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Focus question 3: How did the people make the nation?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: A Federation news flash (15 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: What is a convention? (30 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: Case study - Corowa (20 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Classroom Convention (90-120 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: Making decisions for a nation (15 min) ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Classroom referendums (60-90 min) ESL Activity 6
Activity 7: Federation at last (60 min) ESL Activity 7
Activity 8: Reporting on Federation (60 min) ESL Activity 8
Assessment ESL Assessment
Further activity  

Activity 1: A Federation news flash (15 min)

Handout 4 1a Distribute Handout 4 and discuss what Henry Parkes was saying in his speech. Ask students to consider what effect this might have had on the colonies and on the people listening. (At the time, Parkes was the premier of NSW, the largest colony.)


  • that the United States had gone to war with Britain so that they could remove British governors and form their own federal government
  • the arguments for and against federation
  • that while there were some misgivings about Parkes, the leaders of all the colonies agreed to conduct a convention to discuss federation.

Handout 5 Destiny

1b Revisit the timeline. Use Handout 5 to provide markers for the major events leading towards Federation. Add the key dates to the timeline.

More details about these events are provided on the One Destiny! CD ROM.

Activity 2: What is a convention? (30 min)

Handout 6 2a Establish the meaning of 'convention' with the students. Ask them to recall conventions that they may have seen on television or that may have been held locally. Ask them to suggest what occurs at conventions and how they are run.

2b Divide the class into groups of four and distribute Handout 6. Ask groups to examine the visuals and discuss the following questions:

New Zealand was originally invited to join the Federation but delegates only attended the 1891 convention.

  • What are the common characteristics of the people who attended the conventions?
  • Do you think they could represent all the people of the nation? Why?
  • Who is not represented?
  • What is different about the method of election between 1891 and 1897? Which do you think represents the interests of the people better? Why?

Compare the membership and method of election to these conventions with the 1998 Constitutional Convention held in Canberra to discuss the republic. Do you think the 1998 convention represents the interests and opinions of the Australian people better than the 1891 and 1897 conventions?
Remind students that a popular belief in the 1890s was that not all citizens were capable of entering politics.

2c Groups should summarise their findings into a 'PMI' ('plus', 'minus' and 'interesting' list) before reporting back to the class.

2d Students could use the One Destiny! CD ROM section on 'Debate' to find the names of delegates, and the issues and outcomes of all the conventions and conferences.

Activity 3: Case study - Corowa (20 min)

Destiny Handout 7

3a Locate the Corowa Conference on the timeline. Distribute Handout 7 and read through the text with the class. Ask students to underline or highlight the most important items of information in the text. As a class, discuss the key points, sorting the important information from the peripheral material. List those key points on the board.

3b Discuss the following questions, encouraging the students to support their arguments with evidence drawn from the Handout and the previous timeline activity.
Students could use the notebook provided in the interactive 'The People Make a Nation' on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM to prepare and print their headlines.

  • Many people consider the Corowa Conference to be a breakthrough on the road to Federation. What do you think?
  • John Quick received a knighthood for his contribution to Federation. Based on what you know about Corowa do you think his contribution was significant?

3c Have students create their own newspaper headlines about the Corowa Conference for display around the timeline.

Activity 4: Classroom Convention (90-120 min)

4a Explain that students will be holding their own convention to discuss some of the issues surrounding Federation. The time is 1898, and each student will be given a role in the convention. The task of the convention is to reach agreement on some final elements of the draft Australian Constitution. Roles include: actual delegates from the 1898 convention; fictional delegates from the colonies; and petitioners (a person submitting a formal proposal for consideration). An adult can act as the Speaker to run the proceedings.
Conduct the convention in costume to add to the atmosphere of the role-play.

More than one student can adopt the role of a colonial delegate; difficult roles can be shared.

Each role has a card that explains the person's views on the issues. When participating in the convention students should respond in role. For example: 'What would a delegate representing Tasmania, the smallest state, think about these issues?'

4b Revise what is known about Australia as it was in 1898 including:

  • There are six colonies, each with an independent parliament.
  • Each colony's parliament makes its own laws and is responsible for running the colony.
  • Each colony has its own postal system, railway system, army and customs laws.
  • Legally, each of the colonies is subject to the British Parliament. To make changes to the way the Australian colonies are governed requires the British Parliament to pass a law.
  • Most people live in cities or towns, and the majority live in the colonies of New South Wales and Victoria.
  • Access to government and voting is limited to white men (women voted in South Australia from 1894).
  • Most power and influence is held by white, English-speaking people who are keen to keep Australia a 'white' nation.
  • Generally, Indigenous people are not considered an important part of the population.
Handout 8-12

4c Conduct a briefing session. Display Handout 8 to explain the ideas underlying the Classroom Convention.

4d Display Handout 9; read through and discuss the issues for consideration at the convention.

4e Distribute role cards (cut from Handouts 10,11,12) and allow time for students to discuss their roles and clarify their ideas. The One Destiny! CD ROM provides useful information on the views of the colonies.

4f Introduce the convention:

Fellow delegates. Welcome to the 1898 Classroom Convention. Each of you has been elected or nominated to attend this convention to represent your colony's view and ensure that the decisions we reach will be acceptable to the people of Australia. We also welcome those who have special petitions or issues that they would like to present to be considered by the convention. At the conclusion of this convention we will have developed a draft constitution for a new federal nation.

Handout 9 4g Explain the order of business:

  • The Speaker will introduce the issues for discussion. (Handout 9)
  • The convention will discuss each question and then vote.
  • The convention will hear and discuss additional issues from petitioners and delegates.
  • The Speaker will review the decisions and close the convention.
Allow time for students to express their own opinions on the issues at the end of the session.

4h Discuss the outcomes of the main discussion and invite student opinion on the outcomes.

Convention issues

Issue 1: Should the Houses have equal powers?

There will be two Houses in the new federal parliament. The People's House (called the House of Representatives) will have a number of representatives from each state to be determined by population. The States' House (called the Senate) will have an equal number of representatives from each state. A law can only be made if it is passed (agreed to) by both Houses of the Parliament. This form of parliament is called a bicameral system, which means two Houses.

The House of Representatives is considered the stronger because the government is formed by the party or parties that have a majority in this House.
While both Houses have the power to introduce Bills (a proposal for a new law) the House of Representatives is the only House which can create or change Bills related to money (Bills related to a tax or the spending of money). The Senate is only allowed to pass or refuse to pass a money Bill. If it refuses to pass the Bill, it can recommend changes, but it cannot make those changes. The amendments must be accepted by both Houses to become law. As a result, the House of Representatives is the main House, and is considered more powerful than the Senate.

Issue 2: Where will the new federal capital be situated?

The first Commonwealth Parliament should select the site.

Later, a meeting of the premiers decided the site should be in New South Wales, but more than 100 miles from Sydney.
The petitions:

  • Votes for women. The Constitution did not provide for universal suffrage (votes for all adults). In 1902, a Bill was passed to allow women to vote in federal elections in all states.
  • Reference to God in the Constitution. The opening statement of the Australian Constitution states that the people of the colonies 'humbly relying on a blessing of Almighty God agree to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth . . .'
  • Changes to original states. Chapter 6 of the Constitution refers to the admission and establishment of new states. To date, no new states have been created.
  • Importation of alcohol. Section 113 of the Constitution states that all alcoholic liquor being imported from another state is subject to the laws of that state. In the case of this petition, if Victorian law had banned alcohol, residents of other states could not bring liquor into Victoria.

More information on voting and ballots is provided in Discovering Democracy - A Guide to Government and Law in Australia.

Activity 5: Making decisions for a nation (15 min)

5a As a class, discuss the ways decisions are made in different situations in Australia. List suggestions on the board and group these into categories such as: family, school, community, the state or territory and the nation. Focus on children's experiences of voting (directly or when their parents have voted), including aspects such as compulsory voting, secret ballot and access to voting (age, citizenship).

5b Consider the situation in the 1890s.

To make such a big change in the way Australia was governed meant that the people had to be consulted. The best way was to conduct a referendum on the question 'Should Australia become a federation?'. However, since each state was an independent colony each had to conduct its own campaign and referendum. When voters have to decide on a constitutional question a referendum is called. A vote on an issue not related to a constitution is called a plebiscite.

Activity 6: Classroom referendums (60-90 min)

Handout 13 6a There was energetic campaigning before the referendums as groups tried to convince voters to support their views. Display Handout 13 and discuss some ideas and techniques that could be used in the ballot.

6b Prepare for the classroom referendum by preparing 'how to vote' material for display in the classroom using the sources as models. Students, working in groups or individually, can elect to:

  • prepare a poster
  • create a cartoon
  • create a handbill for voters.

Destiny Examples of handbills and ballot slips are also provided on the One Destiny! CD ROM in the section 'Australia Votes'.

Student work should clearly support one viewpoint (either 'yes' or 'no' vote) and should show evidence of at least one supporting argument.

6c Conduct the referendum ballot. Set up the classroom with places for secret voting and tally the results using scrutineers to check the results. 'Publish' the results on the blackboard.

Handout 14 6d Discuss what actually happened in the referendums. Display Handout 14 to discuss the vote and the final outcome. Add the dates of the referendums to the timeline. For example: 1898 NSW has insufficient 'yes' votes (fewer than 80,000) to accept the Constitution. (Allow space for multiple entries for the same dates.)

Activity 7: Federation at last (60 min)

Actual footage of the Federation celebrations are included on One Destiny! and Stories of Democracy CD ROMs.

7a Explain that in July 1900 Queen Victoria gave assent to the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act which formally declared that the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia would be united in a federal commonwealth.

7b How does a nation celebrate? Ask the class to recall community or national celebrations and list some ideas on the board. What types of celebrations might have occurred in the 1900s?

7c Prepare for a classroom celebration of Federation. As a class, discuss possible activities. Some ideas include:


Activity 8: Reporting on Federation (60 min)

Handout 15 Stories

Prepare a news report on Federation. The task can be presented as a written piece for publication in the Federation Herald or as a spoken news report. Students should use the outline set out in Handout 15 to assist in drafting the report. Alternatively, students could complete 'The People Make a Nation' interactive on the Stories of Democracy CD ROM and complete the report using the newspaper outline provided through the notebook facility.


Collect the students' reports and assess using the following criteria. The student can:

Further activity


Use the biography section of the Stories of Democracy CD ROM to prepare a 'Federation Faces' hall of heroes by completing simple biographies on the following people:

  • Edmund Barton
  • Samuel Griffith
  • Alfred Deakin
  • John Quick
  • George Reid
  • Henry Parkes
  • Catherine Spence.

Information should include: colony, occupation and contribution to Federation.

ESL activities

Back to 'The People Make a Nation - At a glance'

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