In January 1901, the six separate, self-governing colonies of Australia united in federation, consequently creating the continent- nation, the Commonwealth of Australia. A constitution was drawn up modelled similarly, upon the British and American constitutions. As an outcome of federation, the life of the separate states, and individual citizens shifted. Edmund Barton, the introductory prime minister of federal government supported the growth of the nation’s economy, and developed the creation of a fused defence system. In the following subsections, we will discuss the reasons for the states, desiring federation, and the benefits they obtained, in signing the historical Commonwealth of Australia Act in the June of 1900[Western Australia signed a month there after.
The birth of a new century, and nation, was the cause for celebration, for the people Australia. The formal ceremony, held in Centennial Park, Sydney was attended by 200, 000 people. Nationwide, citizens celebrated in a newfound sense of nationalism. Nationalism was among the first and most significant compensations of federation.
The petty state rivalries, especially between NSW and Victoria, were for the moment dismissed. Within the following decade, this sense of nationalism helped create a freer economy and transportation system. The individual states, allowed a central government pass decisions concerning the nation as a whole i.e. defence system.
The economy of the six colonies, prior to federation, had relied heavily on the rural sector. The discovery of gold in Victoria and Western Australia, especially, lead to economic growth. Following federation, the economy of Australia, and the individual states, was booming. Australia’s patterns of exports show, that in 1901 the value of exports stood at 35.3 million pounds. The figure doubled to 67.5, in 1911. The Australian economy had never seen such a rate of growth, over a 10-year period. The growth of the manufacturing industry was an underlying factor in the stated growth. Federation had provided an organized labour force. Rapidly expanding manufacturers, of Victoria, created markets in the other states.
The rising prosperity of the nation coincided with critical social reforms, both in the work place and outside. The basic wage was adopted, in 1907. The minimum wage was at 42 shillings a week. This was an essential amendment for the federated government in stepping towards an egalitarian society. However, this attitude did not always parallel reality. For the working class, many lived in substandard housing and with little education. They customarily lived close to their work places, in the inner suburbs. Steam and electric trams, began operations by 1909. The newly improved, transportation system, within states, facilitated the urban sprawl, of major cities. Newly developed suburbs, in the outer suburbs, were home to the wealthy middle class. This class prospered, following federation. The growth of manufacturing and steel opened up business opportunities for this class. An egalitarian society was born.
Before federation, Sir Henry Parkes, had discussed the necessity in securing the borders, of the nation. There was a fear of naval invasion, chiefly from German activity in the Polynesian region. Alone, the individual colonies could not hope to defend Australia’s vast coastline. The federal government took charge of all the separate naval forces of the former colonies, to establish the Royal Australian Navy in 1911. The coastlines were better secured, as a result, coinciding with the start of the First World War.
Transport infrastructure also developed, as a central government ordered an east-west rail link. The project, the Trans-Australia railroad was completed in October 1917. Western Australia benefited from this link. The railway line connection to the eastern states was an underlying factor promoting trade and relations with the eastern states.
Inter-state trade escalated subsequent to federation. South Australia increased trade with the eastern states. Its wheat and wine industries, which had struggled with tariffs, began to grow. Tasmania was another state that profited from free trade. Its small-scale food industry relied upon trade with other states.
Social reforms such as women suffrage and an old age and invalid pensions were introduced by 1910. However, such goodwill did not extend to the non-white community, in Australia. Between 1863 and 1904, some 60,000 Melanesian workers, commonly called kanakas had been brought to Queensland to work on sugar plantations. The regular recruitment began in 1864. It was generally believed that most kanaka’s were tricked or forced to labour in the fields. In 1901, the newly formed federal government expelled this recruitment.
The general reasoning curtailed parallels between slavery in America of Negroes and the Kanaka people. However, this was amidst the passing of the White Australia Act, the same year. Race tolerance, was an aspect of Australian society, which failed to develop, post 1901. Immigration control was in reality, a significant reason for federation. For the aboriginal people, federation stirred an “organized assault” against their rights as a race, and culture.
Evident, in the paragraphs above, is the general trend of growth and development of social and economic aspects, of Australian life, following federation, in 1901. Notwithstanding, racist attitudes of the time, the living standard for white men, generally rose. The chief strength, of federation was the sense of nationalism shaped, regardless of colony, in the minds of all citizens. Australians united, in the spirit of their island, continent country.
Australia, History of-World Book 1999
Experience of Nationhood-Class textbook