In his own words…

Extracts from writings and speeches by Henry Parkes
As delivered by Garry Ridgway at the launch of the Henry Parkes Foundation

Devised by Richard Hall, with the advice of Helen Irving, NSW Parliament House, 4 June 1999

Henry Parkes had many facets to his character. In England he was a chartist, a radical.

In New South Wales he was sometimes a businessman, but he wasn’t very good at it. He ran a newspaper but it went broke. He persevered longer at being a poet, but his verse was not memorable.

He brought his politics to Australia and emerged in the 1840s as a young radical against the establishment of his time, the ‘bunyip aristocracy’ as his friend Deniehy called it.

In time he became the elder statesman, the man who gave the impetus to the federation of the colonies when the cause was languishing.

Today we hear the voice of the poet, then the young radical and finally the elder statesman.   

First the poet. Parkes preserved and published the lines he wrote on his arrival in Sydney in 1839.

The stranger

Fair-pictured Sydney! How the sun’s broad beam
Lights up thy land-lock’d ship pavillioned stream!
And every day some stranger, anchoring soars
In mazy beauty ’gainst the cloudless skies
Midway between thy cove-indented shores.
Whose presence tells of prospering enterprise.
Oh! Tis a goodly sight for those who seek
A resting place upon Australia’s strand.
The wild bush stretching far o’er ridge and creek
The homesteads scattered o’er the smiling land,
The expanse of quiet water, and the gleam
Of the fair city in the summer beam

There was more, much more until the young idealist ended
in a soaring climax, a dream of society distant.

On universal suffrage

Parkes had been active in the organisation of support for selected candidates, but he did not make his first public speech until January 1849, when he spoke in favour of universal suffrage.

I beg to second the resolution for an extension of suffrage, the vote, with a feeling of deep sincerity. I entirely agree with the principle contained in the resolution, and further that the principle of democracy will only be carried by universal suffrage alone. Anything short of that is an injustice to the people taxed. Anything short of extending the franchise to every man of sane mind, uncontaminated by crime, is an injustice to the people.

We must come to universal suffrage in the end. The people, growing in enlightenment, will never rest until they obtain it.

The people in the United States of America already enjoy it. Why then should Englishmen not have the same privilege? Those opposed to it point to the revolutionary excesses of Paris and Frankfurt a year ago to support their views. They speak of crime and outrage and how the hands of the people had been dyed in blood. But I find the events of last year an argument in favour of universal suffrage. I believe that in those nations it had been too long withheld. If it had been conceded earlier, Louis Phillipe might still be on the throne of France.

But I will leave foreign examples and turn to our own country. What do we find here? Do we find that those constituencies in which the numbers who vote are low because so few are eligible for the franchise are better for it? No, they return the feeblest, the worst. Look at the Sydney City Council. Could there be any doubt that a worse class of aldermen are being returned since the franchise has been further restricted!

Again and again we hear cant from those who oppose the extension of franchise, the feeble argument that the people must first be educated. How will they be educated except through participation in the great business of our common good. We must unite to protect our common interests, our common privileges as Englishmen, so that we can take our entitlement as free men.

On federation

Then in March 1891, a Federal Convention met in Sydney. At the banquet to mark the opening of the convention, Sir Henry spoke to the toast – one people, one destiny.

We who see that the time has come for Australia to form a great nation simply say that the time has come for union. Those who are against us must be the promoters of dissension. We say that the time has come when there should be only peace and good will and agreement between these great colonies. Those who are against us must be in favour of distraction and turmoil and dissension. They cannot, if they disagree with me, they cannot be other than opposed to the objects which we seek to ??. They cannot be other than opposed to the union of these great colonies.

We seek to break down the barriers which have hitherto divided us. They, if they oppose us, must seek to keep us apart.

Seeing that we have at this moment a population of upwards of four million people living in a land which is girt by the everlasting sea and has no coterminous neighbour – seeing all this, we may say that the time has come when Australian people shall be one, henceforth and forever.

So, then we may say that one people may make common cause and inherit one destiny. But does this imply any disloyalty to the empire of which we are part? I contend that it means nothing of the sort, but it does mean that great Australian people, increasing day by day, year by year, increasing not only in number but in all the power that number and civilisation know, in the power which is conferred by bringing science as a harnessed steed into our service and by bringing to bear upon our fortunes all the abundance of an advanced civilisation. I contend that it means that this people with all these advantages desire to live as one people and to rival in a very friendly way every power in the constellation of states known as the British Empire. We wish to be an Australian people and as such we wish to be the brightest jewel in the crown of the empire.

I shall not tonight attempt to point out the advantages that would flow from the federation of Australia. I would only point out the signs of the times. I would only add that if the foundation stone is laid, then the superstructure must rise. I would point out that the seed is sown and that it must spring up to maturity. No power on earth can throw back the cause of the Australian federation.

Even tonight, surrounded by all the encouraging evidence that I see, I do not disguise from my mind the great obstacles there are before us, and the reasons that might be urged as tending to probable partial failure. It may possibly be that the convention sitting in Sydney will not achieve all we desire.

But it will do this, as sure as the sun will rise tomorrow: it will lay a stone in the foundation which all the forces in the world can never remove. And a little longer space of time will certainly bring about a solid and competed edifice.

Now I should like to ask those who doubt the wisdom of the cause in which we are engaged. I should like to ask whether they are prepared to go on forever as we are going now. Would they go on forever with New South Wales divided from Victoria by a narrow stream and a line of customs-house officers? Would they go on forever with another line of customs-house officers dividing South Australia from Victoria? Would they go on forever with all these causes of irritation? I do not believe there are any intelligent men in all this country who would say he would go on forever accepting all these things. If no, when are we to try and turn over a new leaf and start on a new mission. I say the time is now.

We seek no separation. We only seek to draw closer the bonds of true loyalty, and to continue to share in the rights and privileges that belong to every British subject. We seek a proud place undoubtedly, but it is the proud place of being equals of the best of the British nation and at the same time preserve our Australian identity.

We seek in the best way that is possible, by federated power, to master our own destinies and to win our own position in the world, and in entertaining this lofty and enlightened ambition we are not prepared to take any second place amidst the civilised peoples of the world.

We shall seek to remain side by side with that dear old England that we all love so well. I mean, in using that expression, the three kingdoms, and I use that expression because it is briefer and more suited to my purpose. We claim to take our place side by side with her; to share all her difficulties, and honours and glories, and to be equal in everything beneath the sway of the British Crown and under the beneficent rule of our sovereign lady the Queen.

And in claiming that, we seek to give our interest an Australian colouring and character so that the name of ‘Australian’ shall not be eclipsed by the name of ‘Englishman’, or ‘Scotsman’ or ‘Irishman’ in any part of the world.

The Australian soldier shall have no superior; the Australian workman shall have no superior.

We seek then to build up here an Australia for ourselves, but believing that no form of government could be better than that under which we live, we seek to rend no ties, we seek to shatter no edifice – but only to create what we think is necessary for bringing out all the great faculties of our own individual interests.

I have often wondered why any person could quarrel with us in this cause. We are making war on no one. We are seeking to provide no principle to which exception could be taken. Our cause is well known. Our cause is peace. Our cause is the consolidation of Australian interests. Each colony – New South Wales for example – will be as she ever was, but New South Wales and Victoria and the other colonies united will have a power they can only obtain by federation, and that power alone will give them a proper place in the family of nations. I ask you then, with unreserved feeling, with true hearts, earnestly engaged in this great work to drink this toast:

One people. One destiny.