Today marks 162 years since the Eureka Stockade

Eureka anniversary observed in Ballarat

Contributed by Ben Wilson

On 3 December 1854, the Miners at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat made their stand against injustice and wrote one of the moist important pages in Australian history. Although the rebellion was militarily defeated, it proved to be the catalyst that gave birth to a new nation, by putting an end to colonial power and the

Eureka put an end the idea that a handful were born to rule on the basis position and money and that everyone else should serve obediently. It brought in the revolutionary idea that ordinary working people have the right to assert their own interests.

The American writer Mark Twain wrote, ‘It was a revolution—small in size; but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for principle, a stand against injustice and oppression … It is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle’.

Eureka ultimately succeeded because the rebels had the overwhelming support of the population. It went far beyond the goldfields. Media reports at the time of the trials suggested that 1 in 5 Melbournians were there to voice their  support for the accused. Scared of the possible consequences, the authorities  backtracked and those arrested were finally set free.

Not long after, Peter Lawler, the leader of the Eureka rebellion became premier of Victoria, on the back of his personal popularity and the political momentum towards nationhood and democracy that Eureka had unleashed.

Although the immediate catalysts had been police brutality, the miners licence and the burning down of the Eureka Hotel, it became much more than this, as the miners made the oath to defend their rights and liberties.,

The Eureka rebellion also represented a land of people who had come from many countries, diverse cultures and religious beliefs. Some of the participants came from England. Many of these were supporters of the Chartists, which was the first labour movement to rise in the United Kingdom. There were Irish Republicans. The writer of the story and second in command at the stockade, Raffeallo Carboni, was an Italian who had been one of Garibaldi’s men. There were those from other parts of Europe. Among the Americans there was a group of former African American slaves. There were also Chinese supporters of the rebellion and there is some evidence that local Indigenous people helped.

Eureka represented the birth of multicultural Australia, a diversity of humanity, united in building a new nation based on equality and rejection of the old world of kings and queens and the privileges held by a few over the many. Eureka represented the stirrings of republicanism.

The symbol of all this was the Southern Cross flag that flew over the stockade on Bakery Hill. In the years that followed, it became a standard of the emerging nation, and of working people standing up for their rights. At one and the same time, the Southern Cross became an official emblem and has been present at every major battle of the downtrodden. the downtrodden. It represented the maturation of the trade union movement. Unionists carried it during the shearers and miners strikes of the 1890’s. The Southern Cross was a standard during the anti-conscription movement of the First World War and has been an important part of trade union identity up till now.

The flag cannot be considered as a union banner and no more. In a broader sense, the legacy of Eureka and the flag bloodied at Bakery Hill, is that it represents all those who battle against injustice and the yearn to build a better future Australia for working people, becoming an indispensable part of the Australian identity.

This stands in stark contrast to the identity is pushed from some quarters, which sides with empire, supports the privilege of a few and the disadvantage of other, and works to divide Australians by colour, ethnicity and faith. Those promote this have nothing to do with the legacy of Eureka and the Southern Cross.

There is a lot of unfinished business to be taken care of, before it can be said that the mission of Eureka had been completed. On observing the 160 anniversary, we are reminded that we have work to do.

 

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