Irving, Helen: Constitute a nation

Irving, Helen

To Constitute a Nation: A Cultural History of Australia’s Constitution, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge & New York, updated edition, 1999; first published 1997

The men who drafted the Australian Constitution in the 1890s may have thought that they were filling in blank pages, but in fact those pages were already inscribed with the dominant values and ideas of the times. This imaginative and resonant book looks at the Constitution as a cultural artefact and attempts to understand the period during which it emerged, culminating in Federation in 1901. The book argues that Australians displayed an ability to reconcile the demands of pragmatism with the spirit of romanticism in constituting their nation. (blurb)

The author considers Federation as a ‘marriage’ between existing adult colonies.

Full independence, or nation-statehood, came slowly to Australia, step by step (like real adulthood) over the decades to follow. But nationhood – the assumption of domestic independence, of cultural distinctiveness and of political and cultural “destiny” – was achieved, if tentatively, and celebrated in the moment of federating. The six new states of the Commonwealth, legally but not yet socially mature, had decided to set up home together. (p. 7)

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