Investigation 5

How did democracy expand in the colonies during the time of Federation?

When the Australian colonies achieved responsible government, the people were allowed to elect representatives to their respective colonial parliaments to make laws. At first, not everyone was allowed to vote. In some colonies, only men who rented or owned property could vote. By the 1890s, all white men had the right to vote for the lower houses of their respective parliaments.

Women, however, had to struggle for the right to vote. Even though many women were employed or actively working for charitable causes in their communities, they were not considered suitable to vote or sit in Parliament and make decisions with men. Women suffragists campaigned strongly and petitioned their respective parliaments throughout the country to be granted the vote. Their first success was in South Australia in 1894. These women there were among the first in the world to win the right to vote. When the Australian colonies federated in 1901, only the women of South Australia and Western Australia had the vote. So, they were the only women able to participate in the referendums to approve the Australian Constitution.

Your Task

Investigate the importance of women’s suffrage in developing democracy in Australia.


  1. In pairs, read the arguments about women’s suffrage. Sort them into two groups, ‘for’ and ‘against’. What persuasive language is used to argue each point of view?
  2. Examine the two cartoons. Both cartoons express an argument for or against women voting, and caricature both male and female participants.
    • Use the images to write descriptive words for each of the characters depicted.
    • Who might have been the intended audience for each cartoon?
    • In what ways do these cartoons counteract each other?
    • Which cartoon do you believe would have been more effective? Why do you think this?
  3. Form groups of four and compare your ideas. Brainstorm other arguments either for or against women’s suffrage.
  4. Using the two cartoons as models, design a poster advocating for or against women’s suffrage in the 1890s. Create your own slogan or message drawing on the ideas suggested in the quotes. When selecting your characters and your message, consider the time period and the techniques used to persuade your intended audience.