continent for a nation
When Western Australians voted to become part of a new nation not everybody was happy with the idea of joining with the eastern colonies. There had been considerable opposition from the colonial Parliament, which reflected to a large extent the opinions of the colony's more established and wealthier families. These groups were not convinced that Federation was in their best interests. The sharp divisions of opinion which ran throughout the colony of Western Australia followed regional lines, separating those who wanted to remain a British colony and those who were excited by a new sense of Australian nationalism.
In the 1890s many Western Australians were still indifferent to the idea of Australian nationalism. Enthusiasm for Australian involvement in the Boer War - a campaign waged in South Aftica (1899-1902) to defend Empire - was not necessarily translated into enthusiasm for an Australian nation. Local patriotism seemed more important than national identity. The following letter to the editor of the Greenbushes Advocate, dated 21 July, 1900 reflects concern that individual rights would be lost in a Commonwealth conceived by the powerful elites of Eastern Australia.
"Who wanted Federation? It was not a people's movement. The labor members in all the colonies held aloof from it; it was a commercial and conservative movement. A well laid scheme to cut the ground from under the labor party in all the colonies, and so well have the plotters succeeded that only one labor member was returned as a delegate to frame the Commonwealth Bill. We are told of its great democratic constitution for the people and in the people's interest. Its [sic] a measure of the interests of the great manufacturing and commercial houses of Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide - a movement in the interest of boodlers. The young men of today have inherited from their grey-headed fathers a local Constitution that gives them manhood suffrage, vote by ballot, and free churches in free States, food land laws, State railway, a telegraph run by the people and in the people's interests. All these great reforms had to be fought for by a stubborn people who, in many cases, left the Motherland because they were unable to carry such reforms at home."The Australian Natives' Association - an organisation established in Melbourne for Australian-born, white people - and later the Federal League promoted the idea of Australian nationalism in Western Australia. The reception they received was sometimes lukewarm away from their strongest areas of support and membership in the goldfields.
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