History - AustralianAustralian CultureCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries


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Relations between Aborigines
and colonists

Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?

Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence

The Stolen Generations
Why paternalism ruled over conquest?

Jimmy Govenor
Not a good fence builder

Mary Anne Bugg
Female Bushranger

Justice or resistance?

Convicts and their legacy

Convict life
Regrets and floggings

Convict crimes
Power and morality

Convict punishments
What purpose?

Thinking different

Convict women
Moral diversity


Can Convict Creations be relied upon?

Eureka Massacre

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. For military buffs, this was perhaps an expected outcome. After all,  it is never a sensible strategy in guerrilla warfare to confine all your soldiers in one easily identifiable location.

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 following 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.' "

Mob justice

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
2)Manhood suffrage
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. To prepare, they fenced off an area of land. With a fence built, it was time to raise the flag. 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:-


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. More foolish was the decision to concentrate all the forces in one location. It certainly wasn’t the typical guerrilla warfare playbook.

After surveying the situation, the British assembled a force of around 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.
Resident Commissioner
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 they 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 case for the defence

Most of the defence arguments rested on the accused stating that they had not been fighting or had been forcibly dragged into the stockade and kept against their will. In the case of Timothy Hayes, an argument was made that his wife would have been a better soldier. She appeared in the court to confirm it as she chastised him for being captured and declared that if she had been a man, she would not have been taken by the likes of his accusers. The humour seemed to be quite effective as the jury had trouble reconciling the accused as people as being capable of fighting a battle.

The only person found guilty was journalist Henry Seekamp, for writing:

“The Australian flag shall triumphantly wave in the sunshine of its own blue and peerless sky over thousands of Australia's adopted sons. And when the loud paean of "Now's the day and now's the hour, See the front of battle lour!" shall have pierced the blue vaults of Australia's matchless sky from the brave men of Ballarat next Wednesday at Bakery Hill there will not be one discordant voice in the sublime and heroic chorus. Go forth, indomitable people, gain your rights, and may the God of creation smile down propitiously upon your glorious cause. Forward! People, Forward!"

Seekamp was sentenced to six months jail but was later released three months early.

Peter Lalor

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."

Eureka Massacre 



Eureka Stockade (1949) Full movie

Activity - Myth Making

Should it be referred to as a massacre or a stockade?

Newspapers of the time initially referred to the rebellion as the “Eureka Massacre” with a focus on the unjust loss of life. Over time, the “Eureka Stockade” became the favoured term. Evaluate the three possible explanations for why:

1) Governments and scholars preferred stockade over massacre because they wanted to downplay the loss of life for political purposes. In short, they wanted to diminish their culpability and faith in institutions by referring to it in more pleasant terms. .

2) After the rebellion and Eureka Flag were appropriated by Unions as a symbol of unity in defiance, the idea of a Stockade match the feeling of unity more that miners putting out the stirring speeches before failing miserably.

3) Although many cultures build identities around victimisation, and many Australians have sympathies to underdogs who have been victimised, they personally don’t like to identify as victimised underdogs. Using the image of a stockade therefore helped build a patriotic image. A massacre would not.

Why were the multicultural and multi-racial associations forgotten?

Both sides initially made a big deal out of the multi-cultural and multiracial aspects of the rebels. On the authority side, Resident Commissioner Robert Rede pined a notice saying that individuals of “various nations” had fired on “Her Majesty’s Forces.” Furthermore, even though over 1300 men participated in the rebellion, it was only two black men, an Italian, a Jew and 9 Irish that were put on trial. By highlighting the diversity of the rebels, the authorities were able to affirm British patriotism and portray the rebellion as a rebellion of outsiders.

 On the rebels side, Raffaello Carboni wrote of raising the flag:

"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."

After he was acquitted, a black man, John Joseph, was carried around the streets in triumph by up to 10,000 people.

Focussing on the racial diversity allowed the rebellion to be a point of inclusion for non-Brits in Australia. In turn, it allowed the rebellion to create an alternative image of patriotism that was stripped of the British associations.

Despite both sides having an interest in promoting the diversity of the rebels, the image of diversity was largely lost with time. Evaluate the possible explanations:

  1. The rebellion was appropriated by the Union movement that was chiefly concerned with restricting the flow of non-whites into Australia who were being used to break picket lines and put pressure on wages. The Union movement had little interest in celebrating standing alongside non-whites in the past while simultaneously trying to exclude them from Australia.

  2. After the introduction of the White Australia Policy, the flow of non-British migration to Australia slowed. This reduced the number of people for who wanted an event that celebrated non-white participation in civic action.

  3. The flag was appropriated by white Nationalists who wanted nothing to do non-white participation in the event. Critics of white nationalists subsequently threw the baby out with the bath water by disowning the Eureka Rebellion and belittling its significance.

The Eureka Rebellion as a national day

Is the anniversary of the rebellion a better date than the landing of the first fleet in Port Jackson:

In 1888, the Bulletin launched a campaign to change the date of Australia Day from January 26 (the day Convicts were landed) to December 3, the date of the rebellion. In its own words,

' 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', 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'.

In 2004, the Sydney Morning Herald wrote:

The key to elevating Eureka lies in linking together the story of the uprising - including the values and the principles of the miners - with the new and updated values of modern Australia.

It is about providing a link with the past so that Australians are reminded that the Australian project is a continuing enterprise, tracing its origins back well over a century. Eureka is important to Australia's future sense of nationalism because it is an exciting story, laced with meaningful values and symbolism. Obviously, Australian nationalism can never be reduced to just one legend, but Eureka offers great potential to a nation floundering for a national story.

There are many ways we could incorporate the Eureka legend and its trappings into our everyday lives. Australia Day - currently called "invasion day" by many indigenous Australians - could become December 3. Our rather limp citizenship oath could be revitalised with a fragment of the bold Eureka oath: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and to defend our rights and liberties." And when we become a republic - as we surely some day must - what better flag to choose than the Eureka flag?

Macgregor, Duncan; Leigh, Andrew; Madden, David; Tynan, Peter (29 November 2004). "Time to reclaim this legend as our driving force". The Sydney Morning Heraldhttps://www.smh.com.au/national/time-to-reclaim-this-legend-as-our-driving-force-20041129-gdk7jk.html




John Caesare
The first

Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered

Eureka Massacre
Dying for liberty

Post Convicts

Why is it not celebrated?

White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese






"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"(Oodgeroo)