Why is Federation Day not Celebrated in Australia?
"I have been disappointed in all my expectations of Australia, except as to its wickedness; for it is far more wicked than I have conceived it possible for any place to be, or than it is possible for me to describe to you in England" Sir Henry Parkes, the father of Federation
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. While there was peace, there really wasn't faith in people or a dream of a better world.
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. Reflecting that fact, when the Australian Labor Party was formed, it made a point of adopting American spelling in tribute to America's libertarian ideals.
Unlike America, Australia was not founded in the pursuit of noble ideals.To the contrary, it probably occured because unions and the status minded were concerned that Convicts and non-whites were undermining their bargaining power in the labour market and damaging their community’s reputation. Specifically, in the 1840s, Convict transportation came to an end in NSW, which caused a shortage in all industries where Convicts had previously been used as a form of slave labour. Not only were businesses reluctant to pay a fair wage for work, but the work itself carried the negative stigma of being Convict work. To meet the demand for cheap labour, British and Chinese agents started shipping out indentured labourers from China.
Initially, the importation of coloured labour caused little concern as the labour was was used in areas where few Europeans wanted to work; however, when it was used to break picket lines of striking miners on the Victorian goldfields, the union movement started agitating for change. In response, the Victorian colonial government imposed a poll tax on each Chinese person to arrive by sea at Victorian ports. To bypass the fees, ships started landing in South Australia where the Chinese were unloaded and subsequently transported overland to the Victorian goldfields.
Walls of China in Lake Mungo. Named by Chinese workers who said that the sides of the lake reminded them of China's Great Wall
Those concerned about the Convicts and Chinese believed an island nation with uniform migration laws excluding Convicts and non-whites would address their concerns. As an added benefit, a national defence force could ward off invasions from Russians and the French.
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.
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.
Admittedly, some historians have written that Federation was motivated by a fledging national identity and a desire to improve transportation between the colonies. Such interpretations perhaps indicate a desire to protect the reputations of Federation's proponents. In truth, however, the vocal proponents of Federation 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.