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From at least 1849 there was a movement towards uniting the Australian colonies. As more people started to worry about invasion by other countries, federationists formed into campaign groups to spread the message.

Politicians began to discuss federation. At a conference in 1890 it was decided that a Constitutional Convention would be held. Each colony, including New Zealand, appointed delegates to attend the 1891 Sydney Convention. The first draft of the Constitution was written. Shortly afterwards there was a financial crash and community support waned. The federationists continued to campaign and at the 1893 Corowa Conference it was decided that another Constitutional Convention should be held. However this time the delegates would be elected to gain better support from the people in the colonies. This was the Victorian John Quick’s plan.

The 10 delegates from five colonies met for three sessions at the 1897-98 Constitutional Conventions. They worked tirelessly. The ideas and reasons behind every single word in the Constitution were discussed as they were being written. There was a lot at stake.

There were huge debates, even arguments. But in the end there was compromise. The delegates voted on the accepted wording of each section of the Constitution. The people then endorsed it at referendums. It went through the British Parliament and Queen Victoria gave the Royal Assent. The new country was made.

Henry Parkes

The Premier of NSW was a delegate at the first Convention. His famous words were ‘one people, one destiny’. Parkes died before Federation. Source: National Library of Australia

Edmund Barton

A NSW delegate at both Conventions who became our first Prime Minister and a Justice of the the first High Court in 1903. Source: National Library of Australia

Samuel Griffith

The Premier of Queensland who sat down and wrote the words for the first draft of the Constitution on board the Queensland Government steamship the Lucinda on the Hawkesbury River in 1891. He became our first Chief Justice in 1903. Source: National Library of Australia

Alfred Deakin

The young Victorian travelled to London with others in the 1880s to garner support for a unified Australia. He attended both Conventions and became our first Attorney-General and second Prime Minister. Source: National Library of Australia

Isaac Isaacs

This young Victorian attended the second Convention and fought very hard to win support for his amendments. He became our first Australian born Governor-General in 1931. Source: National Library of Australia

John Quick

A Victorian Parliamentarian, who with Robert Garran noted down the discussions during the Conventions and published them in The Annotated Constitution of the Commonwealth of Australia 1901. This is still one of the most frequently used commentaries of the intentions of the writers. Source: National Library of Australia

Andrew Inglis Clark

A Tasmanian who attended the 1891 Convention. He wrote a pre-draft Constitution which was a starting point. He designed the Hare-Clark voting system used in Tasmania since 1898. Source: National Library of Australia

John Forrest

The Premier of Western Australia attended both Conventions. Forrest was our first Defence Minister after Federation. Source: National Library of Australia

Charles Kingston

A South Australian who attended both Conventions, the second as Premier of South Australia. He became our first Minister for Trade and Customs. He also wrote a pre-draft Constitution and introduced the idea of the referendum for constitutional change. Source: National Library of Australia