Federation - 1 January 1901

AWM REL17384.002 The Federation flag. This was the unofficial flag of Australia for seventy years. During the 1890s it became popular as a symbol of the proposed federation. It remained in use even afterwards, though it was never formally adopted. The new Commonwealth conducted a competition for a fresh design in 1901.AWM REL17384.002

Britain had occupied the Australian continent since 1788. Six self-governing colonies - New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia - were duly created. Each was a distinct political entity with its own parliament, governor, laws and regulations. Despite such differences, by the end of the nineteenth century people increasingly began to regard themselves as Australian.

The establishment of a single nation required that federation be accepted in principle, and the terms of a federal constitution agreed on. At special federal conventions a constitution bill was drafted, debated and finally settled. It was submitted to the electors in a series of referendums in each of the colonies, and carried by a small margin. Australia was to be a separate nation but not a sovereign state; it would remain a dependency of Great Britain and a part of the British Empire.

The bill was passed by the British Parliament, and on 9 July 1900 Queen Victoria assented to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. Later she proclaimed that on the first day of the twentieth century Australians would at last be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia.