The history of Australian republicanism has been dominated by the primary figures having a libertarian streak, and an individualistic stance that often placed the Republican movement on the back foot for lack of organisation. John Dunmore Lang founded the Australian League (AL) in 1849 to promote republicanism, but it did not have any staying power. Until the Australian Republican Movement's (ARM) founding in 1991, there was no real formal Australian Republican organisation. Prominent Australian republicans, such as Charles Harpur and Frederick Vosper have been more inclined to view republicanism as an individualistic expression of civicism.
The Australian League
An early backer of John Dunmore Lang's AL was Henry Parkes, who had a flirtation with republicanism before becoming a strident, and fawning monarchist. Parkes dropped his support of the league once he determined that Lang was not getting the numbers to make it a strong and permanent political entity.
Lang's early recruitment drive ended up with him being stuck in a Tasmanian jail, for debt, and the Melbourne chapter of AL having to have a drive to raise money to get him out of jail. Lang then used the Melbourne chapter as his electoral office in order to get elected to the Victorian seat of Port Phillip. Between Lang's jailing, and his spending time in Sydney, he was defeated at the polls.
Lang's speeches, did not overtly mention the establishment of a republic, but contained many of the policies that were synonymous with Australian republicanism in 1850. These included universal manhood suffrage, removing malapportionment and the cessation of convict transportation. Monarchists such William Wentworth, who were entrenched in the squatter dominated Legislative Council, opposed such reforms, and moved to have Lang removed from the ballot, by attempting to exclude clergymen from public office. This was over-ruled by the NSW attorney-general.
The AL had not been used by Lang as a political organisation to advance republicanism in Australia. Instead it was used to advance Lang's political aspirations for election and once he was elected it lost influence. When William Wentworth advanced his vision of a Kings, Lord and Commons version of NSW parliament in 1854, which Dan Deniehy pilloried as the "bunyip aristocracy", Lang tried to revive the AL again, but to no avail. Possibly because Australian republicans did not want their cause usurped to support Lang's political ambitions.
Labor supporters in Queensland prior to the shearer's strike in 1891 formed an Australian Republican Association (ARA), which despite the contentiousness of the name did not include a republic as one of its objectives. But this is a good example of what the word republic has come to mean in Australia. In 1890 it meant the establishment of individual and political rights.
One of the great republican firebrands of the era, Frederick Vosper, became the editor of The Australian Republican, a publication which came out of the ARA's movement in Queensland. If the ARA didn't advocate open republicanism, Vosper most certainly did, proclaiming;
... A grand United Republic under the Southern Cross which, profiting by the experience and errors of others, shall be as pure and perfect as it is possible for things human to be.
Vosper was a purist, believing republicanism was an expression of the civic individual, and not subservient to factional politics or religion. I use one of his well known republican motto's in my signature on the website South Sea Republic - that of;
"Sworn to no party, and of no sect am I."
This was despite Vosper writing for a Labor backed publication. Audrey Oldfield wrote, "Vosper sometimes forgot the political leanings of his audience". During the shearer's strike, Vosper advocated the use of force, and threatened a republican revolution. This brought him before Horace Tozer's Queensland courts on a treason charge. Not a pretty notion at the time, as Tozer had enabled the arms of government, including the military, to act in violent and arbitrary manners against the shearers. The judge who heard the case was an advocate for freedom of speech, and a republican to boot, but it required two juries for Vosper to be acquitted.
The Australian Republican newspaper only lasted 14 months, and with the shearers focusing on establishing Labor as a political party, and as a voice for their individual and political rights, the notion of an Australian or Queensland republic was not pursued. The ARA was replaced with what to become the Australian Labor Party.