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Gillies in 1875: a member of parliament with many more years of public life ahead of him.

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Duncan Gillies

State Library of Victoria

Duncan Gillies (1834–1903)

Premier of Victoria, and a federalist

Aged 18, Gillies left Scotland to mine for gold in Ballarat, Victoria. He was successful, and was soon a leader among miners there. He went into the Victorian parliament when he was 26, and remained a politician for the rest of his life. He started out as a reformer. As the plans of reformers were blocked, they became angrier and began to break the rules of the Constitution. Gillies did not agree with this and became more conservative.

He was premier of Victoria from 1886 to 1890. At first he opposed Henry Parkes's call to Federation in 1889. He thought that, since there were so many difficulties, Federation should be taken slowly. He told Parkes that New South Wales should join the Federal Council, which was meant to contain all the colonies, and that the council could take on more powers. Parkes refused.

Gillies finally agreed that the leading men of each colony could meet to discuss Parkes's plan. They met in Melbourne in 1890, with Gillies in the chair, and agreed that a convention should be called in 1891. A federal convention was indeed held in 1891, in Sydney. Speaking at it, Gillies again stressed that a realistic (not wildly idealistic) approach to Federation would be most useful.