History Lesson 4

Goal: I can use primary sources to help me argue about the reasons Australia became a Federation.

APK:  discuss video you watched for homework:

What did you find interesting? What did you learn? What was surprising?

New Information:

Federation definition: Joining together of a group of independent parts

In 1901 the government of Australia independent of the government of Great Britain was formed.

Before this, the states of Australia (New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia) had separate governments and were colonies of Great Britain).

Why did we “Federate”?- brainstorm first ideas

As a class, take notes on this BTN: http://splash.abc.net.au/home#!/media/1957410/federation

(25 min)

Refer back to the thinking skills document  and go through the steps of an argument.

Why is step five is irrelevant in a historical argument?

Your task is to decide which is, in your opinion, the most important reason why people voted to join the States into a Federation.

Read together to decide on an argument you will research

Summary of reasons for Federation- take notes

Below are a series of ‘Primary Sources’ that show 5 reasons people gave for wanting Australia to become a Federation.  Work with mentor partners, read over them, ask your teacher questions, and decide which were the most effective arguments for people at the time.

Take notes- at the end of the lesson you will use these notes to:

  • create an argument for which was the most important/influential reason that people voted to become a Federation.
  • OR Write a brief speech pretending you are in 1900 to convince people to vote for Federation.

1.Military Defence

SERVICE (able seaman) — “Well mates, you wouldn’t federate when I wanted you to; but if yonder craft comes this way, Federation or no Federation, you’ll have to work together.” (‘SERVICE’ is a reference to Victorian Premier James Service [8 March 1883 – 18 February 1886])

Australian Tit-Bits, Vol 1, No 42, 26 March 1885, National Library of Australia.

2. Fear of people from other cultures (racism)

Victoria. — ‘Girls, there’s but one way to rid ourselves of this unsightly thing, and that’s by all taking hold together. A strong unanimous heave with this lever and the job is done.’
 Chorus. — ‘Yes and if John should be the means of bringing us together, we’d have something to thank the Chinese question for after all.’
 (‘John’ is an abbreviated version of ‘John Chinaman’ – a racist term commonly used by white colonists at the time.)
 Students, please note: today, a cartoon such as ‘the Chinese pest’ would be considered racist.

Cartoon of Victoria urging the Federation to get rid of the ‘Chinese pest’, Melbourne Punch, 10 May 1888, National Library of Australia.


Students, please note: today, a cartoon such as ‘The Mongolian octopus— would be considered racist.

The Bulletin, 14 July 1888, National Library of Australia.

‘The good qualities’

In this speech, Alfred Deakin explains why Australians were afraid of immigration from cultures that were unfamiliar. By Federating Australians hoped that immigration laws could be stronger to keep only British immigration to Australia.

“It is not the bad qualities, but the good qualities of these alien races that make them so dangerous to us. It is their inexhaustible energy, their power of applying themselves to new tasks, their endurance and low standard of living that make them such competitors.”

Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, 12 September 1901.

3. Trade

This cartoon describes ways people would smuggle (illegally sneak) things to sell from state to state to avoid paying tax. By Federating states would no longer receive the money from these taxes, but trade between states would be much smoother and people wouldn’t break laws in order to save or make money. Also companies would be able to make more money, and this would create jobs and boost the economy.

  1. A waistcoat with up to 170 hidden inside pockets for smuggling watches.
  2.  A dummy umbrella used for sneaking jewellery, such as rings, across the border.
  3. A false-bottomed box.
  4. Cigars and drugs could be smuggled across the border in a belt worn around the chest. 
  5. Smuggled goods could be held in place with braces that were used to hold up men’s pants.
  6. When in fashion, women could use their fur muffs (hand warmers) to smuggle goods across the border.
  7.  Hats could be used for smuggling small items.

The Australasian, 7 June 1890, National Library of Australia.

4. Power to make Laws for all

By Federating people believed it would make it easier to create and enforce important laws. Taxes could be the same throughout the nation (as well as things like the railway track size!)

As well as laws about migration, other laws such as the women’s right to vote laws were seen as more likely in a Federated Australia.

Australian Tit-Bits, Vol 1, No 42, 26 March 1885, National Library of Australia.

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the Legislative Assembly of the Colony of Victoria, in Parliament assembled.

The Humble Petition of the undersigned

Women of Victoria respectfully sheweth:

That your Petitioners believe:

That Government of the People by the People, and for the People, should mean all the People, and not one-half.

That Taxation and Representation should go together without regard to the sex of the Taxed.

That all Adult Persons should have a voice in Making the Laws which they are required to obey.

That, in short, Women should Vote on Equal Terms with Men.

Your Petitioners, therefore, humbly pray your Honourable House to pass a Measure for conferring the Parliamentary Franchise upon Women, regarding this as a right which they most humbly desire

Women’s Suffrage League petition, 1891, PROV, VPRS 3253/P0, Unit 851. Reproduced with permission of the Keeper of the Public Records, Public Record
Office, Victoria, Australia, © State of Victoria.

1891 Women’s Suffrage Petition

But other people didn’t want women to vote- they created this petition with these reasons below:


…It will be the cause of dissension (breaking apart) in families… it will force women from the peacefulness and quiet of their homes into the arena of politics and impose a burden upon them… The women of Victoria have never yet expressed their opinion upon the subject of women’s suffrage (being able to vote)… and we believe if they had the opportunity of so doing they would be against its adoption.

Anti-Suffrage Petition, 1900, Public Records Office of Victoria, PROV, VPRS 02599/P0, Unit 193, cited from Office of Women’s Policy, Victorian Government.

Rose Scott Papers, MLMSS 38, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales.

5. Patriotism-National Identity

Both of these ads appeal to Australian’s sense of patriotism- a feeling of pride in the identity of being Australian. Something that was newly emerging as Australia had been started doing more things together, including fighting together in the Boer War in South Africa.

Australia’s cricket team had just won against England for the first time

A feeling of coming together as a young nation:


by Edward Dyson

Men of all the lands Australian from the Gulf to Derwent River,
From the Heads of Sydney Harbour to the waters of the West,
There’s a spirit loudly calling where the saplings dip and quiver,
Where the city crowds are thronging, and the range uplifts its crest!
Do ye feel the holy fervour of a new-born exultation?
For the task the Lord has set us is a trust of noblest pride—
We are named to march unblooded to the winning of a nation,
And to crown her with a glory that may evermore abide.

Miners in the dripping workings, farmers, pioneers who settle
On the bush lands, city workers of the benches and the marts
Swarthy mechanics at the forges, beating out the glowing metal,
Thinkers, planners, if ye feel the love of country stir your hearts,
Help to write the bravest chapter of a fair young nation’s story—
Great she’ll be as Europe’s greatest, more magnificent in truth!—
That our children’s children standing in the rose light of her glory
May all honour us who loved her, and who crowned her in her youth!

The Argus, 1 June 1898.

These 2 posters summarised the reasons people voted for federation:

Federation referendum leaflet, 20 June 1899, National Library of Australia.

Advance Australia, May 1898, State Library of South Australia.

1 hr 20 min

Use your information to write an argument for which was the most important/influential reason that people voted to become a Federation


write a brief speech pretending you are in 1900 to convince people to vote for Federation.

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