FEDERATION: An ANA Perspective

In 2001, Australia celebrates the 100th anniversary of its nationhood. One of Australian Unity's predecessor organisations, the Australian Natives' Association (ANA), played an integral role in the achievement of Federation of the Australian colonies.

Learn more about the events leading to the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia and our part in our nation's history.

The ANA - An Association for Native-born Australians

In the late 19th century, Australia comprised six British colonies. Each was independent and self-governing, jealously guarding its boundaries and interests to the exclusion of the others. Each colony had its own army, navy and volunteer regiment, even its own flag. The rivalry between colonies was intense and squabbles were common, particularly between New South Wales and Victoria. 

It was in this setting that the ANA was founded. Consisting of first-generation Australian men, the ANA was established to progress their rights and interests in a society where the interests of England dominated. At a meeting in Melbourne in April 1871, they agreed to establish a mutual benefits society, whose objective was to "promote the moral, intellectual and social improvement of its members", whilst remaining apolitical and non-sectarian - that is, not aligned with any political party.

As well as providing sickness and funeral benefits to its members, the ANA provided a forum for lively debate and discussion. Many members, including Alfred Deakin, Edmund Barton, Isaac Isaacs, Alexander Peacock and George Turner, took advantage of the opportunities provided by the ANA to rise to positions of influence and as a result, they feature prominently in Australia's political history.

Why Federate?


From the early 1880's, the ANA made Federation one of its primary goals. Initially seen as a means of strengthening Australia's defence, Federation was to become the catchcry of the Association. The ANA journal "Advance Australia" expressed the desire for nationhood as 'the right to call ourselves a people; for the right that should be ours by birth - to be called by name and to make that name shine amongst the nations - "Australia"'.

The ANA's Vision for Federation


When Henry Parkes called for 'an Australian government' in 1889, the ANA responded by organising a Federation Conference in the Melbourne Town Hall, in January 1890. This conference resolved that it was time to join the Australian colonies and proposed the establishment of a Federal legislature.

Despite the press dubbing this first tentative step "crude" and "undigested", the ANA's initiatives did open public debate to the point where the Chief President of the ANA, James L Purves, commented that he saw the Association's efforts as being instrumental in raising the question of Federation, believing that it would soon become the subject of legislation.

Politicians Vote In Favour of Federating the Colonies


The ANA was successful in introducing the issue into the public arena. In late 1890, the Premier of New South Wales, Sir Henry Parkes, called for representatives from each colony to attend a conference to discuss the issue. 

The first Australasian Federation Conference drafted a Constitution, but, as it had no provision for legal enactment, coupled with the the lack of public interest, meant that for the time being, the Constitution was put aside and little progress was made for the next three years.

Federation Leagues - The ANA Moves to Secure Grass Roots Support


Undaunted, the ANA continued to push for Federation, recognising that to succeed the motivation must come from the people. So, in March 1893, the ANA's Annual Conference in Kyneton proposed the formation of Federation Leagues in towns throughout Victoria and particularly along the border, where problems created by the intercolonial tariff differences had built strong support for Federation.

A delegation travelled to New South Wales to secure the support of prominent advocate of Federation, Edmund Barton to form a central Federation League in Sydney to co-ordinate the work of the established Federation Leagues. The Australian Federation League was formed as a result.

Australian Federation League Meets in Corowa


In July 1893, the League held its first conference in the border town of Corowa. The Conference was attended by representatives of local trading and commercial enterprises, along with members of the ANA and Federation Leagues from around Victoria.

It was at this conference that Dr John Quick, a delegate representing the ANA's Bendigo Branch, proposed a resolution that was a turning point in the push for Federation. It called for the Legislature of each colony to

"pass an act providing for the election of representatives to attend a statutory Convention or Congress to consider and adopt a Bill to establish a Federal Constitution for Australia, and upon the adoption of such Bill or measure, it be submitted by some process of referendum to the verdict of each colony".

The Conference over, Dr Quick drafted the Australian Federal Congress Bill, a Federation framework that became the basis of the Enabling Acts later passed in all colonies. 

The Bill proposed a process for Federation, including the election of delegates from each colony, framing of a Constitution and final acceptance or rejection of this Constitution. The Bill also ensured that, once accepted by the elected delegates, the Constitution be put before the people of Australia by referendum.

Laying the Foundation for Change


In early 1895, the Premiers of each colony, led by the Premier of New South Wales, the Rt. Hon. George Reid, met in Hobart to draft an Enabling Bill incorporating the scheme proposed by Dr Quick. Soon after, Enabling Bills were passed by the parliaments of New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and conditionally, by Western Australia. 

People's and Constitutional Conventions


With the momentum for Federation gathering, a "People's Convention" was held in Bathurst in November 1896. The Federal Constitutional Convention commenced in Adelaide in March 1897, met again in Sydney later that year, and concluded its work in March 1898 at the third session in Melbourne.

The ANA Takes the Lead in Educating the Public about Federation


The ANA, seeing grass roots support as vital to achieving Federation, continued in its self-appointed role as community educator, urging its members to do all they could to win support for the Federal cause. 

These sentiments were echoed by an ANA delegate to the Federal Convention and well known figure in Victorian politics, the Hon. Alfred Deakin [MLA], who wrote in the ANA's publication Advance Australia:

"What, then, will be the duty of the ANA? To secure the largest possible vote... If it be a reasonable scheme for enabling the people of Australia to manage their national affairs in themselves, it will also be the duty of the Association to employ its influence and use all its endeavours to secure its adoption."

Melbourne press and the Victorian government approached the issue of Federation with reluctance and hostility.

The debate on Federation had reached a critical stage and on the eve of the Association's Annual Conference in Bendigo in March 1898, the ANA's Board of Directors met to discuss the draft Constitution Bill in detail and resolved to urge delegates to support the Bill unanimously. Delegates obliged enthusiastically and requested the Association's Board of Directors to issue a manifesto to embody the principles of the Constitution Bill. 

Deakin Calls for Unity


The delegates' enthusiasm spilled over to a banquet held the following evening at Bendigo's Shamrock Hotel. It was here that Alfred Deakin who was renowned as a brilliant speaker, delivered a rousing speech that would later be credited with clinching the Victorian vote for Federation.

Knowing the press would be in attendance, Deakin swept away any remaining doubts about Federation, using the banquet as a forum to exhort his Australian-born colleagues to "immediate and absolute union".

He continued,

"The ... delegates ... will, I trust, go back each of them filled with zeal and bearing the fiery cross of Federation. Every branch [of ANA] should be stimulated into action, until...in the purest and broadest spirit of Australian unity, all your members unite to awaken this colony to its duty."

The ANA wholeheartedly supported Deakin's call for united action. A manifesto was prepared and public meetings were organised throughout Victoria to explain the advantages of Federation. The ANA organised 212 meetings prior to the first referendum, including the "Monster Meeting" in the Melbourne Town Hall on 30th May 1898, which was attended by thousands of Victorians.

Recognising the shift in popular sentiment in favour of Federation, Melbourne's press and government suddenly altered their stance on the issue. The birth of Federation in Victoria had begun.

A Majority 'Yes" Vote and Federation is a Reality


The first referendum on 3rd June 1898 obtained a majority 'Yes' vote in Victoria and Tasmania. Despite New South Wales' failure to obtain its required quota, a secret Premier's Conference in early 1899 amended the draft Bill to make it more palatable to the people of New South Wales. As a result, a June referendum achieved the majority 'Yes' vote, a successful result echoed in Queensland in September.

Thus, the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia federating five colonies - Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia - received royal assent on 9th July 1900, with Western Australia following within a month. A proclamation signed by Queen Victoria on 17th September announced that the Federation of the six colonies would be inaugurated on 1st January 1901. 

Federation was a reality and the Commonwealth of Australia was born. 

The First Commonwealth Parliament Opens


On 9th May 1901, the Duke of York opened the first Commonwealth Parliament in Melbourne. ANA members featured prominently in the new government, with Edmund Barton named as Australia's first Prime Minister and the Minister for External Affairs, Alfred Deakin as Attorney-General, and Sir George Turner as Treasurer.

Its objective of Federation achieved, the ANA continued to play an integral role in many of the important issues confronting our fledgling nation, helping to shape public policy in the areas of defence, education, health and conservation, while promoting Australian-made goods and the establishment of a national day of celebration, now known as Australia Day.


This information was compiled with reference to the following source material:
Johnson J (1984), "One Nation with One Destiny": The role of the Australian Natives' Association in the Federation of Australia, ANA, Melbourne.
Dermody K (1948), A Nation at last: The story of federation, Australian Government Printing Service, Canberra.
Advance Australia April 1897


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