This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use

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, civics and citizenship, discrimination, federation, immigration, see all tags


Edmund Barton and the Velvet Soap Advertisement

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 barton_pr.mp4 (36.9MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 barton_bb.mp4 (17.4MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

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


In this English unit students will learn:

  • about the influence of culture and history on the production and reading of media texts
  • about aspects of the early history of Australia and its media
  • about the way language is used in documentary and advertising to position viewers and how to evaluate this use
  • how to respond in various ways to media constructions of events and issues.

Outcomes from this module

Viewing and creating texts about Edmund Barton and the Velvet Soap advertisement, students will have the opportunity to explicitly develop and demonstrate their knowledge and abilities in terms of:

Affective objectives

  • enjoying: experiencing and expressing thoughts and emotional reactions
  • engaging: participating effectively in activities that involve connecting with people, feelings, places, ideas, issues and events
  • relating: respecting and valuing cultural similarities and differences
  • appreciating: valuing the world(s) in which they live in order to understand better the world of others
  • playing: experimenting with the flexible nature of language, exploring its possibilities, and creating desired effects

Knowledge and control of texts in their contexts

  • using and controlling texts in their contexts, by making choices of register to achieve particular purposes in particular cultural contexts and social situations
  • establishing and making use of the ways that writers, speakers/signers and shapers’ roles and their relationships with their readers, listeners and viewers are influenced by power, distance and affect
  • using modes and mediums, combining where necessary, to interpret and produce texts.

Knowledge and control of textual features

  • considering and selecting vocabulary, including figurative language
  • experimenting with visual, auditory and digital features, using them in combination as appropriate in written, spoken/signed and multimodal texts to make meaning
  • making use of a range of spoken/signed and non-verbal features

Knowledge and application of the constructedness of texts

  • making use of their knowledge that discourses shape and are shaped by language choices
  • exploring ways that cultural assumptions, values, beliefs and attitudes underpin texts
  • choosing ways to represent concepts, and the relationships and identities of individuals, groups, times and places
  • considering ways that readers, viewers or listeners are invited to take up positions in relation to texts or parts of texts, and making decisions about which reading position to adopt

This is an extract only. Teachers and students should consult Queensland Curriculum: Learning, Teaching and Assessment for updated curriculum 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

  1. Discussing the clip
    1. Who is Edmund Barton?
    2. What is the White Australia Policy?
    3. How do the nicknames of the various Prime Ministers and the Warren Brown’s sketches influence your view of these men?
    4. Why is the viewer informed early in the clip that Edmund Barton’s nickname was ‘Tosspot Toby’? How did he acquire this nickname? Is any evidence provided to support this?
    5. How does Brown’s narration try to use language in a way that the implications of this nickname are dismissed?
    6. What was your initial reaction to the Velvet Soap advertisement? How did this change by the end of the film? Did the historical context enable you to read the advertisement ‘better’ or ‘differently’ from how you would have otherwise?
    7. Pause the film and analyse the way that visual and written language is used in the advertisement. What are the possible literal and connotative meanings of this advertisement?
    8. What effect do different visuals have on the way the slogan ‘washes linen snow white’ might be read? Of what does ‘snow white’ remind you?
    9. Who could laugh at this advertisement and accept the ‘messages’ as natural and commonsense? Why does Brown suggest that contemporary readers might cringe?
    10. Does this advertisement deserve to be a national treasure? Do you accept Brown’s justification?
  2. Doing
    1. Imagine you are a Pacific Islander, Torres Strait Islander or indigenous Australian. Create a new narration for this film which tells the story from your point of view.
    2. Drawing on your knowledge of contemporary events, design and produce your own advertisement for a product such as soap. Prepare to ‘pitch’ this advertisement to your client – you will need to explain why it would be effective for the target market.
    3. Analyse and evaluate the textual and cultural resources used in a current advertising campaign. Present this as a speech to the class (accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation) or as part of a website.
    4. Uncover some other little known or obscure stories from Australian history and tell these as part of a class or school storytelling festival.

Further Resources


National Archives of Australia Australian Prime Ministers website

For more photographs, cartoons and other historical images of this Prime Minister go to the National Library of Australia website and search using the Prime Minister’s name.