Forging the Nation - Federation: the First 20 years

PROP 02067Printed souvenir of Anzac Day observance 1919. PROP 02067

In the test of a great war… Australians
saw their own men…flash across the world's consciousness like a shooting
star. The Australian nation came to know itself.
They'll be royal times in Sydney for the Cuff and Collar Push,
They'll be lots of dreary drivel and clap-trap
From the men who own Australia, but who never knew the Bush.
Henry Lawson - 1901
National identity
The Digger's unspoken, unbreakable creed was the miner's and bushman's, "Stand by your mate."
C.E.W. Bean, The AIF in France 1918
Seeking security
Lord Kitchener has been pleased to say that than the young Australian there is no finer fighting material in the world. But the comprehensiveness of his report…makes abundantly clear…our appalling feebleness.
J.H.M. Abbott, Lone Hand, 1 June 1910
The First World War
Many a man lying out there at Pozières or in the low scrub at Gallipoli has thought in his last moments: "Well - well - it's over; but in Australia they will be proud of this."
C.E.W. Bean, In your hands, Australians
Towards the future
From shearing shed and cattle run,
From Broome to Hobson's Bay,
Each native-born Australian son,
Stands straighter up today.
A.B. Paterson, We're All Australians Now, 1915
The name Royal Hotel…passes unnoticed and ungrowled at, even by Bush republicans. The Royal Hotel at Bourke was kept by an Irishman, one O'Donohoo, who was Union to the backbone.
Henry Lawson, Lord Douglas, 1901


The Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act received the royal assent on 9 July 1900 and it was proclaimed that, on the first day of the twentieth century, the six Australian colonies would be united as a federal commonwealth under the name of the Commonwealth of Australia.

The new nation was born with no visible symbols of statehood and without having faced any of the ordeals which have often welded a people together in common purpose. Just thirteen years later Australia faced its great trial in the terrible conflict of the First World War. The First World War tested both the states' commitment to nationhood and the nation's ties to the Empire.

This exhibition explores the first two decades of the 20th century. It shows some of the events, personalities, customs, sacrifices and symbolism associated with Federation. These forces shaped Australia.

The Australian nation came to know itself.

Over 330,000 Australians served overseas in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) during the First World War.

When the AIF first sailed it left a nation that did not yet know itself. Many an Australian had no confidence in the capacity of his people for any big enterprise. They were still six colonies rather than a single federated nation.

And then, the people in Australia looked on from afar at three hundred thousand of their own… struggling amongst millions from the strongest and most progressive peoples of Europe and America. They saw their own men … flash across the world's consciousness like a shooting star. The Australian nation came to know itself.
C.E.W Bean, Australia in the war of 1914-18