Eureka: Born Under the Southern Cross
“I hate the oppressor …. and called on all my fellow diggers, irrespective of nationality, religion and colour, to salute the Southern Cross as the refuge of all the oppressed from all countries on earth.” Raffaello Carboni.
THE Eureka Stockade is something every Australian should see before they die.
Just like Uluru. Just like Botany Bay. Just like Sydney Cove.
Eureka lives large in the nation’s consciousness as the site where ordinary Australians made a stand against repressive actions by the police force and the military.
On December 3, 1854, Australia’s only armed civil uprising took place on the Ballarat goldfields in Victoria. The rebellion by miners drew a line in the sand with blood – against oppressive laws.
Today, at a time when countries around the world are examining where their sense of values lie, it is worth looking at Eureka and seeing what lessons it has taught the generations that followed the uprising.
While values can lie in the eyes of the beholder it is essential mankind remembers that it is the virtues we live by that defines who we are.
Virtue is not only what is seen to be right. It is what is right. Virtue, justice, integrity.
EUREKA: A visit to the Stockade is a lesson in life and history
Today, the Eureka Stockade provides a dramatic focus in which to explore, interpret and contemplate the events surrounding that uprising in Ballarat in the days shortly after Victoria became a colony.
In July 1851, gold was discovered at Clunes and Buninyong, then in the creeks and gullies of Ballarat. The population dramatically increased from a handful of diggers to 45,000.
The Victorian Government, in order to pay for its services and to control the diggers, imposed a tax of 30 shillings ($3) a month in the form of a licence to dig for gold. The licence was a tax on labour rather than on the gains of their labour.
The licence fee was also imposed without granting a voice to the diggers who could neither stand for nor be represented in parliament.
The newly-appointed governor, Sir Charles Hotham did not agree with the licence but had been told before his departure from London that he must enforce it.
Raffaello Carboni, an Italian who became an active participant in the uprising, gives an eyewitness account in his book The Eureka Stockade, first published in 1855.
The fact that police received half of the fine that accompanied the failure to produce a licence obviously played a part in the number of licence hunts that were carried out and the ferocity.
Although unrest was widespread throughout other Victorian goldfields it reached boiling point at Ballarat on October 7, 1854, when a young Scottish digger James Scobie was killed outside the Eureka Hotel.
Many diggers believed the proprietor of the hotel, James Bentley, was responsible for Scobie’s death but when brought before a friendly magistrate he was discharged.
During what was described by Carboni described in his writings as a “monster meeting of enraged diggers’’, the hotel was burnt to the ground.
Political agitation grew daily and a Ballarat Reform League was established at Bakery Hill in front of 10,000 miners.
It demanded a thorough reform of Governor Sir Charles Hotham’s government and administration of the goldfields.
Hotham refused to compromise with a deputation of diggers pleading for a peaceful resolution to the issue. Instead, he increased numbers of troops at Ballarat and ordered further licence hunts.
Another monster meeting of diggers at Bakery Hill on November 29 saw the newly-created flag of the Southern Cross flown for the first time and the burning of some gold licences.
The unrest came to a head at dawn on Sunday, December 3, 1854.
“Some 120 angry miners were caught by surprise by police and soldiers,” Carboni wrote. “They were the few left on guard at the flimsy fortification, called a stockade by the government, but which was erected by the miners to deter police from carrying out bullying hunts for gold mining licences at the point of a bayonet or the barrel of a rifle.”
A well-armed and highly-trained force of 296 troopers attacked the diggers in the stockade. The bloody battle lasted 20 minutes, leaving 35 men dead on the hill overlooking the Ballarat goldfields.
After the battle, 125 arrests were made yet only 13 stood on trial in Melbourne, charged with high treason. They were all rapidly acquitted.
Today, the Eureka Centre in the Eureka Stockade precinct provides a dramatic focus in which to explore, interpret and contemplate the events surrounding the uprising.
Irishman Peter Lalor was appointed leader of the Ballarat diggers as their commander in chief prior to the battle at the stockade. He was severely wounded during the battle and later had his arm amputated.
Lalor remained in hiding until after the State Treason Trials. Eventually he was elected to the Legislative Council in November 1855 and appointed Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.
In the years after Eureka, all the reforms demanded by the diggers were granted. The licence fee was abolished and replaced by a Miner’s Right.
It could be said that Eureka was the birthplace of the Australian spirit. What the diggers wanted was a fair go.
Now, 153 years on, the battle may have been lost but Eureka is a victory worthy of commemoration and celebration.
■ The Eureka Centre, cnr Eureka and Rodier Streets, Ballarat. Admission includes family tickets and concessions for seniors as well as pensioners. Inquiries: 03 5333 1854 or www.eureka-ballarat.com
The name Ballarat was derived from Wathaurong dialect, meaning “resting place’’, and was originally a stock station established by William Cross Yuille and Henry Anderson in 1838.
◗ The area flourished in the early 1850s when gold was discovered and an estimated 200,000 ounces of gold are said to have been found there.
◗ With a huge influx of people and wealth as a major participant in the Gold Rush, Ballarat was, for a time, Victoria’s largest township. It was proclaimed a city in 1871.
◗ Ballarat is Victoria’s third largest city, home of Mars bars, McCain’s frozen foods and of Rivers shoes and clothing. Lake Wendouree was the site of the rowing events at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.
FAMOUS SONS, DAUGHTERS, AND RESIDENTS
Australian prime ministers Alfred Deakin, John Curtin and James Scullin; Victorian premiers Steve Bracks, Sir Henry Bolte, Duncan Gillies and Thomas Hollway; AFL footballer Tony Lockett, Brownlow Medallist and holder of the all-time goalkicking record; Olympic marathon runner Steve Moneghetti; Leslie Morshead, regarded as one of Australia’s two greatest generals; Geoffrey Blainey, Historian and foundation chancellor of the University of Ballarat.