1901 - Federation and White Australia
Crowd greets Orient Line steamer Otranto at
Railway Pier, Port Melbourne, c1912.
Source - Museum Victoria
In 1901, at the time of Federation and the first national census, 1,201,341
people lived in Victoria; almost three-quarters of those were born here.
Aboriginal people however, were not included in the national census and would
not be until 1971. The largest immigrant community was the English, with 113,432
people, followed by the Irish and Scottish communities. Christians accounted for
98% of Victoria's population (36% Anglican and 22% Catholic). More than half of
the population lived outside Melbourne. Melbourne dwellers generally lived
either in high-density housing in the inner city and around railway stations, or
on larger blocks in outer Melbourne.
Melbourne was the capital of the new nation of Australia, and the Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V) opened the
first Commonwealth Parliament in the Royal Exhibition Building in May. The
Royal Exhibition Building also hosted a competition that saw the Australian
flag chosen from 30,000 entries, and the new flag first flew from the dome in
The Federal Government took over many functions formerly exercised by the colonies, including defence, the postal service
and customs and immigration.
1901 was marked by a period of mourning following the death of Queen Victoria in January. She was succeeded by her son
Edward VII. The Boer War was in its final year, with thousands of Victorians
fighting for the British Empire in South Africa.
The newly federated Australian government quickly introduced national
legislation to protect its security and assert its sense of identity as a
member of the British Empire. One of the first acts passed was the 1901
Immigration Restriction Act - widely known as the White Australia policy. The
1901 Pacific Island Labourers Act soon followed, limiting the arrival of
During the first four decades of the twentieth century most settlers in Victoria
came from Britain and Ireland. Immigration from continental Europe, Asia and
the Middle East was restricted to relatively small numbers. Quota systems were
established to regulate the number and type of immigrants.
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