Investigation 1

How did distance and isolation affect Western Australians?

Plans for forming a Commonwealth of Australia were based on the idea that every colony would benefit from belonging to a federal system. The Federal Parliament would represent all colonies and work for the best interests of the country as a whole. For example, a federal defence force would provide the whole nation with protection.

In the years before Federation, many Western Australians wondered whether their colony would really share in the benefits. The colony’s isolation was one of the main reasons for their concern, especially because there was no railway linking Western Australia to the east. Would Western Australia’s politicians be able to participate fully in the government of the nation if the Federal Parliament was based in the east? Would troops arrive quickly enough when Western Australia needed protection? Overall, would communication and transport over long distances be efficient enough? When there were no barriers to trade between the colonies/States, would Western Australian industries be able to survive competition from the east?

Your Task

Explore Western Australia’s isolation in the late 1800s, and how it influenced opinions about Federation.


  1. Brainstorm different kinds of transportation and communications technology. Speculate on the order in which different types of transportation and communication were invented.
  2. Each person in the class will take responsibility for finding out when one type of transportation or communication was invented. As a class, create a human timeline to show when each was invented.
  3. Read 'Isolation' at the State Library of Western Australia website. In your groups, list the forms of communication and transportation Western Australians had in the late 1800s, and the dates when they became available. Does the author suggest that communication and transportation were efficient and convenient? What words in the article support your answer? Were there any types of communication and transportation used in Western Australia that were not mentioned?
  4. In 1899, a parliamentary inquiry investigated whether Western Australia should join with the other Australian colonies in forming one country. Using the template provided, write a submission to the inquiry explaining the effect distance might have on their decision. You might make reference to government, trade and defence. Use a map of Australia to support your submission.