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Federation celebrations

On 1 January 1901, Australians awoke to a new era. Instead of being divided they were now one people living in one nation. People turned out across Australia to celebrate federation.

In Sydney, 500 000 people lined the route of the 'Great Inaugural Procession' leading from the Domain to Centennial Park. Here, over 100 000 spectators witnessed Lord Hopetoun being sworn-in as Australia's first Governor-General. He then proclaimed the Commonwealth of Australia and swore-in the Prime Minster, Sir Edmund Barton, and his ministry.


The Queen commands me to express through you to the people of Australia her Majesty's heartfelt interest in the inauguration of the Commonwealth, and her earnest wish that under Divine Providence it may ensure the increased prosperity and well-being of her loyal and beloved subjects in Australia.

After Lord Hopetoun was sworn-in as Governor-General, he read out a telegram from the British Secretary of State for the Colonies

Excited crowds began gathering along the five-mile long route of the parade early in the morning. They were eager to see the parade and be a part of the historic celebrations. The footpaths were overflowing, people crammed onto balconies, hung out of windows and even perched on rooftops.

The Sydney Morning Herald described it as 'entirely a people's festival'. Alfred Deakin, who later served as Prime Minister, agreed. He wrote in the Morning Post, 'The occasion was theirs in every sense; they had adopted the Constitution framed under their instructions and they now celebrated what was entirely their own triumph in their own way'.

The procession passed through streets festooned with flags and bunting and ten specially constructed Federation Arches. These temporary structures celebrated life in Australia and an emerging national pride. At the same time, they saluted the new nation's ties to Britain and other democratic countries. Among them were the Commonwealth Citizens Arch, a Wool Arch, a Coal Arch and a Wheat Arch as well as American, German and French Arches.

Federation day +

Federation celebrations in Sydney (clockwise from top left): the procession in Macquarie Street; the French Arch on Pitt Street; front cover of a pictorial souvenir featuring Queen Victoria and the crests of the six new states; fireworks explode over an illuminated Sydney Town Hall

State Library New South Wales, PXD 760; National Library of Australia PIC Box PIC/14788 #PIC/14788; Museum Victoria, Item HT 32350; National Library of Australia, PIC/9874/53 LOC Album 321

Some 10 000 people participated in the parade. They included troops, mounted police, military bands, members of trade unions, stockmen, firefighters and Friendly Societies such as the Sons and Daughters of Temperance, the Ancient Order of Druids and the Irish National Foresters. There were members of state parliament, along with representatives of foreign governments and community and church groups.

Horse-drawn floats, or what were then called allegorical cars, added to the spectacle. They highlighted different themes and included a float for each of the six states that united to form the nation. The Italian one featured a band of musicians, soldiers in national costume and two women dressed in white classical robes representing Britannia and Australia. The trade union float also had a young woman draped in white to symbolise Australia, surrounded by workers, including shearers and a miner.

In keeping with protocol, the Governor-General, Lord Hopetoun, and his wife Lady Hopetoun, came last, waving to the cheering crowds from an open horse-drawn carriage.

Sydney had never seen such an event. In the words of the 'Queenslander' newspaper, it was 'A great day in Sydney. A marvellous spectacle'.

Eight days of celebrations followed with concerts, sports carnivals, special church services, military displays, concerts and debates. Captain Cook's landing at Botany Bay was re-enacted. On 1 January, there was a huge firework display on the shores of Sydney Harbour and buildings throughout the city were lit up.

The humour of the crowd

During the long hours of patient waiting there was no lack of interesting material for observation. The people themselves were strikingly varied in character, in their mode of life, and in intelligence. Standing next to a well-dressed city man were, perhaps, several persons whose attire indicated that they boasted of but a very humble part of the world's riches. Nonetheless, they seemed to be just as happy and contented as the more favoured occupants of the great Barrack stand, or of the smaller hustings opposite. All were radiant with good humour, and as one watched with interest the innumerable side incidents which are inseparable from a vast crowd, the sounds of chaff, banter, and laughter, which rose continually, gave ample indication of general amusement. Usually speaking everybody was orderly, and there was no horseplay that sometimes makes a crowd unpleasant.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 January 1901
Photo of the Perth federation arch +

Triumphal arch celebrating federation, the Esplanade, Perth

State Library of Western Australia, 013912PD

Celebrations did not focus just on Sydney. From state capitals to country towns, in small communities and tiny rural schools and even on remote outback stations, people joined together to welcome federation. Shops sold souvenirs such as handkerchiefs, teapots, vases, mugs and plates, as well as booklets and badges to commemorate the day. Songs and poems were written in tribute to the new Australian nation.

A big effort was made to involve children in the celebrations because they were seen as the future of the new nation. Children marched in parades and took part in flag-raising ceremonies. They were presented with special certificates and medals to mark federation. At special 'monster' picnics and sports carnivals, children competed in running, skipping, two-legged and sack races.

Federation was truly an Australia-wide festival. The enthusiastic celebrations across the country showed how eagerly Australians welcomed their new nation.

Celebration at Wodonga

The monster picnic in Wodonga Park on Tuesday was a highly successful gathering. Shortly before 11 o'clock about 300 bright looking and well-dressed children assembled at the Wodonga Post Office. The banners and bannerettes contained the usual loyal and patriotic mottoes, and added to the picturesqueness of the juvenile procession, as "the men and women of the future" wended their way down Sydney Street. On the ground every preparation had been made by the committee for the enjoyment of the children. In addition to the creature comforts, which had been arranged on a liberal scale, swings had been erected on numerous trees, a running track had been made, and games had been organised. Throughout the day music was discoursed by the Wodonga Band. As the day advanced, the attendance increased considerably. It is estimated that at least 500 children, including the pupils of the Wodonga, Wodonga West, Leneva, Baranduda, and House Creek State schools, and St. Augustine's R.C. School, took part in the celebration. The vast juvenile concourse, under the leadership of Miss M'Koy, rendered the patriotic air "Australia for Ever" (by Mr H. F. Rix) most effectively during the afternoon.

Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, 4 January 1901
Photo of school children singing at Federation Celebrations Brisbane Queensland 1901 +

Brisbane celebrates federation: School children gathered on the corner of Wharf and Adelaide Streets sing ‘Rouse Australia’

John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland, Neg: 109742.