Investigation 1

What were the issues surrounding Federation for South Australians?

For many South Australians, the decision to vote for or against Federation depended on how it would affect their colony, themselves and their families. They would also have been influenced by the idea and benefits of belonging to a new nation.

The main issues facing South Australia were the ability to defend itself against foreign powers, freedom of intercolonial trade, administration of its Northern Territory and the control of the river systems. Also, as Australia’s central colony, geographically, many felt that South Australia was ideally located to become home to the new nation’s capital.

These issues were widely discussed in South Australia in the 1890s. There was a widespread belief that it was time to take action and bring about change to build a better future. Many people believed that Federation was a key to achieving this.

Your Task

Explore the issues as South Australians considered the pros and cons of Federation.


  1. As a class, read the newspaper extracts on the different issues that affected the attitudes of South Australians towards Federation, including defence, trade, rivers, the Northern Territory and the nation’s capital. Use a dictionary to find the meaning of any words you don’t know.
  2. Working individually, use the chart to rank the issues in order of importance from 1 to 5, with 1 being the issue that you believe is the most important. Provide a reason for each of your rankings.
  3. Find classmates that have the same issue ranked as number 1. Using the newspaper extracts about your issue, work as a team to develop an argument about why your issue was the most important and urgently needed resolution. Do further research, if necessary.
    • Provide an introduction to the issue. Why was it an issue?
    • Present three reasons for ranking your issue as number 1.
    • Conclude your case with a summary of the arguments.
    Present your case to the rest of the class.
  4. Have the arguments presented by the other groups convinced you to change your mind about which issue was the most important? Cast your vote using the voting slip, numbering the squares from 1 to 5. Tally the votes. Which issue was voted the most important? Which one was the least important? Were any issues deemed to be of equal importance? (Information on the preferential voting system can be found at the Australian Electoral Commission website). Discuss the following questions as a class.
    • Could the issues have been used as a reason for South Australians to federate with the other colonies?
    • Could the issues have been used as a reason not to federate?
    • Based on what you have found out so far, do you believe the road to Federation would have been an easy one or a hard one?