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The Tally Board

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'When the expeditious posters placed the successively gratifying results on the board the people sent up cheers and triumphant shouts which proclaimed a decisive victory and sent a thrill through everyone with any emotional feelings'.

Description from the Adelaide Observer of the crowd at the referendum tally board in front of the Observer office, June 4 1898.

Alternate image text

The Western Australian Record Board with the results of the Federal poll, 31 July 1900. Battye Library 949P

As the referendum results became known major city newspapers made them available to the public on large tally boards. Crowds gathered at these boards and there were frequent outbursts of patriotic sentiment.

Who voted in the Referendum?

Today, all Australian citizens over 18 are eligible to vote. At the time of the federation referendums you may not have held that right. With different eligibility laws in each colony, could you have voted for the Australian constitution?

You could vote if you were:

  • male British citizen resident in one of the colonies over the age of 21.

  • A naturalised male over the age of 21.

  • A woman over 21 in South Australia and Western Australia.

  • An Aboriginal male in all colonies except Queensland and Western Australia. (Evidence suggests this right was only exercised in South Australia.)

  • An Aboriginal woman in South Australia.

Voting in the referendums was not compulsory. In no colony did more than 46.63% of qualified voters cast a vote. The constitution itself, and the economic issues involved, were difficult to understand. At an Adelaide polling booth one man spoiled his ballot paper by writing across it: 'Only lawyers understand this'.