Nation Making

On 17 September 1900, following almost two decades of heated debate, Queen Victoria proclaimed that on 1 January 1901 a federation of the six British colonies would come into being to form the Commonwealth of Australia. On New Year’s Eve 1900, Federation was welcomed with enthusiasm and merrymaking around the country. Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin were two of many Australian artists moved to respond to the significance of this time, and produced lively sketches inspired by the opening of Australia’s first Federal Parliament on 9 May 1901. 

One of numerous nation building acts that took place following Federation was the development of Australia’s diplomatic mission in central London. The embassy, known as ‘Australia House’ was constructed between 1913 and 1918, and was the first official building designed to represent Australia after Federation. It was symbolic as Australia’s first international presence, yet also represented a continuation of British–Australian ties.

The search for a permanent site for the Federal Capital also played out over this same period of time. After almost eight years of often-controversial discussions, in 1908 the Federal Parliament agreed upon a site in farmland near Yass, in New South Wales. A competition to paint the Federal Capital site on a grand scale was announced in 1912. The large panoramic vistas by Penleigh Boyd and W. Lister Lister show the view towards what is now the centre of the Capital, where the foundation stones for the city of Canberra were laid on 12 March 1913.

Image detail: W.C. Piguenit Near Liverpool, New South Wales c. 1908
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2005