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Corowa and Federation

Prior to 1901 Australia was a group of 6 separate colonies, each governed by its own Parliament but with no Federal Parliament joining together and dealing with matters of common interest. This caused much confusion.

During the 1860’s and 1870’s, however, there were a number of inter-colonial conferences aimed at dealing with uniform legislation in areas of common interest, especially customs and tariffs.

A stronger step towards Federation came in 1891 when the first National Australasian Convention (Constitutional Convention) met in Sydney. Delegates appointed by the colonial Parliaments me, a draft constitution was drawn up.

Many people now believe the colonies would be stronger if united. So the case for Federation strengthened.

Local Federation leagues sprang up.

It was the Corowa Federation League that organized the Conference in Corowa on 31 July and August 1893. At this Conference Dr John Quick proposed a motion that was to change both the direction and place of Federation.

The 1895 Premier’s Conference accepted Quick’s proposals and in 1897-98 the second Constitutional Convention met and produced a draft constitution which was put to the people at referendums in 1898 and 1899. (1900 in Western Australia).

Sufficient support was gained at the final referendums for the bill to be taken to the British Parliament for enactment.

On 17th September 1900 Queen Victoria signed the proclamation announcing that Federation would be inaugurated on the 1st January 1901.

This Federation was achieved after a process lasting 50 years and the commonwealth of Australia was proclaimed.

What Was Corowa’s Role?

In a nutshell, the Corowa Federation Conference of 1893 saw the beginning of the push by the people for Federation.

Upon Dr Quick’s motion being accepted and later taken up by the 1895 Premier’s Conference, the people were officially involved with the Federation movement and, in fact, were able to have a say in (i) who drafted the constitution and (ii) whether that constitution would be accepted.

Until the Corowa Conference, the Federation Movement had been largely a political movement. After Corowa Federation Conference the Federation Movement became a popular movement. This was the ultimate significance of the Corowa Conference.

Oddfellows Hall

The Oddfellows Hall was originally constructed by the Loyal Border Lodge of the Manchester Unity Order of Oddfellows. Construction commenced on this site in May 1886 and the finished hall was handed over to the Oddfellows in July 1886. The stage was not part of the original construction being added to the building in 1890.

The hall remained in the ownership of the Oddfellows until 1905 when it was sold to local timber merchants, Sammons and Edwards.

In 2001 Corowa Shire Council with the assistance of a Commonwealth Federation Fund Grant purchased the site and restored the Oddfellows Hall as Centenary of Federation project.

The hall’s place in Australia’s Federation History stems from the building’s use during the 1893 Corowa Conference organized by local Border Federation Leagues held in the Corowa Court House.

During the 1893 Corowa Conference the Oddfellows Hall was the venue for public meetings where the people met with the politicians to discuss, debate and move resolutions on the Federation issues.

One of these public meetings chaired by Mr. A.A. Piggin was held in the Oddfellows Hall at 8 pm on the evening of 31st July 1893 prior to Dr John Quick, a delegate from Bendigo Australian Natives Association, moved him famous People Federation motion which was to change both the direction and the pace of Federation and led to Corowa becoming known as the ‘Birthplace of Federation.

Australia And Federation

1846 – First recorded suggestion of the need to establish a “Federal Authority” to govern Australia.

1851 – Victoria separates from NSW to form its own Colonial Government.

1859 – Queensland separates from NSW to form its own Colonial Government.

1871 – The Australian Natives’ Association (ANA), a popular movement of Australian born, white men is established in Melbourne. The ANA (and later the Australasian Federation League0 were both founded to promote the vision of one united Commonwealth.

1877 – A combined NSW and Victoria cricket team defeat Britain in the first cricket test played in Australia. The concept of a nationally representative Australian cricket team is established.

1883 – The Federal Council of Australasia is formed. This Council of Colonial Governments lacked authority and was unable to deliver cross-colony coordination in government policy of legislation.

1889 – 9 October — State of Defence Report suggest that colonies should federate foe defence reasons.

1890 – Politicians from each colony faced a number of pressing issues caused by economic downturns, sever drought and labor unrest. For most politicians Federation takes a back seat to more pressing concerns. Australasian Federation Conference, Melbourne — delegates decide to call a Constitutional Convention to discuss and draft a constitution for a Federal system of Government.

1891 – National Australasian Convention, Sydney — delegated agree to adopt the name “Commonwealth of Australia” and a draft constitution is written by Andrew Inglis Clark, Charles Kingston and Samuel Griffith aboard the steamboat “the Lucinda” on the Hawkesbury River. This draft provides the basis for all the future redrafting.

Australians now have a draft constitution but it has no legal status. The impetus to federation is stalled by the lack of legislative process and the colonies’ concerns about their own status within a federation. Popular support for federation is evident through the formation of the Australasian Federation Leagues and it is from the people that the “push’ for federation comes.

1893 – Corowa Conference” — the first of the “Peoples Conventions” — convened by the Australasians Federation League — endorses Dr John Quick’s plan that sets in place practical measures to break the legislative impasse that had stymied development and acceptance of a federal constitution.

1895 – Hobart Understanding of the Premiers — Premiers approve a draft Enabling Bill based on Quick’s basic plan.

1896 – Enabling Acts are passed in South Australia, NSW, Tasmania and Victoria. These prepare the way for the popular election of delegates to a national convention to draft a constitution. “The People’s Federal Convention”, Bathurst — spurs popular interest in the coming elections for delegates to the national convention.

1897 – Elections are held in the colonies to elect delegates to attend the national Australasian (Constitutional) Convention. Delegates meet twice in 1897 before they agree on a federal constitution to be put to the people of the colonies referenda.

1898 – Referenda are held. Tasmania, South Australia and Victoria return “Yes” votes in favor of adopting the federal constitution. NSW delivers a majority “No”. The national vote is 8405 short of the 80,000 required to carry the Federal constitution Bill.

1899 – January — Premiers’ Conference, Melbourne — all Premiers agree to amend the Federal constitution Bill to meet the concerns of Queensland and NSW. All states (except WA) support the Bill and agree to sponsor its enactment I the British Parliament.

1900 – March/July — Australia delegates in London negotiate the passage of the Federal Constitution Bill through British Parliament, witness Queen Victoria signing the documents granting Royal Assent and then proclaiming the Commonwealth of Australia will come into being on 1st January 1901.

1901 – January — Lord Hopetoun, the first Governor-General proclaims the Commonwealth of Australia at a ceremony in Centennial Park Sydney, the interim federal ministry with Sir Edmund Barton as Prime Minister is sworn in. The ceremony takes place before a crowd of 250,000 people.