Investigation 5

How did Queensland vote in the referendum on Federation in 1899?

The people of New South Wales voted for the draft Australian Constitution and for Federation on 20 June 1899. Many in favour of Federation in Queensland were hopeful that this would encourage Queenslanders to unite with the other colonies as well. Queensland could not afford to be left out now if it wanted to trade freely and sell its products to the other colonies. Queensland also wanted to be assured that the other colonies would come to its defence in case of attack.

The ‘Enabling Bill’, the law that would allow the Queensland Parliament to put the draft Constitution to the people, had been hotly debated in Parliament. Some members of the Labor Party wanted ‘every white male’ to have a vote at the referendum. This meant removing the rule that a man had to be resident in one place for a certain time to qualify for the vote. Those in favour of separation, especially from the centre of Queensland, wanted Queensland to be divided into seperate colonies. However, the Enabling Bill was eventually passed and the date for the referendum was set for 2 September 1899.

When the people finally had their say, they voted ‘yes’, but by the narrowest margin of any Australian colony.

Your Task

Investigate the referendum vote in Queensland and speculate about the reasons for the distribution of the vote.


  1. Examine the Queensland referendum results. Using the map of Queensland, shade the divisions where there was a majority vote for Federation. Write a caption for your map, describing in geographical terms the distribution of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ majorities.
  2. Think of reasons for the distribution of the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ majorities. Write them in dot points on the map in the respective region. Compare them to other students’ reasons.
  3. As a class, consider the political map of Australia at Federation. Imagine what it would have looked like if the north and central parts of Queensland had separated from the southern part before the Federation referendum. Do you think these divisions could have endured? Justify your response to the class.
  4. Study the ‘Provincialism’ cartoon. Use a dictionary if you need to find out the meaning of the word. The cartoon appeared in 1899, the same year as the referendum was held in Queensland. List the different elements shown in the cartoon and answer the following questions.
    • What is happening in the cartoon?
    • Why is the character of Queensland shown to be clinging to ‘provincialism’?
    • How is Federation represented?
  5. From what you know about Queensland in the late 1890s, and all the debates about whether or not to be part of Federation, do you think that the message in the cartoon is accurate? Write a letter to the editor, using the referendum results to support or refute the message in the cartoon.