Colony and Empire

Section Six



In the late 1800s there were, in the United Kingdom and in the colonies, small and sometimes influential groups of imperial federationists who wanted "a genuinely imperial parliament, with the United Kingdom and the colonies as its electorate, and limiting Westminster [i.e. the British Government] to a domestic role". Such an Imperial Federation, with its Imperial Parliament, would've smothered Australia's interests - as we would have been only a very small minority in such a arrangement.(139)

As E.M. Andrews wrote, Fortunately, despite the establishment of the Imperial Federation League in 1884, "there was never any serious likelihood that this body would succeed in turning the Empire into a federal Super-State". The movement collapsed in the 1890s. However, it is apparent that the movement had some success, in that its activities apparently led many politicians to the conclusion that there was a need for Imperial conferences.(141)

Imperial Federation was opposed by Australian Nationalists, who saw it as a regressive step that would pull the Australian nation further away from the goal of independence.

The scheme was also seen as a threat against White Australia as, due to the Empire's trading interests and diplomatic ties with various non-European colonies and countries, massive non-European immigration into Australia could have been authorised by an Imperial Parliament which was dominated by Britain and which would have had no reason to put Australia's interests first.

As Arthur Calwell stated, The Australian Workers' Union pointed out that:


As part of the celebrations in 1887 to celebrate Queen Victoria's 50 years on the throne, a Town Hall meeting "to declare loyalty to the Queen was scheduled for 10 June". But at this meeting the growing republican and radical sentiment was "expressed in cries of 'three cheers for liberty' which rang out louder than the 'loyal cheers'." The conservative press described the radical demonstration as the "republican riots".(144)

A subsequent meeting was held five days later to declare loyalty to the Queen. The Empire Loyalists (the "British mind-set") ensured that this meeting was held without any similar trouble: the meeting was held "under the protection of several conservative groups including the undergraduates of the University of Sydney, the Loyal Orange Institution, the Naval Brigade and several rugby clubs"; as well as which "dissidents were banned" from this second meeting.(145)


In 1901, an article criticising King Edward VII was published in the Toscin magazine (the article had earlier been produced in an Irish publication). Edward Findley (the Labor member for Melbourne) although unaware of the article before its printing, was the Toscin's nominal publisher. Peacock, the Victorian premier, moved Findley's expulsion from State parliament. The motion was passed.(146)

In 1920 when Hugh Mahon, Labor's Member for Kalgoorlie in the House of Representatives, addressed a meeting of Irish patriots in Melbourne, he "spoke of the death in British custody of the Lord Mayor of Cork... (and) was reported to have expressed the hope that 'the sob of the widow on the coffin would one day shake the foundations of this accursed Empire'" and made other statements about Britain's "bloody and accursed Empire". The National Party's prime minister Billy Hughes organised Mahon's expulsion from the Commonwealth Parliament for having made "seditious utterances inconsistent with a parliamentarian's oath of office".(147)


Legally, "there was no such thing as Australian citizenship before 26 January 1949". Prior to this, all Australians were British Subjects, and Australia was regarded as part of the British Empire.(148)

It was the Labor Government of Ben Chifley which made the change, via the Nationality and Citizenship Act, which came into force on Australia Day 1949 (26 January 1949) and created the new category of Australian citizen. The Act also enabled the creation of the Australian passport (prior to this, Australians travelled by using "British" passports), but this new passport creation was revoked by the incoming Menzies Government - so that Australians then continued to travel overseas until 1973 with the words "British Passport" emblazoned on the front of their passports".(149)

Colony and Empire

Australian Nationalism Information Database -