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Why is Federation Day not Celebrated in Australia?

In the lead up to the Centenary of Federation in 2001, the federal government realised that the majority of the Australian public approached the event with the same kind of excitement that they may have approached the study of Norwegian voting patterns.

Advertisements of the time acknowledged public sentiment with subtle criticisms that more Australians knew the name of the first American president than their first prime minister. The advertisements then explained the cultural trait as flowing from Australia's birth coming with the vote compared to America's with a war.

Certainly, human history suggests that a baptism in the blood of vanquished foes and fallen martyrs is more emotive than one in the milk of human civility; however, the explanation relies on the premise that Australia's birth was anchored in human civility, which it really wasn't.

Although blood indeed soaked the soil, America was founded in the pursuit of noble ideals. Specifically, migrants from all over the world had flowed into America with dreams that a better world was possible. Overtime they conceived of a land where all men could be equal, where people could express an opinion and associate with who they desired free from the oppression of others and where anyone could make their dreams into a reality. It was dream that that was opposed by British masters, vested interests and perhaps even aspects of the personalities of those who espoused it, but the dream prevailed even when the reality fell short. It was that dream that not only inspired Americans, but Australians as well.

Unlike America, Australia was not founded in the pursuit of noble ideals. Institutional historians sometimes write that Federations was motivated by a fledging national identity and a desire to improve transportation between the colonies. Arguably, a more accurate explanation would be that unions and the status minded were concerned by Convicts and non-whites undermining their bargaining power in the labour market and damaging their community’s reputation. They believed an island nation with uniform migration laws excluding Convicts and non-whites would address their concerns. Furthermore, a national defence force could ward off invasions from Russians and the French. Certainly, the vocal proponents of Federation, such as Henry Parks, were never known to be carrying placards calling for improvements in transportation across colonial borders; however, they were known to be vocal at rallies protesting the arrival of Convict and Chinese ships.

Additionally, in 1889, Henry Parkes gave his oration at the northern NSW town of Tenterfield in which he outlined his case for Federation. His speech primarily revolved around making a case for the defence forces of the colonies to come under a singular command so that they could better protect Australia against foreign invaders. Ironically, after giving a militaristic speech, Parkes finished with a criticism of America by declaring that what Americans needed a war to complete, Australians could do in peace.  

convicts and Asians

Melbourne Punch, 3rd May1888 - A Federation poster appearing in Punch magazine contained an old man advising a youngster:"Right, my boy, your worthy of your sire. In the old days I stopped the convicts in the bay. And now you must bar out the yellow plague with your arm.

Without a noble dream to emotive thread binding the generations, the event became meaningless once the fear of Convicts, non-whites and potential invaders dissipated. Meanwhile, the American dream continued to inspire in Australia even as advertisements tried to pull Australians in different direction.




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