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Federation and Defending Our Shores

Video clip synopsis – Federation was a time of jobs and opportunities. With our 12,000 mile coast Australia needed a defence force.
Year of production - 1909
Duration - 2min 12sec
Tags - Australian History, British Empire, defence, federation, see all tags


Federation and Defending Our Shores

How to Download the Video Clip

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About the Video Clip


Federation and Defending Our Shores is an excerpt from the film Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 (34 mins), produced in 1951.

Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951: Produced by the Australian National Film Board to celebrate the Jubilee of Federation, Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 provides an historical review of the development of the nation between 1901 and 1951. The film opens with the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) to Australia in 1901 to open the first Commonwealth Parliament. Through the use of historical footage, the film not only covers notable events in the Commonwealth story but also social development, fashions and economic growth over the period.

Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 was produced by the Department of the Interior.

Curriculum Focus


The viewing of this clip and the completion of the Classroom Activities can be used to achieve the following Outcomes:

5.1 explains social, political and cultural developments and events and evaluates their impact on Australian life
5.5 identifies, comprehends and evaluates historical sources
5.8 locates, selects and organizes relevant historical information from a number of sources, including ICT, to undertake historical inquiry

Students have the opportunity through accessing this Australians at Work on-line video clip to develop the ICT skill of comprehending and using historical sources including a website.

In respect to what students learn about: viewing this clip and completing the associated classroom activities, gives students the opportunity to learn about how people lived in Australia around the turn of the century and about some of the reasons for Federation.

In respect to what students learn to: viewing this clip and completing the associated classroom activities allows students to use primary sources to describe features of lifestyle of a variety of social groups and to explain some arguments for federation.

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

Background Information


Before 1901 Australia was a collection of separate colonies. Each was part of the British Empire, but they were not formally linked together, other than by being on the same area of land and all being British colonies.

Federation changed that. The Federation process of the 1890s resulted in the creation of a new nation, Australia, by the voluntary joining together of the six separate colonies. Each colony gave up some of its powers to the new national parliament, though each remained tied to Britain, as did the new Commonwealth of Australia.

In 1909 the British military leader Kitchener was brought to Australia to make recommendations about the nature of the new national defence forces and his report led to the creation of the system that would be in place when Australia entered World War 1 in 1914.

In considering why Federation occurred, historians are always conscious of the role of defence. They disagree, however, about how significant a force the need to come together for defence purposes was in breaking down the separate colonies’ reservations about creating the new nation. Was it a major motivation? Or was it one of a number of factors that helped create a climate in which Federation was more likely to occur?

Classroom Activities

  1. In the clip it is reported that Australia became a new ‘nation’ in 1901. What does that mean?
    Imagine that you have been asked by a pro-Federation group in 1890 to design a poster that will focus on national defence as a reason for federating the six existing colonies into the new nation, Australia. Use the information and images in the video clip to sketch out the contents and approach you would take in the poster.
  2. Defence was one of the powers given to the new Commonwealth Parliament in the 1901 Constitution for Australia. From the film clip what can you ascertain was the reason why a defence force was considered necessary?

Apart from defence, some other aspects of life are better dealt with by a national government, rather than by separate state governments. Make a list of such aspects.
Looking at the images presented in the video clip, what was the nature of Australia’s defences and defence forces in 1901?
Why was the British military leader Kitchener brought to Australia in 1909?

  1. From watching the clip list some of the various jobs Australians were involved in at the turn of last century. Try to include jobs in both the cities and ‘the never never’.
    What else can you discern about life in Australia around the turn of last century from watching the clip?
  2. The main emphasis of the video clip is the fear of invasion. This video clip, though it shows footage from the early 1900s, was made in 1951 only nine years after enemy forces had bombed various parts of Australia and had looked like they might invade. How might this awareness of the vulnerability of Australia to being attacked influence the interpretation or representation of the past that is being offered here?

Further Resources


Documenting a Democracy