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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: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 9-10
Strand: Time, continuity and change
Theme: Wartime Work

Key Concepts

Federation; Defence; Colony; Empire; Invasion

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Time, continuity and change, High school band
NSW:History, Stage 5, Topic 1
NT:Social systems and structures — Time, continuity and change Band 5, SOC 5.1
Qld:History Years 9 and 10, Time, continuity and change Level 6, TCC6.1
SA:Time, continuity and change, Standard 5
Tas:Social responsibility — Understanding the past and creating preferred futures
Vic:History Level 6, 6.2
WA:Time, continuity and change — Early adolescence

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 the 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?

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?

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 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?

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Use the information and images in the video clip to sketch out the contents and approach you would take in the poster.

Modules That Use This Clip

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