Australian Unity, through the work of the members of its antecedent organisations, has contributed significantly to Australian history and quality of life.
The Australian Natives’ Association (ANA) had a vision for the future of the Australian Colonies—that Federation was the path to nationhood and an identity that was uniquely Australian. The ANA was a leader in the popular movement for Federation and its vision for nationhood was eventually realised in 1901.
Australia’s first two Prime Ministers, Sir Edmund Barton and Sir Alfred Deakin, were members of the ANA, as was Australia’s first Australian-born Governor-General, Sir Isaac Isaacs.
Australia Day was first celebrated as Foundation Day on 26 January 1888 after one of Australian Unity’s antecedent organisations, the Australian Natives’ Association (ANA), lobbied to celebrate the foundation of Australia.
Foundation Day went through various guises and forms in the subsequent decades. It was not until 1934 that the Commonwealth and State Governments of Australia, following petitioning from the ANA in Victoria, agreed that 26 January be recognised throughout Australia as "Australia Day" and that the following Monday be proclaimed a holiday.
The decision to have a national celebration of Australia Day on the 26th January was formalised in 1994.
Education for all Australians
One of the primary objectives of the ANA was to have better educational facilities available for everyone. The ANA supported the Victorian Education Act of 1870 which provided for a free, compulsory and secular system of education for all children. The ANA supported progressive educational reforms and in 1901 the Board of the ANA presented its views to the Minister of Public Instruction, advocating that the minimum age for leaving school should be raised to 14 years; that the system of “payment by results” for teachers should be abolished; and that there should be a registration system for teachers in order to ensure quality of teaching.
The ANA also supported the establishment of technical education in Victoria and in 1910 the Victorian Education Act was extended to include technical and agricultural education. The ANA had representatives on the Board of the Working Men’s College, which later become Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT).
Improving Australian Lives
In 1903 the report of the Inter-State Royal Commission on the River Murray was published. It recommended the appointment of a permanent Commission to control and modify the natural waters of the Murray basin. The ANA gave its support to a national scheme on water conservation and argued that the national interest came ahead of provincial interests and that water conservation should take precedence over irrigation needs.
At the 1904 conference of the ANA, discussions on broad national issues were introduced. At the time they were referred to as Public Questions, raised by ANA branches around the country and sometimes taken further. For instance in 1914, the ANA took a deputation to the Victorian Premier calling for a public education campaign to be introduced about the burgeoning problem of sexually transmitted diseases. The program, it suggested, should be “free from a moral campaign’’, a progressive stance before World War I.
In 1924, the Port Melbourne branch of the ANA raised the Public Question of swimming instruction, proposing that the government be approached with a view to teaching every schoolchild in the state to swim.
In the 1960s, the federal president of the ANA Bryan Kelleher sought to reinvigorate this policy focus on the welfare of Australians through the organisation’s National Questions. Topics as varied as salination, education, uranium mining, aircraft noise, rainforest preservation and a uniform railway gauge were discussed.