The Constitution, or an Act to Constitute the Commonwealth of Australia, originated in the British Parliament and was in the custody of the National Archives of the United Kingdom until it was loaned to Australia in 1988.

In 1990 the British Government made a gift of the document to the Australian people. The Prime Minister’s speech at the handover of the Constitution Act can be read online.

The Royal Commission of Assent to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act (UK) is held by the National Archives of Australia in Canberra and may be available for viewing at special events and by booked groups.

The online publication Documenting a Democracy has a digitised copy of the Act, and you can also read the current version online at the Australian Parliament House website.



Pryor, Geoff, Bill Hayden climbing a cliff on his quest for the Prime Minister's chair [picture], 1979. 1 drawing : pen, ink and wash on paper

Political cartoons express contemporary opinions about public issues and officials. The Library holds cartoon collections including the Moir collection of cartoons and drawings (1972-2011), the Pryor collection of cartoons and drawings (from 1978) and Cartoons by WEG.


The National Library of Australia has rich collections of historical material supporting the study of Australian politics and government. Some of these are listed here and Catalogue searches will reveal more, in all formats, including Pictures, Manuscripts, Oral Histories and Ephemera.

Selected print resources:

These and other titles can be requested through the Catalogue. You can also find resources on open access in the Main Reading Room Reference Collection.

The founding documents of The Commonwealth of Australia by David Eastman (1994). Copies of original documents (1891-1903) involved in the process of creating the Commonwealth of Australia RFq 342.94029 E13

The constitution of a federal commonwealth : the making and meaning of the Australian constitution by Nicholas Aroney (2009). Looking at historical, political and legal issues, this book discusses how the Constitution came into being

The Centenary companion to Australian federation by Helen Irving (1999). Looks at the individual colonies as they made their way towards membership of the Australian Commonwealth in 1901. With cross-referenced short alphabetical entries covering key events, people and concepts

Lion and kangaroo : the initiation of Australia by Gavin Souter (2001). A detailed account of the first two decades of the Commonwealth of Australia

Collins milestones in Australian history : 1788 to the present compiled by Robin Brown (1986) provides an overview, dates, and significant events. Each year represented has a section headed “History, Politics, Economics, Law.” Available in the Main Reading Room Reference Collection, call number RF 994.00202 B879

Australia and the world : a documentary history from the 1870s to the 1970s compiled by Neville Meaney (1985). Looks at Australia’s foreign relations, attitudes to international affairs and the evolution of foreign policies from colonial times

The Bulletin (1880-1984) was an influential newspaper in Australian culture and politics, especially in the early years of its publication. Also available on microfilm and online (check the dates)

Selected online resources:

The Australian Constitution Full text online from Australian Parliament House

Documenting a Democracy 110 key founding documents, from the Museum of Australian Democracy

Australian Constitution and Federation from the National Archives of Australia

Federation Gateway, a National Library of Australia archived website

Australian Federation Full-Text Database from the University of Sydney

The Referendums 1898–1900 fact sheet from the Australian Electoral Commission

Case Study

Q: Can you please help me confirm the format and text of the referendum questions actually voted on in each colony in the constitutional referendums of 1898-99 leading to the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia?

Referendums were held in different states between 1898 and 1900. A timeline is available from the Parliamentary Education Office.

We can search the Trove newspapers for reports of these, and find the wording of the ballot papers. AustLii also has online copies of the Australasian Federation Enablings Acts for 1895 and 1899, which include the ballot wording.

June 1898 - Referendums were held in Tasmania, South Australia Victoria and NSW.

The 1898 wording was:

Ballot Paper.
Are you in favour of the proposed Federal Constitution Bill?

" Yes."
" No."
If you are in favour of the Bill strike out the above word " No."
If you are against the Bill strike out the above word " Yes."

See the Zeehan and Dundas Herald of 31 May 1898 and other 1898 newspapers for reports of this. The Library has a How to vote poster for the Yes campaign showing this wording.

In NSW, while the majority voted yes, it was not sufficient to pass the mandated 80,000 approval mark for that colony.

January 1899 - Premiers agreed to amend the Federal Constitution Bill to meet the concerns of QLD and NSW.

April/September 1899 – Referendums were held, with the wording ‘Are you in favour of the proposed Federal Constitution Bill as amended?’ An example can be seen in the Western Champion of 3 March 1899. The State Library of NSW has a copy of the ballot sheet for NSW. All colonies that took part passed the referendum this time around.

July 1900 – A referendum was held in Western Australia. The same wording was used, as seen in the Australasian Federation Enabling Act (Western Australia), found online at AustLii.


A handbook of Australian government and politics, 1890-1964 by Colin A. Hughes and B. D. Graham. Also available, 1965-1974 , 1975-1984 and 1985-1999 . These handbooks include details of election results for the Commonwealth and states, as well as lists of cabinets, governors, and governors-general. Available in the Main Reading Room Reference Collection, call number RF 320.994 H893

Australian political facts by Ian McAllister, Malcolm MacKerras, Carolyn Brown Boldiston (1997). Includes data about politics in its broadest sense, ordered and classified, and supported by a comprehensive index.

The Biographical Dictionary of the Australian Senate, Ann Millar (ed) (2000). A biographical account of senators and history of the Senate.  Entries are arranged according to the state each senator represented. RF 328.94092 B615

Not sure where to start?