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Skip Navigation LinksQueensland State Archives > Researching the archives > Exhibitions > Queensland firsts > 01-25 > 1899 - Passing the Federation Referendum

1899 - Passing the Federation Referendum

On 1 January 1901, the six separate Australian colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia. Prior to this, each colony had been responsible for its own defence, setting its own tariffs and trade barriers and even maintaining its own currency.

The process leading up to the federation Referendum had involved much political debate. On 2 September 1899, Queenslanders voted to decide whether the colony should join in a Federated Commonwealth. Sir James Dickson, the Premier at the time, joined the majority in favour of the Federation, although the strength of support was weaker in Queensland compared to other regions of Australia.

Residents in the urban, southern parts of Queensland opposed the Federation, believing that high tariffs which had existed previously were supporting Queensland’s manufacturing industries. In contrast, residents of north and western Queensland encouraged the idea of a Federation. Those living above the Tropic of Capricorn had been particularly influenced by the hope that a federal government might allow the north to separate from the southern part of Queensland.

Today, more than 100 years after Australia celebrated Federation, Queensland has remained unified as one State and is the second largest in the Australian Commonwealth.

Sir Henry Parkes explores the possibility of a Federation Convention meeting in a letter to Sir Samuel Griffith, 11 November 1890 Queensland State Archives Item ID 1139525, Digital Image ID 2937 Chief Secretary’s Department Image caption: 22 B

Sir Henry Parkes explores the possibility of a Federation Convention meeting in a letter to Sir Samuel Griffith, 11 November 1890
Queensland State Archives Item ID 1139525, Digital Image ID 2937 Chief Secretary’s Department

A supporter of Federation, Queensland Premier Sir James Dickson with his family at Toorak House in Brisbane, 1872
State Library of Queensland, Image no. 20233

William H. Groom, a pivotal figure in the Federation debate, c 1895 Queensland State Archives Item ID 436324

William H. Groom, a pivotal figure in the Federation debate, c 1895
Queensland State Archives Item ID 436324

Sir Samuel Griffith, an important motivator in the Federation movement, was heavily involved in drafting Australia’s Constitution, c 1915 Queensland State Archives Item ID 436343

Sir Samuel Griffith, an important motivator in the Federation movement, was heavily involved in drafting Australia’s Constitution, c 1915
Queensland State Archives Item ID 436343

Around the world

  • 1899 Felix Hoffmann patents aspirin
  • 1899 Paperclip patented by Norwegian Johan Vaaler

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Last updated 02 March 2012