no previous
no next

  ― 69 ―

5. Federal Festivals

THOSE who are acquainted with the magic scenery of Sydney are able, with the aid of photographs and newspaper descriptions, vividly to picture to themselves the splendour of the pageantry with which, on the first day of the century, the nativity of the Commonwealth was celebrated.

From the Promontory of Government Domain, with its sea-girt wealth of verdure, the five-mile route of procession blazed with all the colours of a carnival. Venetian masts, garlanded and festooned with foliage, outlined the roadway; Union Jacks, Australian flags, Stars and Stripes, and banners of all nations flashed in and veiled the sunshine; the public offices and prominent buildings were brilliant with device and drapery; Queen Victoria's statue, as the symbol of Imperial Unity, was, to the height of 60 feet, canopied with flowers and encircled with colonnades and international trophies. At intervals triumphal arches spanned the streets; the United States, Germany and France erected noble structures in honour of the new-born nation; there were arches symbolic of Empire and of Progress, and fairest and

  ― 70 ―
most imposing of all towered the arch of the Commonwealth. Here among allegorical reliefs were recorded the names of the framers of the Constitution, and, together with sentiments expressed by leading Federalists, were inscribed Sir Henry Parkes' famous phrase of “The Crimson Thread of Kinship,” and Mr Barton's happy apposition of “A Nation for a Continent and a Continent for a Nation.” The statue of Sir Henry Parkes as the Father of Federation was appropriately decorated, and bore his motto, “One People one Destiny.” Nor, amid this display were the foundations of material wealth forgotten; the staple industries of New South Wales being represented by massive arches of coal, wool and wheat.

The procession, when completely marshalled, extended about two miles in length, and occupied an hour in passing any given point. With its Civil, Military and Industrial elements, it furnished an epitome of the Arts of Peace and War. The various trades bore the emblems of their crafts, and the Friendly Societies marched in their regalia; these, however, formed a pageant to which the onlookers were accustomed. It was the military display which gained the plaudits of the beholders. Never before in Australia had anything approaching to such a spectacle been witnessed; never even in the heart of the Empire has it been surpassed. The flower of the Household troops in scarlet and steel, Blue-jackets from Her Majesty's ships, dusky Indian

  ― 71 ―
cavalry, stalwart Maori warriors interspersed with the khaki-clad centaurs of the Australian contingents crowned with their newly-won South African laurels, formed an array of varied splendour such as no other Empire in the world's history could have presented.

As the procession wended its way to Centennial Park, the multitude, to the number of a quarter of a million, converged towards the grassy amphitheatre where, in a position visible from all sides, stood the pavilion in which the natal ceremonies were to take place. In order that this locality might be marked by a memorial more enduring than any superstructure, the rites were performed on a platform consisting of a huge block of granite, six-sided, to represent the number of original States, and embedded in the earth to within a few inches of its surface, so that it might remain as a perpetual witness to indicate to future generations the exact spot on which the Commonwealth came into being.

The ceremony was solemnised by the recital of the prayer composed for the occasion by Lord Tennyson, the Governor of South Australia. A chorus of 10,000 children voiced the hopes of the future in “Federated Australia,” and the choirs and bands filled the air with hymns such as “O God, our help in ages past,” the Te Deum, the Hallelujah Chorus, and other songs of praise in which has become enshrined the steadfast faith of our fathers.

Another brilliant ceremony awaits the landing of the Duke of Cornwall in Melbourne for the

  ― 72 ―
purpose of opening the Commonwealth Parliament on May 9th. Although, owing to the period of national mourning, the occasion will be shorn of much of its festivity, still the Imperial and Australian significance of the visit of the Heir to the British Throne will be emphasised with the pomp and circumstance worthy of such an historical occasion.

Between these two pageants past and future, an event has just occurred which though less spectacular in its character will exercise a paramount influence on the welfare of the Commonwealth. Ere this number is issued the result of the elections for the Senate and the House of Representatives, which took place in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, and Tasmania on March 29th, and in South Australia and Queensland on March 30th, will have been ascertained. The circumstances attending these elections are unique. Never before have the two Houses of a Legislature been erected on so liberal a franchise. Nomineeism, property qualification, and plurality of votes have been swept away. In South Australia and Western Australia the elections have been conducted on the principle of one adult one vote, and in the other States on that of one man one vote. Both Houses may therefore be regarded as the embodiment of the popular will, and every elector having had an equal voice in the selection of the representatives of the Nation and of the States will feel a corresponding

  ― 73 ―
interest in the conduct of public affairs. Never before has the instrument of government of a nation been so entirely the handiwork of the people themselves. The Constitution was framed by delegates selected from the Federating States by the popular vote. The measure when formulated was submitted by the delegates as agents to their principals the electors for ratification. The Commonwealth Act therefore owes both its origin and its confirmation to the direct voice of the Australian people. The Members of the Commonwealth Parliament are but the temporary trustees of the Constitution. The people of the Commonwealth and of the States reserve to themselves the right of assenting to or disapproving of any alteration in their charter. No change in the Constitution can take place without the approval of a majority of the States and of the people. For the first time in the British Empire, the timehonoured and wholesome custom of the referendum has been established. The Commonwealth contains several old English customs blended with many up-to-date devices. In some instances it constitutes a reform of the truest description—short parliaments, payment of members, the ascendancy of election over nomination, and the system of leasing instead of absolute alienation of Federal lands—co-exist with a novel method of settling deadlocks by a joint meeting of both Houses and the principle of responsibility of Ministers to two popularly elected Houses possessing powers in many respects co-ordinate.

  ― 74 ―

The result of the labours of the Conventions has received the commendation of many well-known authorities, including the Right Hon. James Bryce and the Right Hon. Sir Charles Dilke. Apart from its merits, however, the surest guarantee of its success consists in the knowledge that the practical working of the Act lies in the hands of a people who are saturated with the British genius for self-government. Even a less perfect measure would under such circumstances prove to be eminently practical. Moreover, success is doubly assured by the fact that it was wisely conceded by the Imperial Parliament that the interpretation of the Constitution should be left in the hands of Australians themselves, so that the plastic power of adaptation for which the offshoots of the British race are so famous might be conserved for the making good in working of any imperfections in construction.

Under the administration of the Barton Cabinet the elaborate machinery of the Commonwealth is being brought into gear in an orderly and effective fashion. On the last day of the Nineteenth Century the sole functionary of the Commonwealth was Lord Hopetoun, the highly popular and universally esteemed representative of the Crown. At the stroke of midnight the whole of the Customs Staff in all the States became transformed into Federal Officers, and are now under the authority of the Right Hon. C. C. Kingston, the Minister for Trade and Customs. On January 1st the members of the Federal Executive took the Oath of Allegiance. On March 1st the

  ― 75 ―
Posts, Telegraphs and Telephones became by proclamation Federal services, and the numerous employés of these Departments passed from State to Federal control under the Hon. J. G. Drake, the Federal Postmaster-General. On the same date the Defence Forces were taken over by the Right Hon. Sir John Forrest, so that not only the Permanent Forces with the Militia and Volunteers of each State, but also the Contingents serving in South Africa, are now forces of the Commonwealth.

The Parliament, now fully equipped, will shortly be occupied in establishing the Supreme Court, and in assimilating the laws relating to the Postal, Quarantine, Immigration, Defence and other Federal Departments. The great task towards which the whole energies of the legislators will be directed is the passing of the Federal tariff. Opinions in Australia are much divided as to the proportion of the time available for this task which will be requisite for its performance. The natural desire of those engaged in Commerce and Industry for the removal of the present state of uncertainty, and the activity of importation into New South Wales while it stills remains a free State, are considerations which press for the earliest possible settlement; while on the other hand the enormous amount of detail which confronts the Minister for Customs will demand all the resources and huge capacity for work which characterise Mr Kingston. The return to both Houses of a large proportion of advocates of a low

  ― 76 ―
tariff may lead to the thrashing out on the floor of both Houses the much vexed question of the abstract advantages of Free Trade and Protection. But here as elsewhere the result will be arrived at by no blind adhesion to any abstract principle, but mainly by utilitarian considerations, with the result that a tariff will be adopted which will raise the requisite revenue, and at the same time tend towards the conservation and promotion of Australian industries; two objects which practical experience has over and over again demonstrated to be simultaneously attainable, although some theorists still persist in denouncing them as incompatible and mutually destructive. The prosperity of Sydney under a régime of Free Trade is often advanced as a practical illustration of the benefits of that system; on the other hand it is pointed out that special advantages as a distributing centre must accrue to any port which, situated amid a group of ports, maintains an open door. Although a late closing shop gets additional custom it does not follow that if all the other shops in the vicinity were open the same relative advantage would be maintained.

Until the tariff is settled there is not likely to be any regular formation of parties; but eventually it appears probable that, as in the case of the United States, the cleavage will be between those who favour the continuance of the present allocation of powers between the Commonwealth and the States and those who aim at a more complete unification. The object

  ― 77 ―
of the founders of the Constitution was to maintain as far as possible, consistently with joint action, the integrity of the State units; and in order to prevent any tendency towards the obliteration of the States it was decided at the Convention, without a division, that the State Governors should still continue to be the channels of communication between the State Governments and the Colonial Office. In the United States the tendency towards more complete union has been reinforced by the fact that all the States, with the exception of the thirteen original States, have been born of the Union, and have never experienced complete autonomy. The Civil War too had results in the direction of consolidation. Nevertheless, in spite of these amalgamating influences, public opinion is still strongly on the side of the maintenance of the inviolability of the State entity. Just as harmony is on a higher plane than unison, so does it appear that the loyal co-operation of the Federated States gives promise of a more efficient combination than would be likely to result from merging in one mass their respective individualities. By the preservation of Autonomy a Federal form of Government effects a reconciliation between the apparently inconsistent ideas of Empire and Liberty, and an important advance towards the Co-ordination of Greater Britain has been effected by the achievement of the heart's desire of Australian Patriots. The goal is, however, but the commencement of the course, and the Commonwealth is with well

  ― 78 ―
ordered zeal bending to the task of firmly establishing in the Empire-making theatre of the Pacific, a nation devoted to the upholding and perpetuating under Southern skies of the choicest traditions of the British race.

no previous
no next