Creating a nation

An invitation to celebrate the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament in May 1901 and meet the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, who officiated.
An invitation to celebrate the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament in May 1901 and meet the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, who officiated. (NAA: M1406, 13)

Australia became a nation on 1 January 1901, when the six colonies federated. The legal basis for Federation was provided by the Australian Constitution, which sets out the basic rules for our system of government. It tells us how power is shared and exercised by our political and legal institutions. The Constitution was drafted at conventions in the 1890s, and endorsed by the Australian people through a series of referendums. It is our supreme law, binding us together, and underpinning many aspects of our daily lives.

The National Archives holds many records documenting the creation and evolution of the Australian Constitution. The collection also includes a rich store of other material relating to Federation.

Drafting the Constitution

The work of designing a political and legal framework for the new nation was undertaken by two conventions in 1891 and 1897–98. After some further changes, the draft Constitution was endorsed by Australian electors at a series of referendums in 1899. Finally the bill was passed by the British Parliament, becoming law on 9 July 1900, when Queen Victoria gave her assent.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014