Life in Australia from Federation to WW1 (1901-1914)
Complete overview at Squirk!
What important things were happening in our country over 100 years ago?
Check out this detailed timeline... How many times do you see the word "FIRST"?
1. Federation
Before Federation, Australia existed as six independent colonies. Each colony had its own set of laws and its own defence force. To cross from New South Wales in to Victoria you would have to pass through customs (and probably pay some money) and you would be carefully checked to see if you were carrying any diseases. If you were travelling on a train between states, you would have to change trains because the tracks were different widths in different colonies.Despite this many were reluctant to change to a Federal system.

In the late (19th there were efforts to convince the states to federate under one government, led by the Premier of NSW – Henry Parkes. He led the conventions which discussed the constitution and was the main spokesman. In 1897, representatives from each colony were invited to write our Constitution i.e. the rules for how the governments will work. When it was finished being written, the people of Australia were asked to vote YES or NO to the Constitution in a 'referendum'. Finally, by 1900, most people voted 'YES'.
There were some important reasons for federating:

  • one national defence force
  • united and stronger economy
  • organised transport and communication
  • national pride
  • some believed it meant a chance to maintain a "white Australia"

Sydney, and many other towns in Australia, put on a huge procession to celebrate the day that Australia became a nation - 1st January 1901. The procession passed under ten decorated arches. Thousands watched as soldiers, fire-fighters, bakers, bishops, and carriages full of important people passed by. That day, in Centennial Park in Sydney, our first Prime Minister (Edmund Barton) and our first Governor-General (Lord Hopetoun) were sworn in. Australia now had a Commonwealth Government and was a constitutional monarchy.

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a ball to celebrate Federation


Australia maintained a strong tie to Britain. Our forms of law and government were based on the British system, the Queen was our head of state and we were proud to be a self-governing nation within the British Empire. And the states, as you know, still existed, with elected governments now responsible for set areas such as schools,roads and hospitals). Learn more here...links to all you need to know!
Find interesting sources at these sites:
national archives
sa state library
http://www.abc.net.au/federation/
watch a film of the events here! (One of the earliest Australian films ever!)

2. New Laws for a New Nation

*Immigration Restriction Act - 1901

  • among the first laws passed - although it does not include racist comments, its intention was to keep out non-whites. It was enforced with a "dictation test". The population at the time was almost all British in origin, and it was seen as a threat to society to allow in other races.
*voting rights for women -1901
  • When Federation was achieved, women, Aboriginals and Asians were still denied the right to vote in Federal elections.
  • many women campagned to have this changed - they were called 'suffragettes' [suffrage=right to vote].
  • famous suffragettes were Louisa Lawson and Vida Goldstein.
  • more detail?>
3.. What was life like at the turn of the century?
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melbourne in 1900s

The population was made up mostly of people of British descent. Of the one million people who had come to Australia between 1860 and 1900, almost all (95 per cent) were English, Irish or Scots. The population was less than 4 million, and most were proud to belong to the British Empire. Read about the cultural influences and patterns of immigration at this time here.
Which was the largest group in the population?

The lives of Australians at this time depended significantly on their social class. In 1900 Australia had a much more rigid class system, which had been in part derived from England’s traditional social structure. At the top, in the ‘Government House’ set, were wealthy graziers – who spent some of their time on their properties and some in their city mansions – high-ranking officers of the armed services, the judiciary, wealthy businessmen, professional men and politicians and clergy – preferably Anglican – above a certain rank. Wives, of course, acquired the status of their husbands and assumed airs and graces. A male member of this upper crust probably belonged to an exclusive club, had a town house, employed servants, rode in an elegant carriage, sat in the Legislative Council and, when he felt like it, took a leisurely sea trip ‘home’ to England.
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At the Flemington races early 1900s - popular with wealthier classes.




















The middle class, always a less distinct group, included professional men of lesser standing, small businessmen and a variety of salary – as distinct from wage – earners. They lived in ‘villas’ in the suburbs, travelling to work by train, bus, tram or ferry.
Here is a sample of a typical middle-class 'Federation' home...

The working class, skilled and unskilled, comprised the great majority of the city dwellers. Most of them lived in the inner suburbs, perhaps within walking distance of work. They lived in terraces built in the 1880s, or cottages built even earlier, paying from 6s to l0s [$31 to $52] a week in rent. The poorest of these sometimes lived in squalid, slums.

Look at these images of slum areas of Sydney at the turn of the century. The men are trying to get rid of the rats they believed was carrying the plague. Look at the squalid tenement housing of the inner city.


In the country, at the top of the social pyramid was the grazier in his comfortable station homestead where he perhaps dressed for dinner. The more land he owned and the longer it had been in the family, the greater was his prestige. Below him, in the country town, was an upper middle class, which included the bank manager, the doctor, the lawyer and the clergyman. Lower down the scale were the school teacher, the chemist, the estate agent and the small shopkeeper. At the bottom came the artisan and unskilled worker.
For detailed statistics about society at this time, look here.

Here are photos of rural NSW from the same time. Where would you rather have lived?
My place 1908.
Travel by tram up George Street in 1906 in this amazing video! You can see wealthy shoppers, working class people, carts and horses. Watch it carefully for evidence of working lives, transport - trams and horse-drawn carts - , businesses, fashionable men and women, burning rubbish, mud, electricity poles..
Closer to home, the city of Newcastle was also developing, and these photos record the lives of working people in the early 1900s.
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shearers 1900s



*New technologies
List the inventions from the turn of the century and write a sentence about how each improved quality of life. (p 7 Retro 2)
*Having fun in the 1900s
*Moving Pictures! Major cities open theatres to show the first silent movies [Sydney in 1905] - Australians made some great ones. Watch clips from "The Kelly Gang" from 1906 here *
Surf bathing became acceptable! Find out about the first life-saving clubs here, and about the first surf boards here. But modesty was the order of the day - see the swimming costume below.
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Beach going French's beach Sydney 1902


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a bathing suit aroudn 1905


*bush walking or day trips if you were lucky enough to own a car.
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Day trips to the Blue Mountains...



















*Picnics - especially on Sunday after Church
*sport - especially tennis, cricket
*music - people made their own, singing round the pianola!



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the popular new bicycle






new - just in! great place **




Assessment taskMY ALBUM