Investigation 4

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

In the late 1800s, people born in Australia began to outnumber people who had been born in Britain. The children of the original colonists had grown up in Australia, and had an appreciation and loyalty to Australia. In 1871, the Australian Natives Association was established in Melbourne. The Association promoted pride in an Australian identity. Its membership was restricted to white men born in Australia. Many of its leading members were important men and some were elected to colonial parliaments.

The Australian Natives Association was influential in the movement to unite the Australian colonies in a Federation. There were many issues that needed to be debated before everyone could agree on a draft Australian Constitution. The people who worked to federate the colonies generally agreed on a vision of an egalitarian society where its members shared legal and political status, ancestry and culture. They referred to it as ‘White Australia’.

Your Task

Explore the development and promotion of an Australian identity.


  1. In pairs, examine the membership certificate of the Australian Natives Association. Consider what distinguishes it as being Australian. Do you think the Association was in favour of Federation?
  2. Read the newspaper extract about the Australian Natives Association meeting in Brisbane. List the objectives that the speaker claims for the Association. Look at the sketch of a meeting in Melbourne. Imagine you are the gentleman addressing the audience. Write what you would say about being Australian, and about your vision for the future of Australia. Share your statements with the class.
  3. As a class, read the extract from Henry Parkes’s speech. Discuss the following questions.
    • What were the positive aspects of Parkes’ vision?
    • According to Parkes, how did the Chinese pose a threat?
    • How have our ideas about an ideal Australian society changed?
  4. In pairs, examine the cartoon and discuss the message it is conveying.
    • What is happening in the picture?
    • How does this cartoon support Parkes’ speech?
    Write a caption for the cartoon, conveying the message its creator would have wanted to send in 1855.
  5. Design a certificate of membership for being part of your ideal Australian society. Think of the symbols, colours and words you would use. Display the designs in the classroom.