FEDERATION BECAME CLEAR to me for the first time recently – at least fifteen years after I served on the Celebration of Federation Committee chaired by Joan Kirner. That was the first time I had been able to witness this deft politician in action, and I learned a lot. But for all the tactics and intrigue, the great conversations and the miraculous process of gaining some kind of accord among so many different views, I didn’t really feel federation in the blood. Prior to my Epiphany-on-Murray, the best measure of understanding had been the matter of a national defence force. Had we not federated, we would not have been able to send troops to World War I. Had that not happened, there would have been no slaughter and sacrifice, and subsequently perhaps fewer anomalies in the evolution of our day of choice for sounding pride, nationalism and identity.
My Murray tale is not about identity (though there’s something of that to observe) or national pride, but about a glimpse of what federation meant. I was doing some research about the Paddlesteamer Canberra, which turns one hundred in 2013, as does her namesake. This lovely old boat is tied up at the wharf in Echuca, and I had a chat to her captain. He believes that the boat, commissioned by a professional cod fisherman and built in Goolwa, may have been named with tongue in cheek. Prior to federation, interstate taxes were enormous: if you fished in one state and sold your catch in another, there were exorbitant taxes to pay.
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