Australia Celebrates its First Century

2000 was a special year for Australia, as we had the honour of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. In 2001 our celebrations have continued, this time to mark the 100th anniversary of Australia as a Federation, our system of Government.

Before 1901

Australians lived in six distinct colonies prior to 1901. These would later become Australian states: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. These six colonies had their own laws, postal services, customs, defense and immigration, and there was a strong feeling for decades before 1901 that these issues would be more effectively and efficiently handled by a central government. People moved freely between the colonies and considered themselves Australians, but the colonies were not formally joined to each other in any way, and there were some significant differences in the ways that colonies handled issues. Because of these differences, and because of the development of regional identity, many Australians at the time wanted to protect their own interests and preserve their own identities. This made the federal model of government, providing a balance of power between the Central Government and the State Governments, the preferred model.

The formation of the Commonwealth of Australia

Shortly before the Federation of States, ten representatives from each colony met to write a Constitution, and in 1899 all colonies voted to join together to form a Federation of States, similar to the system of government in Switzerland. In 1900, Britain's Queen Victoria, Australia's Head of State at the time, signed the necessary papers, and all colonies, now States, joined as members of the Federation, to be known as the Commonwealth of Australia. On 1st January 1901, Australia came into existence as a nation.

After this, the Commonwealth Government took on the responsibilities of defense, immigration, postal services, trade and taxes, while the State Governments looked after schools, health services, roads and railways.

The first Parliament

Elections for the new Commonwealth Parliament were held in March 1901, and on 9th May of that year the first Commonwealth Parliament was ceremonially opened at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne. The Parliament formally sat in the Victoria State Parliamentary building until it transferred to its permanent home in 1927, in the newly created national capital, Canberra.

Flying the new flag

Shortly after the formation of the Federation, the first Prime Minister of Australia (Australia's Head of Government), Edmund Barton, announced a national flag competition. There were five winners, including a 14-year-old schoolboy, Ivor Evans, with a similar design. Together, the five winners created the Australian flag, combining the British Union Jack, a six-pointed star under the Union Jack representing the six states of the Commonwealth of Australia, and to the right of the Union Jack, the Southern Cross constellation. Ivor Evans included the Southern Cross as it is "the brightest constellation in the Southern Hemisphere, representative of Australia's bright future as a leading nation".

Australia's national anthem remained "God Save the Queen" until 1974, when the patriotic song "Advance Australia Fair" was chosen to replace it.

Australia in 2001 - a success story

In 1901, Australia was already a culturally diverse society, composed of Australian aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders and immigrants drawn from all corners of the globe, especially at the time of Australia's Gold Rush in the mid-19th century. A Swedish newspaper started up in Melbourne in 1857, Polish Australians formed a Committee to support the Polish January Uprising against Russian domination in 1863, and the French set up the first Alliance Francaise in Australia in 1890.

Today, over 23 percent of Australians were born in another country. Australian society is made up of traditions and ideas from many cultures, and has forged a new identity as a tolerant and vibrant multicultural society. Australian immigration policy is proudly non-discriminatory, and the policy of multiculturalism has been pursued enthusiastically by Australian Governments over the past two decades.

One hundred years on, Australia is one of the world's most successful, culturally diverse and democratic national communities. This has been built on a Federal framework, which brings together the values of Australian democracy, citizenship and participation.

David Hardy, First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Warsaw.