The Federation arches: a photographic album
We’ve recently acquired an important item for our collection. The photo album, ‘Views of Sydney’, is a handsome leather-bound volume of photographs, largely of Federation arches, taken in Sydney and Melbourne in 1901. The photographer is unknown. The album was purchased from a second hand book dealer.
These unusual photographs are coloured. After seeking the advice of photographic experts at the National Gallery of Australia and the Australian National University, it appears most likely that they are photo lithographs from a negative, with the colour being printed from hand drawn tint stones.
The images from the album are on the Old Parliament House Flickr photostream, where we have opened up the images for comment and tagging. Bob Mead, a regular researcher and commenter on images in the Powerhouse Museum’s Tyrell Collection, has noted a number of details we were unaware of—this valuable information will be added to our catalogue.
The exercise has proven to be an excellent example of Flickr’s value as a tool for collecting institutions. It’s an easy way of getting hitherto unknown items from our collection online and made available to the public. It’s also a great way to reach a new audience and open up our content to the public.
The movement for Federation
In the late 19th Century, colonial politicians like Alfred Deakin, Henry Parkes and Edmund Barton fought a long campaign to turn the six Australian colonies into a country in its own right. The movement for Federation had begun to gather real momentum after Henry Parkes wrote to the other premiers in 1889 proposing a meeting to devise a Federal constitution. The following year a meeting was held in Melbourne and a ‘National’ convention held in Sydney in 1891. It was here that a first draft of the Australian Constitution was written and adopted.
Eventually, some 7 years later, it was put to a referendum in June 1898 in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and South Australia, with only a small minority of people eligible to vote bothering to participate. When the amended Constitution was put to a second round of referendums in 1899, there was considerable public interest. Various organisations were formed in the colonies for and against the idea of Federation. The referendums of 1899 were successful.
By the time the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated on 1 January 1901, the Australian people had wholeheartedly embraced the idea, turning out in their thousands for celebrations. This included the opening of ‘Federation Arches’ in each state.
What were Federation arches?
Australia’s passage to nationhood prompted an outbreak of arch building. This was partly influenced by the City Beautiful movement, whose aim was to create beautiful and harmonious civic designs: the movement promoted Renaissance principles such as the use of arches.
On 1 January 1901, the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated in Sydney and various elaborately constructed arches graced the streets. In Melbourne, an arch declaring “Melbourne rejoices in the Commonwealth” was erected. However, with many of Victoria’s politicians and public figures in Sydney for the inauguration, Melbourne’s celebrations were largely put on hold until May that year, when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York would visit to open the first Commonwealth Parliament. In May, a number of temporary ceremonial arches were built in Melbourne, St Kilda and Ballarat; some small country towns also built their own more modest arches.
The Prince’s Bridge Municipal Arch
The arch in the image above is the Prince’s Bridge Municipal Arch in Melbourne. For the May 1901 celebrations, Prince’s Bridge, which was then the main entrance to Melbourne, was transformed into an imposing gateway with the construction of this temporary arch.
The early Renaissance or Roman-Doric design bore similarities to other famous arches: the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel (1808) in Paris and the Marble Arch (1828) in London. They in turn were inspired by Roman structures like the Arch of Septimius Severus (203 AD) in Libya, and the Arch of Constantine (316 AD) in Rome. The Municipal Arch was inscribed with mottoes from the British Coat of Arms and lines from poetry by Virgil and Tennyson.
Anne Whalley of the Museum of Victoria has written about Melbourne’s Federation arches. She notes that the Victorian arches had a stronger royal theme than those in Sydney, with the Victorian Government erecting arches to honour the King, the Duke and the recently deceased Queen Victoria. These were adorned in royal symbols, images, colours and patriotic mottoes.