national, manly outburst of feeling!"30 In 1894, the radical Bulletin complained that there was little sign of any such uprising of popular feeling: "nine-tenths of the population takes no real interest in the future Australian nation ..., in the marble metropolis which is to be the political centre of the Commonwealth, or in any of the other abstract glories of a united Australia."31 It is true that international cricket was well established by 1900, with 56 "test" matches between Australia and England, the adjective itself suggesting a trial of nascent national identity. Australia had won twenty, including four matches of the five-test series that overlapped with the Federal Convention of 1897-98. However, we should recall the failure of the West Indies federation at the time when Sobers, Kanhai and Hunte were inspiring cricket-crazy Caribbean crowds with their batting. Italian unity has sometimes been portrayed as a mass explosion by a people determined to break the bounds of petty principalities, and the Risorgimento did indeed take place within a very short span of time. As we have already seen, Australia's federal movement was both drawn-out and low-key, and its leaders seem to have been reconciled to a quarrelsome long-haul. "There will be more Playfords and more Lee Steeres," Parkes wrote wearily to Deakin after encountering two obstructives from the smaller colonies at Sydney in 1890, "and we shall be fortunate if we do not meet more awkward creatures than either." Affable Alfred defended the two back-sliders, arguing that they were questioning "the conditions and not the wisdom or necessity of federating".32 But by the time the Commonwealth finally came into being a decade later, Deakin was less sanguine. "Not even an Act of the Imperial Parliament can remove by its fiat the antagonisms of thought, aim and situation existing among the scattered four millions of Independent Australian Britons", he told British newspaper readers. Australia was about to inaugurate its federal constitution, "but everything that could make the union it establishes more than a mere piece of political carpentry will remain to be accomplished afterwards".33 As d'Azeglio was reported to have said forty years earlier, those who had made Italy must now make Italians. A growing sense of national identity and pride made Australian federation possible, but it did not make it happen.

What, then, of the argument that federation was a response to external crisis, driven by the need to improve Australian defence? Defence was certainly a persistent theme in the stop-start movements towards federation: 1883-85 was almost entirely a response to German and French incursions into the New Guinea/South Pacific region, while some textbooks relate that the Tenterfield speech was triggered by the recommendation of a visiting British officer that the colonies federate for military purposes.34 Yet these were the initiatives that failed; indeed, the Federal Council, which was inspired almost totally by a perceived crisis in defence, is often held to have failed most completely. We should note, too, that the nature of the threat varied. Warning of Russian ambitions in Manchuria, China's teeming millions and the "intelligent, vigorous, brave, adaptable" people of Japan, Symon told South Australians in 1895 that if they delayed taking action, "we might wake up with the whole of eastern Asia thundering at our gates, and we would federate when perhaps it might be too late".35 In 1897, Barton was looking further afield, telling a reporter that "the critical situation of affairs among the great Powers is acting as an inducement to union". This was Barton playing the role of the responsible statesman. It was better, he argued, to be united and prepared than to federate "at a stage where there will be little time for preparation, and, therefore, more risk of pillage and bloodshed".36 What was consistent was the rhetoric. "In the providence of God," a Sydney clergyman told his flock in 1898, "Federation is being forced upon us by the danger which lies without, coupled with the vast interests which lie within".37 Those who opposed federation were thus simultaneously defying divine providence and positively inviting invaders to plunder and pillage. These were impressive tactical ploys, but they do not amount to historical explanations.

For instance, in 1889 Henry Parkes was already turning his mind to the issue of federation, as he did from time to time, before Major General Bevan Edwards had even begun his inspection of Australian defences.38 In any case, the general's recommendations were military, not political. "A common system of defence can only be carried out by a federation of the military forces of the Colonies, each State agreeing to organize its forces on the same system, although they may continue to pay and maintain them separately."39 There was no more need for political union in 1889 than there had been two years earlier, when the colonies had collectively agreed to co-operate with the British in establishing a common naval squadron. It was Parkes who insisted that "if they were to carry out the recommendations of General Edwards, it would be absolutely necessary for them to have something more than the Federal Council - one central executive authority, which could bring all the forces of the different colonies into one national army".40

Narrative accounts of the coming of federation tend to take for granted that the assumption that the Edwards-Parkes analysis was inherently persuasive. It did not capture the veteran New South Wales politician, Sir John Robertson, who hated to utter a polite word about his colony's southern neighbour. "The only excuse put forward for our self-abasement", he announced in an anti-federal diatribe in February 1890, "is that a travelling soldier said ... that we might require assistance from Victoria and South Australia! As if in time of war they would not have more than enough to do to protect their own shores!"41 Some continued to assume that federation was unnecessary to secure an Australasian alliance. As George Reid put it in 1898, "even if we were disunited, as we are today, it would equally be our duty in our own interests to throw all our strength to the rescue of any colony that was blighted by invasion".42  Jack Want saw no need to hurry political union in advance of crisis: "time enough to federate when danger threatens".43 It was to counter attitudes of this kind that Sir John Downer lectured South Australians: "the time has gone by when sudden preparations could be made effectively, and this was a great and solid argument for Federation."44

However persuasive the defence argument may appear in the textbooks, Parkes and his military ally did not succeed in sweeping Australians into political union. Norris dismisses the case for labelling Edwards as the modern Major-General from The Pirates of Penzance, but there was something Gilbertian about his intrigue with Parkes, from whom he almost certainly derived the highly debatable term "federation". From his base in Hong Kong, Edwards dreamed and schemed. He even thought of persuading the admiral in command of the Chinese fleet to make a "goodwill" visit to Australian waters. "Would that not help your federation?", he asked the veteran New South Wales premier. If an external threat was required to spur federation, it would seem that in the last resort, one might be invented.45 Later, some federalists took the high-minded position that their movement had not required any such device. The Bathurst Convention in 1896 was assured that it could be "calm and collected" in its deliberations, precisely because no external threat existed. In 1901, Sir John Cockburn boasted that the Commonwealth of Australia had "the distinction of being the first instance of a union of States as a result of the forces of cohesion, without the application of any external compulsion".46

Norris demonstrated that when the federalists turned from rhetoric to negotiation, defence virtually dropped from sight. One recent historian, Luke Trainor, has argued that the overt absence of the defence argument is in itself significant. "Not all concealment is ideology but the concept does involve a deception whereby some contradictions are obscured and with them, the class interests they serve. There are inversions involved whereby 'defence' means attack and 'defence forces' can be directed inwards against those who pay for them."47 Trainor evidently has in mind embittered labour memories of the use of local militia to quell the strikes of the early eighteen-nineties, forever associated with the notorious order, "Fire low and lay them out".48 If working men held aloof from the movement partly because they feared that "Federal soldiers will be ordered to fire low and the workers will be crushed",49 then of course it made sense to play down any such aspect of the scheme. But is the absence of discussion in itself enough to bear out Trainor's suspicions? 

The eighteen-nineties was a decade of economic slump and government retrenchment. Thus another reason for down-playing the defence issue was that armaments cost money, at a time when colonial governments were slashing their already-small military expenditure. In the 1898 South Australian referendum, one anti-Billite warned that federation would saddle taxpayers with the cost of Victoria's "obsolete defences".50 Yet concealment does not seem to be the explanation for the virtual absence of allusions to defence in the principal pro-federation manifestos analysed by Norris. The Braddon clause, the mechanism that forced the Commonwealth to return surplus revenue to the States, was supported by South Australia's F.W. Holder precisely because he wished to have a "safeguard" to prevent the Commonwealth from incurring "heavy naval and military expenditure".51 One exasperated federalist claimed that some politicians would only wake up to the dangers they faced when a shell exploded in Adelaide's King William Street.52 Evidently, Holder managed to find other reasons why his province should join a united Australia.

Despite Holder's fears, it cannot be said that the new regime rushed into grandiose military projects. It was necessary to find a place for Queensland in the first cabinet, although its politicians had stood aloof from the culmination of the federation movement. When the premier, Glasgow-born Sir Robert Philp, refused to leave Brisbane, the Queensland slot went to another Scot, James Dickson, a one-time pupil of the Glasgow High School. The fact that Dickson received the portfolio of defence does not suggest that this was to be the new government's highest priority. When Dickson suddenly died early in 1901, his place was taken by another representative of the continental fringe, Western Australia's Forrest. In the early years of the Commonwealth, the watchwords for defence policy were continuity and economy. "Extravagant expenditure will be avoided, and reliance will be placed ... in our citizen soldiery", the first ministry announced in its speech from the throne.53 In London, The Times had acknowledged that one of the reasons for federation was that Australians "have come to know that they are not as safe from the designs of foreign Powers as they used to imagine in days not long gone by". No doubt The Times gloss on the implications of these fears was as slanted on the one side as were the alarmist warnings of shells falling on King William Street on the other, but it probably tells us more about the apparent complacency with which the Commonwealth assumed its defence obligations. "They understand," concluded The Times, "that it is the British command of the seas which renders Australia as safe from naval attack as the Isle of Wight."54 In June 1905, Deakin gave a newspaper interview in which he warned that Australia's coastal cities were vulnerable to sudden attack: the Commonwealth was four years old and Deakin himself had already served one term, albeit brief, as prime minister.55 It was not until 1909 that the decision was taken to establish the Royal Australian Navy, in the very different international atmosphere of an arms race between Britain and Germany, and under the inspiration of a goodwill visit, not by the Chinese, but from America's "Great White Fleet" in 1908.56

Closely linked to the postulated motive of defence as the issue of the White Australia policy. Here, surely, we have the clinching evidence for the driving force behind the movement for federation. "No motive power operated more universally ... [and] more powerfully in dissolving the technical and arbitrary political divisions which previously separated us than the desire that we should be one people and remain one people without the admixture of other races", said Deakin in defence of the Immigration Restriction Bill of 1901. Norris argues that this was good parliamentary rhetoric, but a poor guide to the actual motives behind the campaign for federation.57 Indeed, there are three major objections to the "White Australia" explanation.  First, the separate colonies had already closed the door on immigration from Asia. Secondly, neither the negotiations for federation nor the enthusiasts who campaigned in its favour made more than passing appeals to conventional Australian racism. Thirdly, some opponents of the scheme alleged that political union would simply open the rest of the continent to Queensland's existing Pacific Islands labour force.

The six Australian governments had met at Sydney in March 1896 where they agreed to extend existing anti-Chinese legislation against all non-white immigration. However, W.K. Hancock argued that legislation by the separate colonies "was not enough ... they found it difficult to close every gap through which unwelcome immigrants might squeeze".58 This is a splendid example - and from one of Australia's greatest historians - of the way in which words can be used to conjure up an absurdity. The notion of thousands of Asians tip-toeing along the dotted lines of Australia's artificial colonial boundaries surely belongs more to the world of Monty Python's Flying Circus than to the pages of the Cambridge History of the British Empire.  As Norris ironically remarks, ten alien migrants "invaded" South Australia between 1899 and 1901, and 133 had "swarmed" into the Northern Territory - not quite replacing the 151 who had left.59 The first case of leprosy in South Australia coincided with the 1898 referendum campaign, and occurred in the Chinese ghetto of working-class West Adelaide. Norris reports that, despite a public outcry, nobody linked the case of Wah Lee to federation in any way at all. Moreover, West Adelaide, which contained almost half the colony's Chinese population, was one of the only two electorates to reject the Bill at the 1898 referendum. Of its qualified (i.e. white) voters, just three in every twenty turned out to support federation.60  White Australia, in short, was simply taken for granted. Hence in his notorious "Yes-No" speech, Reid could dismiss "dealing with the coloured races" and "the external affairs of Australia" as "matters of detail", along with posts, telegraphs and naturalisation of aliens, which he felt able to pass over in silence. Hence, too, nobody was troubled by the irony that the opening ceremony for the first Commonwealth parliament could begin with the singing of The Old Hundredth, a solemn hymn that opens with an invocation of "All People That On Earth Do Dwell".61

Of course, Billites did issue appeals to the principle of White Australia. "Federation is the only possible means of preserving Australia to the White Races", claimed the Sydney Morning Herald (in passing, so Norris insists).62 "United the Colonies will be in a strong position to resist the encroachment of coloured and inferior peoples", remarked a country paper on the New South Wales north coast, "where", it added, in further repudiation of political correctness, "the black and yellow agony is so acutely felt".63 However, they did not monopolise the race card: other voices argued the case in reverse. Equal representation in the Senate, warned one Sydney pamphleteer, "will lead to the importation, upon a large scale, of colored labour, and, as a result, civil war". Senators from the three outer mainland colonies would unite, probably in alliance with their conservative allies from the south-eastern States, to ensure cheap labour to develop a plantation economy across tropical Australia. "No doubt we in the south would demand the restriction of the use of colored labour to the extreme north" but its use would eventually spread "even south of the tropic of Capricorn".64 It was an argument that persuaded some New Zealanders to keep their Australian cousins at arm's length. "They will find the force of circumstances too much for them", one witness assured the New Zealand Royal Commission: " ... we have a compact population of Europeans here and we should keep it so."65

Unlike the Kiwis, Scott Bennett was inclined to regard such anti-federation arguments as irrational.66 No doubt a proposal for major constitutional change can be expected to bring out hag-ridden fears of conspiracy and doom. Of greater weight were the assumptions, certainly among some federalists in South Australia and Queensland, that political union would do nothing to impede the exploitation of their northern resources by non-white labour. The issue was of muted importance in the former, where there was a general desire to dump the costly incubus of its Northern Territory on the Commonwealth government, a transfer that was eventually achieved in 1911. (The Territory's white minority was more than willing to be off-loaded.)67 None the less, there remained an element of ambiguity in South Australian attitudes to the tropical North.68 More striking was the support for federation in north Queensland, where the sugar economy was dependent upon imported labour from the Pacific Islands. Indeed, Samuel Griffith, the chief influence behind the 1891 draft constitution, defended the inclusion of control over non-white immigration among the federal powers. The "probability", he assured the Queensland government, was that an Australian parliament "would decline to do any act that might inflict disaster on any part of the Continent merely in obedience to a popular cry".69 In its first decade, the Commonwealth government did succeed in repatriating (or, more bluntly, deporting) most of the non-white workforce from the cane fields, but subsidising the alternative of European labour proved to be an expensive operation. There is inadequate evidence to prove that the federation movement was driven by any single imperative in relation to non-white labour in Queensland.

What, then, are we to make of Deakin's celebrated dictum that Australians were inspired to federate by their desire to form "one people and remain one people without the admixture of other races"? A century later, and from the perspective of a Scotland recently embarked upon legislative devolution, it is possible to suggest that a new parliament is exceptionally vulnerable in its first year or two of operation. Where the referendum is used, voters must be shaken from their preferred state of apathy by impressing upon them that they face vast challenges which require a fundamental change in the structure of government. Eventually, the new parliament convenes. Voters soon realise that it cannot produce miracles overnight, and disappointment sets in. Eight months after the first meeting of the Commonwealth parliament, Patrick Glynn privately commented that it was "more than possible" that if Australians were given an opportunity for second thoughts on federation, "the vote would be against the union". For the new Commonwealth of Australia, the appearance of taking action to restrict immigration offered a tempting combination of large political returns for small legislative input.70


Signs of the Times?: Communications and Conflict


Nationalism, defence, White Australia - the overarching explanations beloved of the textbooks each and all seem to crumble when scrutinised more closely. It would seem that we have no alternative but to return to our box of time, however defined, and see just what was going on in those two decades before 1901, in the hope of identifying the pressures that led Australians to federate. Yet here again we encounter insoluble enigmas of historical methodology. Professor Frank Crowley performed many great services to the study of Australian history, but perhaps the most enjoyable of them all are the volumes of his Documentary History of Australia, of which Volume 3 covers the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Well over two hundred episodes are chronicled for the years from 1883 onwards, and even then we may suspect that this splendid anthology of colonial life has only skimmed the surface. Of course, common sense tells us that some of the vignettes can be discarded from any attempt to identify the causes of federation. The admission of women to Melbourne University, fires in Gippsland, floods in Brisbane - each of these gives us something of the flavour of the time, but none of them will strike us as likely candidates to constitute the explanation that we seek. It was an inventive era of technical change. The first typewriter had arrived as far back as 1883, the year the railway lines met at Albury, and by the end of the nineties, it was catching on fast: is there a subconscious association to be confronted here - typewriters, bureaucracy, federal government? Those who designed the new system of government were certainly aware of the potential. The 1891 Federal Convention had even attempted to deal with jurisdiction over wireless communications. This was a remarkable constitutional innovation, since in 1891 wireless had not yet been invented. However, the Professor of Physics at Sydney University had assured Griffith that it was only a matter of time, and federal control over "the transmission of information by any natural power" was duly inserted into the document.1 In 1896, as the movement for federation was gearing up for its final burst, the first moving pictures were shown in Australia and the first motor car was imported.

The same common sense that tells us to discard female students and horseless carriages from our provisional list of causes may mislead us into assuming that this negative process of selection has conferred upon the episodes that have survived the initial trawl at least a prima facie claim to be considered as contributory explanations. Having got so far in the process, these "causes" may start to attract shreds of supporting evidence in much the same way that flypaper collects dead insects. At the very least, we must show the same relentless agnosticism towards hypotheses suggesting causal links between federation and contemporary events that Ron Norris has displayed towards the grand explanatory theories that we have already discarded. We can at least arrange possible contemporary influences into five categories: environmental crisis, technological change (typewriters excepted), social conflict, financial investment and commercial opportunity. The first three may be dismissed relatively easily. The fourth and fifth take us deep into the economic motive, that fundamental but largely immeasurable aspect of the human condition.

Between 1895 and 1903, Australia endured the longest drought in its modern history. Is it mere coincidence that the greatest environmental crisis of European settlement should have coincided with the final push to achieve the most fundamental constitutional reorganisation of the continent? Any causal relationship must presumably be subtle, since in those days nobody believed that human activity could affect weather patterns. Even the imported English game of cricket failed to perform its legendary function as a rain-making ceremony under Australian skies.2 At a direct and practical level, the drought added to the tensions between rival colonial interests further to complicate negotiations at the Convention of 1897-98. Arid Australia has only one river capable of functioning as an internal waterway. For much of its course, the Murray forms the boundary between Victoria and New South Wales, but for its last 150 miles, it flows entirely within South Australia before half-heartedly dribbling into the Indian Ocean. In order to generate even the shallow flow required to support paddlesteamers, the Murray relied upon its tributaries, notably the Murrumbidgee and the Darling. Both of these flowed (when they flowed, which in the case of the Darling was not every year) entirely within New South Wales,  traversing some very dry country. Among the exciting technological prospects of the eighteen-nineties was the hope that the interior might be opened up through irrigation: there was a time when Alfred Deakin was as well known for his 1886 Victorian Irrigation Act as for his enthusiasm for federation. In New South Wales, George Reid insisted that the water from the three rivers was "vitally required if ever this great country is to be thickly peopled". Unfortunately, the very fact that water was so scarce meant that there was a conflict between the interests of outback farmers in New South Wales and the Murray River trade, which was important to South Australia. Reid, who rather specialised in troubled waters, accused the South Australians of wishing to turn his own colony into a mere catchment area.3

Eventually, after "the most exhausting debate of the whole Convention", the problem was solved, or rather dodged, by guaranteeing to individual States "the reasonable use of the waters of rivers for conservation or irrigation".4  Everything, of course, would depend upon the interpretation of the word "reasonable". South Australians like Symon grumbled that they had been given the river but not the water; New South Wales anti-Billites accused Adelaide of ambitions to take over the Blue Mountains. By 1902, the issue of water use in the Murray valley had reached a crisis point. Federation, it seemed, was irrelevant to the problem. New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria established a joint Royal Commission, just as if an Australian central government still did not exist. The most they could agree upon was a series of inter-government meetings to co-ordinate policy. However, the three States did silently unite in a common stance on one occasion. In 1904, the Commonwealth government suggested that the whole issue of control over the Murray waters be transferred to the federal sphere. None of the three State governments bothered to respond.5 As sometimes happens with tempestuous political issues, time proved to be a mighty healer. The riverboat had no real future. Perhaps there is a causal connection at some profound level between the ecological crisis of the drought and the political revolution of the Australian Commonwealth. All that can be said is that in practical terms, the fight over water resources added one more complication on the road to federation, and one that there is little reason to think that anybody seriously expected federation would solve. 

Writing in 1884, an enthusiast for federation accepted that it "would have been impossible 20 years ago" simply because communications were inadequate. "But science has given us in the steamboat and the railway a new organism, and in the electric telegraph a new nervous system."6 In truth, the steamboat was already past its peak. Echuca on the Murray owed its boom status as Australia's "toy New Orleans"7 to its rail link to Melbourne, and other lines were tapping in, both from Victoria and from New South Wales, to sap the river trade. As K.S. Inglis has shown, Australians eagerly embraced the telegraph and there was little disagreement that it should become a federal responsibility. However, that is not to claim that the telegraph made political union necessary. The Pacific cable, for instance, the all-British route to Europe by way of Canada, was planned at a conference held in Ottawa in 1894 and inaugurated in 1902, an example of the separate Australian colonies collaborating in the external sphere. As a possible explanation for federation, something might be made of the fact that, by the eighteen-nineties, cheaper telegraph rates and greater reliability of service had given London a dominant position in Australian investment markets. However, Luke Trainor, the historian who has most recently sought to interweave the Imperial and Australian stories, places little emphasis upon this aspect of potential financial control.8 Perhaps we should not make too much of communications as a basis for intercolonial harmony. Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney had been linked by telegraph as far back as 1858. "I rejoice at the shortening of the distance between us," the governor of New South Wales had wired his Victorian and South Australian counterparts. But when a New South Wales customs officer made a nuisance of himself in the river port of Echuca in 1864, the Victorian police used the telegraph to secure authority from Melbourne to threaten him with arrest.9 Nor did the communications revolution come with a rush. The telephone was slow to catch on: Sydney had a telephone exchange by 1882, but there was no connection to Melbourne until 1907.

That leaves us with the railways. There is a splendid ambiguity in the connection between federation and the extension of the railway network. Did railways sweep away the divisions between the colonies and bring about federation, or was federation necessary to bring about the full integration of the new transport system? As early as 1880, the governor of New South Wales was predicting that "the extension of the railway" would advance the federal cause by making clear the need for uniform commercial legislation.10 James Service put the point in more forceful imagery, assuring the assembled diners in the engine shed at Albury that there was "nothing like the cow catcher on the locomotive engine to sweep away material obstacles and local prejudices". Noel McLachlan cites Service's imagery as part of his explanation for the achievement of federation.11 There is, however, a problem with chronology: true, Australia has never developed a high-speed rail network, but it does seem odd that it took Service's cow-catcher seventeen years to nudge aside those artificial dotted lines that separated the colonies.

It might seem more plausible to invert the postulated causal relationship, arguing rather that federation was required to remove obstacles to the destiny of the locomotive. It is one of the clichés of Australian history that the continent's railways were built to different gauges. Unfortunately for this line of argument, it is by no means clear either that the different systems constituted a serious problem, or that the fragmented railway network constituted in any sense a reason for federation. It inspired a certain amount of rhetoric, as at Albury in 1883, and provided some federalist ammunition. General Bevan Edwards in 1889 had insisted that "a uniform gauge must be established - at all events on the through lines".12 Nothing was done. Manning Clark, a Melburnian exiled in Canberra, might write feelingly of "Albury station on a windy night",13 but the truth was that the break of gauge was a problem that few experienced. There was little enough intercolonial travel.14 Most passengers and almost all inter-colonial freight travelled by sea. For those who did travel by rail, there were advantages in breaking the journey at Albury, especially in the early years when on-board train facilities were minimal.15 The plain fact was that in Australia, railways were not intended to foster cross-border travel. In this, Australia differed from South Africa, where one of the incentives for establishing a strong central government was the need to direct the trade of the wealthy Transvaal to the ports of Cape Town and Durban, rather than allow it to follow its natural and shortest route through Portuguese East Africa.16

A glance at the atlas is enough to show that in Australia, very few railway lines have crossed State borders. Most lines snaked slowly outwards from the coast, especially from the capital cities. If they met at the border, they did so as rivals and were linked grudgingly, as an afterthought. Federation made little difference. To some, it even represented a threat to railway development. George Reid was cheered when he called it "madness" for the New South Wales "with an enormously rich territory to develop, to put the policy of railway construction into the hands of a Federal Parliament".17 With British Columbia in mind, Forrest tried to make Western Australian membership of the Commonwealth conditional upon construction of a transcontinental railway. As British Columbians might have pointed out, there was some difference between a promise (and, formally at least, Forrest did not even secure that much) and its performance. Construction of the transcontinental line began in 1912, and the first trains ran in 1917. While Fremantle remained the first Australian port of call for ships from Europe, as it did at least until the nineteen-sixties, Western Australians had a choice of luxury transportation should they wish to visit the eastern States. Few did so wish. The standardisation of gauges called for by General Bevan Edwards had to wait even longer. Between 1897 and 1921, twelve inter-governmental meetings discussed railway gauges, and in the latter year a Commonwealth Royal Commission recommended standardisation at four feet eight and a half inches. Not until 1962 was this achieved between Melbourne and Sydney. The problem of the gauges was finally eliminated in 1968.18 It is always dangerous for historians to discard a possible explanation for a major episode on the grounds of subsequent inaction. Circumstances can change, and problems that seem overwhelming at a specific moment in time sometimes have the good manners to go away. None the less, a system of government that took 67 years to standardise railway gauges can hardly be regarded as the product of a driving determination to tackle the issue. Albury station was no doubt just as windy after federation as it had been before. Technology may have facilitated closer political union, but neither its opportunities nor its shortcomings can constitute a satisfactory explanation for the federation of Australia.

Social conflict offers a far more promising field. Australia was swept by a wave of terrifying labour disputes in the early eighteen-nineties, at a time of economic depression and massive dislocation in the banking system.19 The most fundamental challenge came in 1890, with a widespread strike based on alliance between seamen and shearers. The Broken Hill mines were closed by a prolonged strike in 1892 and there were further disputes in the pastoral industry between 1891 and 1894, and in the New South Wales coalfields between 1893 and 1896. It is not difficult to see federation as a middle-class and conservative response to this wave of industrial militancy. Unfortunately, the evidence is indicative rather than conclusive. It was certainly the case that, with the prominent exception of William Trenwith, spokesmen for the labour movement were distrustful of a "swells' movement" and many opposed the federation scheme that it produced. Thus it is easy enough to conclude that militant trades unionism explains why the Australian middle class supported federation. (Confusingly, it was probably also the 1890 Maritime Strike that confirmed New Zealanders in their reluctance to become any more deeply involved in the neighbours' quarrels.) However, as Helen Irving has pointed out, there were also conservatives who opposed federation, a curious deviation if it had been designed as a plot to control the workers. Indeed, the near-total absence of any supporting evidence "of conservative opinion or advice along such lines" demonstrates that "the argument that this was a rational strategy does not hold water". In fact, the historical case seems to rest almost entirely upon Cardinal Moran, who described federation "as the only means of preventing one or other of the Colonies from going right over to extreme Socialism".20 Recently, Alastair Davidson has offered a similar interpretation in his Gramscian account of the development of State structures in Australia from 1788 to 1901. This seems an impressive consensus from diametrically opposite viewpoints. However, clergy are not always reliable guides in secular politics, while Davidson has perhaps surprisingly little to say about the movement that would seem to be the culmination of his massive study. In fact, one of Davidson's major concerns is to explain why, in his terms, the people of Australia voted themselves into the federal prison.21

It is worth noting that the argument that federation was essentially a precautionary move against socialism seems to rest very heavily upon a single quotation that expressed the views of Cardinal Moran. His Eminence first issued his warning in a newspaper interview in the middle of July 1894, as Queensland was heading into the most violent industrial dispute of the decade, the shearers' strike. He was referring to "the extreme communistic views which are in vogue among some of the Socialistic organisations".  It was perhaps something of an occupational hazard for senior Catholic clerics to fear violent revolution. It is surely more important to note that his views do not seem to have been shared by conservative leaders from the closely connected worlds of business and politics. It seems that few of them echoed his warning. Nor did they embrace him when he offered himself in 1897 as a candidate for the Convention. Henry Parkes, who was sometimes seen as an anti-Catholic politician, had earlier thanked the Cardinal for supporting the federal cause. Each colony elected ten delegates in 1897. If federation was a plot by the bosses to beguile and entrap the workers, why did the leaders of the campaign in New South Wales pass up the chance to throw their support behind the spiritual leader of the unskilled Irish Catholic workers? In fact, Moran's candidacy provoked "an unpleasant outburst of that sectarian feeling, which is never far beneath the surface in the politics of New South Wales".22 Historians should never forget the sectarianism of Australian politics, but it would be a mistake to build our appreciation of secular politics too narrowly upon the opinions of priests.

The more closely the hypothesis is examined, the harder it becomes to sustain the neat symmetry that sees federation as a conservative response to radical and militant labour. Brian de Garis is certainly correct in suggesting that neither side intended to provoke the Maritime Strike, but it was the employers who made the crucial demand that merchant navy officers should abandon their union affiliation. Overall, it was the employers who emerged victorious from the militant confrontations of 1890-94.23 Here again we are brought up against the conundrum of the precise dating of the movement for federation, and its various rhythmic ups and downs. The re-launch of 1890-91 had seemed promising: major intercolonial meetings, a draft constitution and the invitation to the separate legislatures to carry the project forward. Yet it was at precisely this moment, when the challenge from labour was at its height, that federation faltered. By the time it revived in 1897, the union movement was in retreat. Membership had fallen thanks to hard times, and in both Queensland and New South Wales, strike leaders had been sent to gaol. Thus the hypothesis that federation was a conservative response to labour militancy falters in its timing: at the point when we should have expected threatened citizens from the established order to rally to its cause, they showed themselves to be apathetic and indifferent. By the time they took up the federal cause, the working class threat had been considerably blunted within the existing context of class and colonial boundaries. It is noteworthy that Queensland, the storm centre of the violent strikes of 1894, was the colony that declined even to take part in the Convention of 1897-98. Its predominantly conservative politicians seem to have been slow to deduce that the salvation of their class interests lay in federation.

Paradoxically, it may be one of the forms through which that blunting took place that created the conditions for a sustained federal campaign from the middle of the eighteen-nineties. The strike wave probably helped launch Labor parties as an electoral force. From a standing start, the Labor Electoral League took 35 out of 140 seats in the New South Wales general election of 1891, and in other colonies Labor parties also won a block of parliamentary seats large enough to have an impact on the political scene - especially as Labor brought a new level of caucus discipline - but not sufficiently numerous to take office on their own.24 (By 1901, only Queensland had experienced a Labor government, and it had lasted for just one week.) The irony was that the working-class electoral challenge actually brought about a degree of much-needed stability that forced the existing political systems, colony by colony, to move from faction to a countervailing system of non-Labor parties. As a result, a number of the key figures of the federal movement remained in or close to office throughout the late eighteen-nineties and established the useful personal relationships necessary to bring together an initial Commonwealth cabinet. Even so, stability made federation possible rather than necessary. South Australia had been ruled by 39 successive ministries in the first 37 years of responsible government, before Labor arrived in the legislature in 1893 to focus the minds of the squabbling factions. The government formed by Charles Kingston that year was to achieve a six-year term, placing its premier at the heart of a movement for which he was already an enthusiast.

Cardinal Moran had warned against "extreme" socialism, and the adjective is important. In Britain, the arrogant and wealthy Sir William Harcourt was credited with the dictum that "we are all socialists now". To appreciate the legislative philosophy of the southern hemisphere colonies, explained Pember Reeves, it was necessary to "distinguish between socialism and a sort of socialism".25 The late nineteenth century saw a steady move towards collectivist State-led action: were it not for the fact that the early Commonwealth proved so timid in the extension of its authority, it would be tempting to see federation as part of that development. Moreover, we should remember the example of Inglis Clark of Tasmania. In the early eighteen-nineties he supported federation precisely because he saw the need for an authority that could respond to legal problems that transcended local boundaries,26 but by 1900 he had come to doubt whether the Commonwealth could survive its own financial provisions. Yet most opinion seems to have moved, if slowly, in the other direction. Thus the 1891 draft constitution said nothing about old age pensions and industrial arbitration. By 1898, both had been placed within the sphere of the Commonwealth government.

The arbitration power deserves closer examination, since it is the most obvious candidate for a constitutional response to the strike wave of the early eighteen-nineties. The first point to note is that it was not included in the 1891 draft, written in the crucible of industrial conflict. Kingston proposed the insertion of such a provision, citing the obvious point that industrial disputes could spread across local boundaries. He was defeated. This casts some doubt on Manning Clark's description of the members of the Convention as "men who were looking for political institutions which would handle strikes, lockouts [and] industrial anarchy ... with more facility... than six or seven colonial governments".27 If the arbitration power formed part of a conservative blueprint to curb the power of militant labour, its omission in 1891 seems distinctly odd. Thus we have to ask: in whose interests was the arbitration power proposed, and how did it come to be included in the revised draft of 1897-98?  For Davidson, compulsory arbitration was something "supported by the organised labour movement and the nascent Labor parties". It was accepted by a convention to which Labor representatives had failed to gain election because it was "politically astute for any State seeking to re-establish its hegemony to support such initiatives".28

There are some problems here in the interpretation of evidence. Trainor (who more neutrally regards arbitration as "an institutionalisation of conflict")29 had argued that the absence of emphasis upon defence amounted to concealment. Davidson concludes that the inclusion of a plank desired by the workers was a device to re-assert hegemony. But if federation was intended to repress the revolt of labour by armed force, why bother with such gestures at all? Even more puzzling is the evidence that seems to show that the arbitration clause was the outcome of one man's pertinacity, an unlikely scenario for a ruling class anti-revolutionary blueprint.

The proposal to add industrial arbitration to the federal powers was argued unsuccessfully at Adelaide in 1897 by Henry Bournes Higgins who, according to Garran, was blessed with "the British virtue of not knowing when he was beaten".30 (In fact Higgins was Irish.) La Nauze more waspishly noted that "he was not given to compromise if he was, in his judgment, in the right; and this usually was his judgment".31 He tried again when the Convention finally alighted in Melbourne the following year, insisting that he was not even proposing that arbitration should be compulsory. "I simply wish to give the Federal Parliament power to legislate on the subject.... I think I may appeal even to those who are opposed to conciliation and arbitration in industrial disputes in this respect". Higgins made the obvious point that a waterside dispute in Sydney could easily spread to Melbourne, and argued that the Commonwealth must be empowered to respond. This, one might have thought, was an obvious deduction from the strikes of 1890-91. But, perhaps recalling the integrity of Scotland's separate legal system, Symon replied that a strike that crossed the border between two colonies was really two different strikes. Other delegates seemed equally unpersuaded. Unexpectedly, Forrest announced that he would support Higgins to prove that behind his conservative exterior there lurked some liberal instincts.  The rest of the Western Australian delegation swung behind their leader, so that it was the  colony least troubled by labour unrest that wrote arbitration into the constitution.32

Thus it is not at all clear whether industrial arbitration was a device to control the unions, a surrender to the workers or a sop intended to disguise the reassertion of State hegemony. What does seem certain is that it formed no part of a concerted federalist blueprint for an Australian central government. "Had some of those whom [Higgins] persuaded to abandon their opposition been gifted with power to see into the future," mused Garran, "the result might have been otherwise."33 Far from relishing his victory, the idiosyncratic Higgins concluded that the Bill as a whole was undemocratic and led the opposition to its endorsement in the Victorian referendum campaign.34 It took much of the second federal parliament to achieve the legislation that would establish Commonwealth arbitration machinery.  It proved unexpectedly difficult, for instance, to craft legislation capable of controlling coastal shipping, one of the key areas of conflict in 1891. Even then, in 1906, the High Court - another of the controlling institutions created by the new constitution - ruled that Commonwealth arbitration was in no way binding upon employees of the State railway systems. It was left to Higgins, now a member of the bench himself, to redeem the clause for which he had so doggedly fought. In 1907, in the landmark Harvester case, he used it to assert the power to fix a national minimum wage. 

A cynical analysis of Australia's complex federal constitution might conclude that conservative interests deliberately re-organised the structure of government into a series of watertight compartments (the analogy with the Titanic is tempting) to ensure the isolation of any segment of the continent that fell into the extremist hands. This was the strategy attributed by Manning Clark to the delegates of 1891: "they all agreed that a division of legislative powers between the federal government and six or seven colonial parliaments would prevent any radical change in the ownership or distribution of property by constitutional means".35 Even if we pass over the inconvenient problem that their immediate contemporaries refused to implement the solution designed by the men of 1891, it is possible to identify two weaknesses in Clark's line of argument. First, it requires us to conclude that the assembled politicians of Australia deliberately designed a system of government that was "ponderous", to quote Sir John Cockburn's favourite adjective.36 In reality, the evidence suggests that the complexity of the constitution reflected the mutual suspicions of their regional points of view rather than any united sense of their class interest.

Secondly, it seems odd that politicians should respond to a perceived social threat by creating a central government, even if a weak one, that might be captured by their enemies. The men of 1891 may perhaps be acquitted on this heading: political Labor was in its infancy and nobody could be expected to have foreseen its discipline and potential popularity. But by 1898, the prospect that future governments might fall under working class political control was by no means imaginary. True, the previous year, a New South Wales conservative, Bruce Smith, condemned political Labor as a "growth upon our body politic" and predicted that the tumour would be "removed for all time by the proposed federation of the Colonies". Smith was one of the last proponents of absolute laisser faire, hardly typical even of fellow conservatives.  In the event, federation did as much to nurture as to eradicate political Labor. The party was to flourish in Victoria, where it was a late starter, largely as a by-product of Commonwealth politics.37 How ironic it would be to conclude that a deep-laid federalist plot by the Victorian bourgeoisie rebounded to create a threat where none had previously existed! It is a whole lot more likely that Manning Clark's seductive hypothesis lacks foundation.

It has already been suggested that the broad base of the movement for federation only makes sense if the earlier political divide between protection and free trade is discounted. It is worth remembering that when free traders and protectionists finally came together in the Fusion government of 1909, they made the tactical error of leaving Labor as the only feasible alternative for disgruntled voters. At the Commonwealth general election of 1910, Labor captured a majority in both houses of parliament. It may be riposted that there was a measure of difference between installing Andrew Fisher as prime minister and, pace Cardinal Moran, "going right over to extreme Socialism". But if any parts of Australia were likely to swing into the revolutionary column, they would probably be the States where assertive rural and mining proletariats operated within relatively small total populations, such as Queensland or Western Australia. It would have been singularly ironic if the principle of equal representation had given the far Left a disproportionate voice in the powerful Senate. As it happened, in 1910 Labor swept the whole of Australia to win all eighteen vacant Senate seats. It seems odd that conservative forces should have sought to safeguard their class interests by creating previously non-existent central machinery that could so easily fall into the hands of the people they most feared.

Of course, common sense, if only of the post hoc ergo propter hoc variety, tells us that there ought to be a causal link between the industrial unrest of the early nineties and the successful achievement of federation soon afterwards. But common sense and cynicism may not be reliable guides. Conservative federalists might well have had good reasons for concealment: in plain English, they would have been well advised to omit any reference to their intentions to reassert their hegemony from their public utterances. But nobody has ever found such evidence in their private correspondence, their diaries or their memoirs. A continent-wide conspiracy to enmesh the workers in constitutional shackles would surely have left some trace behind it. The addition of arbitration to the powers of the Commonwealth looks more like a recognition, half-accidental and half-reluctant, of the onward march of collectivism. Arbitration merits consideration because, in the drafting of the Commonwealth constitution, it was the issue that most closely related to the threat of industrial militancy. The more closely it is examined, the harder it becomes to view the achievement of federation in 1900-01 as a simple response to the strikes of ten years earlier.


Economic Motives: Banking, Investment and Trade


And so we come to economic motives. Even in a post-Marxist era, few will dispute that economic considerations are fundamental to any political process. The problem lies in the difficulty of disentangling just how they operated. As a preliminary sub-classification, it may be useful to distinguish between financial and commercial incentives, separating banking and investment on the one hand from trade on the other.

In 1893, Australia suffered the most serious financial crisis in its history. The speculative boom of the previous decade had already given way to recession, and the early nineties had seen the collapse of building companies in the eastern colonies. Queensland tried to raise £2.5 million on the London money market in 1891, and netted only £300,000.1 Nor did British investors content themselves with refusing to pour good money after bad. Thanks to the telegraph, they could easily liquidate existing investments at the first sign of trouble. In the absence of a central bank, Australia's financial houses issued their own banknotes, and most had pumped out more paper than they could redeem in gold. In January 1893 the first of the major trading banks simply ran out of cash  - ironically, it was called the Federal Bank of Australia - and by May, 14 of the 25 colonial banks had closed their doors.2 Intermittent crises continued to erupt for several years: Queensland, laggard in its acceptance of political union, endured a severe shock as late as 1896. Should we see the federation movement as a means of restoring Australian credit? At the Bathurst Convention, Thomas MacHattie appealed to the example of Canada, where it was claimed that federation enabled the Dominion government to borrow at half the interest rates previously charged to the separate provinces.3 Yet to a remarkable degree, this incentive featured neither in federalist propaganda nor was federation prominently mentioned among proposals to restructure the Australian banking system. In desperate times, retrenchment was the order of the day, and an extra tier of government meant more expense. After Queensland's humiliation, nobody seriously expected that British investors would buy colonial securities under any circumstances: gold-rich Western Australia was the only colony they smiled upon. Perhaps it was the utter implausibility of suggesting that any constitutional reform would be sufficient to arouse the enthusiasm of British investors that explains why there was so little mention of this argument in federalist propaganda. Since most Australians would have seen benefits in developing the continent's resources through low-interest loans from abroad, it is unlikely that omission can be explained by any desire to conceal.

A landmark contribution to recent historical scholarship has come from P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins. Put simply, their theory of "gentlemanly capitalism" explains how financial interests in London manipulated the British empire through their ability to provide low-interest loans overseas. Their hypothesis does not command universal acceptance, but even an agnostic can make two major points in praise of its authors.  Unlike most theorists of "imperialism", who concentrate on Africa and Asia, Cain and Hopkins have sought to accommodate the white colonies within their argument, for instance attempting to account for Confederation in Canada as a trade-off for British-guaranteed railway funding. Secondly, their work is supported by impressive bibliographical knowledge, including an awareness of local academic controversies around the world. It is therefore worth noting that their discussion of Australia goes no further than suggesting that the financial crisis of the early eighteen-nineties "gave a strong impetus to the federation movement ... since it convinced business interests of the need to unify and extend the internal market". Thus their explanation hinges not upon investment but rather on "free-tection".4 Furthermore, they base their claim upon a statement in Manning Clark's Short History of Australia. This useful overview was published in 1963, and two generations of students have good reason to be grateful for its provocative and evocative text. In short, the progenitors of the "gentlemanly capitalism" thesis could find neither contemporary evidence nor subsequent scholarship that might tie the federation movement to a desire to generate low-interest British loan funding.

Although Clark did not cite his sources, there is no reason to disagree with his statement that "some bankers and financiers believed a federal government might prevent a repetition of the financial depression of 1890-93".5  How far they shaped the new system of government to their wishes is open to doubt. The document that emerged in 1898 would have made the High Court of Australia the ultimate arbiter of constitutional cases, with no further appeal permitted to the Privy Council in London. This provision triggered a sharp dispute between the British government and the colonial delegates. The Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, acknowledged that he was under pressure from "banks and other financial and commercial institutions having large interests in Australia". In the end, a meeting between the two sides struck a compromise that saved face for both. When the British negotiators left the room, their Australian counterparts "seized each other's hands and danced ... to express their jubilation".6 This does not sound like a group of men designing a new structure of government with the primary intention of winning the smiles of British bankers.  The point deserves to be underlined: in the most contentious dispute over the framing of legislation, the imperial government argued that the abolition of appeals would discourage British investment in Australia, but the colonial delegates insisted on curtailment all the same.

Nor did the Commonwealth government take urgent steps to involve itself in the areas that had triggered the crisis of the early eighteen-nineties. A major cause of the financial crisis of 1893 had been the over-printing of paper money by individual colonial banks. The Commonwealth did not get into the business of issuing banknotes until 1910, belatedly using its powers of taxation to squeeze out private sector rivals. Another element that helped to explain the scale of the crash was the absence of any local equivalent of the Bank of England, with its authority to regulate the financial sector. It was not until after the Second World War that Australia acquired an effective central bank. Ironically, both these initiatives came from Labor governments, not from their business-oriented opponents. Overall, it is difficult to see how federation could have been a direct response to the financial crisis of the early nineties.

As earlier noted, in 1949 R.S. Parker suggested a new way of explaining why federation came about. He argued that Australia should be thought of less as divided into six colonies but rather as organised into eight economic regions, only one of which, the island of Tasmania, was coterminous with existing colonial boundaries. Thus, by implication, the dynamic accounting for the pressure to federate came from the problems of border districts, where political boundaries cut across the natural lines of trade and communication. In this, Parker was fleshing out an argument that enthusiasts for federation had advanced as an explanation for the success of their movement. "It was natural that the border districts, where the irritation and absurdity of the provincial tariffs were most apparent, should take the lead in the popular movement."7 However, it is tempting to suggest that in advancing his hypothesis, Parker was thinking very much as a political scientist, seeking a general theory that would sweep up all the specific examples. By contrast, his main antagonist, Geoffrey Blainey, was equally characteristic in resorting to the classical historian's riposte of "Yes but...".8

In one sense, Parker's framework does highlight an intriguing aspect of the federation movement, one noted by Vance Palmer, the custodian of the "Legend of the Nineties". In rural areas, "there was little talk of federation but the essential unity of Australia as a country with common interests was taken for granted". By contrast, "in the capital cities, federation was discussed as an important issue, but it was regarded almost as an alliance between countries foreign to one another and having rival economies".9 This was almost certainly true of Palmer's own colony, Victoria, and probably also of South Australia, where an Adelaide newspaper observed that "Federation is to be a union of hearts, but it is also to be a partial amalgamation of businesses."10 Elsewhere, the capital cities were less enthusiastic. Indeed, it is a remarkable feature of Australian federation that in one of the most urbanised societies in the world, a fundamental movement for change was carried in the face of opposition from at least three of the principal cities. Brisbane voted two-to-one against federation in 1899; Sydney had been evenly divided the year before and the narrow Yes majorities in "Perth-mantle" in 1900 can probably be explained largely by the fear that the gold-rich interior would insist upon breaking away. Even within the three colonies that were more enthusiastic towards federation, there were pockets of resistance in the capital cities: the 32 percent No vote across South Australia rose to 43 percent in Adelaide; in Tasmania, the No vote almost doubled from the 19 percent island-wide average to 36 percent in Hobart. 

However, this curious inversion of what we might expect as the driving force for change is not enough to sustain Parker's hypothesis. Except in Queensland, rural support for federation tipped the balance rather than outvoted the capital. Moreover, as Blainey pointed out in his discussion of Victoria, the six border electorates, from Wodonga to Mildura, backed federation by the same four-to-one margin of the colony at large.11 In focusing upon colonial boundaries, Parker overlooked one common-sense point: while artificial borders may create inconvenience for some, they present opportunities for others and so create special interests that will resist change. Darling Downs electorates voted against federation: Parker himself showed that farmers around Toowoomba feared competition from northern New South Wales precisely because the areas were so similar.12 Some South Australians were also conscious that intercolonial free trade was a two-way process. "We shall gain the Victorian market, it is said," a farmer grumbled. "Well, the Victorians will gain ours".13 Yet even these considerations were open to individual interpretation.  Ostensibly, the Victorian cattle industry was protected by a stock tax that discouraged imports from other colonies, but by the late nineties, some cattlemen had come to doubt whether they really benefited from such protection at all.14 In some border areas, ethnicity and class may have played as great a role as economic interests. This would certainly seem to have been the case in Broken Hill, which voted No in 1898. Memories of the ferocious strike of 1892  probably explain working class distrust of the federation movement in a remote mining town even though it relied largely upon nearby South Australia for access to the outside world. Similarly, the presence of German settlers in southern Queensland may partly account for opposition to federation in that region. Why this should have been so is more a mystery: it puzzled Pastor Haas, their spiritual leader, and it does not seem to have been a factor in South Australia, the other region with a sizeable German-descended population.15

Parker's hypothesis can also be faulted on four wider grounds. First, it is something of an exaggeration to claim (in the words of L.F. Crisp) that colonial boundaries "became more and more grotesque in their artificiality". Some at least of the oratorical fire directed against them was exaggerated. Forrest in 1898 called the boundary between Western Australia and South Australia "merely a line drawn on the map." All the colonies were separated by "imaginary lines [which] require sweeping away."16 Removing a line from the map would still have left hundreds of miles of the Nullabor between the two settler populations. Secondly, Parker's emphasis upon inconvenient boundaries is not time-specific. "We had the natural outlet for a portion of Western Victoria, for the Barrier [Broken Hill] district, and for South-Western Queensland," a South Australian politician told cheering crowd at a federalist meeting, adding that they "had in this respect almost everything to gain from federation". A good Parkerian sentiment - and presumably just as true when it was uttered in April 1890 as it would be ten years later, but not enough to bring about federation at that time.17 Thirdly, Parker failed to address one of the issues that federalists took good care to conjure out of sight: if artificial borders were a barrier to commerce, why did Australians adopt the constitutional solution of a new system of government rather than seek the simpler political answer of an intercolonial free-trade zone? There were good tactical reasons for ducking the issue, simply because some conservative voices had argued that the remedy for the depression was "either federation, or failing that, a Customs Union" [emphasis added].  If they bothered to notice the point at all, campaigners for a Yes vote in 1898 simply asserted that "there can be no lasting freedom of Australasian trade without federation".18  Thirdly, Parker's analysis overlooked the problem that arguments for local advantage could be counter-productive elsewhere. An Albury newspaper saw federation as a blow to those who regarded Sydney as "the centre of the solar system".19 Grenfell's local newspaper listed the reasons for voting Yes, one of them being "Because Sydney should not be greedy."20 Queensland's decision to accept federation, albeit reluctantly, becomes even more complicated in the light of Parker's re-design of Australia into eight economic zones, since two of them fell largely within the northern colony. In Cairns, federation was hailed as a blow against "Brisbane and the spoon-fed southern districts".21 "Federation offers Maryborough the last and only chance of to some extent checking the greed that has characterised the octopus of South", remarked a central Queensland newspaper.22 A spokesman for the 107,000 people of the colony's capital city retaliated by describing federation as "a deep-laid scheme to wipe out Brisbane".23

In any case, economic interests were filtered through personal judgement. John Bastin provided two intriguing examples from Western Australia. The owner of a Fremantle hardware and timber firm was an active opponent of federation; the manager of his Geraldton branch served on the executive of the rival Federal League. Another notable federalist was the Perth tailor, John Phair, who was President of the local branch of the nascent Australian Natives' Association. The clothing trade generally opposed federation, fearing competition from larger enterprises in the eastern colonies. "Was Phair then a more ardent member of the A.N.A. than he was a tailor?"24 An anti-federalist in Capricornia assured cattle interests that compulsory vegetarianism was the only policy open to southern politicians if they wished to block the import of Queensland beef.25 Similarly, many New Zealand market gardeners took comfort in the thought they would be able to supply Sydney markets in drought years even if they would be excluded at other times by local competition, irrespective of tariffs or political unions.26 

The disentangling of these calculations is complicated by the fact that many of them were directed not so much at immediate circumstances as towards the longer term. "What shall we do with our boys?" was a cry in late nineteenth-century Melbourne.27 "What shall we do with our Mataros?" asked South Australian wine-producers as they moved into over-production in the eighteen-nineties. Industry leader Thomas Hardy took "consolation" from "dreams of federation" as he too asked "what is to become of all these boys and girls?"28 Some visions of the future may strike us as improbable, if not bizarre. The tiny coastal port of Kingston gave a 95 percent vote in favour of federation in the hopes of becoming the "Liverpool of Australia".29 Hay in the Riverina had hopes of becoming the Chicago of New South Wales.30 "Sydney was naturally adapted for the building of steel ships," argued a speaker at the New South Wales Chamber of Manufacturers in 1898. "Was it too much to expect that in the near future she would become to Australia what Glasgow was to Scotland?"31 The Ballarat Star not only laid claim in 1898 to the future federal capital, but described in fantastical detail the parliament building, "a massive structure, no doubt, faced with stone, with an elevation in the Corinthian style, extending along the entire front", along with the courts, opera house and viceregal residence.32 Ballarat's historian is at a loss to explain why the city voted so overwhelmingly for federation - even in 1899, by which time any chance of becoming the federal capital had been surrendered to New South Wales.33 Of course many of these hopes failed in fulfilment. How far they influenced the responses of individuals to the question of federation at the time, we can never know.

The second-guessing of those hoped-for but now lost futures constitutes a methodological minefield for historians. For instance, Blainey noted that some of the strongest support for federation in South Australia came from electorates in the wheat-growing area north of Adelaide. He pointed out that "keen competition from Victoria" and "growing self-sufficiency" in other colonies was hitting South Australia's exports, a process that continued after federation. "The wheat industry could, and did, gain little from the removal of colonial tariffs." Thus, to Blainey, two-fifths of the colony's Yes vote lacked "a sound explanation in terms of economic interest".34 He was roundly reproved by Norris: "the question of what actually happened to wheat exports after federation is not relevant". What mattered "is what was thought likely to happen at the time". In any case, Norris argued that it was simplistic to assume that the South Australian wheatlands produced nothing but wheat. The colony's principal intercolonial exports were in fact by-products, flour, hay and chaff, which were thought to suffer from trade barriers. Opportunities for new markets also appealed to the salt industry of the Yorke peninsula, while scattered among the wheat farmers, there were pastoralists who hoped to benefit from the wider horizons of federation.35

As already noted, the Parker-Blainey debate fizzled out leaving much of Australia untouched. On balance, de Garis seems to regard it as a draw. It was "likely", he concluded, "that some of the opposition to federation was evoked by real or imagined economic threats". But "it is more difficult to prove that economic causes were responsible for general movement in favour ... though clearly they played a part".36 The Adelaide newspaper, the Register, which comfortably concluded that "after all, one of the most impressive arguments relative to federation is the argument of the pocket" was in no doubt that the South Australian pocket would say Yes. Yet it could equally warn that "if our stockbreeders are not able to stand up against competition from far-distant Queensland they should realise that the consumer will not always consent to prop them up".37 The economic interests that counted were those of consumers seeking to buy cheap, rather than those of producers hoping to sell dear. "Timid men and commercial weaklings who require to be spoonfed may not like it" but "the fittest must survive".38 One South Australian manufacturer, William Burford, claimed to rise above such considerations. "Should the result prove to my firm somewhat different to my expectations then I am loyal enough to my native land to put up with the same so that Australia shall become a great nation in the future ... rather than we should continue as a few weak disintegrated provinces."39 Burford's protestation of disinterest was intended to counter suspicions that he planned to exploit federation in order to cut wages. In any case, he was wealthy enough to cope with some financial loss, an advantage that others did not share. "Take no notice of what the Federal delegates have to say, as they are not working men who have only their bare wages to live upon," warned one South Australian labour representative. The colony was "not in a position to compete against New South Wales or Victoria".If workers wished "to keep such manufactories we have in our midst", they would be well advised to vote No.  In Adelaide's two most industrial electorates, factory workers voted to reject the Bill.40 Nor was Burford's high-mindedness shared by every middle-class Australian. One Tasmanian opponent was described as "particularly violent and uncompromising, but he is the sort of man who would vote against the Millenium [sic] if he thought it would involve him in a payment of 20/- per ann. more taxes". It is difficult for historians to recover economic motives and harder still to assess the relative role they played in the decisions of individual voters. Individuals responded to arguments in different ways, especially as nobody could really be sure what would be the impact of intercolonial free trade. In Tasmania, small-scale industries, such as shoe-making, tanning and biscuit-making, would probably go under "when exposed to the competition of Victorian manufacturers with their better & cheaper methods", but fruit and timber production could be expected to expand. "What the results of the dislocation will be no one can foretell."41 It was not entirely surprising that during the referendum campaigns in Tasmania, "large numbers of people were tired of arithmetic; what they wished to hear about was the future of the Australian people".42  An economic determinist might retort that people will only adopt so noble a stance if they are persuaded that there is no threat to their material interests. Thus the argument about economic causes comes full circle, back to its own assumptions. As Helen Irving has recently pointed out, even if economic motives provided the crucial political motivation, it remains to be explained why these were harnessed to federation, and why thie linkage should have happened in the eighteen-nineties.43 It is tempting to embrace a comment made by Michael Oakeshott long ago: "to say of an event that it is due solely to 'economic causes', is not bad history; it is not history at all".44


A New Explanatory Theory: The Utopian Moment


In 1997, Helen Irving advanced a challenging new hypothesis to account for the construction of the Australian Commonwealth. Her approach was through the prism of cultural history, one that explored the discourse of the federation movement in terms of contemporary social and gender values. Only in her thoughtful conclusion did she make explicit her view of historical explanation: a longer elaboration of her theory would be a useful contribution to discussion. Irving regarded the timing of federation as "one of the enduring mysteries of Australian history". There was nothing new about schemes for the union of the colonies: "why then did Federation occur when it did, and not before?" (As will be argued in the next section, the more those earlier proposals are examined, the harder it becomes to answer this question with confidence.) Parenthetically dismissing any notion of a single cause, Irving went on to "challenge fundamentally a number of earlier interpretations of Federation". In particular, she dismissed causal hypotheses based upon class and regional economic interests, and generally discounted materialistic and utilitarian motives. Rather, she argued, the eighteen-nineties represented a fin de siècle decade that produced "almost surreal optimism" as it anticipated a new century. All Western countries were characterised by faith in progress and modernisation. The reason why the Australian version of this optimism expressed itself in the movement for federation is to be found in the distinctive "Utopian moment" that characterised the colonies for about a decade through to the early eighteen-nineties. By Utopia, Irving meant not the dream-worlds condemned in passing by William Pember Reeves in his State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand, but rather the entire antipodean legislative project to redesign the role and boundaries of society which Reeves chronicled in his 1902 survey. "What makes a work Utopian is the belief that a whole system can be written down, constructed from a single set of principles."1 At first sight, the Commonwealth constitution might indeed seem to batter its way into such a classification.

Irving's theory is an immensely welcome contribution to a becalmed debate. However, it is not without its problems. Few would contest her view that there is no single reason for the success of the movement for federation. Yet if we are to answer the question that she rightly highlights and account for its vigour in the eighteen-nineties, we are surely entitled to expect to identify some contemporary combination of needs or pressures that acted as the "trigger" for federation, even if they may be insufficient to occupy the larger role of its "cause". Yet each of the plausible and often postulated candidate "causes" simply fail to withstand the close scrutiny of the search for supporting evidence. This problem is hardly solved by electing to view the late eighteen-nineties as a time of optimism, surreal or otherwise. Indeed, if we subscribe to the view that the effective campaign for federation began at Tenterfield in 1889, then the origins of the constitutional blueprint itself must be traced to a time when Australia was very far from optimistic about its social and economic destinies. Conversely, the decade through to the mid-nineties that Irving sees as Australia's "Utopian moment" coincided with the years in which first the Federal Council and then the 1891 draft constitution drifted into the doldrums. Thus Irving's theory comes up against a temporal mismatch in two important respects. How could Australians have been swept into a mood of optimism powerful enough to transform their structure of government in the later eighteen-nineties so soon after the despair that had seared the first half of the decade? (Inconveniently, the least enthusiastic federalists were the Western Australians, who by 1897 enjoyed the best reason of all the colonies to believe in a - literally - golden future.) If Australia's "Utopian moment" had indeed peaked by the mid-nineties, how did it find the energy to transmute itself into the sustained campaign for fundamental constitutional change in the immediate aftermath?

The inverted commas, used by Irving herself, are not intended to mock the concept. Without doubt, it is illuminating to be invited to reconsider late nineteenth-century Australia as a society driven by a desire for Utopian precision and perfection. Yet the more we look at Australia in those terms, the harder it is to see a direct connection with the constitution that emerged from the successive federal conventions of that decade. It does indeed conform to Irving's definition that "a whole system can be written down", but can we equally conclude that it was "constructed from a single set of beliefs"? "Federation is a compromise," wrote Pember Reeves. "Compromises when at all elaborate usually contain paradoxes, on paper."2 As Helen Irving herself has recently reminded us, Bernhard Wise excused alleged blemishes in the draft constitution by pleading that "until we learn the secret of obtaining perfection in human affairs, a political choice must always lie between the lesser and greater of two evils".3 This is emphatically not the language of utopianism. Irving regards the popularity of Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward as evidence of the prevalence of utopian thinking in late nineteenth-century Australia. It is worth remembering that Bellamy's chief populariser was William Lane, who departed in 1893 to establish his ideal New Australia in the wilds of Paraguay: real-life Australia simply did not measure up to the ideal. Reeves described the Commonwealth constitution as "an effort to reconcile two inconsistent principles", the equality of individuals, "the basis of democracy" and "the political equality of six federating States".4 With one prominent exception, the men who designed the Australian constitution do not seem to have been troubled by the inconsistency. It is the Australian labour movement that is conventionally associated with the notion of "the light on the hill". By contrast, it is not so much Utopia that hovers over the Fathers of Federation as myopia: even on matters as fundamental as parliamentary government and party politics, many of them entertained hazy notions of the future. Henry Bournes Higgins, with his vision of government-supervised industrial relations, stood out as the exception.  Higgins did indeed demand a constitution that reflected a single set of beliefs, his beliefs, a stance that led him to reject the compromise between citizen equality and State parity and campaign for the rejection of the document that he had helped to draft.

Thus Australia's "Utopian moment" would have supplied an illuminating explanation had the movement for federation faltered during the eighteen-nineties and perished under the conflicts of Australian divisions.  Yet every historian should have the humility to recognise that few explanatory hypotheses "work" in accounting for every aspect the problems they seek to address. Can we modify Irving's Utopian theory, to accommodate federation within the process of a growing complexity of government, one that was reducing to legislative formulae not so much the blueprint for perfection as the desire for progress? As Reeves put it, people were "never so well that they do not wish to be better".5 The modification is attractive, but the argument is open to two powerful objections. The first is to be found in the circular relationship between assumption and deduction. Perhaps the process of government in Australia had indeed reached such a stage of "maturity" or "sophistication" (the anthropomorphic terminology ought to flash a warning of intellectual sleight of hand) that it logically and necessarily spawned a superior tier of federal government. Unfortunately, the only evidence we possess to support the hypothesis lies in the fact that a federal government was created at that time. Its emergence might be attributed to the development of government structures, but equally we might choose to regard federation as the product of the drought or the test matches. Secondly, there is, once again, the problem of the lost seventh colony. New Zealanders in the eighteen-nineties had not only gone further than most of their Australian neighbours in expanding the practical role of government but also in redefining the theoretical scope of the State. Yet a society that could throw up a leader such as Richard John Seddon was more pragmatic than dogmatic. We are thus left asking why New Zealand stood aloof from a movement that logically it should have led.


The Voice of the People


To emphasise the impenetrable motives of individuals brings us to a fundamental conundrum in the federation story. The achievement of the Commonwealth of Australia was built upon the most democratic process that the world had ever seen. In some colonies, adult males voted - or were offered the chance to vote - three times to choose delegates and to approve their handiwork.  In South Australia, women joined men at the polls. Some perceived direct and overwhelming personal motives that determined them to vote for or against. But it seems likely that many Australians found it difficult to decide where their long-term interests might lie. The cynical might link their uncertainty to the remarkable consistency with which political elites seem only to have asked the people to pronounce when they were reasonably certain that the verdict would be favourable.

However reluctantly, we must discard the view that women played a crucial role. The temporal relationship between feminism and federation seems to be about as causally significant as the connection between federation and drought. Catherine Helen Spence sought one of South Australia's ten delegate places at the 1897 poll, the only woman candidate across the whole continent. Even she felt it necessary to resort to the ploy of submitting her nomination five minutes before the deadline to avoid any challenge to her eligibility. Her argument that federation would bring "to Australian politics that dignity and consistency which have been so woefully lacking in the past" might be identified as a specifically female point of view. However, one federalist pressure group included her name among its list of the "10 best men", insisting "she's the best man of the lot".1 Spence was also backed by a women's temperance organisation. None the less, she not only ran twenty-second but regarded her performance as a moral victory, since she had campaigned independently of the main "tickets". This was an admission that women did not constitute a separate and identifiable block vote. (She did at least have the consolation of having polled ten times the vote won by the male candidate who died during the campaign.) Even if she had been elected, there would have been no guarantee that the Convention's Fathers would have shared the gender enlightenment of her home province, and she might not have been allowed to take her seat.

Overall, Australia had moved forward since 1883, when a journalist had thought it as natural for politicians celebrating the rail link at Albury to talk about federation as women to discuss their dress-makers. From the time of the Bathurst Convention, which was supported by a Ladies' Organising Committee, Women's Federal Leagues undertook the kind of fund-raising and envelope-stuffing that would remain the standard female contribution to politics for decades ahead. When Allan McLean held an anti-federation rally at Bairnsdale in 1898, a hostile journalist reported that the audience was small, and composed largely of "ladies". Perhaps they were persuaded "to a woman" by McLean's oratory but "etiquette restrains them from those expressions of approval by which a male supporter relieves his feelings".2  A Tasmanian versifier (inspired, it would seem, by a song from The Gondoliers) was so concerned when a friend became obsessed with the arguments for and against federation that he escorted the sufferer home:


I left him on his door-step, and I'll forfeit you my life,

If he didn't start explaining federation to his wife...3


Despite the flamboyant façade of popular involvement through the ballot box, there is good reason to suspect that in voting on the federation issue, Australians of both sexes were running little errands for the Ministers of State. For many, it was not a pleasure that they treasured. A deluge of propaganda did little to dispel confusion. In New South Wales, copies of the draft federation Bill were sent to every household.4 Circulation was equally widespread in Victoria. Asked by an enthusiastic customer if he was following the 1898 referendum campaign, a despairing Melbourne barber replied that he had read the Bill three times over "and I was more confounded at the end than when I first began".5 Saturation press coverage of the issue was not necessarily more helpful. An assiduous South Australian newspaper reader confessed that "after wading through the correspondence for and against this momentous issue I lay down the paper with a sigh". "I have heard so much on each side, I've read so much argument for and against," complained a New South Wales voter, "that I have not the least notion which is right. One side is certainly wrong, but there is such an apparency of truth in both parties that I cannot detect the truth from the lies."7

As if the pressures were not great enough in journalistic prose, the federation issue also triggered an outpouring of poetry. During the 1898 referendum campaign, the Sydney Morning Herald received on average a dozen effusions of patriotic verse every day. "The federation poet is a fearful scourge just now," remarked a Tasmanian newspaper at the same time.8 It was probably the rival kings of Barataria who inspired one Hobart bard:


Oh! It's Federation this, and it's Federation that;

You dare not stop your neighbour just to have a friendly chat.

He talks of frightful figures, how he lays awake at night;

At first you only "think" he's mad, but soon you know he's quite.9


The problem was evidently as severe among the demotic songsters of Launceston:


I am fairly flummixed, I am

All over this 'ere Federation;

I thought 'twould be like eating jam

To start an Australian nation.

But it's rather a three-cornered game,

Why squaring the circle ain't in it;

There's but one who has mastered the same,

And he's in New Norfolk this minit.10


New Norfolk was Tasmania's mental hospital.

Not surprisingly, the plethora of propaganda generated cynicism, as demonstrated by a versifier from Bega in New South Wales:


Four loaves of bread and a bushel of wheat

Divided by twopence and sixteen feet,

Are equal to seventy pounds of steam,

And that is the cost of the federal scheme!


The cost of the scheme you can easily see,

For three sevens are seventy three,

Allowing a margin for possibly more,

Then three times nine are a hundred and four!11


From cynicism it was a short step to denial. A correspondent of a Rockhampton newspaper complained that "not ninety percent" of rural voters in central Queensland took "the slightest interest in the voluminous matter printed from day to day" during the 1899 referendum campaign. Most regarded all propaganda on the subject "with as much suspicion as a patent medicine advertisement".12 Further north, at Cairns public opinion was described as "apathetically one-sided".13 Yet north and central Queensland appear in the textbooks as federalist strongholds. Statistically this was so, but it was so partly because everywhere across Australia referendum turn-outs were relatively low compared with those at general elections. It may be that the public sensed that its much-vaunted approval was only sought when the politicians were confident of the outcome. If so, the voters did not disappoint their leaders. Not once in ten referendums did they vote No - but only once, in Victoria in 1899, did the Yes vote exceed fifty percent of the registered electorate.14



The Problem of Historical Explanation


Concluding her study of the referendum campaigns in the country districts of New South Wales, Patricia Hewett suggested that historians could "take comfort from the irrationality of voters' reactions to the questions that confronted them". If the voters themselves found such difficulty in confronting the issue of federation, subsequent historians could hardly be expected to determine "clear evidence of motivation".1 The reassurance is welcome, but it may risk throwing the historical enquiry too far in the opposite direction of negative resignation. A survey that steadily shreds the logical underpinning of each successive postulated cause and textbook explanation may ultimately lose sight of one very basic fact: federation did take place. History rests upon a philosophical base, even if not always clearly articulated, one that takes for granted that events originate in causes. Since federation did indeed come about, it follows that it must have happened for intelligible, and therefore presumably recoverable, reasons. If historians find difficulty in convincingly identifying those causes, the problem must lie either in historical methodology itself, or in the apparently inscrutable ways in which human beings reach their decisions.

Hewett may have exaggerated in referring to "the irrationality of voters' responses" during the New South Wales referendum campaigns. None the less, her research contributes two points to the search for a causative analysis. The first is that many voters were confused, so much so that it is difficult to disentangle the reasons why they voted as they did. The second emphasises the accuracy of her choice of the term "responses". Once we strip the Corowa conference of its mythic status as a popular movement, we can dismiss "the people" as originators of the specific proposals for federation. In the referendum campaigns, the voters were reacting to propositions placed before them by the politicians. In our search for explanation, then, we are brought back to the motives of the political elite who drove the movement for federation. Here we encounter yet another of the imponderable challenges for the historian: how can we identify the reasons for human action?

Why should a handful of political leaders devote themselves to the cause of something so abstract as federation? A political scientist struggling to define the concept of federation was once driven to appeal to an engineer's description of an aeroplane as a "machine that almost doesn't fly".2 By an exercise of lateral thought, this may remind us of Lawrence Hargrave, an engineer himself, who from 1884 onwards doggedly experimented with flying machines, including steam-powered kites. By 1894 he succeeded in lifting himself fifteen feet off the ground, but it is generally agreed that Hargrave's machines slightly exceeded the definition of almost failing to fly. His achievements as an aviation pioneer are rightly honoured in Australia, but it remains a mystery that at the very edge of the advanced world - if the citizens of Stanwell Park, NSW will forgive the description - there should have been an individual so determined to invent the aeroplane. Can we be any more precise about the motivations of those who campaigned for its constitutional equivalent?

In a general sense, we can tentatively identify the motivation of some of the individual participants. The ageing Henry Parkes was looking for his place in history, a conceit cleverly fanned by the governor of New South Wales, Lord Carrington. Deakin believed that "the desire for fame and for association with so great a work counted for a great deal among the chief actors".3 George Houston Reid was probably out for the interests of George Houston Reid, although these did not always coincide with the good health of federation. Edmund Barton was initially regarded with some suspicion by other campaigners: he was thought to be lazy and there were suspicions that Toby Tosspot drank more than was good for him. However, in the last stages of the campaign, Barton was believed to have sacrificed his legal practice to the cause, and to have run up a massive £5000 debt.4 Deakin's conversion has been attributed to his experience of the 1887 Colonial Conference in London where, as the delegate from Victoria, he was the only Australian representative to stand up to the British. The explanation of his reason for supporting federation seems incontrovertible, but the logic of his belief that Australia should speak with a single voice was less persuasive. What if united Australia was represented in London, as in time it would be represented, by Robert Gordon Menzies?5 Since Victoria was the most confident of the Australian colonies, Deakin might with equal logic have turned his face against federation in order to guarantee that there would be at least one assertive voice at imperial gatherings.

With Alfred Deakin, we come to another problem. Whereas we know far too little about the mental processes of individual voters, in some respects we may know, or think we know, far too much about those who shaped the options which the people were asked to endorse. Our own perceptions also play a role in how we assess the motivation of the Fathers of Federation. The creation of a united Australian nation is an achievement that merits our respect. Therefore Alfred Deakin, who contributed so greatly to its achievement, is deservedly seen as the statesman and visionary of La Nauze's great biography. But Deakin believed not only in federation but also in spiritualism, although it is fair to note that his confidence in the latter waned in parallel with his commitment to the former.6 Should we regard Deakin's flirtation with the spirits as the eccentric product of an irrelevant sub-compartment of his brain, or are we forced to confront the implications of the fact that the same mind could believe in the future that awaited Australia after federation and the future that beckoned the soul after death?

An even more remarkable episode concerns Patrick MacMahon Glynn, whom we have already seen saving the day at Adelaide in 1897 when he switched sides to support a draft constitution that would be acceptable to New South Wales and Victoria. When the Convention reassembled at Sydney later that year, Glynn's attention wandered. During a debate on taxation, he wrote a letter to a young woman from Victoria whom he had only met once, two years earlier, and bluntly asked her to marry him. If she agreed,  "why should we not be married at once"[?] Writing on a Tuesday, he offered to travel to Melbourne that Friday (no concerns here about changing trains at Albury), marry her on the Saturday and return immediately. "This is a lot to ask, but the occasion is my great excuse. I am not my own master now - we are the servants of the Nation and its destinies." Happily, the recipient of his letter (it was the first she had ever received from him) had been thinking on similar lines. Late the following evening, her telegram of acceptance arrived. (Evidently federation was not required to improve intercolonial communications.) On Thursday Glynn warned the Convention of the potential threat from China, before slipping away to catch the overnight train to Melbourne. He reappeared a married man on Monday, and just one week after penning his proposal was able to show off his bride at a glittering ball in Government House. As a contemporary journalist remarked, Glynn had found a dramatic way of demonstrating his personal commitment to closer union. "The breakneck speed with which Glynn got married remains a puzzle," commented his biographer. The historian not only shares the perplexity, but must face the awesome implications of the likelihood that Glynn was applying the same mental processes to the planning of Australia's future that he had allowed to determine his own.7

Of course, when historians postulate that railways or racism, industrial conflict or strategic imperatives "caused" Australian federation, they are engaging in a convenient shorthand, by which they mean that aspects of these problems impinged upon the intellects of contemporary opinion-formers to emerge in the form of support for political union. If we study the movement for federation within the confines of those practical issues, a logical and persuasive explanatory package may well emerge. Yet when we encounter those same politicians, the shakers and movers of Australian federation such as Glynn and Deakin, reaching conclusions about marriage and death that strike us as irrational, we may begin to doubt the cogency of their responses in their public sphere. The most that can be said to restore the assumption of logical causation is that politicians were not required to submit their decisions to plunge into marriage or their views on the afterlife to the test of a popular vote. Over 430,000 Australians voted in favour of federation in the referendums of 1898-99. They cannot all have been the victims of weird mental processes. Thus, in explanatory terms, we come full circle to seeking an explanation for the achievement of federation among the people at large, whose responses we have already concluded were probably irrational and definitely irrecoverable.

At this point, it may be illuminating to hearken back to a book published almost a century ago in order to approach the question of explanation from a wholly different angle, shifting from individual responses back to the shorthand form of more abstract causes. When Cephas D. Allin published The Early Federation Movement of Australia in 1907, he was concerned to account not for success but to explain failure during an era when "it was only too manifest that there was no general enthusiasm in favor of a federal union".8 Allin identified five major reasons for the failure of federation to make headway before the eighteen-eighties. These were intercolonial rivalry, the novelty of local self-government, the effectiveness of informal inter-governmental consultation, the unresolved challenges of internal separatist movements and the general instability of political leadership in the various colonies. Allin's fivefold classification merits consideration to explore the extent to which it might throw comparative light upon the later and more fruitful campaign that culminated in the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Allin identified "the reciprocal jealousy and suspicion of the colonies" as the "most insidious and fundamental obstacle to a federal union". He singled out in particular "the deep-seated ill-will, if not hostility of New South Wales and Victoria". It may be argued that the angry resentments of the eighteen-fifties were gradually subsiding: Robertson took his scornful venom against the cabbage garden to the grave in 1891, and Victorians gradually ceased to celebrate Separation Day in the years that followed. Yet when Barton led the New South Wales Protectionists in the election of 1898, Reid's supporters could still run a poster campaign denouncing him as "bought by Victorian gold".9  

Allin linked his emphasis upon "the spirit of narrow localism" to the love of power fostered by the recent establishment of responsible government within each colony: politicians simply did not wish to concede any part of their authority to a central government. This is inherently plausible, but it would only point to explaining the subsequent acceptability of federation if we assumed that issues had arisen by the end of the century which were incapable of resolution within existing structures. This was the argument for federation advanced by Inglis Clark in 1890, but Clark subsequently turned against the project. Perhaps the most obvious areas that seemed to call for Australia-wide supervision were industrial relations and the regulation of banking. Yet these appear to have intersected with the movement for federation hesitantly and late in the day. One of the most important expansions in the governmental activities of the separate colonies during the last two decades of the nineteenth century was the assumption of responsibility for the construction and operation of railways. Historians might conclude that this revolution in communications pointed to the political integration of the whole continent, but politicians and voters were by no means keen to hand over control of their local railway networks to a central government that would be responsive to the demands of their neighbours and rivals.10

The third item on Allin's explanatory list seems equally inconclusive. "During the early years of colonial separation," he concluded, "it almost appeared as though the policy of legislative co-operation would be crowned with success, and that there would be no need of a federal union." 11 This brings us back to the conundrum of the Federal Council: was it a success that paved the way to closer union, or a failure that rendered political centralisation inevitable? His fourth argument is little more convincing, even in its own terms. Allin argued that continuing movements for separation within the colonies tended to nullify any chance of bringing about an all-embracing federal government. It was certainly true that secessionist movements were vocal in north Queensland and the Riverina, and even in western Victoria and northern Tasmania. Yet after the separation of Queensland in 1859, there was little likelihood  that any major chunk of eastern Australia would win the ear of the British government and be allowed to set up for itself. Of course, this did not discourage separatist movements in Queensland and Western Australia from pursuing their campaigns. Separation complicated federation but it did not necessarily rule it out. Indeed, it might provide a face-saving cover for the disruption of existing jurisdictions, just as the Dominion of Canada had offered a way out of the tensions between Ontario and Quebec in the Canadian Union. (Similarly, some forecasters suggest that the European Union may offer a painless cover for a twenty-first century dissolution of the United Kingdom.) Parkes had coupled his crusade for federation with the prediction that the six separate colonies would eventually fracture and regroup into ten member States.12

The fifth and last of Allin's explanations seems at first the most humdrum, but it may offer an important comparative clue to understanding the role of political leadership in the eighteen-nineties. In the earlier period, "provincial politics were as restless and unstable as the sea". Rapid changes in the personnel of colonial ministries complicated "the practical difficulty of securing simultaneous action in the different colonies".13 By contrast, the eighteen-nineties saw a relative degree of stability that gave a cohort of colonial leaders enough time to develop the experience of working together for a common end. However, the comparison can be exaggerated. The politicians of the eighteen-nineties remained partisan rivals. Some, like Nelson in Queensland, used their local ascendancy to block federation. The leader who exercised the greatest dominance over his own patch was Forrest in Western Australia, who later claimed that only two of his 25 supporters in the local Assembly were enthusiastic for federation.14 His ascendancy over his followers was awesome, but it ran counter to Allin's second argument that politicians who had recently acquired extensive power under responsible government (conceded to Western Australia only in 1890) were reluctant to consider sharing it. In any case, although cabinets had come and gone in earlier decades, outward instability had often disguised a high degree of continuity among personnel, as in New Zealand's "Continuous Ministry". To elevate Allin's fifth cause of failure into a comparative explanation for the eventual success of federation, it would be necessary to explain why politicians of the eighteen-nineties rallied to the cause of federation, when their predecessors in the days of factional instability had resisted all temptation to re-group around so potentially convenient a unifying issue.

As it happens, Deakin's narrative offers a clue that may explain the different atmosphere of the eighteen-nineties. He accepted that both politicians and voters were chiefly moved by "the prospect of financial gain". Yet behind this narrow sentiment stood an "enthusiasm for union without which the merely selfish energy would have died down and disappeared many times". This was a sentiment that "swayed all to some extent but was the dominating factor only among the young, the imaginative, and those whose patriotism was Australian or Imperial". If Deakin was correct, we can identify here a driving force that was simultaneously real and inchoate, a feeling that was "the mainspring of the whole movement and its constant motive power".15 It is not necessarily to be found in campaigning organisations. In New South Wales, for instance, the Australasian Federal League has been described as "a mirror of the federal movement rather than its driving force". Even its own members "played no significant part in its activities" and its sole venture in supporting a propagandist newspaper collapsed after twelve issues.16 Yet whatever form it took, the sentiment was sufficient to force a backslider like George Reid to maintain his federalist credentials. The bedrock of pro-federation opinion described by Deakin does not easily fit into any of the explanatory categories explored in earlier sections. If the focus of its patriotism was either Australian or imperial, it can hardly represent an exclusive form of nationalism, and still less of nativism. Indeed, Deakin more or less dismissed any notion of motivation by special interest. "With the majority, the emotion was its own reward and the ideal its own sufficient attraction".17

Deakin was writing in September 1900, when supporters of federation might be forgiven a certain romanticisation of the dawning of their new day. Modern commentators might suspect that the high-mindedness of the sentiment he described represented yet another form of concealment. Such qualities of unselfish patriotism sound classically middle-class in their nature: were they simply a cloak to disguise a policy designed to reinforce a threatened social order? The suspicion is intellectually legitimate, but as a contribution to an overall explanation, it may be misplaced. Rather, the inchoate but persistent nature of the public sentiment in favour of federation may simply reflect an opaque assessment of its immediate and practical effect. Surveying the progress of the federal cause throughout the eighteen-nineties, Norris drew an important conclusion, one so obvious that its implications tend to be overlooked. The movement for federation, he remarked, "became apolitical". In some respects, the adjective is inappropriate for, as Norris goes on to point out, support was attracted from the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Progressives endorsed federation in the hope of advancing enlightened legislation; reactionaries embraced it as a safeguard against radical change. "Support for federation, and opposition to it, cut across normal political allegiances."18 Indeed, as Norris points out, two of the most prominent South Australian federalists hated each other with such venom that one of them had once toted a gun on the streets of Adelaide, hoping to shoot the other.

To combine Deakin's description of solid community support with the analysis by Norris of an apparently confused cross-party endorsement of federation is to establish a new starting point for historical analysis. The challenge of explanation shifts from a search for specific causes to an attempt to discover why a major project for constitutional restructuring was capable of attracting such broad support, and especially how it managed to impose itself upon the Australian political agenda in the late eighteen-nineties, given that it had conspicuously failed to break through at any previous point in time. In some respects, federation had become a "Teflon" issue, invulnerable to harm from the very issues which doubters had feared would overwhelm it. It simply strolled around the fiscal lion when the free trade question crossed its path. Despite the middle-class tone of its most active supporters, it cruised to victory in referendum after referendum in colonies with large and self-conscious working class voting populations. Yet, equally and remarkably, federation became a rolling political snowball, its apolitical character enabling it not merely to adjust to new issues but to take them aboard comfortably and without sacrifice to its central objective. In 1891, few thought about State regulation of industrial disputes or the extension of the vote to women. By 1897-98, federalists were almost absent-minded in their acceptance of the possibility of experimenting with the first and apparently resigned to the eventual concession of the second.

There may be a useful clue to be pondered in that very notion of "eventual" developments. Norris rightly rebuked Blainey for confusing what happened after federation with what people expected to happen. In his own discussion of the subject, Norris linked the before and the after, establishing, for instance, that defence did not feature prominently in the federalist discourse of the eighteen-nineties, just as it was slow to emerge as a priority in the early years of the Commonwealth.19 Yet, although methodologically impressive, his analysis may perhaps be defective in assuming that the effectiveness of causal hypotheses should be measured in terms of their relevance to a near future rather than one that proved to be more distant. Of course, it remains reasonable to contend that a level of government that took eight years even to start building warships can hardly be said to have been established with naval defence as its most urgent imperative. Still, it would be a nonsense to attribute precision to past expectation, to insist that voters in 1898 supported federation because they required that a navy be established by 1903 or a railway across the Nullabor constructed by 1905. People may have firm perceptions of future possibilities but it would be unreasonable to expect that they could have possessed exact foreknowledge of a timetable.

It is in this light that we should consider statements like that by Sir John Cockburn in 1901:


The day of small independent nations is passing away; stagnant states are doomed to disappear, existing empires are destined to grow still larger; all must expand or submit to absorption. In federation lies the safe middle course between dangerous isolation and unwieldy empire. Federation consigns the precious jewel of autonomy into joint safe keeping.20


In terms of historical explanation of the standard "A caused B" variety, Cockburn's comment is so general that it is tempting to dismiss it as merely vacuous, nothing more than a simplistic conflation of received notions from Darwin on evolution and Bryce on federalism. However, for the perplexed citizen asked to vote Yes or No on a specific proposal for continental union, such arguments may have seemed more persuasive, simply because they shifted the focus of decision away from the murky arithmetic of immediate gain and loss towards the more inspirational distant horizon. Once voters shifted mental gear to that longer-term vision, federation became both plausible and irresistible. Hence the importance of George Reid's insistence in 1898 on imposing a ten-year limit upon the Braddon clause. At the time of the 1898 referendum, one Tasmanian noted "great searchings of heart" among "thoughtful men" (and, no doubt, if our Hobart versifier is to be believed, thoughtful women as well). They listened to the warnings of the No camp and accepted "that Federation was in many respects a leap in the dark", but they recoiled from the alternative of staying out. "We realised that Federation must come - that it was an absolute necessity for Australia - & if the plunge had to be made, it had better be made at once."21 The secret of the success of the federation movement, at least through the ballot box, lay in the fact that its proponents managed to elide the long-term with the immediate, through a slight of hand that combined the sense of inevitability with the threat of now-or-never.

Once we approach the question of explanation in this light, the problem to be solved is not simply how federation managed to move into the ideological middle ground but how it captured the agenda of Australian politics. Redefining the issue in this way helps to focus the causal analysis, but only at the expense of reminding us of the inadequacy of historical methodology. By ceasing to require federation to have operated as an immediate panacea, we may begin to understand how it could be seen as a plausible response to the insecurities generated by the crises of the 'nineties. It is possible to give a narrative account of the way in which the politicians, or most of them, rallied behind the issue as that frightening decade rumbled on, so much so that by 1898, a great deal of time and effort and ego had been invested in its promotion. But we are still left wondering why federation became the most generally endorsed way forward for Australia's people and politicians, and in all six colonies. No doubt "thoughtful" Tasmanians were wise to seize an opportunity that might never again be offered to them on such favourable terms, but that does not in itself tell us why the equally thoughtful voters of New South Wales reached the same conclusion, if less emphatically.

Federation had long provided a plausible framework for Australia's future, but it was not until 1898 that it came to dominate the current political agenda. As L.F. Crisp once commented, there was "no Damascus Road miracle about Australia's federal conversion."22  It is conventional for historians to look to the evidence of contemporaries for explanations of their own achievements, but those who propelled  federation to the centre of the political agenda found their own success as remarkable as subsequent scholars have found it puzzling. Bernhard Wise chose to confine his definition of the movement to the eleven years that began with the Tenterfield speech, but even within this truncated period, he insisted that events were reviewed, "the cause of wonder will be, rather that Federation was achieved at all, and not that its advent was delayed!"23 "To those who have watched its inner workings", wrote Alfred Deakin in 1900, "its actual accomplishment must always appear to have been secured by a series of miracles".24 A century after the achievement of Australia federation, its explanation remains a challenge to historians. There can be little doubt that the obstacles lie not in the history of Australia, and most emphatically, the problem cannot be blamed upon the scholarly work of those who have studied this vast and intriguing topic. Rather, it lies in the nature of historical explanation itself.

Posterity should guard against the glib pretence of understanding against which Deakin warned a century ago. "All History takes on the appearance of inevitableness after the event. Looking backward the future will be tempted to say that Australian Union was Australia's destiny from the first and that nothing could have prevented its consummation."25 "Che sera, sera: whatever will be, will be": words that are reassuring in a popular song become more than a little humiliating when adopted as scholarly analysis.

One defence against the circular relationship of assumption and proof that has characterised the hypotheses seeking to account for Australian federation may perhaps be to test them in the New Zealand context. Is it possible to understand why incentives assumed to have proved persuasive to Australians failed to appeal to their fellow-colonists twelve hundred miles to the east? New Zealand's historians have indeed made the attempt, and their arguments merit study. Unfortunately, this is not to claim that their debate has clarified the picture on either side of the Tasman.






ADB:               Australian Dictionary of Biography

Bennett:                        Scott Bennett, ed., Federation (Melbourne, 1975)

CHBE (Aust):      J.Holland Rose, ed., Cambridge History of the British Empire:

vol. 7, part 1: Australia (Cambridge 1933)

CHBE (NZ):     J.Holland Rose, ed., Cambridge History of the British Empire:

vol. 7, part 2: New Zealand (Cambridge 1933)

Clark, Documents:

Manning Clark, ed., Select Documents in Australian

History 1851-1900 (Sydney, 1955)

Crowley, Documents:

Frank Crowley, ed., A Documentary History of Australia,

vol. 3: Colonial Australia 1875-1900 (West Melbourne, 1980)

Crowley, New History:

F.K. Crowley, ed., A New History of Australia

(Melbourne, 1974)

DNZB:                         Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

Essays:             A.W. Martin, ed., Essays in Australian Federation

               (Melbourne, 1969)

Federal Story: Alfred Deakin, The Federal Story: The Inner History

of the Federal Cause 1880-1900

(ed. J.A. La Nauze, Melbourne, 1963 ed.)

Federalism:     Bruce W. Hodgins, Don Wright and W.H. Heick, eds, Federalism in Canada and Australia: The Early Years (Waterloo, Ont., 1978).

HSSA:              J.J. Eastwood and F.B. Smith, eds, Historical Studies Australia and New Zealand: Selected Articles,

first series (Melbourne 1964)

Hewett, Essays:   Patricia Hewett, "Aspects of the Campaigns in South-Eastern New South Wales at the Federation Referenda of 1898 and 1899" in Essays (see above), pp. 167-86

Irving, ed., Companion:

Helen Irving, ed., The Centenary Companion to

Australian Federation (Cambridge, 1999)

La Nauze, Deakin:

                        J.A. La Nauze, Alfred Deakin: A Biography

(2 vols, Melbourne, 1965)


La Nauze, Making:

J.A. La Nauze, The Making of the Australian

Constitution (Melbourne, 1972)

Norris, Emergent Commonwealth:

R. Norris, The Emergent Commonwealth. Australian Federation: Expectations and Fulfilment 1889-1910 (Melbourne, 1975).

Norris, Essays:     R. Norris, "Economic Influences on the 1898 South Australian

Federation Referendum" in Essays (see above), pp. 137-66

NZJH:              New Zealand Journal of History

Serle, Essays:   Geoffrey Serle, "The Victorian Government's Campaign for Federation 1883-1889" in Essays (see above), pp. 1-56.

Scholefield:       G.H. Scholefield, ed., A Dictionary of New Zealand Biography

(2 vols, Wellington, 1940)

Speeches and Documents:

W.D. McIntyre and W.J. Gardner, eds,

Speeches and Documents on New Zealand History

(Oxford, 1971)

Wise,               Bernhard R. Wise, The Making of the Australian Commonwealth 1889-1900: A Stage in the Growth of the British Empire (London, 1913)




Three Mega-Explanations: Nationalism, Defence and Race


1.      Norris, Emergent Commonwealth (full citation under Abbreviations).

2.      "A factor - outside mathematics and trading stations and Scottish estates - is a meaningless piece of tired jargon. Events are not the products of simple causes of complex situations ... but this does not mean they are produced by factors. A word to be forgotten." G.R. Elton, The Practice of History (Sydney, 1967), p. 101.

3.      But Symon was speaking in August 1895, when the federal cause was at a low ebb. Crowley, Documents, pp. 458-59.

4.      Richard Jebb, Studies in Colonial Nationalism (London, 1905), esp. p. 84; cf. J.J. Eddy and D.M. Schreuder, eds, The Rise of Colonial Nationalism (Sydney, 1988).

5.   Crowley, Documents, p. 261.

1.      Clark, Documents, p. 475; Federal Story, pp. 26-32, 36-37.

2.      J. Bastin in HSSA, p. 200 but cf. F.K. Crowley, Australia's Western Third (London, 1960), p. 153; G. Blainey, HSSA, p. 191, drawing upon F. Alexander, Moving Frontiers (London, 1947). The potential connection with federation was ignored in another "Turnerian" comparison, H.C. Allen, Bush and Backwoods (Sydney, 1959).

3.      Cf. Macintyre, Concise History, p. 144. Supporting federation in 1898, a commission of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria hoped "that ultimately some adequate provision will be made by the Federal Parliament for the highest well-being of the aboriginal people of Australia, so long as the aborigines continue in existence". Although a paternalist smoothing of the pillow of a dying race, such an expression of concern was rare in the federation debate, and goes some way to contradicting the hard-nosed stereotypes sometimes attributed to Australia's Scots. Argus, 5 May 1898, Bennett, p. 49.

4.      W. Vamplew, ed., Australians: Historical Statistics (Broadway NSW, 1987), pp. 8, 34.

5.      March 1898, Federal Story, p. 177.

6.      See biographical notes in Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, pp. 211-20.

7.      Age, 16 March 1898, Bennett, p. 74. For a recent discussion of the Natives, Irving, To Constitute a Nation, pp. 119-33.

8.      Federal Story, pp. 177-79; Bennett, p. 80. The ANA adopted its slogan, "Australia for the Australians" in 1874. C.M.H. Clark, A History of Australia, v: The People Make Laws 1888-1915 (Melbourne, 1981), p. 130; La Nauze, Deakin, i, pp. 113-15; Crowley, Documents, p. 262; Clark, Documents, p. 796.

9.      Crowley, Documents, pp. 191-92; Clark, Documents, p. 499.

10.  Janet Pettman, "The Australian Natives' Association and Federation in South Australia", Essays, pp. 122-36. 

11.  Clark, Documents, p. 499.

12.  Bulletin (Sydney), 2 July 1887, Clark, Documents, p. 800. McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution, p. 159 rightly stresses that this sentiment should be read in its explicitly racist context.

13.  ANA Annual Report 1894, Clark, Documents, p. 499.

14.  Ronald Norris, "Towards a Federal Union", Federalism, p. 181.

15.  Bennett, pp. 89, 174.

16.  Clipper (Hobart), 16 April 1898, Bennett, pp. 43-44.

17.  Clark, Documents, p. 505.

18.  Hopetoun MSS, 1621/2, Deakin to Hopetoun, 20 August 1897; K. Sinclair, Imperial Federation: A Study of New Zealand Policy and Opinion, 1880-1914 (London, 1955).

19.  La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 197.

20.  R.M. Crawford, "A Bit of a Rebel": The Life and Work of George Arnold Wood (Sydney, 1975), pp. 187-231; Nettie Palmer, Henry Bournes Higgins: A Memoir (London, 1931), pp.161-64. The campaign against Wood was led by a graduate of Edinburgh University, James Inglis, a local merchant and former New South Wales education minister. Inglis had celebrated the British empire in a series of works, including Tentlife in Tigerland and Oor Ain Folk. One of Wood's defenders called the campaign for his dismissal "sheer barbarism, worthy only of the spirit of the Spanish Inquisition, or of the Scotch Presbyterians of the 18th century".

21.  South Australian Register, 1 November 1899, Crowley, Documents, p. 573.

22.  Crowley, New History, p. 292.

23.  Crowley, New History, p. 314.

24.  Wise, p. 138n.

25.  Bulletin, 25 August 1894, McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution, p. 168.

26.  La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 120.

27.  La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 235.

28.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, pp. 109ff.

29.  South Australian Register, 2 August 1895, Crowley, Documents, p. 459.

30.  Interview with the Age, 26 April 1897, Crowley, Documents, p. 506.

31.  Bennett, p. 51.

32.  Serle, Essays, p. 50.

33.  Clark, Documents, p. 466.

34.  Clark, Documents, p. 468.

35.  Wise, p. 98.

36.  Bennett, p. 175.

37.  Crisp, Australian National Government, p. 4.

38.  Bennett, p. 28.

39.  Edwards to Parkes, 24 January 1890, in Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 111. A contemporary writer inverted cause and effect, declaring in 1890 that war with China "would be the greatest blessing we could possibly receive" since it would compel immediate federation, not to mention deportation of "every yellow alien in our midst". R. Thomson, Australian Nationalism (1880), Clark, Documents, p. 794.

40.  Norris, Federalism in Canada and Australia, p. 185; Cockburn, Australian Federation, p. 26.

41.  Luke Trainor, British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism (Cambridge, 1994), p. 32.

42.  Colonel Tom Price in September 1890, Crowley, Documents, pp. 304-5.

43.  Clipper (Hobart), 4 June 1898, Bennett, p. 46.

44.   Norris, Essays, p. 143.

45.   Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 115.

46.   G.C. Craig, The Federal Defence of Australasia (1897), Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 118.

47.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 122.

48.  The Times, 10 July 1900, Crowley, Documents, p. 603.

49.  La Nauze, Deakin, ii, p. 517. Reporting to the governor-general a debate in the House of Representatives on the Defence Bill in August 1900, Barton noted that "many members are at a loss to account for the absence of any prominent provisions as to naval matters. ... But how imprudent it would have been to attempt to deal with Naval Defence at this stage!" Hopetoun MSS, 1629/8, Barton to Hopetoun, 1 August [1901].

50.  In a centenary salute from Scotland, it is appropriate to mention that Australia's first warships were built at Fairfield's and John Brown's on the Clyde.

51.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 65. Deakin's statement is widely quoted, e.g. CHBE (Aust), p. 500; Manning Clark, Short History of Australia, pp. 172-73; Crawford, Australia, p. 129; Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 44; McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution, p. 172. La Nauze, Deakin, i, pp. 277-83 offers a thoughtful defence against the charge of racism, but silently separates the 1901 Immigration Restriction Bill from the issue of the causes of federation. Helen Irving has challenged Norris's argument, claiming that "the lack of urgency attached to the matter ... is only persuasive as evidence of the wider political culture is overlooked". But the point can be argued either way: other endemic aspects of the political culture featured more prominently in the arguments for federation. Irving, To Constitute a Nation, p. 100 and cf. pp. 100-18.

52.  CHBE (Aust), p. 500. 

53.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 77.

54.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, pp. 54-55.

55.  Bennett, p. 175. I am grateful to Mrs Pat Crichton, Archivist of Hopetoun House, for information about the opening ceremony of the first Commonwealth Parliament.

56.  Sydney Morning Herald, 30 May 1898, Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 51.

57.  Richmond River Express, 3 June 1898, Bennett, p. 28.

58.  The Federal Bill Analyzed... (1898), Bennett, pp. 57-58.

59.  British Review of New Zealand Studies, 11 (1998), p. 77.

60.  Bennett, p. 57.

67.  Bennett, p. 139.

68.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 56-57.

69.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 63.

70.  La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 269 and cf. Norris, Emergent Commonwealth,  pp. 76-80.


Signs of the Times? Communications and Conflict


1.      La Nauze, Making, p. 69.

2.      Brisbane test matches are of course famous for bad weather, but tests were not played in Brisbane until 1928.

3.      Bennett, p. 181; Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 179.

4.      La Nauze, Making, pp. 208-11.

5.      Don Wright, "The River Murray: Microcosm of Australian Federal History", Federalism, pp. 277-89. Disagreements over the Murray River trade, including the collection and apportionment of customs duties, had contributed to the failure of proposals for federation in 1856-57. Ward, Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies, pp. 395-426.

6.      N.J. Brown, Federation of the Colonies (1884), Crowley, Documents, p. 148. Brown's pamphlet was based on an address delivered in the Town Hall at Hobart, where railway communication could add only marginally to the attractions of federation. "Railways and telegraphs had been quietly bringing the colonies into closer touch and increasing the impatience felt with tariff partitions", according to Pember Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 149. See also the article by K.T. Livingston, "Anticipating Federation", cited above.

7.      G. Blainey, The Tyranny of Distance (Melbourne, 1966), p. 242.

8.      Trainor, British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism, pp. 120-28. Cf. P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins, British Imperialism: Innovation and Expansion 1688-1914 (London, 1993), pp. 250-51. The overseas telegraph also affected Melbourne's role as an entrepot. Agents trading in imported goods no longer needed expensive warehousing to maintain large stocks against possible surges in demand. Rapid and reliable steamship services made it possible for small retailers to by-pass local wholesale merchants and import direct from abroad. In a general sense, these developments lay behind Melbourne's campaign to extend its economic influence within Australia and the nearby Pacific region. Davison, Marvellous Melbourne, pp. 20-24.

9.      K.S. Inglis, The Australian Colonists: An Exploration of Social History 1788-1870 (Melbourne, 1974), pp. 145-46.

10.  G.E. Buckle, ed., The Letters of Queen Victoria, 2nd series, iii (London, 1928), p. 161.

11.  McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution, p. 171.

12.  Clark, Documents, p. 465.

13.  Clark, Documents, p. 443.

14.  So Garran told a parliamentary committee in 1930, Crisp, Australian National Government, p. 2. Shaw was one of the first historians to express scepticism about the alleged inconvenience of colonial boundaries, Story of Australia, p. 182.

15.  Blainey, Tyranny of Distance, pp. 251-53. Blainey points out that far worse inconvenience should have been expected in Sydney and Melbourne, since In neither city was there a rail link between the central station and the docks.

16.  L.M. Thompson, The Unification of South Africa 1901-1910 (Oxford, 1960), esp. pp. 52-60, 92-94, 285-94.

17.  Bennett, p. 182.

18.  A.W. Jose and H.J. Carter, eds, The Australian Encyclopaedia (2 vols, Sydney, 1926), ii, p.p. 366-67.

19.  For a useful outline account of labour unrest, de Garis in Crowley, New History, pp. 229-33.

20.  Irving, To Constitute a Nation, p. 213. There are several versions of the Cardinal's warning. Wise, p. 222, claims to be taken from a contemporary press report. For E.W. O'Sullivan's criticism of a "swells' movement", see HSSA, p. 163.

21.  Alistair Davidson, The Invisible State: The Formation of the Australian State 1788-1901  (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 230-39, and p. xii for the influence of Gramsci. That federation was not the central focus of Davidson's analysis seems confirmed by his allusions to "Andrew" Barton and "John" Garran.

22.  Wise, p. 221.

23.  de Garis, Crowley, New History, p. 233.

24.  Loveday et al., eds, Emergence of the Australian Party System, pp. 186-91.

25.  The aphorism associated with Harcourt apparently dates from about 1887. Donald Read, England 1868-1914: The Age of Urban Democracy (London, 1979), p. 302; Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 68.

26.  Davidson, Invisible State, p. 229.

27.  Clark, The People Make Laws, p. 66. Pember Reeves made a similar connection, both with trade union militancy and the irruption of Labor as an electoral force. "Unquestionably many middle-class politicians turned to Federation as a counter-attraction, and thought to find in it a steadying influence." There is always good reason to suspect that any historical statement beginning with the word "unquestionably" is short on actual evidence. The sentiment was precisely what we might expect from a pioneer Fabian socialist. Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 150.

28.  Davidson, Invisible State, p. 234.

29.  Trainor, British Imperialism and Australian Nationalism, p. 139.

30.  Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 115.

31.  La Nauze, Making, p. 102.

32.  La Nauze, Making, p. 207. Forrest's ascendancy over the narrow world of Westralian politics was awesome. When he attended the 1897 Convention, he left his colony in the hands of acting premier E.H. Wittenoom, who was strictly enjoined not to take any major decision on his own authority. Wittenoom was soon reprimanded for attempting to issue mining regulations on his own authority and for making an unsuitable legal appointment. Soon afterwards, a ship docked bearing a passenger with smallpox. The chastened Wittenoom telegraphed Forrest for instructions. Federal Story, p. 175.

33.  Garran, Prosper the Commonwealth, p. 116.

34.  Bennett, pp. 90-92; Palmer, Henry Bournes Higgins, pp. 151-57.

35.  Clark, The People Make Laws, p. 67. The ever-sensible Shaw points out that "the working class did not always follow its leaders". In May 1899, admittedly late in the day, Sydney trades unionists formed a committee to support the amended Federation Bill. Shaw, Story of Australia, p. 190; R.N. Ebbels, ed., The Australian Labor Movement 1850-1907 (Melbourne, 1965 ed.), p. 228.

36.  Cockburn, Australian Federation, passim.

37.  Crisp, Australian National Government, pp. 15-16; D.W. Rawson, "Victoria" in Loveday et al., eds, Emergence of the Australian Party System, pp. 47-48.


Economic Motives: Banking, Investment and Trade


1.      de Garis in Crowley, New History, pp. 218-19.

2.      de Garis in Crowley, New History, pp. 221-23.

3.      Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, p. 50.

4.      Cain and Hopkins, British Imperialism, p. 252, and pp. 3-52 for their general theory. For thoughtful critiques, Andrew Porter, "'Gentlemanly Capitalism' and Empire: The British Experience since 1750?", Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 18 (1990), pp. 265-95 and "Gentlemen, Capitalists, and the British Empire", ibid., 22 (1994), pp. 531-41.

5.      Clark, Short History of Australia, p. 173. The Short History was "based on material collected for the book of documents" (ibid., p. 7). However, the only hint of the argument in Clark, Documents seems to a quotation from James Service in 1893: "from almost Torres Strait down to Adelaide you will find the Commercial Bank everywhere" (p. 305). This does not in itself suggest that high finance required federation to overcome colonial borders. Reeves thought that the bank panic of 1893 generated "a somewhat vague but general notion that Federation would somehow strengthen the public credit". Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 150.

6.      La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 188; Federal Story, p. 162. Deakin, so inflexible on the issue in 1900, had taken a very different line writing in a private letter to Lord Hopetoun in 1897. "I have never yet spoken a word in favour of the abolition of the right of appeal to the Privy Council though I have always voted that way .... If it be included in the Commonwealth Bill & if the Imperial Government omit this part of it I doubt if there would be any real complaint". Deakin and Barton would have accepted a single court of appeal for the whole Empire, replacing the parallel but separate systems for Britain and the colonies. Hopetoun MSS, B1621/2, Deakin to Hopetoun, 20 August 1897; Federal Story, p. 158.

7.      Wise, p. 186.

8.      HSSA, pp. 152-98. The original articles were published in 1949-50. By 1953, further contributions had been made by John Bastin (on Western Australia) and A.W. Martin (on the New Federation movement), HSSA, pp. 199-225. The debate then fell silent until the publication of Essays in 1969, in which the Parker thesis was challenged by R. Norris (for South Australia) and Patricia Hewett (for south-eastern New South Wales), Essays, pp. 137-186.

9.       Quoted, Russel Ward, The Australian Legend (Melbourne, 1966 ed.), pp. 240-41.

10.   South Australian Register, 15 April 1898, Bennett, p. 129. It was left to one of the few women campaigners, Maybanke Wolstenholme, to make the point that even business partnerships, let alone marriages, required something more than mere legal agreements to make them work. Irving, To Constitute a Nation, p. 198.

11.   Blainey, HSSA, p. 185. Textbook emphasis upon the Corowa conference may obscure a similar problem on the New South Wales side of the Murray. It is worth noting that Lyne, a determined opponent of federation, represented Hume, an electorate close to the border.

12.  HSSA, p. 172. Toowoomba, according to the Sydney Bulletin, feared competition from "N.S.W. cabbages and potatoes".

13.  Letter in Adelaide Advertiser, 4 May 1898, Bennett, p. 132. Similar fears were voiced in other parts of Australia: Bennett, pp. 194, 203, 230.

14.  Bennett, pp. 82-83.

15.  Blainey, HSSA, pp. 189-90. It is not clear whether the Germans of the Darling Downs opposed federation on ethnic grounds or because they were wheat farmers and felt threatened by New South Wales competition. D. Waterson, Squatter, Selector, and Storekeeper: A History of the Darling Downs (Sydney, 1968), pp. 134, 192, appears to place one district, Cambooya, under both categories of explanation.

16.  Bennett, p. 222.

17.  Tom Playford, 15 April 1890, Crowley, Documents, p. 298.

18.  Australasian Insurance and Banking Record, 18 January 1894, in M. Clark, ed., Sources of Australian History (London, 1957), p. 413.

19.  Border Post (Albury), 3 June 1898, Bennett, p. 142.

20.  Grenfell Record, 23 April 1898, Bennett, p. 54.

21.  Morning Post (Cairns), 31 July 1898, Bennett, p. 203.

22.  Wide Bay and Burnett News, 2 September 1899, Bennett, p. 194.

23.  Bennett, p. 194.

24.  HSSA, pp. 205-6.

25.  W. Elgar in Capricornian (Rockhampton), 26 August 1899, Bennett, p. 200.

26.  British Review of New Zealand Studies, p. 84.

27.  Davison, Marvellous Melbourne, p. 3.

28.  Norris, Essays, p. 151.

29.  Norris, Essays, p. 156.

30.  Hay Standard, 28 May 1898, Bennett, p. 33.

31.  J.P. Wright, Sydney Daily Telegraph, 18 May 1898, Bennett, p. 161.

32.  Ballarat Star, 30 May 1898, Bennett, pp. 30-31.

33.  W. Bate, Lucky City: The First Generation at Ballarat 1851-1901 (Melbourne, 1978), p. 266: "No city in Australia was stronger for federation, though why is hard to say."

34.  Blainey, HSSA, p. 183.

35.  Norris, Essays, pp. 154-56.

36.  de Garis in Crowley, New History, p. 253 and cf. Irving, To Constitute a Nation, pp. 214-15..

37.  South Australian Register, 15 April 1898, Bennett, pp. 129-30.

38.  South Australian Register, 27 April 1898, Bennett, p. 127.

39.  William Burford, denying that he planned to cut wages, Adelaide Advertiser, 2 June 1898, Bennett, p. 138.

40.  D. Joseph, in Adelaide Advertiser, 23 May 1898, Bennett, pp. 138-39; Norris, Essays, pp. 146-50..

41.  Diary of J.B. Walker, 2 June 1898, Bennett, p. 117.

42.  Wise, p. 118.

43.   Irving, To Constitute a Nation, pp. 214-15.

44.   M. Oakeshott, Experience and its Modes (Cambridge, 1933), p. 128.


A New Explanatory Theory: The Utopian Moment


1.      Irving, To Constitute A Nation, pp. 212-15. Unless otherwise indicated, all quotations from Irving in this section come from these four pages.

2.      Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 175.

3.      Wise, quoted Irving, ed., Companion,p. 77.

4.      Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 170.

5.      Reeves, State Experiments, i, p. 151.


The Voice of the People


1.      Note by Susan Magarey in Irving, ed., Companion, pp. 424-25, which draws upon her biography, Unbridling the Tongues of Women: A Biography of Catherine Helen Spence (Sydney, 1985). See also, D. Headon, "No Weak-Kneed Sister: Catherine Helen Spence and 'Pure Democracy'" in H.Irving, ed., A Woman's Constitution? Gender & History in the Australian Commonwealth (Sydney, 1996), pp. 42-56.

2.      Argus (Melbourne), 23 April 1898, Bennett, p. 55.

3.      Tasmanian Mail, 28 May 1898, Bennett, p. 58. See, more generally, H. Irving, ed., "Fair Federalists and Founding Mothers" in Irving, ed., A Woman's Constitution?, pp. 1-20, and Irving, To Constitute a Nation, pp. 171-95. The latter supplies more male chauvinist verse at p. 180 and, at p. 193, the claim by a woman writer to have met "a well-educated and very intelligent girl" who asked, in 1900, "What is Federation?"

4.      Reid sent a copy of the Bill to every New South Wales voter, and a special issue of the Sydney Daily Telegraph advocating a No vote was also distributed free of charge. Bennett, p. 173; McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution, p. 173.

5.      Bennett, p. 87.

6.      South Australian Register, 23 May 1898, Bennett, p. 124.

7.      Bowral Free Press, 1 June 1898, Hewett, Essays, p. 168.

8.      McLachlan, Waiting for the Revolution, p. 351; Clipper (Hobart), 28 May 1898, Bennett, p. 5.

9.      Tasmanian Mail, 28 May 1898, Bennett, p. 58. (Cf. "Oh, philosophers may sing/ Of the troubles of a King...", Gondoliers).

10.  Launceston Examiner, 15 May 1898, Bennett, p. 68.

11.  Bega Free Press, 12 May 1898, Hewett, Essays, p. 170.

12.  Capricornian, 19 August 1899, Bennett, p. 194.

13.  Morning Post (Cairns), 12 August 1899, Bennett, p, 194.

14.  Bennett, pp. 18-20 for a discussion of the reasons for the turn-out.


The Problem of Historical Explanation


1.      Hewett, Essays, p. 183. An early environmentalist, John Clarke, came out against the Bill in 1898 because federation offered no constitutional protection for native animals and plants. A federationist newspaper dismissed the complaint, in a sarcastic pun, as a "floorer". Irving, To Constitute a Nation, pp. 128-32.

2.      B.U. Ratchford in A.R.M. Lower et al., Evolving Canadian Federalism (Durham NC, 1958), p. ix.

3.      A.W. Martin, Parkes, p. 383; Federal Story, p. 173.

4.      La Nauze, Deakin, i, pp. 112-13.

5.      Bennett, p. 145; La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 184. In 1884, New Zealand's Sir George Grey had opposed participation on parallel grounds: New Zealand would lose its distinctive voice in imperial voice in imperial matters if it had to speak through a Federal Council. K. Sinclair, "Why New Zealanders are not Australians: New Zealanders and the Australian Federation Movement, 1881-1901" in K. Sinclair, ed, Tasman Relations: New Zealand and Australia, 1788-1988 (Auckland, 1988), p. 100.

6.      La Nauze, Deakin, i, pp. 62-64. Cf. Al Gabay, The Mystic Life of Alfred Deakin (Canberra, 1992).

7.      G. O'Collins, Patrick MacMahon Glynn: A Founder of Australian Federation (Melbourne, 1965), pp. 125-29. "Slight small pale large nose reddish bald jockey" was Deakin's description of Glynn. Perhaps he was well advised to propose marriage at long range? Federal Story, p. 176.

8.      Allin, Early Federation Movement, p. 415. According to Ward, Earl Grey and the Australian Colonies, p. 46, Australians "found plenty of reasons for believing that federation was desirable, but none for believing that it was indispensable".

9.      Allin, Early Federation Movement, p. 410; Wise, pp. 294-95.

10.  Davidson, Invisible State, p. 220; Allin, Early Federation Movement, pp. 412-13.

11.  Allin, Early Federation Movement, p. 413.

12.  Allin, Early Federation Movement, pp. 413-14; Crowley, Documents, p. 280.

13.  Allin, Early Federation Movement, p. 414.

14.  La Nauze, Deakin, i, p. 218.

15.  Federal Story, p. 173.

16.  D.I. Wright, "The Australasian Federation League in New South Wales 1892-1899", Journal of the Royal Australian Historical Society, 57 (1971), pp. 58-73, esp. pp. 71, 61.

17.  Federal Story, p. 173.

18.  Norris, Essays, pp. 181-82.

19.  Norris, Emergent Commonwealth, ch. 4.

20.  Cockburn, Australian Federation, pp. 46-47.

21.  Diary of J.B. Walker, 2 June 1898, Bennett, pp. 116-17.

22.  Crisp, Australian National Government, p. 1.

23.  Wise, pp. 8-9.

24.  Federal Story, p. 173.

25.  Federal Story, p. 172.