Investigation 4

How were voters influenced during the Federation campaign?

In 1898, referendums to vote on the draft of the Australian Constitution were held in four colonies: Tasmania, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. The referendums were successful in three colonies, but not in New South Wales. A majority voted ‘yes’ but this still fell short of the quota of 80,000 votes set by the New South Wales Parliament.

After last minute negotiations among all the Premiers of the colonies, referendums were held again in 1899 everywhere, except Western Australia. The Queensland referendum was set for 2 September 1899, but there was still division in the colony. Many people in Brisbane and in southern Queensland opposed Federation, while others in the centre wanted ‘separation before Federation’.

Newspapers such as the Brisbane Courier ran articles on Federation in every edition leading up to the referendum. Meetings hosted by federation leagues and anti-federation leagues were well attended, and organisers of these large public meetings would go to great lengths to invite eminent speakers. This included two very famous politicians, the leaders of the movement for Federation, Alfred Deakin from Victoria, and Edmund Barton from New South Wales.

Your Task

Investigate the arguments used to persuade Queenslanders to vote for Federation.


  1. Read the newspaper extract describing the Federation meeting at Exhibition Hall. Do one of the following tasks.
    • Sketch the scene that the reporter has described
    • Write an account of the atmosphere from the perspective of an audience member.
  2. In pairs, read the Chairman’s speech. Discuss the following questions.
    • Who were the hosts of the meeting?
    • What was the main purpose of the meeting?
    • What is the ‘right conclusion’ that the Chairman refers to?
    Imagine the Chairman was standing under a banner as he delivered his speech. What slogan would be displayed on the banner? Share your slogans with other pairs.
  3. With the class divided into two groups, each group takes responsibility for reading either Mr Barton’s speech or Mr Deakin’s speech.
  4. Still in groups, create an affinity diagram with the following headings: ‘Democracy’, ‘Patriotism’, ‘Efficiency’ and ‘Progress’. Beneath the relevant headings, record the examples from your speech that show the speaker using that concept. Write the speaker’s name in brackets next to the clue. Rotate your affinity diagram through the groups, until the original returns. This way, all members of both groups can contribute to the diagrams.
  5. As a class, use your knowledge of the debate over Federation in Queensland, to rank which of the four appeals – Democracy, Patriotism, Efficiency and Progress – would have been most relevant to different members of the audience in the Exhibition Hall in Brisbane on 12 May 1899. This was just four months before the referendum in Queensland. Rank the appeals for a worker in the north, a manufacturer in the south, and a separationist from the centre.