Relations between Aborigines and colonists
Friends or foes?
Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?
Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence
The Stolen Generations
It's not so black and white
Not a good fence builder
Mary Anne Bugg
Justice or resistance?
Contemporary racism against Indigenous People
Convicts and their legacy
How the past shapes the present
Regrets and floggings
Power and morality
The Eureka Massacre
The Eureka Stockade (originally referred to as the Eureka Massacre) has an unusually high degree of public consciousness for what reads like a somewhat underwhelming event. It was a fenced off enclosure of Diggers (miners) who in 1854 raised a flag, made speeches of defiance and fired revolvers into the air. Unfortunately, stirring speeches, inspiring flags and guns fired into the air were no match for sound battle planning. After deciding to attack, the British colonial forces took less than 15 minutes to defeat the Diggers and tear down their flag.
While the battle was not a great stand that would resonate alongside the legends of Spartans, the events leading up to it as well as those followed perhaps explain why it has been remembered.
Australia was a corrupt dictatorship for the first 50 years of its modern history. Governors had unquestioned authority and the military used their power to the strategic interests of themselves and the colony's elites. A man could simply be picked off the street and flogged for something as trivial as having his hands in his pockets.
In 1853, the discovery of gold sparked massive waves of immigration. Miners from all over the world descended upon Australia and brought with them ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity. But the authorities treated the new arrivals in the same manner they had been treating the Convicts. They levied a crushing licence tax on the prospectors and troopers used whips, musket butts, boots and bayonets to collect it. Mounted troopers would engage in "Digger hunts" through the goldfields where prospectors would be ridden down in front of their comrades, beaten up, charged, and then fined.
At times, the troopers didn't even bother about hunting the Diggers without a licence. Instead, they would just target any Digger, beat him up, and if need be, have him prosecuted for assault. In one example, troopers targeted a disabled man from Armenia who was a servant to a priest. After being told to produce a licence, the disabled man tried to explain in broken English that he was a servant. Subsequently, the troopers knocked him down, and dragged him over the goldfields. Raffaello Carboni, one of the leaders of the Eureka rebellion, explained the outcome of the disabled man's trial:
"McGregorius is not charged with being without a licence, but with assaulting the trooper Lord - ridiculous! This alters the case. The trooper is called, and says the old story about the execution of 'dooty,' that is, licence-hunting. A respectable witness takes his oath that he saw the trooper strike the foreigner with his clenched fist, and knock him down. The end of the story is in the Ballarat tune, then in vogue: 'Fined five pounds; take him away.' "
Anti-trooper sentiment reached boiling point when a Digger, James Scobie, was murdered on October 17 1854. Some Diggers believed the culprit was the local publican. An angry mob agreed and thousands gathered to deliver the verdict. The local commissioner tried to calm the mob but eggs soon appeared and started being thrown towards his face.
A short time later the publican's hotel was on fire. While it was burning to the ground, liqour bottles were salvaged, distributed to the crowd, and drunk in "colonial style." In other words, the mob got really pissed.
There was great celebration as the hotel finally collapsed in flames. Symbolically, the Diggers saw it as a sign that they were the new masters of the gold field.
November 11 - Proposed changes to the political system
After their hangovers wore off, the Diggers decided that they should formulate some kind of plan that didn't involve throwing eggs and burning down drinking establishments. Consequently, on November 11, a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 Diggers gathered at Bakery Hill, directly opposite the government encampment. The Diggers proposed a series of changes to the political system. These were:
1)A full and fair representation
3)No property qualification for members of the Legislative Council
4)Payment of members
5)Short duration of parliament
November 29 - Burning licences
After proposing a list of changes to the political system, over the next two weeks, the Diggers became impatient that their demands had not been implemented. Calls for democratic change soon morphed into calls for armed rebellion. Consequently, on the 29th of November, 15,000 Diggers gathered for a meeting. Chair of the meeting, Timothy Hayes, shouted to the crowd:
"Will four thousand of you volunteer to march up to the camp, and open the lock-up to liberate the man?"
In a deafening clamour the crowd roared:
Hayes then asked:
"Are you ready to die"
In response, the crowded yelled:
"Yes, Yes! Hurrah!"
Revolvers were fired into the air and licences were burnt.
November 30 - Unveiling the flag
Empowered by the sound of guns being fired and the sight of licences being burnt, the Diggers decided that the next step would be battle. They then fenced off an area of land and on November 30, the Eureka Flag was unveiled. Carboni wrote of the event:
"The maiden appearance of our standard, in the midst of armed men, sturdy, self-overworking diggers of all languages and colours, was a fascinating object to behold....Some five hundred armed diggers advanced in real sober earnestness, the captains of each division making the military salute to Lalor, who now knelt down, the head uncovered, and with the right hand pointing towards the standard exclaimed in a firm measured tone:-
'WE SWEAR BY THE SOUTHERN CROSS TO STAND TRULY BY EACH OTHER, AND FIGHT TO DEFEND OUR RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES.'
An universal well rounded AMEN, was the determined reply: some five hundred right hands stretched towards our flag.
The earnestness of so many faces of all kinds of shape and colour; the motley heads of all sorts of size and hair; the shagginess of so many beards of all lengths and thicknesses; the vividness of double the number of eyes electrified by the magnetism of the southern cross; one of those grand sights, such as are recorded only in the history of 'the Crusaders in Palestine.'"
Over the next few days, more than 1,500 men trained at the stockade in preparation for battle. While all showed a keenness to fight, the Digger's trump card was likely to be 200 well-armed Californian Rangers equipped with horses and guns.
December 3 - Fighting the battle
The Diggers' words were strong, but they were short of weapons and planning. Diggers came and left, while others went about their business looking for gold. Other Diggers foolishly believed that no attack would occur on a Sunday, the day of the Sabbath, and simply weren't prepared.
After surveying the situation, the British assembled a force of some 300 men. A false rumour was planted amongst the Diggers that more British reinforcements would be coming from Melbourne. Gallantly, the Californian Rangers rode off to intercept them. Free grog also mysteriously appeared amongst the Diggers' campsites. Rather than question where it came from or conclude that a sober mind was needed with battle on the cards, the Diggers ensured that the grog didn't go to waste.
With the Rangers out of the way and other Diggers attending Church, work issues or just passed out in a state of intoxication, the stockade was being defended by less than 100 men. It was not enough.
At 4.45am on December 3, the first shots rang out. 30 Diggers, armed with metal pikes, quickly rallied to engage the soldiers armed with muskets. While brave, the pikemen didn't fare too well against guns and the sight of them being slaughtered caused other Diggers to flee.
Within 15 minutes, the stockade had been smashed and 30 Diggers were dead. The flag was torn down to a chorus of British laughter. Only four British soldiers lost their lives. Tents both inside and outside the stockade were then set on fire.
The next day a notice was posted that read:
" Her Majesty's forces were this morning fired upon by a large body of evil-disposed persons of various nations, who had entrenched themselves in a stockade on the Eureka, and some officers and men killed.
Several of the rioters have paid the penalty of their crime, and a large number are in custody.
All well-disposed persons are earnestly requested to return to their ordinary occupations, and to abstain from assembling in large groups, and every protection will be afforded to them by the authorities.
God save the Queen. "
A trial for propaganda
Over 1,500 men trained at the stockade in preparation for battle but only 13 were arrested and tried with treason. Two of these men were black, one was an Italian (Carboni), another was a Jew and the rest were Irish. It seemed that British authorities had specifically targeted non-Anglos to be the criminal face on show. If so, the play backfired as all the men were found non-guilty by a jury. One of the men, John Joseph, a black man from America, was carried around the streets of Melbourne in a chair in triumph by over 10,000 people. Carboni was elected to the local court at Ballarat to adjudicate mining disputes.
The leader of the rebellion, Peter Lalor, lost an arm in the battle and was hidden while the other men went on trial. After they were acquitted, Lalor's arrest warrant was withdrawn and he stood for the new Victorian parliament. As a hero, he was elected with much euphoria. However, he soon found that it was more difficult to become popular by making decisions in a democracy than it was by saluting a flag, making a speech and firing guns into the air. He used Chinese contract labour to break the picket lines of striking miners, he opposed an elected upper house, opposed universal manhood suffrage and voted for bills that empowered the rich. After leaving the people of Ballarat feeling betrayed, Lalor stood for the seat of South Grenville and enjoyed a long career in politics.
First hand reports
SUNDAY DECEMBER 3RD - Diary of 19-year-old Samuel Lazarus
"A large body of soldiers were entering the gully leading to the camp with three dray loads of dead and wounded … I guessed at once that the military had made an attack on the Eureka Stockade, but I did not guess that Englishmen in authority had made such a savage and cowardly use of their power.
I entered (the stockade) and a ghastly scene lay before me which it is vain to attempt to describe — My blood crept as I looked upon it. Stretched on the ground in all the horrors of a bloody death lay 18 or 20 lifeless and mutilated bodies — some shot in the face, others literally riddled with wounds — one with a ghastly wound in the temples and one side of his body absolutely roasted by the flames of his tent — Another, the most horrible of these appalling spectacles, with a frightful gaping wound in … his head through which the brains protruded, lay with his chest feebly heaving in the last agony of death. One body pierced with 16 or 17 wounds I recognised as that of a poor German whom I have often joked with. Newly-made widows recognising the bloody remains of a slaughtered husband — children screaming and crying around a dead father — surely the man that polluted the early dawn of a Sabbath's morning with such a deed of blood and suffering must have a stony heart if he does not think with keen remorse on the desolation of many a widowed heart his merciless work has left. But this sanguinary carnage, revolting as it is to the mind, is not half so sickening as the savage wanton barbarity of the troopers. Did not turn their swords on armed men, but galloped courageously among the tents shooting at women, and cutting down defenceless men … (A) trooper galloped up to Mr Naslam (reporter for one of the papers) and ordered him to join the government force. He … gave an excuse (which was strictly true) that he was unwell, when the wretch at once levelled his carbine and shot him in the side. Not content with this wanton barbarity he handcuffed him and left him on the ground weltering in his blood. Another man … awoke by the firing, went out of his tent in his shirt and drawers and seeing the savage butchery going on cried out in terror — "for God's sake don't kill my wife and children". He was shot dead."
Even though the Diggers were slaughtered, over the subsequent centuries, their flag has come to symbolise very different things to different Australians. For a number of unions, the flag symbolises unity in the face of intimidation. For multiculturalists, it symbolises a diversity of people seeking to make Australia a refuge for the oppressed from all the countries on earth. For republicans, it symbolises the first steps in the long road for Australia to be independent from Britain. For white supremacists, it symbolises Australians wanting to make Australia a nation for the white man.
The conflicting beliefs about what the flag symbolises can be partly attributed to selective interpretation of the Eureka story by activist groups wanting to use it to realise a political objective. Specifically, unions have identified with the words of the protest leader, Peter Lalor, who declared:
"WE SWEAR BY THE SOUTHERN CROSS TO STAND TRULY BY EACH OTHER, AND FIGHT TO DEFEND OUR RIGHTS AND LIBERTIES."
Although the slogan is consistent with union values, the miners themselves were not employees; rather, they operated more like entrepreneurs wanting an end to government regulation and intimidation. In addition, Lalor later entered parliament where he subsequently imported contract Chinese labour to break striking unionists.
Multiculturalists have also selectively identified with aspects of the Eureka story. The aspect that has most appealed has been the diversity of races involved in the protest, and the words of Raffaello Carboni who called on all his fellow-diggers,
"irrespective of nationality, religion or colour, to salute the 'Southern Cross' as the refuge of all the oppressed from all the countries on earth."
In addition to the diverse composition of the protesters, the trial seemed to target non-Anglo races for prosecution. Ironically, their acquittal led to John Joseph, a black man from America, being carried around the streets in triumph by 10,000 people.
Although the protest itself and celebration od the acquittal of non-Anglo men were shining examples of cross-cultural integration, the progressive message was not universally shared. Over the next few years, white miners holding aloft the Eureka ideal subsequently slaughtered Chinese miners and lobbied to have restrictions placed on Chinese migration to Australia. It is these miners who have inspired the contemporary white nationalists who have tried to redefine the Eureka protests as protests by freedom loving capitalists wanting to free themselves of government and non-whites.
Finally, republicans have identified with a diversity of races raising a flag other than the Union Jack, which acts as a model of what they want to see today. In addition, they identify with some commentary proposed by the Bulletin in 1888, which stated:
' Australia began her political history as a crouching serf kept in subjection by the whip of a ruffian gaoler, and her progress, so far, consists merely in a change of masters. Instead of a foreign slave-driver, she has a foreign admiral; the loud-mouthed tyrant has given place to the suave hireling in uniform; but when the day comes to claim their independence the new ruler will probably prove more dangerous and more formidable that the old.' Rather than 'the day we were lagged', said the Bulletin, Australia's national day should be December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, 'the day that Australia set her teeth in the face of the British Lion'.
Arguably, the diversity of viewpoints in relation to the Eureka Flag illustrates why it has become a great symbol of Australia. Most flags around the world have a predefined meaning that the public is expected to assimilate. While the Eureka Flag was designed with a specific meaning in mind, culture has redefined that meaning to something that reflects Australia’s evolution, and the different viewpoints Australia's evolution evokes. If Australia is ever to fulfill the Eurkea ideal of individuals having rights and liberties, it will never be via forcing everyone to think the same way.
Eureka Stockade (1949) Full movie
Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered
Dying for liberty
Why is it not celebrated?
White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese
Baptism of Fire or Well of Tears
Simpson and his Donkey
A larrikin and a hero
A larrikin and a hero
Australia's Greek Moment
World War 2
The eastern chapters
The expression of transnational identities
Values and policies of Australian leaders