The National Identity of Australia, 1901-1914
The National Identity of Australia, 1901-1914
The National Identity of Australia, 1901-1914.
On the first of January, 1901, six squabbling colonies united, and the Commonwealth of Australia was born. In the years to follow, leading up to the tragedy of World War One, Australian nationalism was to reach new heights, as the people sought to develop their own national identity, a sense of belonging to their great Southern land. New railways linked the formerly divided State capitals, the telegraph service could now span the continent, and newspapers such as the Bulletin spouted the democratic and egalitarian principles of the Australian ideals. Within years, Australia had become known as a land of freedom and equality, of mateship and good will, and the superiority of racial “purity”. Australia had become a nation, and upon study of this era, the complexity of interaction between countless factors in the determination of the Australian identity becomes increasingly clear. The high standard of living conditions, social welfare, literature, egalitarian ideals, British heritage and racial prejudice that flourished throughout Australian society all had an important part to play in the establishment of cultural identity and upon careful analysis of the period, this cannot be denied.

In 1901, over 77 percent of the Australian population had been born to British parents and of these, 18 percent had actually been born in Britain. First settled as a colony of the British empire, Australian society had been massively influenced by British ideas and tradition, and this was reflected in all aspects of Australian life. Parliaments and laws were modelled on those of Britain, and the newly founded Commonwealth parliament was in many ways a mere clone of the British system. Indeed, the Australian House of Representatives bore a striking resemblance to the Lower House of Britain, and the Senate likewise to the House of Lords. Schools taught British history and literature as a major priority, and every few years, political leaders from each State were required to visit London for a Conference. An important feature of the Australian calendar was the annual Empire Day, a holiday dedicated to the honour of the British Empire. Military parades filled the streets, politicians made visits to every school, and public speeches and press articles extolled the virtues of British society. This constant barrage of British patriotism had a huge impact on the identity of the Australian people, as the nation became, to itself and to the world, bound to Britain “with ties of kindred and blood”. People saw Britain as “home” even if they had never been there, holding an admiration and loyalty towards the royal family that verged on excessive and portraits of Queen Victoria and King Edward VII were on display in offices and homes everywhere. Even fashions in clothing throughout Australia were modelled on those of the Empire, however unsuited they may have been to the Australian climate. It has since been ironically observed, that even in its proclaimed quest for national independence, the Australian identity remained in many ways merely an extension of the British; Australia was “Britains little boy”.

A people with the support of the great British Empire, Australians had always believed themselves to be in the best possible position to oversee the creation of a society free from the injustice of the past, with a better standard of living, and the pursuit of this aim became an important feature of Australian society. Government aid was believed throughout the world to undermine character, and as a result, millions of poor and elderly people in every nation had found themselves in total reliance upon the limited charity of family and the Church, simply in order to survive. A Report of the Advisory Labor Commission of NSW in 1904, stated that

“Poverty and want of work is chronic and to be dealt with intelligently must be dealt with on a permanent basis.”
Australians were not willing to merely ignore the poverty of their neighbours, and both the Labor Party and the Commonwealth took up the case of the poor, forcing politicians to rethink their policies on social services in order to retain their seats. The Invalid and Old Age Pension Act of 1908 established a fixed pension of ₤26 a year available to people over 65 years of age. Although originally subject to a stringent means test, this was liberalised by the Labor government of 1912, allowing the recipient to own a house, receive an allowance from other family members, and be a naturalised citizen. The year 1912 also saw the introduction of a maternity allowance of ₤5 payable to all married or unmarried mothers, excluding Asians and Aborigines. The government also offered support to widows and deserted wives, and the State governments

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Australian Nationalism And Years Of Age. (April 3, 2021). Retrieved from