At 4am on December 3 a small group gathered to commemorate the Eureka Rebellion at the monument in Eureka Park in Ballarat. For the last 4 years a group of people has met on the anniversary of the attack on the Eureka Stockade. This year 24 people gathered in the pre-dawn light, as light rain threatened to dampen the event. As Graeme Dunstan completed placing his beautiful Eureka banners and lanterns around the monument, the rain soon ceased. The Reclaim the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion banner arrives and is set up on the monument. A circle of people forms from out of the gloom in front of the monument.
Joe Toscano, of the Anarchist Media Institute, initiated this event four years ago. He gave a brief introduction and timetable to the day’s events before each person speaks in turn around the circle expressing what Eureka means to them. This is a very powerful moment for its participatory nature, with each person speaking eloquently embracing the full range of past history, present campaigns and issues and future visions. The circle finishes as the dawn light grows : a reminder that 151 years ago the battle ocurred in similar light for about 10 minutes before members of the one year old Victorian Police rampaged about the area in what can only be described as a tide of blood and butchery.
After the commemoration at the monument, people retired to the Eureka Hall for a leisurely breakfast and conversation. Hot cups of tea and coffee were welcomed.
At ten o’clock the crowd marched with eureka flags and banners towards Bakery Hill. It is about 2km from the Eureka Hall to Bakery Hill, where the inaugural Eureka Australia Day Medals were presented. After the awards, one of the children reads the oath, which was repeated by all present. The crowd then gathered again for the march to the old Ballarat cemetery, another 4km away.
When the march arrived at the cemetery, people first gathered around the diggers memorial. A few people speak, one person sings a moving Peggy Seeger song about the suppression of civil liberties, while most are content to read the inscription on the monument.
At the same time the Mayor of the City of Ballarat was inspecting the 40th a-foot Regiment at the soldiers memorial. It seems the Eureka story still divides many in Ballarat. The Ballarat City Council, while promoting the Eureka story for its commercial value, refuses to fly the Eureka Flag on the town hall. A shot echoes in the air. Shortly after the crowd around the diggers memorial see the redcoats of British soldiers march past. Who could resist heckling them as they pass?
The official ceremony over, the band of malcontents proceeded to the soldiers memorial to pay their respects. The soldiers who died had little choice in their actions. They were charaterised by Joe Toscano as just workers on both sides of the bayonet. Many of the soldiers were Irish, just like many of the diggers who they killed. The monument was built by the Government of Victoria in 1879, 25 years after the Eureka battle, one of the many attempts to downplay the importance of the rebellion in the movement for civil and democratic rights in Australia.
Near the Soldiers memorial, you can find the grave of James Scobie, whose murder was one of the events that sparked the Eureka rebellion.
The crowd then reformed at the gates of the cemetery for a march through the city to Bakery Hill, to join the Diggers March to the Eureka Stockade. In the mall, Santa was encouraged to join the march but steadfastly refused. The Diggers March traces the route that the diggers took from their 10,000 strong meeting to the Eureka diggings where they built the Eureka Stockade next to the old Melbourne Road. At various points along the route Professor John Moloney addressed the march on the history and significance of Eureka.
Perhaps eighty people trod the path of the diggers in 2005 – a sad reflection of the apathy of the people of Ballarat, and people generally, where they are spoonfed culture through television. Like the original diggers, the 2005 march had a diversity of people with descendants of the diggers, local trade unionists, republicans, and radicals, and maybe a few just concerned about the loss of civil liberties under the Howard Government’s anti-terrorism laws, mandatory detention of refugees, and industrial relations and social welfare attacks on working people.
The march ended at the Eureka memorial where final speeches were held, with sausages and drinks made available by the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association.