In search of the real Edmund Barton: our first prime minister

Event details

Events and Exhibitions

Date & time

13 May 2021

5:30 pm to 7 pm


National Archives of Australia
National Office
Kings Avenue, Parkes ACT 2600



In this free event, Historian Dr David Headon reveals the compelling story of Australia’s first prime minister, Sir Edmund ‘Toby’ Barton, who led the first Commonwealth parliament 120 years ago on 9 May 1901.

Most of us know that Barton was our first prime minister, that he was an early advocate for the federation of Australian colonies and that he played a key role in drafting the Australian Constitution. Although it is hard to imagine today, convincing the colonies to come together as a nation was not an easy task. It required some masterful political savvy and nuanced deal-making.

But there is always more to a politician’s tale than history’s headlines let on, and Dr Headon parts the curtain for us, unveiling the rich tapestry of Barton’s life – one involving international cricket and rugby, Pope Pius X, Shakespeare, fishing and more. Barton was admired for his intellect and even temper, while his ample girth was evidence of a love of good food and fine wine.

Presented by the National Archives of Australia in partnership with the ANU’s Australian Studies Institute as part of the First Eight Project to celebrate the first 8 prime ministers of Australia.