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VCE Humanities

Australian History Unit 4: Transformations - Old Certainties and New Visions


Australian History Unit 3.

Course Description

In this unit students investigate the continuing development of the nation in the early part of the twentieth century and the dramatic changes that occurred in the latter part of the century. After World War One the process of nation building was renewed. However, world events soon intruded again into the lives of all Australians. The economic crisis of the 1930s followed by another world war redirected the nation’s priorities for a time as it struggled to regain economic stability and defeat its military enemies. The experience of both the Depression and World War Two gave rise to renewed thinking by Australians about how to achieve the type of society envisaged at the time of Federation. In Area of Study 1 students focus on one of the crises faced by the nation: World War Two 1939–1945.

In Area of Study 2 students explore social, economic and political changes in the latter part of the twentieth century that collectively challenged and/or overturned much of Australia’s earlier carefully constructed social and economic fabric. Students examine two changes: Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and equality for women.

Areas of Study

Crises that Tested the Nation 1929–1945

  • How did Australia become involved in external crises between 1929 and 1945?
  • What social, economic and political consequences did these crises have on the nation?
  • How did crisis affect the cohesion of the nation?

For the nation, development largely depended on borrowed overseas capital. The collapse of the world financial system after 1929 ended Australia’s easy access to this capital and caused a dramatic rise in unemployment, bankruptcies and home evictions and a decline in the well-being of many people. Governments struggled to find measures to alleviate the crisis that were acceptable to the population as well as the creditors.

The severity with which the crisis affected different groups and how they responded varied significantly. Involvement in the European and then the Pacific War from 1939 finally ended unemployment. However, this war directly threatened Australia and was on a scale not previously experienced by the people. Government actions in aid of the war effort ultimately affected all Australians. Significant numbers of men and women were mobilised into one or other of the defence forces or wartime industries. The presence of American troops, while welcomed, challenged Australian notions of gender relations and manliness. Traditional allegiances to Britain were reconsidered in the face of Britain’s inability to assist Australia when many Australians feared invasion. From 1942 definite steps were taken to plan a better post-war Australia.

Voices for Change 1965–2000

  • What changes were sought in Australian society 1965–2000 and why?
  • What debates were generated about change?
  • To what extent was significant change achieved?

The post-World War Two period in Australia saw increased economic growth and prosperity, technological advances, high employment, increased immigration, a rise in the birth rate, and greater participation in secondary and tertiary education. The Australian economy became more open to global fluctuations. At the same time international movements in Western societies challenged traditional attitudes to areas such as human rights, race and gender. All of these factors induced a climate of change in Australia in the late twentieth century. Change was sometimes initiated by Commonwealth governments and sometimes by the actions of people.

From the 1960s and 1970s changes were sought to Australia’s role in the Vietnam War, Aboriginal land rights, women’s rights, immigration and the closed nature of the economy. During these years opposition to Australia’s involvement to the war in Vietnam grew and encompassed large numbers of young people as well as a growing number of politicians and intellectuals. Eventually public opinion demanded change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, assisted by sympathetic other Australians, used protests to urge changes in government legislation and used the courts to push for land rights; Aboriginal nationalism emerged in this period. Higher education opportunities for women and their wider employment in an expanding economy led to greater aspirations, especially the long denied demand for equal pay. International rejection in a post-colonial era of the acceptability of societies based on racial beliefs slowly brought about the end of the White Australia Policy. This, together with a decline in immigration from Britain and Europe and the emergence of new sources of immigrants, resulted in significant changes to the composition of Australia’s population. The policy of multiculturalism overturned the ideas expressed at Federation that national unity and Australian identity relied on racial homogeneity. During the period there was also a conscious effort to open Australia’s economy to the world, remove tariff protection, sell government enterprises and reduce central arbitration. This resulted in Australia’s economy changing from the highly protected model established at the time of Federation to one of the most open in the developed world.

In this area of study, students examine two changes drawn from Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, Aboriginal land rights, equality for women, new patterns of immigration and/or a global economy.


Outcomes Assessment Tasks Marks Allocated
(school-assessed coursework)
Analyse the social, economic and political consequences of a crisis on the nation. A historical inquiry. 50
Analyse and evaluate two key social, economic and political changes in late twentieth century Australia. Analysis of historical interpretations. 50
Total Marks 100

Overall Final Assessment

Graded Assessment Title Assessment Exam Duration Contribution to Study Score (%)
1 Unit 3 Coursework School-assessed   25
2 Unit 4 Coursework School-assessed   25
3 Written Examination November 2 hours 50


Reproduced by permission of the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victoria, Australia: