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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, World War 1, see all tags


Federation and Defending Our Shores

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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


Historical Knowledge and Understanding
At Level 6, students analyse events which contributed to Australia’s social, political and cultural development. These events could include: the events leading to Federation and Federation.

Historical reasoning and interpretation
At Level 6 students locate relevant resources, including online resources. They identify, comprehend and evaluate a range of primary and secondary sources. They critically evaluate sources of evidence for context, information, reliability, completeness, objectivity and bias.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority 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’. What does that mean?
  2. Some aspects of life are better dealt with by a national government, rather than by separate state governments. Make a list of some of those national issues.
    Clearly defence is a power better given to a national parliament than to separate state parliaments. It was one of the powers given to the new Commonwealth Parliament in the 1901 Constitution for Australia. 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. One of the key elements of Kitchener’s recommendations was the creation of a scheme of compulsory military training for all Australians aged 12–18. Research and report on how this form of ‘boy conscription’ was accepted in Australian society.
    Australians often like to see themselves as anti-authoritarian. How can they reconcile this supposed element of national identity with the reaction to the ‘boy conscription’ scheme?

Further Resources


Go to Documenting a Democracy