Australia in the 1890s


Summary of the decade

The 1890s were dominated by class conflict. The end of the long economic boom that had sustained Australia's rise and prosperity for many settlers since the gold strikes of the early 1850s resulted in a market collapse that tore at the social fabric and fractured the unity of colonial society.

The Australian Labor Party was formed in the 1890s. The great workers' strikes of the early 1880s had been resolved in the employers' favour with the assistance of government, police and soldiers. In the aftermath of these strikes, the labour movement agreed that the best thing to do for workers was to form an electoral party, take government and change the laws to make them fairer for everyone.

Another direct response to workers' rights was a movement for federating the colonies into an independent and united nation. This had first been suggested in the 1840s, and recurred at different times in the decades that followed, but never got beyond debate and argument in different colonial parliaments. Now, however, there seemed to have been a heightened emotional need for the recognition of a new nation.

A snapshot of 1898

  • April
    • The Eighth Intercolonial Trades Union Congress is held in Adelaide.

  • June
    • A referendum is held in New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria to approve the draft Constitution of Australia.
    • The constitution is accepted by the required majority in South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, but not in New South Wales.

  • October
    • The Perth Zoo opens with two lions and a tiger in its collection.
    • The Queen Victoria Building in Sydney is completed.
    • Hobart is lit by electricity.


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