People and Places

Investigation 1

What was life like in New South Wales in the late 1800s?
Resource Sheet 1

Investigation 2

How was New South Wales affected by the labour crisis of the 1890s?
Resource Sheet 2

Investigation 3

Who were some of the political figures from New South Wales that played a leading role in the Federation movement?
Resource Sheet 3

Investigation 4

Who were some of the women in New South Wales who made important contributions to social and political change in the late 1880s and 1890s?
Resource Sheet 4

What are you thinking now?

Additional activities and exercises to explore in the classroom.


The population of New South Wales grew rapidly during the 1800s – from about 200,000 people in 1851 to more than 300,000 in 1857, and more than one million by 1891. By this time the colony had existed for more than a century and had its own elected parliament for several decades. It was in a strong position to take a leading role in bringing the colonies together in a single federated nation.

New South Wales, like the younger colonies, was part of the British Empire and many people still thought of England as ‘home’. At the same time, many people had developed a sense of Australian identity that fuelled a notion of nationhood.

The emotional connection to Britain was commented on by American author, Mark Twain, when he visited Sydney in 1895. He wrote about the ‘custom of speaking of England as Home’, and noted that ‘often it was said in an unconsciously caressing way that made it touching ... and made one seem to see Australasia as a young girl stroking mother England’s old gray head’ (Following the Equator, American Publishing Company, New York, 1897).

Other writers, including the famous New South Wales-born authors Henry Lawson and Andrew ‘Banjo’ Paterson, were focusing on themes that were uniquely Australian. The weekly magazine The Bulletin began publication in Sydney in 1880 and soon became known as ‘the bushman’s bible’. Short stories, poetry and cartoons were contributed by miners, shearers and timber- workers from across Australia.

In many ways, publications of the 1880s highlighted that ‘Australian’ life included a wide range of experiences, opportunities, challenges and viewpoints. There were stark contrasts between cities and rural areas, Europeans and non-Europeans, and difficult tensions between workers and employers.

In the 1890s, a time of economic hardship in the eastern colonies, workers in New South Wales’ rural and shipping industries took part in a number of strikes to improve working conditions. Others struggled to find any employment at all.

But, one thing that was shared by many people, from a wide range of backgrounds and walks of life, was a desire for social and political change. Throughout the late 1800s, many citizens of New South Wales worked to improve the lives of others and helped build the best future for their colony. For supporters of Federation, this meant working to achieve a united Commonwealth of Australia.