Investigation 1

What were the issues as Victorians considered whether or not to support Federation?

For many Victorians, the decision to vote for or against Federation depended on how such an event 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 Victorians in the 1880s and 1890s included the ability to defend themselves against foreign powers, immigration, freedom of trade between the colonies, control of, and access to, the Murray River system and women’s right to vote. There was a widespread belief that it was time to take action to bring about change and build a better future. Many people believed that Federation was important to achieving these objectives.

Your Task

Explore the issues as Victorians considered the advantages and disadvantages of Federation.


  1. Form six groups. Each group will study one of the issues: immigration, trade, river, railways, defence and voting rights for women, by examining the items. In your groups, discuss the following questions and record your answers.
    • What do your primary sources say about the issue?
    • Who might they have been created for?
    • Could the issue have been used as a reason for Victorians to federate with the other colonies?
    • Could the issue have been used as a reason not to federate?
  2. Based on what you know and what you have read about your issue, use the ‘choices and consequences chart’ to record:
    • the issue;
    • the positive (pluses) and negative (minuses) consequences for taking action on the issue;
    • the positive and negative consequences for taking no action on the issue; and
    • your group’s position on the issue if they had lived in Victoria at the time.
  3. Share your group’s chart with the class. As a class, discuss the following question.
    • 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?