Before Federation in 1901 five of the six separate colonies maintained their own naval forces for defence.
The colonial navies were supported by the ships of the Royal Navy's Australian Station which was established in 1859.
The separate colonies maintained control over their respective navies until 1 March 1901, when the Commonwealth Naval Forces was created.
Initially, like the colonial forces that proceeded it, this new force also lacked blue-water capable ships, and its creation did not lead to an immediate change in Australian naval policy.
In 1909, Prime Minister Alfred Deakin, while attending the Imperial Conference in London, sought the British Government's agreement to end the subsidy system and develop an Australian navy. The Admiralty rejected these approaches, suggesting instead that a small fleet of destroyers and submarines would be sufficient.
Deakin was unimpressed as he had previously invited the American Great White Fleet to visit Australia in 1908. This visit had fired public enthusiasm for a modern navy and in part led to the order of two 700-ton River-class destroyers.
The surge in German naval construction prompted the Admiralty to change their position in 1909, and the Royal Australian Navy was subsequently formed in 1911.
On 4 October 1913, the new fleet steamed through Sydney Heads, consisting of the battlecruiser HMAS Australia, three light cruisers, and three destroyers, with several other ships still under construction. As a consequence the navy entered the First World War as a formidable force.