Investigation 4

Who were some of the political figures from South Australia that played a leading role in the Federation movement?

Many South Australians of the late 1800s were working to improve the lives of others. They were committed to making a difference.

Between June 1885 and May 1901, the most powerful position in South Australia, that of Premier, was occupied by six different men. Three of them—Playford, Downer and Holder—held the position twice. The shortest serving Premier during the period was Vaiben Solomon. He was leader for only seven days. The longest serving Premier was Charles Cameron Kingston. He was leader for 2,359 days. Despite the ‘musical chairs’ of South Australian politics, the colony’s leaders were supporters of Federation and played key roles in uniting the six Australian colonies.

By exploring the lives of some of the colony’s prominent figures, we can learn about the difference they made and what motivated them to take such active roles in their colony’s social and political life.

Do you think that their values, leadership qualities and motivations as active citizens would have been similar to those that are important today?

Your Task

Discover the values, leadership qualities and motivations of four South Australian Premiers of the late 1800s.


  1. As a class, brainstorm a list of values. The nine Values for Australian Schooling may be used as a starting point. Go to the Values education for Australian schooling website. Then, click on ‘National’, followed by ‘National Framework: Nine Values for Australian Schooling’. Brainstorm a second list of leadership qualities. It might be useful to have some leaders in mind when creating this list. Discuss how people demonstrate values and leadership through their actions.
  2. Form groups of four. Each group member will be responsible for reading one of the biographies. Your task is to highlight examples of your prominent person’s values and leadership qualities. The biography of your person may include all or only some of the values or leadership qualities identified on the class list. As you read the biography, consider why you believe specific facts or events are examples of a value or leadership quality.
  3. Read your selected biography to your group. Explain the values and leadership qualities that you have identified. Be prepared to justify your observations, if required.
  4. As a class, make a list of the possible motivations Charles Cameron Kingston, Thomas Playford, John Downer and Frederick Holder might have had for wanting to make a difference in South Australia, and in supporting Federation. There are no right or wrong answers, but you need to be able to justify your suggestions based on the biographies that you have explored.