The fathers of Federation: Parkes and Barton
While Federation was an idea that had lots of popular support amongst Australians, there were a few individuals whose contributions to the movement stood out.
Sir Henry Parkes
Sir Henry Parkes' role in federation was to make it a popular cause amongst Australians.
Parkes was born in England in 1815 and migrated to New South Wales in 1839. He became politically active early in his life in Australia, his first major concern being to stop the transportation of convicts from Britain. He also started a newspaper that supported a stronger role for Australians in governing their colonies.
In 1858, Parkes became a member of the New South Wales parliament. His career as a politician spanned about 40 years and he was elected premier of the colony five times.
Parkes only showed mild interest in the idea of federation until New South Wales' centenary in 1888. As premier he gave a speech in favour of federation at the centenary celebrations.
Sir Edmund Barton
Sir Edmund Barton was very important in making federation become a reality in Australia. See image 2
He was born in 1849 in Sydney and worked as a lawyer until becoming a member of the New South Wales parliament in 1879. In 1889, Barton declared his support for Parkes' ideas expressed in the speech at Tenterfield and got involved with the federation campaign from then onwards.
Barton attended many of the conventions and conferences on federation that took place throughout the 1890s. He was an active participant in drafting the new constitution and in making sure the conventions ran smoothly. He was also very involved in getting the necessary laws agreed to in the New South Wales parliament.
At the community level, Barton gave many speeches in support of federation. He liked the idea of the federation movement being something that many Australian people and communities would be a part of. He toured through New South Wales speaking in towns and encouraging local people to set up groups called Federation Leagues. He helped establish a central body for these groups called the Australasian Federation League.
Barton's negotiating skills ensured that the draft constitution was acceptable to all the colonies and he helped to refine it later in the 1890s so that it was more democratic. In 1900, he spent time in London while the British parliament debated the Constitution Bill, which was the proposed law that would allow the Australian colonies to federate and become an independent nation.
When Australia did become a nation in 1901, Barton was appointed the first prime minister. The Australian people returned him to this position in the country's first federal election. He resigned as prime minister in 1903 and became one of Australia's first High Court judges. Barton died in 1920.