August 21

The Importance of Australia Week Celebrations


One of the major events of Australia Week in London was a reception in the magnificent Royal Gallery in the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

There were three processional entries. Each was preceded by a superb trumpet fanfare

The first, Mr Blair and Mr Howard.

Then the Speaker, with her train carried by an elderly and gallant footman, wearing a sword.

Then the Lord Chancellor, wearing a full bottomed wig, a black and gold gown with a train, and knee breeches.

The four delivered speeches. And contrary to some reports here, Mr Howard’s was excellent both in form and content.

The participation of the Speaker, the Lord Chancellor and the British Prime Minister emphasised the fact that the British Parliament had issued an invitation to Australia. This was that we allow them to celebrate, with us, not only the centenary of our Constitution but also our role in and contribution to the life of the Commonwealth of Nations over that century.

Should we have rebuffed the British, as some of the Australian media seemed to be saying? After all was not the origin of the Australian Constitution definitively declared by the former Prime Minister, now financial adviser and cultural commentator, Mr Paul Keating, when he said in 1993:-

"The Constitution was framed as a routine piece of British imperial legislation. It shows its age."?

And in 1994 when he said "We have got a constitution which was designed by the British Foreign Office to look over the Australian Government’s shoulder"?

Apart from his curious reference to the Foreign, and not the Colonial Office, the fact is that the Australian Constitution was written in Australia by Australians and it was approved by the Australian people.

This was an extraordinary event, unprecedented in history, certainly at least until then, and perhaps ever since.

As two of our founding fathers, Sir John Quick and Robert Garran wrote in what is still the magisterial commentary on the Constitution:-

Never before have a group of self-governing, practically independent communities, without external pressure or foreign complications of any kind, deliberately chosen of their own free will to put aside their provincial jealousies and come together as one people, from a simple intellectual and sentimental conviction of the folly of disunion and the advantages of nationhood. The States of America, of Switzerland, of Germany, were drawn together under the shadow of war. Even the Canadian provinces were forced to unite by the neighbourhood of a great foreign power. But the Australian Commonwealth, the fifth great Federation of the world, came into voluntary being through a deep conviction of national unity. We may well be proud of the statesmen who constructed a Constitution which – whatever may be its faults and its shortcomings – has proved acceptable to a large majority of the people of five great communities scattered over a continent; and proud of a people who, without the compulsion of war or the fear of conquest, have succeeded in agreeing upon the terms of a binding and indissoluble Social Compact.

Not long after the 1999 referendum, the Courier Mail published a letter from a presumably disappointed ARM supporter who wrote that it was well known fact that the British had strongly opposed Federation!

The truth is of course quite the opposite. The first serious federal proposal came from – surprise, surprise – London.

In 1847 Earl Grey, the Colonial Secretary proposed an Australian General Assembly to deal with Australian matters – tariffs, the post office, railways and roads.

A Privy Council report filled out the details: the General Assembly would consist of a Governor-General, and a House of Delegates elected by the colonial parliaments. The General Assembly would have the power to make laws at the request of colonies. It would have the power to create a Supreme Court of Australia.

The proposal was greeted here with derision, ridicule and strong opposition.

Rather than federation being imposed by Britain, the fact is the British actually proposed it, and we rejected it. Soundly.

From 1855 the colonies gained responsible government and became internally self-governing. It became clear – and Earl Grey’s experience confirmed this – that if Federation were to come it would be the Australians – and not the British – who would not only decide on it, but also determine its form.

So when W.C. Wentworth, who quite liked Lord Grey’s proposal, tried again in 1855 the Colonial Secretary Henry Labouchere rejected it. He would not move unless he were satisfied that the colonies were likely to accept federation.

There were further proposals. In 1870, at an Intercolonial Postal conference, Henry Parkes proposed not federation, but a Federal Council. The Conference and the NSW passed a bill for this, but Royal Assent was not forthcoming. It was too closely and narrowly tied to the postal scheme.

It was German unification, and her imperial ambitions – as well as those of France – that led to the next significant development. In 1883 Queensland attempted to annex New Guinea to thwart Imperial Germany’s ambitions. This was repudiated by London. In the meantime, France was clearly interested in the New Hebrides. So an Inter-colonial Convention in 1883 drafted an Act, not for federation, but to constitute a Federal Council of Australasia.

There were to be two members from each of the self-governing colonies and including NZ one from the Crown colonies (Fiji and WA).

It was passed by five of the colonial parliaments and then by the Imperial Parliament in 1885.

It was to meet only every two years, and could legislate over matters referred by two or more colonies.

New Zealand and New South Wales never joined, Fiji came only once, and South Australia left it.

But the mood of the country was changing. The advantages of federation were becoming evident. A report in 1889 by Sir James Bevan Edwards about the colonies separate defence forces was scathing. The colonies were opting for an immigration policy at odds with London. United they would be more able to resist British pressure against a White Australian Policy. (It may be recalled that the colonies had already escaped from the constraints on their aboriginal policies which the Colonial Office had imposed on them up to the grant of responsible government.)

Parkes responded to this mood in what was to be called the Tenterfield Oration in 1889. He called for a convention to settle the terms of federation. He was so successful that an Australian Federation Conference was convened in Melbourne in February 1890. It agreed, unanimously, to call together ordinary a National Australasian Convention to be chosen from the seven colonial parliaments. This was done. It met from 2 March to 9 April 1891 in Melbourne.

It produced a draft constitution. The main differences from our present constitution were:

the senate would be appointed by the State parliaments there would only be a power to establish a Supreme Court constitutional amendments could be approved by State conventions As soon as three parliaments agreed to the proposal London would be asked to adopt it, which came to pass.

Its principal weakness was that it depended on the colonial politicians in each parliament, or at least three, giving effect to the proposal.
They did not.

And so we come to the most significant and the most exciting part of the Federation story.

Because the politicians had failed, the people took over. Sensibly, democratically and without an uprising or revolution.

This was a grassroots movement conducted principally through two organisations, the Federation Leagues and the Australian Natives Association.

They held a famous conference, a truly peoples’ conference, in Corowa in 1893.

It was there that Sir John Quick moved that there should be another convention, but this time one directly elected by the people. And that their proposal should not go to the politicians for ratification, but direct to the people by way of a referendum in each colony.

This was indeed a revolution. A glorious and bloodless revolution!

One hundred and six years later, in 1999 I was invited by The Australian to a debate in the Court House at Corowa to mark the anniversary of the conference. Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Kelly were for the Yes case and Ted Mack and I for the No case.

I pointed out there that there were two contrasting processes for constitutional development and change. One was the Corowa process. The other was the Keating-Turnbull process.

The Corowa process was truly a peoples’ process. It was inspired by the people and it gave birth to a constitution made openly, each stage discussed with the people. At the other extreme was the Keating-Turnbull process, a process inspired by an elite, with a constituted drafted by an elite, in secret, without the people being involved.

After Corowa 1893, the rest – as they say – is history. But even after the Corowa process was approved by the premiers in 1895, the politicians had to be jogged into action by another peoples’ Convention. This was held in Bathurst in 1896.

In 1897 an Australasian Federal Convention was finally elected by the people, except by WA, whose parliament appointed their delegates. Queensland did not attend.

The Convention met in Adelaide and Sydney in 1897 and in Melbourne 1898. It did its work, improving on the earlier constitution. This was submitted to a referendum in four States in 1898. Passed in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, it failed to attain the prescribed minimum of 80,000 affirmative votes required in NSW.

George Reid, the NSW Premier, then negotiated a compromise with all the Premiers in 1899. That year a referendum was held again in all States, except in WA. These passed.

The five Parliaments then formally requested the Queen that the Constitution be given legal effect by the Imperial Parliament. Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, invited a delegation to come to London. They were Edmund Barton (NSW), Alfred Deakin (Victoria), Charles Kingston (SA), James Dickie (Queensland), Sir Philip Fysh (Tasmania) and S.H. Parker (WA).

Although the Colonial Office had advised him the constitution be enacted without change, Chamberlain wanted some amendments, especially one to retain appeals to the Privy Council.

A compromise was eventually agreed, and accepted glumly. The Australian delegates then withdrew to their private room and "seized each other’s hands and danced hand in hand in a ring around the centre of the room to express their jubilation."

Bear in mind the photographs that have survived of the Founding Fathers – all austere, very serious men, often with long beards.

I thought this was the reason the State premiers had been invited to the celebrations in London. They were to restage the delegates dance ! I imagined Mr Carr and Mr Bracks leading them. I am disappointed they did not.

But back to the nineteenth century.

The Bill passed by parliament receiving the Royal Assent on 9 July 1900. The people of Western Australia approved of the Bill by referendum on 31 July. So on the 17th of September, at Balmoral, Queen Victoria signed a Proclamation for the Commonwealth to be established on the very first day of the new century, 1 January 1901. After elections on the 29 and 30 March, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York opened the new Parliament in Melbourne on 9 May.


But so much for the reasons for our celebrations. What of the celebrations themselves? Having read some of the press reports, I have come to the conclusion that there must have been two Australia Weeks. I went to one, and many of our journalists and editors went to, or wrote about, the other.

There were several functions during that week, including a reception on the Friday night, and the Guildhall Dinner, where the Prime Minister spoke without notes – by all independent accounts he spoke superbly. His central theme was that we owe a great deal to Britain. But the people of Britain also owe a great deal to Australia. He pointed out that in 1914, Australia contributed a volunteer army of 400,000. And this from a country which had only a male population of about 2.5 million.

Then there was Royal Gallery reception where I had the honour of meeting Lady Thatcher. But the most memorable features of Australia Week for me were the Federation Guard outside Buckingham Palace, and the Service for Australia on Friday, 7 July in Westminster Abbey. Let me describe it.

First the Prime Minister and other dignitaries are received by the Dean and the Chapter of Westminster at the Great West door, and conducted to their places. It is now time for the arrival of the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh.

And to announce the Queen’s presence, a standard on the flagpole is now unfurled, not the usual Royal Standard, but instead the Queen’s personal standard for her use in Australia. Approved in 1962, it consists of a banner of the Commonwealth Arms (that is those of the six States) with a large gold seven-pointed star in the centre, charged with Her Majesty’s initial ‘E’ in gold. This is ensigned with the Royal Crown within a chaplet of gold roses on a blue roundel.

So the personal standard flutters from the tower, announcing to the world that the Queen of Australia is in the Abbey.

A most magnificent fanfare by the State Trumpeters now resounds and resounds about the Abbey. Then to the strains of the great organ, the voices of the congregation and the choir fill the Abbey with this hymn:-
"God save our Gracious Queen

Long live our noble Queen

God save the Queen.

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious,

Long to reign over us:

God save the Queen"

From the way his head is moving I can see Mr Gough Whitlam is singing too. Lustily. I wonder, is he maintaining his rage?

I reflect on the fact that, at least in office, all of our Prime Ministers have supported the institution of the Crown, save one. And he was not there. As for the other three who had effectively renounced their support, this only came after they had left office. The most inexplicable is that of Malcolm Fraser. Who is also there.

Then to the words and music of the great hymn, "Praise my soul the King of Heaven, to his feet thy tribute bring" the procession winds its slow path up the Nave, lead by a great cross, with two candle bearers. The ranks of the clergy, most resplendent in their vestments of many colours follow. Then come the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, up the Nave, to their special places in the Sanctuary, places reserved for the anointed Sovereign and her consort.

I recall the Queen has taken her own oath to us, and to the whole Commonwealth, and that at her Coronation she was set apart for her special duties under the Constitution. And I recall those words of Shakespeare which express the finality and the sacred nature of the setting aside of the Sovereign:-
"Not all the water in the rough rude sea

Can wash the balm from an anointed King;

The breath of worldly men cannot depose

The deputy elected by the Lord."

And the choir and the congregation continue:-

"Fatherlike he tends and spares us,well our feeble frame he knows, in his hands he gently bears us, Rescues us from all our foes. Praise him! Praise him! Widely as his mercy flows."

The Queen and the Duke are now standing near the high altar. How inappropriate, how impossible, how inconceivable, that in their place could be sitting a president, especially one who holds office at the absolute mercy of the Prime Minister. And in any event, presidents are not anointed, they are not set apart.

As the hymn continues, with its resounding chorus:-

"Praise him! Praise him! Praise the everlasting King",

I can no longer see the processional cross for it is now in its place in the Sanctuary. But now the Australian flag comes slowly up the Nave towards the Sanctuary. It is protected by a flag party of three. They seem so lonely in that vast Abbey. I can see the slouch hat of the soldier, the caps of the sailor and the airman. Slowly they come up the Nave, with that symbol of our nation, the symbol which has comforted and encouraged us, in peace and in war, in wealth and in depression, in joy and in sadness.

And the congregation sings:-

"Angles help us to adore him ‘ye behold him face to face…."

The Dean comes forward to receive the flag, our flag, the flag under which so many had fought and died. And he places it in its cradle in the Sanctuary, by the high altar and near the anointed Sovereign.

The flag party retires, slowly, while the hymn concludes:
"Sun and moon, bow down before him;

dwellers all in time and space

Praise him! Praise him!

Praise with us the God of grace"

The Dean invites us to pray:

"From near and far, we have gathered here in Westminster Abbey to thank God for the Australian Federation. One hundred years ago, thanks to the vision of men and women of that time, the foundations of modern Australia were laid. We thank God for the contribution of Australians to the life of the world, both in peace and war; for their part as a founder member of the Commonwealth; and for their spiritness in sport and life.

We pray for Australia, its people and government at the beginning of the twenty-first century. May a land so rich in resource, human and material, remain open to the world and continue to make that enlivening contribution for which it is renowned. We ask God that the richness of the many ethnic and national groups from which Australian citizens come, may bey their unity stand as an example to the modern world.

So let us commend Australia fair to God and pray for its continued advance."

Christine Wilson sings from the high pulpit, that popular and yet sentimental song:-

I came from the dream time

From the duty red soil plains

I am the ancient heart,

The keeper of the flame

I stood up on the rocky shore

I watched the tall ships come

For forty thousand years I’ve been

The First Australian.

I came up-on the prison ship bowed

Down by iron chains,

I cleared the land, endured the lash,

And waited for the rains

I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife,

On a dry and barren run,

A convict then a free man,

I became Australian.

I’m the daughter of a digger

Who sought the mother lode

The girl became a woman

On the long and dusty road

I’m a child of the depression

I saw the good times come

I’m a bushy, I’m a battler

I am Australian.

And this chorus is repeated:-
We are one, but we are many,

And from all the lands on Earth we come.

We share a dream and sing with one voice:

I am, you are, we are Australian

I reflect, at first reluctantly, that there is a place for sentiment in such a service, a sentiment which clearly touches so many.

Richard Walley, a cape about his shoulders, and with bare legs and feet, then goes up to the Sanctuary and plays the Didgeridoo. This must be the first time this ancient instrument, with its strange timeless sounds, echoes around that very old but not so ancient building. And each time he passes before his Sovereign he stops, he turns and he bows low, gracefully and naturally.

Then the Precentor reads the Prayer for Australia.

"Almighty God, Creator Spirit, the whole universe, sun, moon and stars, desert and forest, hills and valleys, wilderness and cities display your glory and resound to your praise. With all creation we worship you.

We bless you, God of the universe, for Australia. For its landscape and climate, for its wealth and abounding opportunity. You have given us abundantly and good things of the earth.

We thank you, Lord God, for our people’s history, of struggles in adversity, and of courage and hope. Give Australians of every ethnic, religious and social background, tolerance that they may respect each other and a purpose in seeking justice for all.

Enable us, Heavenly Father, to walk together in trust; healing the hurt of the past. You have greatly blessed us: may we be a blessing to others."

Then he intones the so familiar words of the "Our Father"

The congregation sits and the Choir sings Psalm 116:-

What reward shall I give unto the Lord: for all the

Benefits that he hath done unto me.

I will received the cup of salvation: and call upon the name of the Lord…..

I will pay my vows unto the Lord, in the sight of all his people: in the courts of the Lord’s house, even in the midst of thee, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord.
Then in accordance with ancient tradition, the psalm is followed, as it always is here, by the Gloria:

Glory be to the Father and the Son: and the Holy Ghost;

As it was in the beginning, is now and every shall be: world without end. Amen.

Then, the Honourable John Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, goes up to the golden Lectern formed in the shape an eagle, with wings outstretched. He reads from the Epistle of Blessed Paul the Apostle to the Phillippians (4: 4.7).

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let

all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand.

Have no anxiety about anything, but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Then, as a surprise, for we are so unused to silence, there is a moment of reflection.

Then the Prime Minister says:

"This is the word of the Lord."

And the congregation replies:

"Thanks be to God."

Then the congregation stands to sing an Australian Hymn by Elizabeth Smith which concludes:

"Now people of faith,

come gather around

with songs to be shared,

for blessings abound!

Australians, whatever

your culture or race,

come, left up your hearts

To the Giver of grace."

Then Tan Le, Australian of the Year, 1998, reads James McAuley’s poem:


Voyage within you, on the fabled ocean,

And you will find that Southern Continent,

Quiro’s vision – his hidalgo heart

And mythical Australia, where reside

All things in their imagined counterpart.

Yvonne Kenny, together with the Choir of Westminster Abbey, sings, and sings with rare and exquisite beauty, in Latin, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s setting of Psalm 117:-


"O Praise the Lord, all ye heathen: praise him, all ye nations

For his merciful kindness is ever more and more towards us: and the truth of the Lord endureth for ever."

We all stand to sing, to Haydn’s stirring music, John Newton’s hymn:
Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Sion, city of our God….

Saviour, if of Sion’s city

I through grace a member am,

let the world deride or pity

I will glory in thy name:
Fading is the worldling’s pleasure,

all his boasted pomp and show;

solid joys and lasting treasure

none with Sion’s children know.

Then the address is given by The Most Reverend Peter Hollingworth AO. Archbishop of Brisbane. His theme is deeply spiritual:-

"….We Australians have yet to discover fully the power and life giving presence of God the Holy Spirit brooding over us and out land.

When we do, we will be able to embrace the idea of Australia as "the Great South Land of the Holy Spirit", Australia del Espiritu Sancto as Spanish Navigator Pedro Ferdandez de Quiros named it.

Our destiny is to be a ‘spiritual Commonwealth’, a people of many traditions bonded together in the spirit by our sense of place and a desire to order our life together in justice and charity.

Our success in this will depend on the extent we "drink of the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord" of History who in partnership with us is gradually transforming Terra Australis Incognito into the Great Southern Land of the Holy Spirit."

The congregation remains seated for The Anthem. This is Ralph Vaughan William’s setting of Psalm 47:-
"O Clap your hands, all yet people: shout unto God with the voice of triumph.

For the Lord most high is terrible: his is a great King over all the earth.

God is gone up with a shout: the Lord with the sounds of a trumpet.

Sing praises to God: sing praises unto our King.

For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises every one that hath understanding.

God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness.

Sing praises unto our King. Sing praises."

Now a litany of ecumenical prayers is then intoned by the Precentor:-

On this day of thanksgiving and celebration, let us pray for the peoples of Australia and her leaders; for Elizabeth our Queen, Head of the Commonwealth; for the Prime Minister and for all who bear authority and responsibility in national and local government; for the work of the Australian High Commission here in London and for the welfare of all Australian citizens.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

Let us pray for all faith-communities, especially for the Church of Australia – bishops, clergy and people; for those of other faiths and none and for all who seek meaning, purpose and fulfilment in their lives.

Lord, in your mercy. Hear our prayer.

The Litany ends with a prayer attributed to Sir Francis Drake, a prayer which reminds us that this centenary is but a moment, a pause in the life of our nation, a nation with its past, its present but also with its future.

O Lord God, when thou givest to thy servants to endeavour in any great matter, grant us also to know that it is not the beginning, but the continuing of the same, until it be thoroughly finished, which yieldeth the true glory: through him who for the finishing of thy work laid down his life for us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Then the congregation says that hymn based on Psalm 100:-
All the people that on earth do dwell,

sing to the Lord with cheerful voice;

him serve with dear, his praise forth tell,

come yet before him, and rejoice.

During this the flag party returns slowly down up the Nave to the Sanctuary. The National flag of Australia – the symbol of our nation – is returned with great care and reverence by the Dean. It is borne slowly down the Nave by the flag party, the same soldier, the same sailor and same airman.

And the hymn continues:-
The Lord, ye know, is God indeed;

without our aid he did us make;

we are his folk, he doth us feed,

And for his sheep he doth us take.

O enter then his gates with praise,

approach with joy his courts unto;

praise, laud, and bless his name always,

for it is seemly so to do.

And it concludes:-
For why? The Lord our God is good;

his mercy is for ever sure;

his truth at all times firmly stood,

and shall form age to age endure.

To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,

the God whom heaven and earth adore,

from men and from the angel-host

be praise and glory evermore.

And now the Dean blesses the congregation with the sign of the cross and with these words:

God the Holy Trinity make you strong in faith and love, defend you on every side, and guide you in truth and peace; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

The congregation remains standing to sing our National Anthem, Advance Australia Fair.

And to end, a glorious recessional, to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Prelude in G major, the Collegiate Procession, led by the great cross and candles, leaves the Sanctuary. First the clergy resplendent in their flowing copes, then the Queen and the Duke. I can see the women curtsy, and the men bow, but not all. Her Majesty moves past the choir stalls, down the Nave, through the Great West Door, out into the light of London. A great roar of applause rises up from those outside, even over the sound of Bach’s prelude.

And then we leave, but those precious moments will remain with us for many a year.

There were many events during Australia Week, most pleasant and many impressive. None were so bad as the panel discussion during the Conference organised by the Menzies Centre for Australian Studies and the 1901 Committee at Australia House where all participants seemed republican and one even claimed that the referendum result was close! Close, when no State, and no rural, no regional, no outer-urban electorate voted Yes, and when 72% of the electorates voted No?

Of the events, Prime Minister’s Question Time was inadvertently amusing, when the British Prime Minister seemed to confuse us with Americans.

The Guildhall dinner was impressive – not only the majestic fanfares, the setting but our Prime Minister’s speech, not only in its content but by the fact that the English were astounded that he spoke without notes.

It was hardly "dull" as Mr Mike Carlton alleged in the Sydney Morning Herald. (Was Mr Carlton there? He must have been at the other Australia Week!)

The reception in the Royal Gallery, too, was impressive.

But for me the highlight and the heart of the week was the Australian Federation Guard at Buckingham Palace, guarding, protecting and defending their Sovereign to whom they had sworn allegiance, Elizabeth, Queen of Australia.

And of course, Westminster Abbey, which consecrated and sanctified the celebration in so many ways. The fanfare by the State Trumpeters. The resounding rendition of the hymn "God Save the Queen"; the procession bringing the Queen of Australia, as the anointed Queen, into the Sanctuary, and the lonely, almost sad slow procession of the flag moving slowly up the Nave, and taken into the Sanctuary to stand near the high altar.

That was memorable, and a fitting preparation for our Federation year.


You may also like

Celebrate the King’s Birthday

Celebrate the King’s Birthday

Record Online Audience 

Record Online Audience 
{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}

Subscribe to our newsletter!