Are you teaching Australian Federation this year? If you haven’t taught the Year 6 curriculum before, you may need to update your personal knowledge about this topic before planning and teaching your unit. This blog post will focus on the reasons for and against federation and how these can be addressed in a way that students can understand. I’ve set this out similar to a lesson plan to make it easy to read and you can print it off as a reference. Because I just can’t help myself!
Topic: The reasons for and against Australia’s Federation
Australian Curriculum content descriptor/s: ACHASSK134
- To understand the issues that motivated the move towards federation
- To understand the concerns raised by colonists regarding federation
- To provide teachers with information and resources to help teach this topic with maximum student engagement.
By the mid 1800’s Britain had established six colonies in Australia: New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. Each colony operated independently and was governed by its own parliament, but ultimate control remained with the British Parliament, which had final approval of any laws. Each colony held responsibility for its own defence, customs, immigration, trade, taxation and transport. By the 1880s there was growing frustration with inefficiencies caused by the separate colonies. As the number of Australian born citizens grew, so did the sense of national identity.
Here are the major issues that motivated the move to federation.
- Some colonies charged import/export tariffs and had immigration officers search luggage at train stations.
- Some people believed that allowing free trade between the colonies would strengthen the economy.
Each colony had its own policies regarding trade and were concerned with protecting local industry from overseas and interstate competition. Expensive tariffs and taxes made travel difficult between the colonies. Some states even had immigration officers search travelers’ luggage at train stations. Additionally, each state built railways using different gauges. That made travel and transport of goods difficult across our large continent, as passengers needed to be transferred from one train to another at state borders. Many people argued that federation would allow for free trade between the colonies, which would make the economy stronger.
- Each colony had its own, poorly equipped militia made up of a small number of permanent members and volunteers.
- The colonies would have to rely on the British defence forces to protect them but they were so far away!
The colonies had small, poorly equipped defence forces, which made them more vulnerable than the larger colonies. Especially, they relied on occasional patrols of the British Navy to protect the enormous Australian coastline. There were also concerns about Germany and France — who had established colonies in the nearby Pacific Islands and were considered a serious threat of invasion. Nearby Asian countries, Japan and China, were also considered a possible threat. It was believed that creating a single defence force for the nation would allow for better protection.
- While there was a desire to be one nation there was also a strong desire to keep the British legacy.
- There were concerns that cheap labor could create competition for colonists, as they were cheaper to employ.
- There was still some resentment of Chinese migrants following the Gold Rush.
In the late 1800’s there was a growing sense of identity within the Australian colonies, which helped the argument for federation. However, while people saw themselves as distinctly Australian, there was also the desire to continue the British legacy. There were concerns of migrants working as cheap labor. Competition for work with colonists would lower wages, which would lead to a reduced standard of living. These concerns were partly fueled by resentment towards immigrants following the Gold Rush. During that time, a large number of Chinese immigrants came to work on the gold fields. There was also concern in Queensland. Resentment was growing towards the Pacific Islanders who worked in the sugar plantations for low wages, taking away work from colonists.
- There were an increasing number of Australian born colonists who didn’t feel ‘British’ and saw themselves as uniquely Australian.
- Troops fought in the Boer War in South Africa as Australians, increasing the sense of national pride.
By the 1880’s there was a growing sense of national identity within the colonies, as the population of Australian born citizens increased. The Australian born citizens didn’t feel the same loyalty to England as their parents and grandparents. They considered themselves uniquely Australian and felt that they should be governed by Australians. Australians had fought in the Boer War in South Africa, which strengthened the sense of national pride.
Arguments against federation
While there was growing support for federation, there were also concerns within the colonies which created a lot of debate.
- As NSW and Victoria were the most populated and powerful colonies, there was concern that they would have more control.
- There were concerns that abolishing the customs duties between the colonies would disadvantage industry in the smaller colonies.
- Federation would be expensive and having a federal government would be expensive to run, meaning more taxes.
- The current system was working, so why change it?
- It would be too hard to get all the colonies to agree to uniform policies for trade, immigration etc.
- Each colony was unique and had its own identity. There was concern that federation would cause colonies to lose their individuality.
- Aussie Star Resources have created theHASS Australian History Reasons For and Against Federation activity. It’s a fun and engaging resource to help your students understand the reasons for and against federation. This simple activity allows students to read through a number of statements and decide if they are in support of federation or against it.
- I also show this BTN segment which is a great way to introduce the topic of Federation and aligns perfectly with this task.
- We also complete a W.O.T. analysis as a class after watching the video, discussing the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of federation and recording them on the board and in the students’ workbooks.
You can feel confident that your students will have a good understanding of the arguments for and against federation after this lesson. Check out our Teachers Pay Teachers store to access our fantastic range of Australian Federation Teaching Resources.