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Image The 'West Australian' polling board for the Federation referendum, 1900

TLF ID R3045

This is a black-and-white photograph that shows a huge polling board with the results of the Federation referendum in Western Australia, which was held on 31 July 1900. The board shows that Western Australia voted to join the Commonwealth of Australia by 44,652 votes to 19,636. It also shows the results for each of the electorates in the colony. A group of politicians and campaigners is seated in front of the board, which was erected outside the offices of 'The West Australian' newspaper in Perth. The photograph measures 29.6 cm x 36.7 cm.

Educational details

Educational value
  • This asset reveals that a referendum was held in Western Australia to determine whether the colony should ratify the Australian Constitution - referendums were held in each of the Australian colonies between 1898 and 1900 asking voters to either accept or reject the amended Commonwealth Constitution Bill, which allowed for the federation of the colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia and the formation of a federal government; the Constitution Convention, which drew up the Constitution, felt that federation should only proceed if the Constitution had 'the approval of the people'.
  • It shows the polling board that was erected outside the offices of 'The West Australian' - the newspaper reported that the polling board 'with the various electorates painted plainly upon it, and the arrangement for the "Yes" and "No" totals on the top, the whole lighted with three electric lights, was favourably commented upon by a rapidly increasing crowd'.
  • It indicates that the Western Australian referendum was held in July 1900, which was after the other colonies had approved federation - WA did not participate in the first unsuccessful referendum held in 1898 because of fears that federation would benefit New South Wales and Victoria at the cost of the economically smaller states, particularly once the protective tariffs imposed by each colony were removed; other colonies approved federation in a second referendum held in 1899, but the WA Government delayed until 1900 in the hope of winning economic concessions.
  • It suggests that Western Australia was slow to embrace the idea of federation - the WA Government held the referendum only after it became clear that the other colonies would go ahead with federation regardless of WA; the delay meant that the Constitution became law in the United Kingdom a fortnight before the WA referendum; growing support for the 'Separation for Federation' movement that wanted to form a new colony based around the gold fields, which would secede from WA and federate with the rest of Australia, also forced the WA Government to act.
  • It gives an indication of the results of the Western Australian referendum - out of 96,065 registered WA electors, a total of 44,800 voted in favour of federation with 19,691 opposed; voting was not compulsory and nearly a third of the electorate did not cast a ballot; while women were permitted to vote for the first time in WA, Indigenous people and non-Europeans were excluded from voting.
  • It demonstrates that federation received the most support in gold field electorates such as East Coolgardie and Dundas - the gold fields, which included many immigrants from the eastern colonies, returned the strongest vote in favour of federation of more than 20 to 1; only in the more conservative and established districts of the western coast did the 'No' vote narrowly prevail.
  • It shows some of those who were involved in the campaign for federation - the Australian Natives' Association (for Australian-born white people) and the West Australian Federal League promoted federation and nationalism in Western Australia; those who advocated a 'yes' vote in the referendum were known as 'billites'.
  • It indicates that the referendum was used in this period - the referendum was a relatively new concept; it was used for the first time in Australia to ratify the Constitution, and was included in the Constitution (Section 128) as the means of making constitutional alterations.
Year level

4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9; 10; 11; 12

Learning area
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

  • Author
  • Name: NSW Bookstall Company
  • Organization: NSW Bookstall Company
  • Description: Author
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Description: Content provider
  • URL:
  • Name: NSW Bookstall Company
  • Organization: NSW Bookstall Company
  • Description: Author
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: National Library of Australia
  • Organization: National Library of Australia
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
Access profile
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Learning Resource Type
  • Image
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Library of Australia, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements