THEIR FIERY CROSS OF UNION
A Retelling of the Creation of the Australian Federation, 1889-1914
William Oliver Coleman
Paperback, 446 pages, $44
July 20, 2021 release.
‘Better than any other account, Their Fiery Cross of Union shatters the myths Australians have cherished about Federation. It both sets out those myths and—in gripping prose—exposes their limitations and contradictions. Using, without ever being heavy-handed, all the tools of modern social science, it mercilessly tests the claims of Federation’s staunchest advocates and compares them to explanations which make sense of events. At the same time, it brilliantly presents the protagonists in the Federation story, removing the protective sheen which has so often been used to protect them. A riveting story, it has all the hallmarks of a classic’. - Henry Ergas
The Federation in 1901 of the six Australian colonies into a single Commonwealth is the most researched episode in Australian history. Yet almost every page of this history rests on an underlying ‘affirmative premise’: that the Federation of 1901 was begotten by commendable ideals, led by remarkable men, and pursued by democratic processes. It was a natural thing – fitting, functional, and almost inevitable. And it was, surely, for the good in its effects; and, at the very least, a mark of progress in Australian life, in everything from telegraphy to sporting fixtures.
In Their Fiery Cross of Union William Coleman retells the making of Australia’s federation unencumbered by any ‘affirmative’ premise. He argues Federation was the accidental upshot of a contest for personal political supremacy; that the cause’s leadership was mediocre; its democracy superficial, its motivations banal, its ideals more imperial than patriotic, and its consequences injurious to Australia’s economic welfare, military security, industrial peace, and social harmony. Australia’s Federation was at least one generation premature, and badly botched, with enduring consequences.
Not just another recital of the familiar ‘Federation story’, Their Fiery Cross of Union is a fresh and searching look at the foundational event of Australia’s political existence.