The historical significance of Queensland Day

This article, by Dr Murray Johnson, was originally published on the Queensland State Archives website, May 2010.

On 6 June 1859 an Order-in-Council was passed by the Privy Council in London and signed by the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, which effectively created the new Australasian colony of ‘Queen’s Land’, a name modestly proposed by the regent herself. As well as stating the boundaries of the colony, the Order-in-Council also provided the legal machinery for the establishment of a bicameral government consisting of a Legislative Council, whose members were appointed by the inaugural Governor, and a Legislative Assembly, members of which were elected by the citizens. This was a unique development, with Queensland being the only Australian colony to be founded with two houses of parliament.

Governor, Sir George Ferguson Bowen’s Letters Patent (1859)

On the same day that the Order-in-Council was passed, accompanying Letters Patent were issued which appointed George Ferguson Bowen as the new colony’s first Governor, vested with the authority to oversee the installation of self-government. Together they are Queensland’s primary founding documents, and copies of the Order-in-Council and Bowen’s Letters Patent are held in the collections of Queensland State Archives.

Separation on 6 June 1859 had itself been a lengthy process. Agitation calling for a new colony had been voiced by the inhabitants of Moreton Bay since this northern district of New South Wales was first opened for free settlement in 1842. The major concern centred on the region’s remoteness from the seat of government in Sydney and its increasing neglect, a problem compounded by a distinct lack of adequate representation in the New South Wales legislature. While the British Government was sympathetic to the numerous petitions calling for Moreton Bay to be separated from the mother colony, and indeed planned for that eventuality by passing the Australian Colonial Government Act in 1850, due consideration first had to be given to the public debt incurred by New South Wales on the basis of its undivided territory.

At the same time, the British Government wished to ensure that the future colony of Queensland had sufficient settled land within its own boundaries to provide revenue for its government. To the relative satisfaction of all parties the Order-in-Council of 6 June 1859 established the boundary along the twenty-ninth degree of latitude, deviating only towards the eastern extremity which followed the crests of the ranges to the sea at Point Danger.

Map showing proposed boundary between N.S.W. and the Moreton Bay Colony 1858

Although the Order-in-Council was not proclaimed until 24 December 1859, two weeks after Governor Bowen’s arrival in Brisbane, the historical significance of 6 June is that it marks the official birth of Queensland as a separate colony and, by extension, as one of the six foundation States of the Commonwealth of Australia. It is for these reasons that 6 June has been celebrated since 1981 as Queensland’s official birthday ─ Queensland Day. Incorporated into a week of festivities which focus on Queensland’s history and the achievements of its people, 6 June also marks the presentation of an annual ‘Queenslander of the Year’ Award to an outstanding member of the State’s community. In 1989 a ‘Young Queenslander of the Year’ was also introduced, followed in 2006 by a ‘Community Spirit’ Award, all of which are fitting tributes celebrating both the birth of Queensland and what it means to be a Queenslander.

Dr Murray Johnson

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