Some 25 people stood around a monument in Ballarat in the pre-dawn hours of December 3 aknowledging the Eureka Diggers who fought and died to defend our rights and liberties one hundred and fifty five years ago.
The Dawn Commemoration this year was broadcast live from 4am to 6am on Melbourne Community Radio Station 3CR. Dr Joe Toscano gave an informative introduction on the Eureka rebellion and its importance for us today, before passing the microphone around the circle for everyone to articulate the personal meaning of Eureka for us today facing new onslaughts on our rights and liberties.
Related: Spirit of Eureka: Pat Mackie
In 2004, the 150th anniversary, there was a major commemoration of the events of Eureka. But for the most part the anniversary date of December 3 has not had any official events. Usually events are scheduled on the closest weekend. Since 2002 The Anarchist Media Institute has been holding Dawn commemmorations on December 3 as part of a full day of activities in discussing the meaning and spirit of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion and its relationship to current social justice issues and campaigns.
There have been calls for Ballarat City Council to fly the Eureka Flag from the topmost flagpole on the Town Hall on December 3. This has still to happen. But it was significant this year that Ballarat City Council had scheduled a Eureka Flag raising event at 11am opposite the Town Hall near the statue of Queen Victoria. This marks an important shift by Council. The major, Judy Verlin, officiated in raising the Eureka Southern Cross with a class of Grade 5 students from St Alipius Catholic Primary School in attendance.
It was a little bit of theatre for the local media complete with two actors from Sovereign Hill who performed orations by Rafaello Carboni and Peter Lalor. The actor who played Peter Lalor, the diggers elected Leader, wizzed through swearing the Eureka Oath under the Eureka Flag. This could have been performed more theatrically by encouraging the crowd to swear the oath with him.
Earlier in the morning activists had marched from Eureka Park to Bakery Hill, the site of the monster meetings of diggers in 1854. Here, in front of a flagpole flying the Southern Cross in the middle of a busy traffic roundabout the Eureka Day Medals are awarded. The site was saved from development to build a McDonalds restaurant in the 1970s by the Builders Labourers Federation – McDonalds built next door instead.
The Eureka Day Medals are awarded by the Anarchist Media Institute to nominated people who best demonstrate the spirit of the Eureka Oath. The 2009 award winners were John Englart (Speech), Jessica Harrison, Ellen Jose, Bill Pickering, and Jack Grancharoff (in absentia).
At the conclusion of the awards the Eureka Oath was sworn by the youngest present, 9 year old Taz, with everyone joining in:
“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties”
Following the Flag rasing ceremony activists marched up to the old Ballarat Cemetery where both the Diggers and Soldiers monuments were visited. Flowers were laid at the foot of diggers monument. Next stop was the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, where people relaxed in some air-conditioned comfort while hearing Joe Toscano explaining he history and ongoing debate around the original Eureka Flag and where it should be housed.
Keeping alive the spirit and ideas of Eureka continues. People attended from as far afield as Adelaide, Brisbane and Darwin this year, with the option of many more listening to the dawn commemoration live on radio 3CR.
The previous Friday a commemoration was also held in Melbourne on Friday 27 November, on the steps of the State library. A mock up contemporary Eureka Stockade was constructed on the steps of the State Library with banners, placards and flags inside the Stockade.
In keeping with the spirit of Eureka the rally demands included abolishing the ABCC, working people’s rights to health and safety, renewable energy, human rights for refugees, and democratic rights of communities. Speakers included Fr. Bob Maguire, Dave Noonan, civil liberties barrister Rob Stary, Margaret Williamson (Eureka descendent), Pamela Curr (Asylum Seekers Resource Centre), David Spratt (Environment Action Centre) (Youtube video), Gerry Conlon (Guildford 4) and Paddy Hill (Birmingham 6).
Gerry Conlon and Paddy Hill warned of the dangers of increased police power. They were innocent Irishmen jailed by corrupt British police for 15 and 16 years for crimes they did not commit. Mr Conlon, whose autobiography was adapted into the film In The Name Of The Father, served 15 years in prison after being found guilty of an IRA bombing in Guildford, despite having never been a member of the IRA – let alone involved in any bombings. His father, Giuseppe Conlon, died in prison on the same charges.