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The first sitting of the Commonwealth Parliament 1901

Tom Roberts (1856-1931), Opening of the First Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia by H.R.H. The Duke of Cornwall and York, 9 May 1901, 1903, British Royal Collection permanent loan, Parliament House Art Collection.

At midday on 9 May 1901, HRH The Duke of Cornwall and York (later King George V)1 opened the first Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia, on behalf of King Edward VII.2 The ceremony was held at Melbourne’s Exhibition Building, being the city’s only location big enough to accommodate the 12,000 guests.

Designed by architect Joseph Reedthe grand Exhibition Building (now the Royal Exhibition Building) was initially constructed for the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.4

The Argus declared the opening ‘A Magnificent Demonstration’ and ‘A Masterpiece of Organisation’.

By the hand of Royalty, in the presence of the greatest concourse of people that Australia has seen in one building, and with splendid pomp and ceremonial, the legislative machinery of the Commonwealth was yesterday set in motion. The day was full of smiles and tears, the smiles predominating …

Twelve thousand people seated in a vast amphitheatre – free people, hopeful people, courageous people – entrusted with the working out of their own destiny, and rejoicing in their liberty, must be impressive by reason of numbers alone …

… The worthiest of Australia were there – the men who hold their distinguished positions because they have won them and because they deserve them. All that is best in politics, in commerce, in industry, in the arts, in the church, in the school, in the public service of Australia was represented there, and every heart beat high with pride and with hope
.5 

With both the Senate and House of Representatives assembling under the great dome, the Duke delivered his opening speech, his voice ringing ‘clear through the building’.6

His Majesty has watched with the deepest interest the social and material progress made by his people in Australia, and has seen with thankfulness and heartfelt satisfaction the completion of that political union of which this Parliament is the embodiment … It is His Majesty’s earnest prayer that this union so happily achieved may, under God’s blessing, prove an instrument for still further promoting the welfare and advancement of his subjects in Australia and for the strengthening and consolidation of his empire. ‘Gentlemen of the Senate and Gentlemen of the House of Representatives: It affords me much pleasure to convey to you this message from His Majesty. I now, in his name and on his behalf, declare this Parliament open.7

Governor-General Lord Hopetoun administered the Oaths of Allegiance to all parliamentarians before they adjourned and reconvened at the Victorian Parliament House. Here two South Australians, Richard Baker8 and Frederick Holder,9 were elected as the inaugural President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives respectively: the Parliament’s first Presiding Officers. Regular parliamentary sessions commenced the following day.