A Brand New Commonwealth

First published

1 January 1901

What an extraordinary day it has been, a new century, a new unity, a brand new Common­wealth. There were hymns in the churches, patriotic songs in the theatres, singing in the clubs.

One could hardly move in Sydney, every available tram, every harbour ferry, every horse­ drawn bus carried all loyal citizens into the city for the launching of the Commonwealth of Australia. They had only been trying to do it for the past SO years. The six colonies were so jealous of each other I thought they would never get there.

Best of all, though, was the procession. It started at 10.30 a.m. and moved through streets all decorated with marvellous triumphal arches; Venetian poles; Japanese lanterns; and every kind of flag, crown, painting and symbol of loyalty. The noise was uproarious: gongs, whistles, bells, accordions, rattles, people beat­ ing tin dishes.

There were grandstands all along the route and you could pay anything from 5 shillings to 25 shillings a seat. Some grandstands even had carpets and bands.

In the procession there were all the trade unions: the Australian Workers Union, the Shearers Union, the gold miners, the timber workers, the coal miners, the metal workers. There were the fire brigades, gleaming brass hats, and wonderful fire carts pulled by superbly groomed horses. On one float they had a bust of old Sir Henry Parkes, beard and all. We will remember him as the father of Federation. There were judges, there were premiers and our first prime minister, Edmund Barton.

The procession wound through to Centen­nial Park, and a choir sang 'O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come'. The Church of England Archbishop of Sydney, William Simaurez Smith, said the prayers. The Catholic representative, Cardinal Patrick Moran, was not there. Some say he was miffed because Archbishop Smith won precedence in the procession. So Cardinal Moran had his own ceremony outside St Mary's cathedral.

Our new Governor-General, Lord Hope­toun, was there. Had he been Admiral of the entire British Fleet, he could not have looked more impressive. There was a reading of a proclamation from Her Majesty Queen Victoria: 'We do hereby declare that on and after the First Day of January One Thousand Nine hundred and One, the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia shall be united in a Federal Commonwealth under the name Commonwealth of Australia'.

It will be difficult to get out of the habit of talking about States instead of colonies, and I wonder whether they will be any more friendly to each other. At least there will be one advan­tage. It will be splendid being able to send goods from one State to another without paying customs duties.

Of a series Keith wrote for the The Age Newspaper to mark the 1988 bicentenarary

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John Hope, 7th Earl of HopetounEdmund BartonWilliam Simaurez SmithSir Henry Parkes

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