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Video Clip Synopsis:
Federation was a time of jobs and opportunities in city and country alike. But our 12,000-mile coast was long and open to attack. Australia realised it needed a defence force.

2min 12sec

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.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: English
Year: 9-10
Theme: Wartime Work

Key Concepts

Federation; Defence; Colony; Empire; Invasion

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Everyday texts – Language: Contextual understanding
NSW:(1997 Syllabus) C5 Mass media
(2003 Syllabus) Stage 5 Outcome 4
NT:R/V 5.1 – 5.3
R/V 5+.1-5+.3
Qld:Cr 6.2
SA:Texts and contexts 5.3
Tas:Communicating – Being literate, Standard 4
Vic:Reading – Texts 6.6
WA:Understanding Language
Attitudes, values and beliefs

Context / 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 One 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?

Discussion Pointers

In 1901 Australia became a new ‘nation’. What does that mean?

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 why was it so important?

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?

The main emphasis of the video clip is about the fear of invasion. This 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 attack, influence the interpretation or representation of the past that is being offered here?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. War is a terrible thing. But many times in the past Australians have been asked to make a decision about joining in wars. What might you do if you are asked to be part of a war? Look at the following situations, discuss them, and use them to work out your own attitudes and values towards war.
    • Supposing there has been much news recently about Australia's deteriorating relationship with a northern neighbour. This neighbour has been insulting and criticising us, and allowing its nationals to stray into Australian fishing waters. The Australian Government decides this is damaging Australia's international reputation and depleting our natural resources, and declares war on the country. It calls for volunteers. Will you join up?
    • Would your answer be different if the government promises you tax-free pay, and a very low-interest home loan on your return?
    • The situation is the same as 1 above, but the Government decides to conscript young men and women of your age group to go to fight. Do you accept this? (There is a very severe punishment for failure to accept this conscription.)
    • There is a Nazi resurgence in a European country. This country threatens to overrun the borders of some of its neighbours, and to take those countries over. There is a call for Australian volunteers to fight as part of a United Nations force. Will you join?
    • Consider another situation: Australia is about to be invaded by its northern neighbour - will you fight?
    • Now the neighbour is about to invade not us, but New Zealand. The government of the invading nation assures Australia that it will not interfere with Australia in any way, but that its conflict is only with New Zealand. Will you fight to help New Zealand?
    • Consider the answers you have given to each of these situations. Is there any pattern? Would you be prepared to fight:
      • under no circumstances?
      • only if forced to?
      • for a matter of high principle?
      • only where your own country is under threat?
      • for your personal advantage?
      • for your country's advantage?
  2. Rank these in the order that you think suits your attitudes and values on this issue, and discuss your ranking with a classmate's.
  3. How do you feel about those people who are prepared to go to war in circumstances in which you are not, and which you might feel to be wrong? Do you accept their decisions and reasons, or do you think they should be responding in the same way you are?
  4. For an excellent introduction to the feelings and dilemmas facing young people at the start of a war read John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The World Began and think about your own likely reactions and responses to such a situation.

Modules That Use This Clip

SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12, English Year 9-10