Discovering Democracy Units
HomeThe UnitsTeacher NotesState & Territory LinksKey TermsA Guide to Government & Law in AustraliaSelected SourcesESL InformationCivics and Citizenship Education About DDUDownloadsSitemapSearchHelpDiscovering Democracy Banner

Focus question 1: Why do people decide that governments should federate?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Map work ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: The establishment of the Australian colonies ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Document study - Australia and Britain ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Document study - Australia and the USA ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Federation ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Reasons for and against federation ESL Activity 6


In a federation, each state keeps its own government but agrees to join with other states to set up a national government.

Throughout the world, states have decided to federate or break apart from time to time. Sometimes this is a peaceful process and at other times it happens through violence and rebellion. Australia's federation was peaceful and strong ties were kept with Britain for many years. This was not true in the part of North America we now know as the United States of America.

Rebellion in America

Thomas Jefferson from Pendleton's Lithography, 1828

Thomas Jefferson from Pendleton's Lithography, 1828
On 4 July 1776 the 13 British colonies on the east coast of North America declared their independence from Britain. These colonies were largely European settlements dating back to the seventeenth century with their own populations of native Americans. Like the early colonies in Australia, the American colonies were administered by governors but had councils and assemblies with limited powers.

On 4 July 1776 the 13 British colonies on the east coast of North America declared their independence from Britain. These colonies were largely European settlements dating back to the 17th century with their own populations of native Americans. Like the early colonies in Australia, the American colonies were administered by governors but had councils and assemblies with limited powers.

The rebellion (also known as the American Revolution) began with a war which was fought until 1783. The colonies raised an army and a navy and, with help from France, defeated the British forces. Each colony became self-governing and together they formed a Confederation.

The American colonies gave their reasons for breaking away in the Declaration of Independence, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson. Those who signed the Declaration represented New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. It begins as follows:

The Declaration of Independence

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another ... a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government ...

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes ... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government ...

The history of the present King of Great Britain [George III] is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States ...

Extract from The Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies in Congress 4/7/1776.

Self-evident means that no reasons or arguments need to be given, that the idea should be obvious to everyone.
Unalienable means these rights cannot be taken or given away. They are part of being human.
Prudence means being careful.
Transient causes are circumstances that are temporary.
Usurpation means taking over, ignoring the rights of others.
Despotism means bad rule by a single tyrant.
Tyranny is unjust and violent rule.

The Declaration also listed the things the American colonists believed that the King of England had done wrong:

  • refused to agree to laws recommended by the colonial parliaments
  • made it hard for parliaments to meet
  • tried to abolish parliaments
  • refused to appoint judges
  • kept armies in the country without the people's consent
  • imposed taxes without the people's consent
  • waged war against Americans
  • ignored their petitions.

Activity 1: Map work

1a On a map of the United States draw in the 13 States involved in the War of Independence.

1b Answer these questions in your workbook:

  • What does the Declaration of Independence give as the main reason that the American colonies broke away from Britain?
  • According to the Declaration, how were American colonists losing their rights to 'Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness'?
  • What does the Declaration say that a government cannot do?
  • What does the Declaration say that citizens are entitled to do if a government becomes despotic?

1c Discuss the following questions as a class.

  • Why is it prudent not to 'lightly' overthrow a bad government?
  • Is it likely that the revolution could have been successful if each of the colonies had acted on its own? Why or why not?

Activity 2: The establishment of the Australian colonies

One of the reasons why Britain decided to establish a colony in Australia in 1788 was the rebellion of its colonies in America - Britain needed somewhere else to send its prisoners. Australia's experience as a colony of Britain was very different from that of the United States.

Before looking at why and how the British colonies in Australia decided to become one nation we will check how and when those colonies came into existence, and when they began governing themselves. Use the resources of your library to find answers to the questions associated with each map.

Map 1

1788 - New South Wales (named by Captain Cook, who thought that it looked like South Wales in Britain) was defined in Governor Phillip's commission from the British Government. Remember Europeans were still not quite sure of the shape and nature of the continent. The western limit was defined as being longitude 135 degrees east. Find that in an atlas and see where it goes. Can you think of any reason why that would have been chosen as the boundary?

Map 1
Map 2

1825 - Van Diemen's Land was defined as a separate colony. White settlement had begun there in 1803. Where did that name come from? When did it become known as Tasmania, and who was it named after?

Map 2
Map 3

1829 - Western Australia was defined following white settlement in 1829. The boundary of New South Wales had been shifted west to 129 degrees east.

1836 - The 'Province' of South Australia was defined. When was the first white settlement in South Australia?

Map 3
Map 4

1851 - The colony of Victoria (named after whom?) came into formal existence. The first white settlers set up a whaling station at Portland. When?

1859 - Queensland, the last colony to be created, came into existence. Oxley explored Moreton Bay and named the Brisbane River in 1823. When was the first permanent white settlement? Queensland gained its current borders in 1862. Note what has happened to New South Wales. What might that mean about its northern section?

Map 4
Map 5

1863 - The administration of the Northern Territory was transferred to South Australia. Why might that have been?

Map 5
Map 6

1911 - The Australian Capital Territory was established and the Commonwealth Government took responsibility for this new territory and took over responsibility for the Northern Territory from South Australia. The Australian Capital Territory was established as a site for the capital of Australia. It is between Sydney and Melbourne. Why do you think that happened?

The colonies were initially governed by Britain, but they were progressively granted self-government. In this case, self-government means that a group of people were elected to a parliament which had the power to decide about matters of local concern.

Map 7

Self-government of Australian colonies

WA 1890; SA 1857; Vic, NSW and Tas 1856; Qld 1859

When did the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory establish local parliaments?

Copy the table on the following page and fill in the dates using the information from the maps above. Fill in the columns by providing the relevant dates. Work out how long each colony had been governing itself in 1901. Write the answers in the 'Years of self-government to 1901' row.

Map 7

Development of British colonies in Australia

  NSW Qld SA Tas Vic WA
Date of first European settlement            
Date colony established            
Date of self-government            
Years of self-government to 1901            

Development of Territories in Australia

Date of first European settlement    
Date of self-government    

The two Territories have been separated because they are products of the Federation of the Australian colonies, the topic of the next section.

Activity 3: Document study - Australia and Britain

Look at the following documents that appeared in Australian newspapers in 1897. They are reporting the celebrations of Queen Victoria's sixtieth year of reign and the attendance of the premiers of the six colonies.

What can you learn from each of them about Australia's attitude to Britain and the Monarchy in 1897? Use specific quotes or facts from the documents to support your answers.

For example:

Document 1: The fact that the premiers are attending the celebrations shows that Australia was not opposed to the British Monarchy.

Document 2: The subheading for the article 'Special honour by the Queen' suggests that this is something to be proud about.

Document 1


London 19th June.

It has been arranged that the colonial Premiers now in London, with their wives, shall be received by her Majesty the Queen on Monday.

The Premiers will be presented to her Majesty by the Prince of Wales, the Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, the [former] Prime Minister, Lord Rosebery, and the Secretary for the Colonies, Mr. Chamberlain.

London, 19th June.

The colonial Premiers at present visiting England in connection with the Queen's reign celebrations are receiving an amount of attention that is becoming embarrassing. In the matter of correspondence alone each is in receipt of 100 letters per diem.

London, 19th June.

Mr. G. H. Reid, the Premier of New South Wales, who has arrived in London later than other colonial representatives, has found waiting him no fewer than 1000 letters to read and answer. He is also besieged with callers including men of such distinction as the Duke of Abercorn, the Earl of Jersey, Lord Carrington, Lord Cross and Lord Roberts.

© The Age 21/6/1897.
Reproduced by permission.

Document 2






London, 19th June.

It has been arranged that the colonial troops shall form a procession and escort the Premiers to the great Jubilee demonstration at St. Paul's. They will start early and form up at St. Paul's Cathedral by special desire of the Queen, who desires to witness the procession and herself to pass before the forces of her colonial dominions.

The Premiers on arrival at the church will leave their carriages and join the high officers of State, who will receive the Queen on the steps of the edifice. After the ceremony the colonial procession will form in the rear of the royal party.

London, 19th June.

Field Marshall Lord Roberts to-day reviewed the colonial troops now in London on the Thames embankment, and marched at their head to the West End of London.

© The Age 21/6/1897.
Reproduced by permission.

Document 3


London, 23rd June.

The colonial section of the royal procession formed up on the Thames embankment at 8 a.m. The Premiers and their wives were the only persons who drove, their carriages leaving the Hotel Cecil at 8.30.

The first carriage was that of Sir Wilfred Laurier, Premier of Canada.

In the second were Mr. Reid (New South Wales), Sir George and Lady Turner (Victoria). In the third were Mr. Seddon (New Zealand) and Sir Hugh Nelson (Queensland). In the fourth were Mr. and Mrs. Kingston (South Australia), Sir Gordon and Lady Sprigg (Cape Colony). The fifth carriage was occupied by Sir Edward and Lady Braddon (Tasmania) and Sir William and Lady Whiteway (Newfoundland). In the seventh carriage were Sir John and Lady Forrest (West Australia) and Sir Harry and Lady Escombe (Natal).

The column marched from the Embankment to Buckingham Palace, and thence over the route marked out for the procession, forming up round St. Paul's Churchyard.

The colonial troops here were greeted by cries from the crowd of "Bravo Canada!" "Good old Australia!" and "Cooee!"

Every one was struck with the splendid horsemanship and fine physique of the colonial troops, whose appearance was greeted with thunderous applause from the East End to the West End of London.

© The Age 24/6/1897.
Reproduced by permission.

Activity 4: Document study - Australia and the USA

In 1897 when the first Australian Constitution was being drawn up, Mr R Reid said in a speech to the Victorian Parliament:

Mr Reid, Member of Parliament, on the peaceful process of Federation in Australia

When we think ... how the colonists of ... America were regarded by the politicians in the old country [England]; when we think of the unjust impostes [taxes] which were levied upon those men ... when we think of the disabilities under which they were placed, we cannot help coming to the conclusion that if we had been living then, many of us would have taken our places side by side with them ...

But think of what has been, and then compare it with what is now. The parent State [England], over which Her Majesty presides, looks upon us as having an interest in the empire in common with itself, credits us with having sufficient intelligence to manage our own affairs, has given us a Constitution which enables us to work out our own future ...

Victorian Parliamentary Debates 1897, vol 85, p 9.

As a class discuss:

  • the reasons why Mr Reid believed that Australians would have stood 'side by side' with the American colonists in 1776
  • how Australia's relations with 'the parent State' in the late 1890s had been different from those of the American colonists.

Detail from an engraving by Nuttall

Activity 5: Federation

The British Government had suggested a federation of the Australian colonies in the mid 1800s but the colonies stayed separate until 1901. On 1 January 1901 they became the six States of the Commonwealth of Australia.

Detail from an engraving by Nuttall of the opening of the first Commonwealth Parliament, 9 May 1901
Courtesy National Library of Australia.

An invitation to the evening reception following the Opening of Parliament on 9 May 1901.
An invitation to the evening reception following the Opening of Parliament on 9 May 1901
National Archives of Australia: PP 608/1.

The Tenterfield Oration

Henry Parkes is sometimes known as the 'Father of Federation'. His famous speech 'The Tenterfield Oration' is mostly a response to a report on the defences of the colonies (1889) which expresses concern about the colonies' inability to defend themselves from invasion. But elsewhere, talking about the pride in Australia as a nation which was developing, he said:

Why should not the name of an Australian citizen be equal to that of a Briton? ... Why should not the name of an Australian citizen be equal to that of a citizen of the proudest country under the sun? ... But there is something more. Make yourselves a united people, appear before the world as one, and the dream of going 'home' would die away ... We should have home within our shores.

Extract from speech by Parkes to the Australasian Federation Conference, Melbourne, 1890.
Henry Parkes

Henry Parkes, 1888
Ravenscroft Album, National Library of Australia.

5a Where was the 'home' (or homes) that Parkes suggests that some people were dreaming of?

5b Find out the meaning of 'allegiance'. What is he suggesting about the allegiances of the people living in Australia?

Reasons for not federating

There were issues standing in the way of Federation. Victoria was developing manufacturing industries and to support them the Victorian Government was placing an extra cost (a customs tax or 'tariff') on goods that came in from other colonies as well as overseas. The New South Wales Government was against this, supporting the idea of 'free trade' (with no tax or tariff). The smaller colonies were very concerned that in a federal government the two more heavily populated colonies (Victoria and New South Wales) would dominate.

Reasons for federating

Their Ghosts May Be Heard: Australia to 1900

Adapted from Their Ghosts May Be Heard: Australia to 1900 by Sheena Coupe and Mary Andrews, Pearson Education Australia.

Activity 6: Reasons for and against federation

Destiny 6a Look at the reasons for federating illustrated above. Use the One Destiny! CD ROM and the resources of your library to review some of the reasons for and against federation. Write a brief explanation below each picture.

6b Create your own pictures to illustrate reasons against federating including a brief explanation below each.

6c As a whole class, discuss the following points and decide which are reasons for federating and which are reasons against federating. Sometimes the same reason can be both for and against.

Influencing factors

  • The six colonies already had parliaments of their own.
  • Australia was a vast country with transport and communication problems.
  • Influential politicians such as Sir Henry Parkes (five times premier of New South Wales) and Victoria's Alfred Deakin (later Australian prime minister) were strong advocates of federation. Both travelled the country giving speeches in favour of federation.
  • The colonies had different policies about immigration. For example, Queensland brought in cheap labour from the Pacific Islands to work the sugar cane fields.
  • Many white Australians wanted a 'whites only' Australia.
  • Germany and France had colonies in New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. One result of Germany's presence in New Guinea was that the Australian colonies formed a Federal Council in 1885.
  • New South Wales and Victoria were more powerful than other colonies.
  • Border duties hindered trade between the colonies.
  • Border duties protected factories in the smaller colonies from goods made in larger Victorian factories.
  • If there was an Australian nation, New South Wales wanted it to follow its free trade policy with the rest of the world so that goods could be imported cheaply. Victoria wanted it to favour its policy of 'protection' of local industries by charging tariffs.
  • All the colonies were British. Most white people spoke English. Henry Parkes spoke of 'the crimson thread of kinship that runs through us all'.
  • Colonial sports teams played against each other. In 1877 an Australian cricket team beat England in a Test match. Edwin Flack won two gold medals at the first Olympic Games in 1896 competing as an 'Australian'.
  • Many people, such as the goldminers in Western Australia, had moved from the colony where they had first settled or in which they had been born.
  • Popular writers such as Henry Lawson, and especially writers in the popular magazine the Bulletin, wrote of Australia as a land and nation made by the struggles of ordinary people.
  • The school systems founded during the 1870s taught patriotic stories, songs and verses.

ESL activities

Back to 'Making a Nation - At a glance'

AcknowledgementsLegal Information