Investigation 1

What were the arguments for Federation?

By the late 1800s, the Australian colonies had become increasingly wary of the British Empire’s colonial rivals in the Pacific. Some colonies had armies and navies, but there was no coordinated system of transportation between colonies. They feared that, individually, they would be weak in the face of a threat from a country such as Germany, France or Russia. Some were also concerned about the possible threat that Japan or China could pose in the future. United, however, the colonies could better face such threats and also be an important ally to Britain.

Trade was another area in which more cooperation was needed among the colonies. Goods transported from one colony to another could be taxed, making them more expensive to sell. Each colony had customs houses to stop the smuggling of goods across borders. If the intercolonial tariffs were abolished, manufacturers would be able to find markets in any of the colonies.

Despite the advantages of unification, the colonies were unwilling to give up their independence easily. When Henry Parkes urged Federation in 1889, and again in 1890, representatives from the colonies responded by attending Constitutional Conventions. At the Convention in 1891, they discussed how they might come together and draft an Australian Constitution. The terms of their association were again raised by Edmund Barton, as the ‘first order of business’ at the National Australasian Convention in Adelaide in 1897.

Your Task

Examine the terms on which the colonies would agree to come together as one nation.


  1. In pairs, examine ‘Boomerang versus cannon’. Read the words written on the boomerangs. What are they referring to? Read what is written on the cannon and the cartoon’s caption. What is the message of the cartoon? Write another title for the cartoon to convey that message and share it with the class.
  2. Still in pairs, read the extract from Henry Parkes’ Tenterfield speech. List what he says needs to be done.
  3. As a class, read the extract from Edmund Barton’s resolutions in 1897. Discuss the meaning of each resolution and whether it maintains a colony’s independence or encourages cooperation. Classify the resolutions under the headings: ‘Trade’, ‘Defence’ and ‘States’ rights’.
  4. Individually, examine the cartoon ‘Barriers between brothers. Shall they remain?’ Write a caption for the cartoon that explains what would remain the same and what would change if Barton’s resolutions were accepted. You could also draw on the cartoon to show the changes.
  5. As a class, discuss and then vote on whether Barton’s resolutions agree with the messages in both cartoons.