Remembering the Eureka rebellion
in oppressive times
Report on the commemoration of the 157th anniversary
of the Eureka rebellion, Ballarat, 3 December 2011
Five am and the first light of dawn was in the sky. Young Eddie fumbled with a lighter at the back of the cardboard effigy of Rupert Murdoch. "Nothing happening yet," commented Dr Joe Toscano broadcasting live to Radio 3CR.
Then the flames took hold, flaring up on the left of Murdoch, the right as viewed from the front where some 40 eager early birds were gathered by Dr Joe's call to Reclaim the Radical Tradition of the Eureka rebellion.
It was the 157th anniversary of the subjugation of the Eureka Stockade and Rupert Murdoch had no friends in this crowd; none demurred when i denounced him as a greedy corporate pirate and war criminal.
So wound up did i get delivering this denunciation that Dr Joe was moved to reach for the mike less a phalanx of Murdoch lawyers be mobilised to punish 3CR.
So wound up, that i forgot to say the punch line: Rupert Murdoch, Lord of the Lies.
That epitaph was inscribed at the base of the effigy and now flames rose above it covering the face like a veil in a hell realm. A shrill flute wailed the terror.
With a whoosh of fire and a tumble of embers, the front features of the effigy fell away. Rupert Murdoch, the aging autocrat, poverty pimp, promoter of bigots and biotry, had lost face.
Let the omens of the ancestors speak.
Internationally disgraced for his mean and heartless invasions of privacy and for the US and Israeli wars which he has been so ruthless in promoting, he is an old man facing a shame filled dying and neither his media power nor his millions will prevent it.
May the Furies pursue him, not so much in accusation but as in amplification of the inner voices of his own saying over and over his undenialible guilt.
Let that shame breed like a raucous bacteria in the cracks and fissure of his mind. And when the body fails and there is nothing else but mind, let it persist corroding and smothering all other memories, all other claims to self worth.
On his death bed, may Rupert Mudoch know nothing but shame and the echoes of shame.
May he die despised. By himself.
Even though the 3 December fell on a Saturday this year, no other commemoration events were programmed for Eureka Memorial Park, the reserve which i have dubbed elsewhere in my Eureka blogs as "People's Park" because it was a citizen's effort which secured the ground, landscaped it and built both the Memorial and the Memorial Hall to honour the blood sacrifice of the Eureka rebellion.
For many years the Park, the Hall and its recreational lake were major recreational facility for the poor of Ballarat. It once was serviced by a train line and it is said that many thousands of pounds were raised there for charities such as the Ballarat Hospital.
But times change and now the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association, the direct heir of the founding fathers, is so internally conflicted that it is incapable of celebrating its centenary. The management of the Park and Hall is under the control of Ballarat City Council and under their dead hand it functions as little more than a dog walking reserve.
This year a big hole in the ground marks where once the Eureka Centre stood, this the failed interpretation centre built with Whitlam dollars. The building site fence also restricts access to the Eureka Hall. If the Council deliberately planned to quash Eureka spirit in Eureka Park, they could not have done a better job.
The Council plan is to build for $11 mill plus, a bigger Eureka centre and call it the Centre for Democracy. A Eureka interpretation centre fails to attract customers? Solution: throw money and build a bigger one.
John Ralston Saul in his seminal book Voltaires Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West describes how managerialism has become so reified that management failures can neither be admitted nor understood; the fault is in reality, never in the management. It was thus in 1854 when the colonial government could not admit the failure of the gold license and the popular resentment it had created. And it continues to this day.
This Eureka season saw two such stories of dsyjunct management by the City of Ballarat in the local news. The Council was under public attack for its decision to dismiss the managers of the adjacent Eureka Pool who had held the contract for 35 years. They were to be premptorily dismissed for no better reason than that this would allow the YMCA, managers of other Ballarat pools, to take over and offer an all-pools season's ticket.
And more heatedly, the Council was under attack for proposing that the stately old Ballarat Civic Hall, the biggest flat floor venue in town, closed and boarded up because of failed cultural policy and failed management, be demolished to make way for $40 million worth of Council office space.
City of Ballarat is invested in the Eureka Rebellion as the core of the City' identity. The 8 pointed Eureka star is central to its logo and its tourism pitch. Yet it knows not how to celebrate it and likely it never will. There is simply no meeting place between managerialism and rebellion.
No common ground for managerialism and anarchy either. Understanding the ways of anarchism - direct action, direct democracy, solidarity and internationalism - is the key, Dr Joe Toscano claims, to understanding what made rebellion such a success in terms of its social change consequences.
And so it is that City attempts at Eureka commemoration are costly and flounder and Dr Joe and his band of anarchist friends celebrate with minimum costs and have deep-reaching, crowd pleasing outcomes.
The burning of the effigy was just one event in a very full day (4 am to 10 pm) of events commemorating the 157th anniversary of the Eureka rebellion commemoration led by Dr Joe Toscano, the 11th enactment of the Anarchist Media Institute's Reclaim the Radical Tradition of the Eureka Rebellion project.
The keys to its success re in its simplicity, its inclusiveness and its authenticity. It's a day of story telling and remembrance that relates to the lives and experiences of people involved in activism for social justice in these times.
The commemoration begins with a lantern lit circle by the old Eureka Memorial.
My involvement in Eureka commemorations in Ballarat are only a year longer than Dr Joe's. My way in was lantern making for a very successful commemoration event, the Eureka Dawn Walk a project of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery which peaked at 150th anniversary in 2004 with 1000 lanterns on parade. But was then killed off by the dead hand of the City management.
Now my lanterns serve to illuminate Dr Joe's event, giving the pre-dawn assembly at the Eureka Memorial an ethereal beauty. This year i added fire, a small one burning in a plough share brazier, flames lighting faces, fragrant eucalpyt smoke drifting, an Oz Delphic touch i thought.
A circle forms and Joe asks people to say what Eureka means to them and why they have come. A microphone is passed and Joe fills in with contextual comment about the timing and the light on that fateful morn of 1854.
When the mike got to me i introduced myself as an old man, a gray nomad, on the road speaking up and speaking out against our state of endless war, present to honor the ancestors and recharge with Eureka Spirit.
For the rest of the day as i rigged banners with vigour, Dr Joe ragged me about being an old man. "Good help so hard to find these days."
After a breakfast by the Hall BBQ, we assembled for our annual rebel March, a Long March from the Stockade site to the Old Cemetery, via Bakery Hill and Town Hall and back again via the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery. About a 10km road trip and uphill, challenger for the gray heads who made up most of our number..
I put out flags, rigged the Eureka Oath banner i painted up some years ago on bamboo poles and convinced Dr Joe to carry it, it's height and wind resistance adding to the physical challenge that Joe was so happy to promote.
Our March took off down Stawell Street, southern cross and anarchist flags arrayed at odd angles and the Oath banner proudly proclaiming our purpose. Few in number but big in spirit, there was something noble and valiant about it.
"Like a holy procession on a holy day", i noted over the Peacebus PA as we rolled along behind.
Viola Wilkins was my companion and we took turns, me rebel spruiking and she singing rebel songs to the residences, the odd pedestrian and the passing traffic. We got many a toot and a thumbs up.
Bakery Hill, the site of the "Monster Meetings" where the grievances of the diggers were given voice and where dissent became rebellion, is marked by a roundabout, a Eureka flag flying from a high pole and the golden arches of a MacDonalds which a screen of trees is as yet not high enough to hide.
Here is where Dr Joe presents the annual Eureka Australia Day medals. While i worked to drive in star pickets and array banners and so free hands and give the place and event some dignity and presence, Joe kept up his banter about old men and poor help.
The awards were started in 2005 (i got one in the first batch!) and given to people to honour their commitment to the sentiments which are expressed in the Eureka Oath. An open nomination process for the medal is overseen each year by the Anarchist Media Institute.
Names and citations for Eureka157 Medals to be added here.
From Bakery Hill our Eureka march continued through the Ballarat Mall and Peacebus went ahead to wait under the Queen Victoria statue outside Ballarat Town Hall, the next of stations of our Southern Cross witness.
Dr Joe has been urging the City of Ballarat to honour the day by flying the Southern Cross from the masthead of the Town Hall each 3 December. No response on that one. But the previous year the mayor had agreed to meet our March at the flag pole beside the Queen Victoria, to raise the Southern Cross there and lead the Oath.
Joe had been delighted with this official recognition but times change, a conservative mayor had been elected and that little bit of progress undone. This year the Reclaim the Radical Tradition of Eureka program were comletely ignored by a Council which seemed to be ignoring Eureka commemorations generally - there was no apparent evidence of it having organised any Eureka celebration of its own.
We were not ignored by the cops however. As Viola and i watched the marchers and their flags come towards us up Sturt Street, we noticed they had trail of the flashing blue and red lights following. Five cop cars in total, apparently responding to complaint calls.
Seemed the cops neither knew the significance of the day nor the meaning of our flags for when they emerged from their cars and joined the marchers on foot under Queen Victoria, they demanded to be told what we were up to.
Probably it would have been polite to have given them notice of our march, but we were anarchists and asking permits for a Eureka commemoration from Victoria Police runs against the grain. What is more we had more than the attempted suppression of the democratic movement of 1854 on our minds; more recently was the savage suppression of Occupy Melbourne.
Dr Joe tried to brush them off with a "we do this every year and have for the past 10 years, what's your problem?"
But the senior constable who assumed command, a tall man with a naturally overbearing manner, stood amongst, talking down to Joe and wanting more information.
I was standing on a milk crate struggling to gaffer tape a Southern Cross flag as high as i could reach up the flag pole which had been denied to us when i heard the frustration rise in Joe's voice: "What do you want to do? Arrest us?"
The cop stepped back as if shocked by the escalation and suddenly aware of his intimidating body language. No, he protested, he didn't want to make any arrests.
Maybe it was the extra height afforded by my milk crate, but i took up the offensive and, with my voice sharp with authority, said, "Then get out of our faces and let us do our ceremony."
He stepped back as if stung but i was onto him, following him as he backed away, seizing the theatre of the moment. "Do you know of the role of the Victoria Police in the suppression of the Eureka stockade," i asked.
No, he indicated with a shake of his head
"Then let me me tell you ..." and this old man was away, winged words in full flight, voice projecting a mix of anger and sorrow, playing both to the assembled cops (mostly women with sour faces) and the marchers.
The Victoria Police was just one year old in 1854 and, because more honest men preferred work in the goldfields as miners or the suppliers of miners, its ranks were filled with many convicts and convict warders. The mining license system and its license hunts had fostered bullying and corruption so venal and violent that it has caused the diggers to take up arms against what they named to be tyrannous government.
I described the murderous police riot that happened after the redcoat soldiers had suppressed resistance in the Stockade. For 3 km around diggers and their families were terrorised by mounted police exacting vengeance, eager with slashing of sabres, pistols fired point blank and the burning of tents.
"A journalist was shot in the chest," i said gesturing pointedly at the chest of the cop with forefinger and cocked thumb. Such was the force of my theatre that he involuntarily winced.
No apology has ever been offered for the bloody riot by the Victoria Police at the Eureka Stockade. In 2003 when she came to Ballarat riding in a horse draw carriage to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the Victoria Police, I had asked Commissioner Christine Nixon: "But will you say sorry, Christine?"
She said she would think about it. Dr Joe had pursued the matter with follow up letters. But no, no apology came.
"Because," i suggested in winding up, "the Victoria Police is as corrupt today as it was then."
And with a final flourish i gestured to the cop now looking a bit shame-faced for what his intervention had evoked, "You read the news. You know this is true."
"No it isn't," he replied lamely.
Joe took up the lead again, dismissed the apology as an issue and proceeded with our unofficial rebel oath taking in cop free rebel style. There after the cops were totally cooperative. And from my fellow Eureka celebrants, i got nods of affirmation for my bold and provocative oratory. Eureka spirit!
Now with a police car fore and aft our march moved up Sturt Street into Doveton Street, without the burden of the Eureka Oath banner. As marchers toiled up the hill to the Old Cemetery, Dr Joe took the mike and, as he had done the year before, listed the hard won liberties that had been undone, and held undone, by recent governments of Howard, Rudd and now Gillard.
Arrest and detention without charge or trial. The denial of habeas corpus.
As with the endless war, the stripping of liberties has Murdoch-Lib-Lab support and resistance has no weight and no existence as a matter of public discourse except for Dr Joe and his 3CR Anarchist World broadcasts.
Joe walked the talk this day, puffing a little on the hill, speaking into the Peacebus PA as i rolled along side him the flag bearers ahead of us, a curious few listening from the pavements.
The marchers kept to the service road and i followed as far as i could and then peeled off to go ahead and be there to meet them at the cemetery gates.
As i came in view of the gates, there Viola and i spied redcoats. They were a bunch of re-enactors from the Victorian Re-enactment Society and they were just arriving, ladies in crinolines too, coming from their cars to line up inside the gates.
Seems the Ballarat City Council did have a Eureka celebration planned and it was the annual Peter Tobin Oration at the Soldiers Grave. The late Peter Tobin, he of the funeral parlor family, had been a pioneer redcoat re-enactor in Ballarat and a long time board member of Sovereign Hill.
Redcoat re-enactments are the very antithesis of Dr Joe's Reclaim the Radical Tradition of the Eureka Rebellion. The timing of our arrival had been serendipitous and perfect.
From 100 m away, i hailed them on the PA: "Soldier boys. How does it feel to be dressed up so smart? You think the redcoat deeds were glorious. We say they were bloody."
Parked outside the splendid cast iron cemetery gates, Viola and I waited for the anarchist marchers to arrive and watched the redcoats form their line inside. Their plan was plain to see: They intended to march thence to the soldiers grave and as in previous years, raise the Union Jack and fire a volley.
Six redcoats, about 3 crinolines, 8 Council officers and Ballarat Tourism Association people and about 20 tourists had assembled, in number about the same as the anarchists. Amongst them I recognised Ron Egberg, director of the Eureka Centre, and a shaved headed chap, Doug (?), a long time promoter of redcoat re-enactments whom i had once met during my Dawn Walk days. The retiring Ballarat Mayor Cr Craig Fletcher was also present though i didn't recognise him.
I could tell by the way these people bustled about avoiding eye contact and pretending we did not exist that our presence was the cause of great consternation. No one knew what to do next.
Likewise the marchers when the arrived at the cemetery gate; they stood and looked on in wonder. When it became clear the redcoats were in no hurry to move on, Dr Joe led the marchers and their flags through the gate and behind the redcoat lines.
As i went to follow in Peacebus but i found my way blocked by a redcoat supporter standing in front with his back to me. A blockade! I called to him "hey mate, ..." and he turned and revealed a mask of fury, eyes bulging, face red. Viola was appalled.
"I will let you pass if you promise not to use the PA," the self appointed sentry said.
"You don't get to tell me when and how to use the Peacebus PA," i said and began easing Peacebus forward nudging him backward through the gate with its bull bars. Viola was doubly appalled.
Enraged even further he began yelling about being assaulted. Rolling away from the bull bars he grasped my right forearm which had been resting, elbow on door window sill.
For a moment there we were locked it was an arm wrestle, he attempting to pull my arm back against the mural frame as Peacebus slowly advanced.
"Unhand me," i demanded indignantly recalling the words that had worked so well in the Rockhampton Council Chamber for Bryan Law back in June.
Everyone was watching now but the theatre was mine. I could feel his strength failing as he realised he was unsupported and making a fool of himself.
"Unhand me," i said again, this time as a display of strength and defiance as I unpealed the grip without taking the other hand from the steering wheel, playing to the audience of the appalled. I eased Peacebus carefully behind the redcoat lines and, speeding down the road between the graves. In the rearview mirror i watched cops following hesitantly on foot .
At the Diggers Grave i caught up with the Marchers. As I tied flags to the cast iron fence of the Grave i explained the tussle at the gate.
The Diggers Grave and the Soldiers Grave are close, 20 metres apart.
"The Redcoats are coming," I said. "What will we do?" What resonance in that question!
"Ignore them!" declared Dr Joe.
"History for tourism is not our business," he said. "We are here to understand the deep significance of the events, what made it so successful in terms of social change outcomes and the lessons we may learn."
And so it was that Redcoat re-enactors came marching by with their coterie of crinoline ladies, civic leaders, bureaucrats and tourists, disdaining us as we disdained them, all of us as solemn as the tombstones all about.
The moment was vivid but for its false consciousness rather than its truth. Ancestors grumbling in my head but out of respect for Joe the host, i withheld voice. The ancestors were saying things like,"You want re-enactaments then we'll give you a reenactment!" - jeers, shouts of abuse, a few metaphoric rocks thrown and a drummer boy shot.
In response to the mass meetings on Bakery Hill and the digger's delegations demanding justice, in late November 1854 Governor Hotham sent the 12th Regiment of Foot, to reinforce the 40th Regiment in Ballarat. Hot from the march and sore headed from the hangovers of their grog and harlot R&R at the Myrinong pub the previous night, it arrived in disarray and stumbled into the Eureka diggings where it was met with escalating hostility from the diggers there, Irishmen with no love for Redcoats and quick to see in their presence Hotham's contempt and bloody intent.
Jeers, shouted abuse, rocks hurled and guns shot, the terrified Redcoats hurried to the safety of the Government Camp bearing their wounded drummer boy.
Government propaganda was made much of this incident: "brutal outlaw diggers kill poor wee drummer boy" and for many years the Soldiers Grave had a separate headstone for John Eagan, the drummer boy. Removed in 2003 it had taken 149 years for this particular government lie to be repudiated. John Eagan had died in bed at Victoria Barracks Sydney in 1860.
Speaking from the heart across the martyrs' grave under anarchist and Southern Cross flags is a deeply moving experience, core to the Dr Joe's ritual of remembrance, his Stations of the Southern Cross. And he does it so well.
To my surprise Ron Egberg, Director of the Eureka Centre, dressed in bright red fleecy jacket with a Eureka Centre logo appeared, gave a short speech and led us in the Oath at the Grave. I thought this might have been a consolation prize for the refusal of the Mayor, but Joe told me later Ron had appeared at the Diggers Grave unasked and offering to do this. Joe, not recognising him and ever willing to include, had agreed.
So it was that Ron Egberg who had done nothing to help or assist in the promotion of our event, and likely a lot of backroom hand wringing about us being the wrong kind of people to be attracting to Ballarat, now assumed leadedship, visible to the waiting Mayor and Redcoats Re-enactors, he the apparent includer, the common link. Fancy foot work, i thought.
To me Ron is a case study in managerial success through failure. He came from Tv marketing to the basket case Begonia Festival and went on to the Eureka Centre. Nothing he has administered has prospered, yet his career goes ever onward and upward.
He means well but lacks any deep understanding, political activism and rebellion being beyond his ken. If he had been alive in 1854, i reckon, he would have been a clerk in the Government camp organising fuck-ups in prisoner transfers and road gangs.
In the past i heard him talk of the need for "balance" in commemorating the suppression of the Eureka Stockade; by which he means equal time for diggers and redcoats. Balance in the exercise of tyranny? An absurd idea.
The truth is that acting on orders from a martinet governor who was seeking "to suppress the democratic movement", the redcoat regiments, without warning or entreaty to surrender, attacked and killed citizens defending their rights and liberties. There is no glory in this, no fair go, nothing to be remembered but shameful blood letting.
This day Ron was plugging for his upcoming Centre for Democracy, his failure to come. "Eureka was a key moment in the formation of Australian democracy," he declared. True but how and why he cannot say, so his words, lacking authenticity, come across like slogans in a beer commercial. Then off he went to watch the mayor hold his hand over his heart as the Union Jack was raised and the redcoat reenactors fire a volley of blanks.
I seized the moment and asked permission to speak.
Pointing the assembly at the Soldiers Grave i said: "That is why we must reclaim the radical tradition of the Eureka Rebellion and create our own rituals of remembrance. Left to government it will be remembered as a soldiers event. A big buck re-enactment of whole regiments is what is being planned."
"This is history wars at work. Just another manifestation of the deliberate intent, calculated cultural policy, to militarise Australian culture."
At the utterance of "militarise", boomity-boom, the redcoat musket salute sounded perfectly on cue.
As serendipity would have it we met the redcoats again when the Marchers arrived at the Ballarat Fine Arts Gallery. The Marchers had come to view the Holy Relic Southern Cross on display there. It had been having been returned (secretly it was reported) the day before from restoration in Adelaide.
The Redcoat Re-enactors had come to lunch in a nearby restaurant. They had parked their cars in Camp Street and stood hesitantly in the lane beside the Gallery wondering if it was safe to come out. Some soldiers these.
"Of course it was," i reassured a dressed up sergeant patting him on the sleeve.
In the subdued light of the display room, the atmosphere was reverent as Dr Joe told the story of the Flag, Marchers sitting about in the airconditioning, resting their weary limbs.
In the foyer were Ron Egberg and the Redcoat organisers and the atmosphere there was bristling with hostility as i passed through on my way to the toilets. Eyes averted and denying recognition.
"One has to be noticed to be ignored," i reminded myself. These words has become something of a Peacebus mantra.
Because the media did ignore our commemorations. In the lead up no local media (neither Ballarat Courier nor ABC Radio Ballarat) took up the Murdoch effigy burning or gave mention to our Reclaim commemorations.
The Courier in its follow up story of 6 December featured a page 6 photo of the Redcoats. In a supplementary photo not shown on their website, the Eureka and Anarchist flags can be seen as a tiny background feature between the gates and behind the Redcoat line.
Which would sum up how the City officially regards our Reclaim efforts: a colourful detail and occasionally embarrassing.
In Mayan cosmology it is said that God is understood to be in the pea that is rolling out of the picture. We were in that pea, true to the ancestors, true to Creation, true to Eureka spirit.
And it felt great! For me, best Eureka commemoration yet.
10 - 18 December 2011