The Fight to defend rights and liberties of the diggers 152 years ago still resonates with activists today. In 1854 British troops and the newly formed Victorian Police attacked and crushed a rebellion of miners at Ballarat. Agitation for democratic reforms had been building for a number of years across the various Goldfields, but it was on the Eureka diggings that this reform movement made a stand, to “swear by the Southern Cross, to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties”.
A number of events occurred to mark the anniversary including a Diggers march from Bakery Hill to the Eureka Monument; a Sunday Dawn Lantern walk; a 4am vigil on Dec 3 at the monument; a dawn oration; a march to Bakery Hill and the Cemetary including presentation of the Eureka Australia Day medals; and a Eureka Day luncheon.
=== Diggers March ===
Saturday was marked by the Diggers march from Bakery Hill to Eureka Park. About 30 people participated in this event. Professor John Molony addressed the crowd at the Eureka monument. “The price of freedom is our own involvement in defending it” he said to the crowd.
Molony exhorted the crowd that the Southern Cross flag, held in the Ballarat Gallery of Fine Art, should be brought back to where the diggers fought under it. He also took aim at the watering down of the diggers tradition “I understand that 5 million dollars has been put up for an extension of what I call the stockade. Look how they are deliberately eliminating the word ‘stockade’. It is being eliminated constantly. That, over there is called the Eureka Centre, as if it was some kind of ([words unclear]) thing. This is the Eureka stockade, call it that! Call it if you like, the Eureka Stockade Centre, but don’t let the word stockade be dropped out, because that is the diggers word for it. Stick to it.”
“Shame, shame” roared the crowd in response.
“Live Australian democracy.” said Professor Molony “Democracy is not some kind of abstraction. It is not something defined and written in a constitution. Something that is there in a parliament or where ever else….It is here in our own being.” Molony said that people needed to live democracy day by day and be prepared to stand up for our own rights and the rights of the poor.
During the afternoon, the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association (ESMA) provided a sausage sizzle and groups of people picniced on the lawns of Eureka Park outside Eureka Hall.
After Professor Molony’s address, Graeme Dunstan, the banner and lantern maker, took down one lot of banners and put up another.
=== December 3rd Eureka Vigil ===
The attack on the Stockade happened on Sunday 3 December, 1854. At 4am people started to gather beside the monument in a vigil to remember what inspired the people at Eureka in their rebellion, and how it continues to inspire those gathered, some 25 people.
Dr Joseph Toscano started with a partial and brief history of the Eureka rebellion and the principles it was based upon. Principles expressed in the Eureka Oath: Direct Democracy, Direct Action, Solidarity and Internationalism.
According to Toscano the Ballarat Council “understand the Eureka is interesting and a tourist event but they don’t really like the fact it was a rebellion. And you will find that not much is actually done in the city to promote Eureka.”
“In many ways Eureka is much more important than ANZAC Day will ever be. Because ANZAC day was a struggle on foreign soil for god, king and country. Where people were sacrificed on the shores of Gallipoli in their thousands, not for their self interest but the interests of ruling classes. This [Eureka] is where people themselves came together to improve their lives.” said Toscano.
“If you think of the Eureka oath it encapsulates everything these men and women stood for.” explained Joe as he described the massacre, with women coming forth onto the battlefield at dawn to assist the injured and dying, and to spirit away the survivors into hiding.
“We swear by the Southern Cross, to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties”, the oath taken at Bakery Hill on 28 November 1854 was recited allowed by all present.
Each person in turn then explained why they had come and the significance of Eureka to their lives.
Near the end of the round, the vigil was joined by more people arriving including the Dawn Lantern Walk – 5 people this year.
=== Eureka Sunday Dawn Oration ===
At 6am The Eureka Stockade Memorial Association started another sausage sizzle and welcomed everybody to the Eureka Sunday Dawn Oration.
Father Adrian McInerny, arriving in the nick of time, read a blessing:
“God of all Creation, god of the rising sun. We thank you for this morning and we ask for your blessing upon us and upon our gathering. We ask that in our gathering we remember those who went before us; those who honoured this site with their blood; those who committed themselves to freedom and justice in our land. We ask that as we remember them, we commit ourselves to the same values so that those who live here may live in freedom. We ask this, oh God, through Christ our Lord, Ahmen!”
The Dawn oration was presented by historian, Dr Tony Pagliaro from La Trobe University, who has done the definitive research on Eureka Rebellion lieutenant, Raffaello Carboni.
In his oration he spoke of The Eureka Stockade being a turning point in the history of Victoria and of Australia “It is the site of the Eureka Rebellion that enhances [Ballarat’s] prestige. The site where a number of people from differing nations drew a line in the sand, as it were, to indicate that authorities had exceeded what was legitimate in the exercise of power.” he said.
“But it is clear to us now that Eureka was a turning point for Australia. It was the point at which citizens had been pushed to the end of their tether. It marks the point at which ruthless and arbitrary imposition of law by an autocratic Governor backed by a blind bureacracy sowed the seeds for its own demise.”
“We are indeed fortunate that Raeffello Carboni, one of the miners involved in the proceedings prior to the military attack and tried for his involvement saw the significance and wrote that unique inside story fired with passion and indignation which is The Eureka Stockade. Passion to tell the truth, indignation to injustices perpetrated, and a graphic representation of that scene. He and the other miners tried for treason were freed by that one democratic feature they had a right to – trial by jury.” he said.
“Democracy requires continous toil. The betrayal of principles can always recurr. But the defence of Eureka at Ballarat marks for our country the turning point where representations as individuals not as property owners starts to gain recognition as proper and legitimate. The moment which heralds in the democratic political working day. Truly a new dawn. Thank you.” finished Tony Pagliaro.
=== Eureka Australia Day Medals ===
At 10am people gathered outside the Eureka Hall for a march down to Bakery Hill for a presentation of the Eureka Australia Day Medals.
“The Eureka Australia Day medal is given to people to honour their commitment to the sentiments which are expressed in the Eureka Oath.” explained Joe Toscano. “This year of the five people awarded medals, one recently died and three are over eighty. There is one youngster who has actually turned up to receive their medal.”
The first award was given posthumusly to Wendy Lowenstein, who died a few weeks previously. Anne and Bill Pickering knew Wendy personally and accepted the medal on her behalf. Other recipients include: Margaret McDonald, a teacher by trade; Gerry Harrant, a tireless activist and broadcasting; Pauline Mitchell, involved in the disarmament and nuclear free movement in Victoria for many years. The last person given an award this year is Kevin Bracken, Victorian Secretary of the MUA, for inceasing the trade union movements interaction with the community.
After the awards, the Eureka oath was spoken by the youngest member of the crowd and repeated by everyone present.
The march then continued through the streets of Ballarat to the Old Ballarat Cemetery. Respects were paid to the Diggers and Soldiers memorials, and one could read the inscriptions and infer how the rebellion has been dismissed and derided by the authorities as misdirected and misguided, and continues to do so.
One only needs to look at the Ballarat Town Hall where, even on Eureka day 3 December, the Australian flag with the union jack in the corner, takes precedence over the Southern Cross Eureka Flag.