To be at the site of the Eureka stockade as dawn was breaking, was a powerful moment in visioning why people rebel, and the ongoing importance of Eureka to the Australian identity.
In the early hours of December 3 I joined about 32 other people in front of the Eureka Monument on the corner of Stawell and Eureka Streets in Ballarat. The occasion was the 149th anniversary of the military slaughter of the Eureka stockade.
The people gathered were from all over Victoria, including a number of Ballarat locals. A banner was erected which said ‘Reclaiming the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion’ The monument was decorated with Southern Cross banners and lanterns – a very fitting and powerful commemoration by lantern designer Graeme Dunston.
We gathered in a cirle in front of the monument. Joe Toscano made a short introduction, after which we went around the circle with each person introducing themselves and perhaps explaining the meaning of Eureka to them. A common them was an identification with the fight against injustice and free speech, then and now. But all spoke with a depth of feeling and power which seemed to hang in the still air.
The sky was overcast so we could not see the Southern Cross in the skies, but Graeme Dunston’s lanterns and banners was a more than adequate compensation.
Half way through going around the circle, the drone of bagpipes could be heard emanating from across the hill. This was the start of the Stockade Centre campfire event. We continued going around the circle. Just as we finished, the first breaking of the dawn occurred. 149 years ago this signaled the military attack on the stockade.
Some people milled around for a while – access to the Eureka Hall to have breakfast was at 6am. Several people walked across the hill to the Stockade Centre campfire event, before walking back to the hall.
Breakfast was a social occasion – the making and sharing of Tea and Coffee and sharing of food and conversation about the vigil that morning.
At 10am the main hall was converted to a temporary Radio recording studio broadcasting live to a Melbourne and Australian audience. About 18 people volunteered to speak about Eureka with Joe Toscano on his Anarchist World this Week radio program broadcast on Melbourne community radio 3CR and transmitted via the community radio satellite to community radio stations throughout Australia.
After a short break people formed up outside the hall and marched the 3km to Bakery Hill, the site of mass meetings in 1854. Bakery Hill today is a travesty. A McDonalds stands prominently near the site. There is a flag pole in the center of a very busy roundabout with a Eureka Flag flying. Very few people cross to the centre of the roundabout to inspect the plaque at the bottom of the flagpole, so our group attracted quite a bit of attention from passing motorists.
Several people spoke underneath the flag before the group marched off back to the Eureka Hall for lunch.
I have perhaps given a perfunctory description of the events of the day commemorating the Eureka Rebellion, but there was much feeling and passion about the history and its relevance for people in Australia today. Many of the people in attendance are activists themselves and draw inspiration from the courage and solidarity of the miners of Eureka in 1854.
Many of these people will return next year for the 150th anniversary celebrations. We will see in the coming year attempts to whitewash the Eureka story, to romanticise it and remove any radical connotations. The meaning of Eureka is in danger of being whitewashed by the politicians and Bureaucrats and sold back to us as a national myth. The local council sees the prospect of the tourist dollar that the Eureka Story could generate.
The local Liberal Candidate, Ms Matuschka said: “Before the Eureka Flag is flown at Parliament House in Canberra, we need to restore the integrity of the flag and what it stands for,” (Ballarat Courier 30/11/03)
Mmmmm….okay, Carboni Raefaello was at the Eureka Stockade and here is what he said about the emblem of the Southern Cross – the Eureka Flag:
On 29th November 1854 at Bakery Hill Carboni mounted the stump beneath the Southern Cross and called upon all “irrespective of nationality, religion and colour” to salute the Southern Cross “as the refuge of all the oppressed from all countries on earth”.
Pretty stiring and courageous words.
If your in Ballarat in the wee hours of Sunday Morning, I recommend you catch
the Eureka Dawn Walk 2003
Remembering Courage in the Face of Tyranny
The 2003 Eureka Dawn Walk will assemble
from 3.30 am on Sunday 7 December 2003
in Alfred Deakin Place, Camp Street, (behind the Mining Exchange)
Ballarat, Victoria, Australia
It will be sixth annual Dawn Walk and like previous years it will be an artful, lantern-lit, story telling procession that will follow the 3.5 km route the British soldiers took on their dawn attack on the diggers’ stockade on the Eureka gold field on Sunday 3 December 1854.
More info from http://www.peacebus.com/Eureka/