Australia's Places

This page provides an overview of the Colonies, States and Territories of Australia.

The boundaries

Why are there separate sets of founding documents for each of the States, the Commonwealth and the Northern Territory? Because each State began as a separate British Colony. In 1901 the six Colonies formed a Federation of six States – the Commonwealth of Australia.

In 1787 the boundary of New South Wales was set, in London, as a line through the continent at 135 degrees of longitude. In 1828, the boundary was moved across to 129 degrees of longitude and the western part became Western Australia.

In 1836 South Australia took a 'bite' from New South Wales. The establishment of Queensland in 1859 divided the remainder of New South Wales into two. The western borders of Queensland and South Australia were adjusted in 1862 to align the borders.

The States

From 1788 to 1859, Britain established six Australian colonies – though one of them, South Australia, was called a province to distinguish it as a place for free immigrants, not convicts. The six colonies were not constitutionally connected to each other, but to Britain. Each Colony had a parliament, courts and a constitution, and the laws of each were subject to the laws of the British Parliament and courts. When you visit the Pathways section of this website, you can trace this process of Foundation.

From 1837, when she came to the throne, Queen Victoria was the sovereign of each Colony and in 1901 she also became Head of the Federation of States which formed the Commonwealth of Australia.

The Commonwealth

The Colonies formed the six States: New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, and Queensland. Three weeks after they were united as the Commonwealth of Australia under the new Constitution, King Edward VII became Head of the Commonwealth of Australia when his mother, Queen Victoria, died on 22 January 1901.

The Northern Territory

This vast area of Australia has a very different story. It was never planned as a separate colony, province, or state, its physical area the result of the tidying of the boundaries of the colonies in 1861.

In 1863 this remaining portion of the continent became the Northern Territory of South Australia and in 1911, the Northern Territory was transferred from South Australia to the Commonwealth.

The Australian Capital Territory

The Australian Constitution provided for the establishment of a Federal Capital Territory as the seat of the new government of Australia. In 1909, the area finally chosen was transferred from New South Wales to the Commonwealth. Documents relating to subsequent constitutional development of the Australian Capital Territory itself are not included in this first stage of the founding documents website.

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