Teacher Guide Overview


Getting it Together is a middle years resource provided by the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, Canberra. The Museum’s central aim is to inspire Australians to celebrate, debate and experience the past, present and future of Australia’s democracy.

Students use Getting it Together to actively discover and explore the story of Federation — the social and political journey that led the people of six separate colonies to agree on a Constitution, which brought the nation of Australia and its Federal Parliament into being in 1901. While investigating the past, students are also engaged with issues affecting Australia’s development and identity today and into the future.

The connections between past, present and future are highlighted by several big ideas that underpin the Museum of Australian Democracy’s programs. These are woven through Getting it Together.

  • Australian Democratic Society – Australia has built a democratic society that recognises its past, supports the present, and shapes its future.
  • Leadership – leadership is (and has always been) critical to defining Australia’s democracy, and we all have the opportunity to provide leadership.
  • Active Citizenship – we shape our own unique democracy, and the health of our democracy relies on our participation, debate and response to change.

The place of Federation in the history classroom

Federation is an essential part of the story of the Australian nation and the formation of an Australian national identity. Exploring Federation:

  • is a powerful focus for the development of students’ historical understandings of social and political developments in Australian colonies in the late 19th century;
  • builds students’ historical understanding of Australia’s political institutions and the values on which they are based; and
  • engages students with fundamental historical concepts of continuity and change because of the unique opportunity this topic provides to compare two distinct periods in Australian history: the colonial period and the period since Federation.

These points also relate directly to the importance of developing ‘historical literacy’.

Historical literacy

This has been defined by the National History Project and involves the following skills, which are embedded in Getting it Together:

  • knowing and understanding events of the past;
  • understanding historical concepts, such as causes/consequences, motivation, and change and continuity, particularly by engaging with narratives of the past;
  • research skills, including gathering and using evidence, and working with primary and secondary material;
  • using and evaluating ICT-based historical resources;
  • understanding and dealing with the language of the past;
  • using historical reasoning, synthesis and interpretation; and
  • using creativity in representing the past.

How getting it together brings it all together

The packages: national and colony-specific perspectives

Getting it Together is organised into seven packages. Each is designed so that it can be used as a stand-alone teaching/learning resource or in conjunction with other packages or select parts of them.

The National Story addresses the journey to Federation from a national perspective, including the establishment of the national capital. The other packages are for New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia and Queensland. Each engages students in exploring the journey to Federation from the perspective of a particular colony, and discovering what makes that colony’s Federation story unique. The focus is on the colony’s particular interests and concerns in the late 1800s; how these were shaped by aspects of social, political and economic life at that time and earlier; and how they influenced popular attitudes towards uniting with the other colonies to become part of an Australian Commonwealth.

Every package begins with an introduction that provides the historical background, including any issues students will investigate in detail. This provides teachers with an accessible ‘background briefing’ on the three themes that form the body of the package.

The themes for investigation

There are three themes within each package. Each can be explored as a stand-alone module, but student learning will be deepened by opportunities to explore all three themes because they are interrelated aspects of one larger story or historical narrative.

  1. People and Places engages students in investigations of life in the Australian colonies during the period before Federation, when there were many changes taking place. This theme provides opportunities for students to discover why particular social, economic and political concerns differed from one colony to another.
  2. Road to Federation engages students in an exploration of the journey to Federation in the colonies and nationally. Through an unfolding narrative, this theme addresses the issues surrounding Federation, as well as the resolution of those issues through the federal conventions and the referendums in each colony.
  3. Celebrations and Futures provides opportunities for students to investigate the celebrations that took place in 1901 for the inauguration of the new Commonwealth of Australia; to explore how Australian nationhood continues to be celebrated today; and to draw on history and contemporary experience to think about the future.

Each theme includes an introduction that provides the historical context for the student investigations. The introduction also assists teachers in establishing students’ prior knowledge, developing any necessary background understanding and stimulating students’ interest before they commence their investigations.

The investigations

An inquiry approach

Each theme consists of four to six investigations. The investigations are designed to support inquiry based learning, which encourages students to identify, interpret and analyse primary source material, and to draw reasoned conclusions from historical evidence. By participating in the investigations, students develop and apply their conceptual knowledge and historical understandings of Australia at the time of Federation. Each investigation is set out in an engaging and accessible format, and includes the following elements:

  • a focus question, such as ‘What were the issues that had to be resolved before the colonies could federate?’;
  • a brief introduction providing essential historical context and helping students to see where the question ‘fits’ in the overall narrative of the theme;
  • a statement of the students’ specific task, such as ‘Investigate the issues that were debated during the writing of the Australian Constitution’;
  • a ‘You will need’ panel, listing the primary sources on the Resource sheets, and any other resources required; and
  • a series of activity steps to help students work through the investigation efficiently and successfully.

The investigations foster collaborative learning through a balance of whole-class, small-group, pair and individual activities. They also include an important rounding-out stage, which involves students actively demonstrating and sharing understandings gained from the investigations. This occurs in a variety of ways, from student-led discussion or role-plays to creative responses, including visual presentations and performance.

‘What are you thinking now?’

Reflecting and connecting

Each theme includes a section entitled ‘What are you thinking now?’ This follows the investigations and suggests a number of activities that require students to reflect on, and apply the knowledge and understandings they have gained. It also encourages them to make connections between the past, present and future.

Students actively consider how their learning about an aspect of history relates to their own experiences and values, their own participation as active citizens in a democracy, and their visions for the future. For example, if students have explored the lives and motivations of individuals who worked to improve their society in the late 1880s, they might identify one thing that they would like to change in their own community, and plan and implement their own positive action to make a difference.

Other features

Primary source material

Each package in Getting It Together includes a wealth of historical material. Texts and images from the past include extracts from newspapers, letters, leaflets, speeches, stories and poems; song lyrics, cartoons, photographs and posters; and clips from silent documentary movies. Throughout their investigations, students actively engage with these materials, developing and applying research and inquiry-learning skills. They interpret and interrogate the unique insights into Australia’s past that each historical source provides.

Teachers and students can also use this wealth of primary source material as a springboard for deeper investigations.


Biographies of important Federation figures are provided in each package. These précis accounts provide insights into the lives of prominent people in the Australian colonies in the late 19th century, and encourage students to reflect on the values and characteristics of those who participated in shaping Australia’s Federation.

Planning choices and tips

There are a number of general choices and ‘tips’ that are helpful for teachers to consider as they familiarise themselves with the resource.

Selecting packages and themes

The resource can be used in a variety of ways to engage students in investigating Federation. Each package or theme can be used either as a stand-alone teaching/learning resource or in conjunction with other parts of Getting It Together.

One approach, for example, is to use the national package followed by a colony package. Examples of other approaches are listed below.

  • The national package could be followed by one theme or key issue to further investigate in relation to multiple colonies. For example, students might investigate social history as a key strand in the story of Federation, completing investigations from several ‘People & Places’ themes to enhance their understanding of commonalities and contrasts in different colonies.
  • A colony package could be the starting point, followed by further investigation using the national package.
  • Teachers’ choices of packages and themes may be influenced by current or forthcoming events happening in the classroom, school or wider community. There are often opportunities to link Getting it Together to these.

Using the ‘At a glance’ overview pages for each package

By setting out the investigation focus questions for all three themes and briefly listing primary source material, biographies and data provided, these pages provide a convenient tool to assist teachers’ choices and planning. They also include links to web-based resources that will need to be accessed.

Download the ‘At a glance’ pages below for a convenient overview of each package. Use these pages in conjunction with the suggestions provided in this Planning choices and tips section, which apply to all packages.

Building background

Before students undertake the investigations, teachers might consider the following.

  • Use the introductions within each package and theme to determine what contextual and conceptual foundations students will need and how to build upon them. Do this through discussion and brainstorming.
  • Generate ideas for building background relating to students’ understanding of different kinds of texts and their purposes. For example, if students will be exploring political cartoons of the 1800s, some contemporary political cartoons might be discussed first.
  • Support students to understand unfamiliar vocabulary and styles of expression in primary source material (See the glossary, pages 24–26). Model and discuss strategies that assist understanding, such as using a dictionary as well as drawing on the context for support.
  • Engage students’ attitudes and understandings regarding issues such as immigration, gender and cultural diversity. Assist the realisation that societal norms have changed over time and are dramatically different to those of the late 19th century, which they might encounter in the historical material. See Useful websites: ‘Racism – No Way’.

Planning matters

Teachers will draw on their understanding of the materials and their knowledge of their students and school-setting in using the packages. The following tips will provide assistance in using Getting it Together in the classroom.

  • Decide how much time to allow for a selected theme or investigation. Ensure there is ample time for students to share and reflect on knowledge gained. This may include group or individual presentations or ‘performances’ relating to particular investigations. Planning for more extended projects may also be important for the section ‘What are you thinking now?’
  • Identify steps in investigations that involve whole- class, small-group and/or pair activities, and decide how you will help to facilitate these, as well as the transitions between them.
  • Decide on the best way/s for students to view any web-based resources included in investigations, such as movie clips. This could involve using a data projector with the whole class or having students access the resources on individual computers.
  • Have all printouts ready (Resource sheets from within the package and also, if appropriate, graphic organisers from the Teacher Guide).
  • Collect any materials required for hands-on activities or creative responses.

Useful Websites

Investigations use film clips and images from the following websites. (Specific links to required sections of each site are provided within the investigations.)

Getting It Together provides many opportunities for integration with values education. Reference to the nine Values for Australian Schooling may be useful.

Ideas for assisting students in understanding each value and where it is enacted in daily life can be accessed from the Civics and Citizenship Education website, Unpacking the Nine Values for Australian Schooling.

Some of the primary source material about women would now be considered sexist. And, the primary source material expressing anti-immigration views would now be classified as racist. Be prepared to address these issues by explaining the historical contexts. Should the need arise, teachers may like to make links to anti-racism education websites such as Racism – No Way.

Sources for students’ biographical research include websites such as:

Resources relating to Australia’s electoral and lawmaking processes include:


The Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House acknowledges the following contributors to the project:

Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

  • Interpretation and Programs staff

Curriculum Corporation

  • Project Director: David Brown
  • Project Manager: Kurt Ambrose
  • Project Advisor: Dr John Hirst
  • Authors: Donald Eddington, Janet King and Kurt Ambrose, with contributions by Stacey Hattensen, Lisa Winbolt, Terence Hastings and Ann Parry

Curriculum Corporation and the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House extend their gratitude to the teachers and students who trialled the materials in their classrooms.

The following sources were drawn on extensively in the preparation of the Getting it Together resources. (Other reference material and further reading can be found in the Bibliography.)

  • Australian Dictionary of Biography, Melbourne University Press, 1976 (Volumes 3, 5–11, and Supplementary Volume).
  • Scott Bennett (ed), Federation, North Melbourne, Cassell Australia Limited, 1975.
  • Helen Irving (ed), The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1999.
  • W Ross Johnston, Documentary History of Queensland, University of Queensland Press, Maryborough, 1988.

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders of sources used in this educational resource. If accidental infringement has occurred, please contact the publishers.