People and Places

Investigation 1

Who were the people of the Australian colonies?
Resource Sheet 1

Investigation 2

What was life like in the Australian colonies in the late 1800s?
Resource Sheet 2

Investigation 3

How did the people of the colonies feel about being part of the British Empire?
Resource Sheet 3

Investigation 4

How did the people of the colonies see their future as Australians?
Resource Sheet 4

Investigation 5

How did the Democracy expand in the colonies during the time of Federation?
Resource Sheet 5

What are you thinking now?

Additional activities and exercises to explore in the classroom.


In 1788, Britain claimed the east coast of Australia and established the first colony of New South Wales. Settlement spread south to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), west to the Swan River Settlement (later, Perth), and north to the Moreton Bay Settlement, where Queensland had its beginnings. For Indigenous Australians, the British settlements brought war, disease and deprivation. Indigenous Australians were displaced from the traditional lands they had occupied for thousands of years.

By the late 1800s, the Australian continent had been divided into six colonies. Each colony had its own government and distinctive pattern of settlement. A Governor, appointed by the British Parliament, along with an appointed Legislative Council, governed each colony.

From the 1850s, the colonies had begun to work towards a system of responsible government. At that time, only men who owned or rented property were allowed to elect representatives to the colonial parliaments. By the time Western Australia introduced responsible government in 1891, all white men in the colonies were able to vote for the lower house of their parliaments. In South Australia, women won the right to vote in 1894, and in Western Australia in 1899, in time to vote in the Federation referendums for those colonies. Indigenous men and women could vote for the South Australian Parliament but, with some exceptions, were disqualified in the other colonies.

The people of the colonies were predominantly of British descent. When the governments of the colonies needed more settlers and workers, they introduced schemes to assist British migrants to come to Australia. The gold rushes in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland attracted people from all over the world. All of these settlers, as well as the early convicts and Indigenous Australians, played a role in shaping life, laws and culture in the colonies.

The colonists were proud members of the British Empire. Colonial laws and political systems were closely linked to Britain, and colonists were prepared to go to battle to defend the Empire. However, by the 1870s, people born in Australia began to outnumber migrants from Britain and there was an increasing pride in being Australian-born.

Even though each colony had unique qualities, they also shared many common experiences. The decision to unite as one nation under Federation was an important one that would shape the future of Australian democracy.