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Edmund Barton and the Velvet Soap Advertisement

Video clip synopsis – The Velvet Soap advertising campaign is a tongue-in-cheek reminder of Edmund Barton’s hand in formulating the White Australia policy.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - Australian History, biography, federation, icons, identity, national identity, politics, Prime Ministers, White Australia Policy, see all tags


Edmund Barton and the Velvet Soap Advertisement

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About the Video Clip


Edmund Barton and the Velvet Soap Advertisement is an episode from the series The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures, produced in 2007.

The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures
Award winning cartoonist and yarn spinner, Warren Brown, reveals the emotional lives of Australian Prime Ministers through 10 objects they used every day or even adored – from Robert Menzies’ home movie camera, to Joseph Lyons’ love letters, Harold Holt’s briefcase and Ben Chifley’s pipe. These treasures reveal the nation’s leaders, as you have never seen them before.

The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures is a Film Australia National Interest Program produced in association with Old Parliament House and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Outcome 7

A student thinks critically and interpretively using information, ideas and increasingly complex arguments to respond to and compose texts in a range of contexts.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


The first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmund Barton, was born in Sydney on 18 January 1849 and qualified as a lawyer from the University of Sydney after lecturing in Classics. A passionate politician, Barton was first elected to the Legislative Assembly of New South Wales in 1879.

Barton endorsed Henry Parkes’ call for Federation in 1889. Some sort of federation of the Australian colonies had been suggested as early as 1846. But progress was agonisingly slow. The colonies often agreed in principle to the desirability of Federation, but found the devil in the detail.

At the first session of the Australasian Constitutional Convention, held in Adelaide in April, 1889 Barton said: 'We all lose something; we all gain something, not only in the method and manner of Federation, but our gain is limitless, if we are to consider, as we must, what the outcome of Federation will be to all these colonies.’

Between 1893 and 1897 Barton passionately devoted himself to the Federation movement. Federation seemed likely in the early 1890s but foundered because of the reluctance of New South Wales. However as the nineteenth century drew to a close, an agreement seemed again achievable.

By the end of the century Barton had overseen the drafting of the amended Constitution, its protracted and difficult passing through the NSW Legislative Assembly and Council, as well as an extensive campaign through two referenda to its eventual approval by the British Parliament in 1900.

Barton was appointed the nation’s first Prime Minister, taking the portfolio of Minister of External Affairs.

The Velvet Soap advertising campaign is a tongue-in-cheek reminder of Edmund Barton’s hand in formulating the White Australia policy. Barton also helped draft the Federal Constitution, created the High Court, and presided over the formulation of federal industrial relations and the legal system. Without him the wayward states may never have federated.

Edmund Barton (1849 -1920) was Prime Minister of Australia from January 1901 to September 1903. The Velvet Soap ad is held at Old Parliament House in Canberra

Classroom Activities


Writing a biography

One form of communication about a Prime Minister can be through a biography.

A biography of a Prime Minister should tell us about:

  • The person’s background
  • His life before politics — and how that shaped his later life
  • Why the person entered politics
  • How the person became Prime Minister
  • What the person achieved, and failed to achieve, as Prime Minister
  • The influence of others on him in the role
  • His life after the Prime Ministership
  • An assessment or evaluation of the impact of the role on him, and his impact on the nation.

You should research these aspects, and then use the object as a way of focusing on or introducing your biographical story to your readers.

Your presentation can be as:

  • A journalistic article
  • An imaginary memoir
  • A formal biographical article
  • A PowerPoint-supported oral presentation
  • A debate (e.g. that Prime Minister X contributed more to Australia than Prime Minister Y)
  • Or some other format.

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers
Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography