Oddfellows Hall, Centenary of Federation

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July 27, 2001
Retail Trade: Continuing Good Economic News
August 1, 2001
July 27, 2001
Retail Trade: Continuing Good Economic News
August 1, 2001

Oddfellows Hall, Centenary of Federation



1.30 PM

SUBJECTS: Oddfellows Hall, Centenary of Federation


Mr Mayor, Gary Poidevin, to your Councillors, to Ken Jasper, Ian Glachan, to the distinguished guests, the Mayors of Tenterfield, Bathurst, to the people of Corowa thank you for your warm welcome and especially to you, Tim Fischer, you’ve been a great friend, you’ve been a great colleague, you have served your country magnificently and I thank you for your welcome here today.

To the players – you looked the part, you spoke the part. I thought if anything the political speeches of 100 years ago were more boring than they are today.

But I thought also what a wonderful story, and where else but Australia. Where else could you have such a significant gathering. Where else could you have a meeting that put the country on a course that took place in a hall by the name of Oddfellows. There was no choice in Canberra when they were looking for someone to go to the Oddfellows Hall to launch this, but to send the Treasurer.

I had another reason for coming. I remember very well in 1997 sitting in the Cabinet Room in Canberra and we were doing our Budget for the next four years out to 2000-01 and I got to thinking about federation.

And I thought to myself think of the achievements of our forebears, the founding fathers, 100 years ago, fashioning a nation, creating a nation, which down through 100 years has given millions of people from all over the world a home and fed people across the world and given us a standard of living which is the envy of nations all around us. Think of the achievements of 100 years ago and we can look back and we can see their handiwork. And I said to myself, what will they think 100 years from now of our handiwork. What will they see as the achievements of those that were there in 2000-01. That when they gather in 100 years time to commemorate our work, will we be able to show to the generation of 100 years hence the same commitment to public service and achievement that the forebears showed in 1901?

And we decided then to set aside a Federation Fund which would look back and look forward. Look back and commemorate what happened 100 years ago. But look forward and build for what might happen in 100 years time.

One of the projects that our Federation Fund will complete is Alice Springs to Darwin rail link. Something that defeated our forefathers in 1901 but something that we can achieve 100 years later.

And it’s when we put aside that fund, that Federation Fund, the centenary of one of Australia’s great achievements that the possibility of coming and restoring the Oddfellows Hall became a reality.

This was onetime a homewares emporium. Again isn’t that a delicious Australian thing. Where such an important event had taken place it became a homewares emporium here in the main street and now we reclaim it to remember the site of those wonderful events 100 years ago.

It’s scarcely surprising that the pivotal moment in the federation story should have occurred in a town like Corowa. Because it was those that lived and worked in the towns along the Murray River that experienced the inconvenience of colonial life without federation. As you heard the Premier of Victoria, Premier Patterson, in the play earlier remarked: “When a man who comes here from Victoria is regarded as a foreigner and a woman who goes to Wahgunyah is treated like a smuggler liable to be stuck up by a policeman or a customs officer, it is time some change was made.”

It was time that a change was made.

Local shoppers used to avoid customs taxes on their clothing by donning it before crossing bridges. The border towns were where the inconvenience and the economic dislocation of colonial life were felt the greatest. As John Quick and Robert Garran put in their annotated constitution: “The general stagnation of trade set everyone enquiring for himself in to the causes which clogged the wheels; and the folly of interprovincial barriers became increasingly apparent. Federation began to appeal to the pocket as well as the heart.”

There was an economic case for federation. Federation appealed to the pocket. But there was also the appeal of the heart. Henry Parkes had spoken yearningly of “six young giants” leaving their footprints in the early morning dew of the nation.

People all over Australia were wondering whether this bold experiment in the New World could give birth to a bold new government. Growing numbers of men and women felt nationalistic stirrings in their heart, particularly those that were native born.

So the head and the heart moved together or in this case the heart and the hip pocket moved together. The economic case and the intellectual case and the case of the heart moved together to bring about federation and it is said that Edmund Barton visited the Riverina in 1892 to form Federation Leagues and had time for a quick visit to the All Saints Winery across the river. When he had to pay duty on the Victorian wine that he had bought to bring it back he began to feel the case for Federation.

It was here in 1893 that the people started to take possession of the federal movement. You heard in the re-enactment just recently, John Quick, who stood and passed the resolution which became known as the Corowa Plan. The Corowa Plan to call for the election by the people to break the impasse between the politicians and to throw it back into the hands of the people. So that the people could break the impasse in what had then been the constitutional argument. Once adopted his ideas became the first time perhaps that ordinary folk had been invited to participate in the making of a nation. To participate in making a nation in a way which didn’t require them to fight, to bleed and to die for the cause to create a new nation. That’s why Corowa is so important.

100 years later we cared enough to excavate the Hall from its modern trappings and bring it back to its original state. And it has its first item of business in December of this year. Corowa which is proudly known as the birthplace of Federation will host a conference which may well provide a breakthrough to the stalled discussions in relation to Australia’s Head of State. Not everyone here will agree with me on this point. I do believe that Australia will become a Republic. Not because of any error made by the founding fathers. Not because the machinery does not work well but because our symbols and our attitudes are changing.

But if it is to occur, if that were to be the case. It will only if the people of Australia decide that and take hold of the movement themselves. The Victorian Premier, James Patterson said in that place: ” What we want is that the people themselves must interfere. They must make this cause their own. They must remove the question from party politics to the higher place of national growth. The people must say to their representatives and politicians generally, we are not going to stand this miserable haggling any longer.”

Words as true today in relation to constitutional questions as they were 100 years ago.

In a country like Australia with a long and proud tradition of democracy, with 100 years of achievement, our constitutional progress will only occur if the people take hold of it. And if the people don’t take hold of it, then there is no point in others trying to cajole or direct or to take the place for a conclusion which they will not accept. Corowa stands proud at this intersection of two great States. At this intersection of the birth of a nation and the re-creation 100 years later.

Those of you who have the privilege to live in this town have a very special history. It’s yours, it’s your town’s and it’s going to be I hope embodied in the re-creation of this hall. And who knows, perhaps in 100 years time someone will show an interest in what we did today and in the Hall which we rededicated and in what transpired, and they’ll draw from us some inspiration just as we draw inspiration from what happened 100 years ago.

To the people of Corowa I congratulate you.

I declare the restoration of the Oddfellows Hall complete.

Thank you.