On October 24th, 1889, at the Tenterfield School of the Arts, in rural New South Wales, Henry Parkes, known as the “Father of Federation”, delivered a stirring speech that was a call for federation. He had come to realize, like many of his colonial colleagues, that the inefficiency of having separate colonies was a burden on Australia. (The mismatch of systems like railway gauges, laws and even separate militaries severely restricted the colonies from co operating with each other.) With this in mind, Parkes called upon all seven colonies to unite:
“Surely what the Americans have done by war, Australians can bring about in peace….it seems to me that the time is close at hand when we ought to set about creating this great national Government for all Australia.”
Parkes’ oration it seemed was enough of a push to convince all the colonial premiers of a need for a new federal constitution. Over the next two years meetings were held in both Melbourne and Sydney, which resulted in a complete draft of the proposed Australian Constitution being drawn up. Though, it would take a little over a decade, after many compromises and two referendums, for the Commonwealth of Australia to be proclaimed on January 1st, 1901.
Unfortunately, for Henry Parkes, he would not see his dreams of a unified Australia, dying five years before it was proclaimed a nation.
All the colonies agreed that Federation was a good step forward. And yet the idiocy with rail gauges persisted well into the 20th Century. Parkes would not have been impressed.