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 September.

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.

Immigration Policy

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 Pacific Islanders.

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.

Top 8 Countries of Origin

Country of OriginPopulation% of Victorian Population
New Zealand90200.75%
Sweden and Norway22070.18%

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