Investigation 2

How did the people of the colonies become involved in Federation?

At the Federal Convention in 1891, delegates agreed on a draft Australian Constitution. It was then sent to the colonies’ parliaments for consideration and amendment. It was not made a priority, however, because the parliaments had become preoccupied with the economic depression between 1891 and 1893. The smaller colonies were waiting for New South Wales to act, but it too was hesitant.

The supporters of Federation were losing patience and faith in parliamentarians. They wanted to keep the movement going. Federal leagues, supported by the Australian Natives Association, sprang up in New South Wales and Victoria to build support for Federation among the people themselves.

By 1893, all of the Australian colonies had responsible government and colonists were well versed in electing representatives to their parliaments. At a conference to promote Federation in Corowa in 1893, John Quick, a lawyer from Bendigo and member of the Australian Natives Association, proposed a plan to ensure the involvement of the people in the decision to federate. Importantly, the Premier of New South Wales, George Reid was won over by Quick’s idea, and got the Premiers of the other colonies to agree to it as a way to continue on the road to Federation.

Your Task

Discover how John Quick’s Corowa plan influenced the course of Federation.


  1. Examine John Quick’s 1894 Australian Federal Congress Bill. Draw a flow chart outlining his proposal. Compare your flow chart to a classmate’s and make amendments if needed.
  2. In small groups, use a concept map to brainstorm the meaning of ‘democracy’. Re-read John Quick’s Bill. Does it fit your group’s definition of a democratic process? What are the advantages of a democratic system? What are some possible disadvantages? Share your thoughts as a class.
  3. In pairs, examine the ‘Britannia’ cartoon. Consider the following questions.
    • Britannia is a symbol of which country?
    • What do the other women represent? What are they holding?
    • What does the caption tell you about what is happening in the cartoon?
    • Do you think the cartoon supports John Quick’s plan?
    • Share your responses with the class.
  4. As a class, discuss the following questions.
    • Do you think John Quick’s plan would help solve the problems shown in the cartoon?
    • How might the road to Federation have been different without Quick’s plan?
  5. Choose one of the following to demonstrate your understanding of John Quick’s contribution to Federation.
    • Create a political cartoon promoting John Quick’s plan and the people’s voice in the Federation process.
    • In small groups, use your knowledge of the strengths and weaknesses of democracy to recreate the scene at the Corowa conference when John Quick proposed his plan. Make sure to include two arguments for and two arguments against the people’s involvement.
    • In small groups, think of other ways in which people might have been involved in the Federation debates and process. Use one of these as a basis for creating a charade, and perform it for the class.