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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, colonisation, federation, invasion, 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


This Digital Resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
A student
5.1 responds to and composes increasingly sophisticated and sustained texts for understanding, interpretation, critical analysis and pleasure
5.4 selects and uses language forms and features, and structures of texts according to different purposes, audiences and contexts, and describes and explains their effects on meaning
5.6 experiments with different ways of imaginatively and interpretively transforming experience, information and ideas into texts

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 1901 Australia became a new ‘nation’. Write a 100-word explanation of what that means and how it relates to you.
    2. Why, according to the video clip, were people at the time so anxious about defence — why did they think it was needed and was important?
    3. State reasons why the British military leader Kitchener was brought to Australia in 1909
    1. Construct a detailed list of images used in the video clip then divide them into images that show Australian progress and images that reflect Australian fear of invasion.
    2. The main message 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. Discuss how this awareness of the vulnerability of Australia to being attacked might influence the message and construction of the video clip.
  1. 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. Your audience is the Australian public in 1890.

Use the information and images in the video clip to create your poster. It must include at least 300 words of text.

Literacy Activity: Focus = Listening / Responding

  1. Where was the original centre of the new commonwealth? (1 mark)
  2. Why do you think the outback was called the ‘never never’? (1 mark)
  3. What are the reasons we are given for the need for a national plan for defence? (2 marks)
  4. How long after Federation (1901) was a national plan of defence organised? (1 mark)

Further Resources


Garry Disher, Divine Wind, Hodder Headline, Australia, 1998
George Johnston, My Brother Jack, Harper Collins, Australia, 1964