Ten years now since I began making Ballarat and the annual commemorations of the Eureka rebellion of 1854 a destination of pilgrimage for Peacebus.com.
My grandfather had been a gold miner and his father a miner too his bones in the graveyard at Creswick about 30 km north of Ballarat. Although my ancestors were not directly involved in the rebellion, I feel a deep and compelling connection to that blood sacrifice and each year takes me deeper and throws up new challenges.
For those unfamiliar with Australian history (and they are many thanks to Howard's culture wars), here is the Eureka story in brief. In 1854 Ballarat was 2 years old and had a population of over 20,000 which lived under canvas, cooked on open camp fires and endured its often wet, cold and miserable climate (just as it is as I write this).
Alluvial gold had been discovered by white settlers only two years before and a phenomenal rush had brought men and fewer women from 60 different nationalities to seek their fortunes in a ferment of industry; panning in surface creeks and digging shafts to find underground ones which they called Leads.
Victoria as a British colony was new too, just 17 years old. Squatters supported by rich families in England had seized the land and were establishing themselves grandly on the sweat of convict labour. The Victorian Police Force was even newer; just one year old and, manned by ex convicts and ex convict guards, it had already established its enduring reputation for corruption, violence and malice.
The Colony was broke and was faced with a fast increasing population and urgent demands for infrastructure spending. The rich squatters refused to pay taxes (have you heard that story before?) and so a miners license was introduced which police would collect on a commission basis.
It was in fact a tax on work rather than wealth and, in practice, fuel for further police corruption.
Agitation about the inequity of the tax, police corruption and the arbitrary arrest and detention of diggers led to mass meetings and demands for reform; liberal democratic reform in a time when a "liberal" meant someone who wanted liberation from tyranny and it was an epitaph as despised then as "greenie" is today.
Delegations were sent to Melbourne but the haughty Governor LaTrobe was not going to respond to "demands" being put upon Her Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria by a liberal rabble. Instead he responded by marching two redcoat regiments to Ballarat intent of crushing the democratic movement.
The diggers, realising what was coming, took up arms and began organising their defence with Peter Lawler as the Commander in Chief. A big flag, 3 m by 2 m, was sewn up and some 500 diggers many of them carrying guns gathered about it on Bakery Hill and, led by Lawler, they swore this oath:
"We swear by the Southern Cross that we will stand together truly and fight to defend our rights and liberties".
This was a challenge to the British Empire, sedition, a capital offense.
The diggers then marched to the Eureka Lead, a predominately Irish digging on high ground about 3 km for the Government Camp and astride the Melbourne road, and there they built a fence of mining timbers (the so called Eureka Stockade).
For three days the rebels effectively administered the goldfields of Ballarat, the colonial administrators, police and soldiers were too terrified to leave the Government camp. But on Sunday morning at 3 am they did and smote the diggers with a dawn attack.
The fight was short and bloody. The redcoats broke through the fence, killed all who resisted, tore down the flag and "trampled it under foot with a loud hooray" while the mounted police went beserk attacking bystanders outside the stockade. When the dust had settled 25 diggers were dead and 5 redcoats.
The Eureka Stockade had been crushed but not the Eureka spirit. The news of the government attack provoked outrage and when the prisoners were brought to Melbourne there were mass protests in the streets.
The Colonial government proceeded with trials, five of them one after the other, and each time the juries, not even hearing the evidence of the defence, ruled that the Government had acted tyrannously and that the diggers had a right to defend themselves. The released prisoners were carried through the streets of Melbourne by cheering crowds.
By the end of 1885 Latrobe was dead, a broken man, and democratic reform in the Australian colonies had become a necessity.
So it was that Victoria with the other Australian colonies following close behind became a leader in liberal democratic reform for the world.
But the Eureka story was denied, actively suppressed and distorted by the Colonial Government and the squatter property class that ruled it. It was put about that the reforms so won were in the pipeline anyway and the Stockaders mere foolish and impatient hot heads.
Bullshit! The "fair go" tradition begins at Eureka and it was won with blood. Courage in the face of tyranny. Direct action, solidarity, direct democracy and internationalism.
Anarchy works and governments lie. The poor and the lowly have always know this and this is why the Eureka Souther Cross flag is such a potent symbol. It is why it is always to be seen when Australians stand together and resist the tyranny of governments and the corruption of their police.
And it is why I am a Eureka flag bearer and why Peacebus.com actions take place under the Southern Cross. I want to honor that blood sacrifice, carry forward the tradition of the fair go, inspire others to be brave in the face of tyranny and to stand together truly and fight to defend rights and liberties.
I have caused the Eureka Southern Cross to be flown at actions and places as diverse as Melbourne s11, Sydney APEC, Yepoon Peace convergence, Independence from America Day in Byron Bay, in Canberra at the 2007 Bring Hicks Home/Bring Howard Down rally, in Newcastle for Climate Camp and in Wollongong protesting the corruption of the NSW ALP.
In Ballarat I have in the past years illuminated the Eureka commemorations with mass lantern parades.
This year I plan to illuminate the Eureka spirit by burning an effigy of Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty, Howard's Terror War point man and as such a chronic abuser of rights and liberties.
Thanks to the flakiness of the Rudd government, he is still in office and the tyranny of the Terror War continues. End the Terror, I say. Sack Keelty! Cuff the AFP!
At the Eureka Memorial at dawn on 3 December, the 154th anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, Mick Keelty will burn. And if neither Rudd nor Keelty get the message, I plan to keep on traveling the country and organising Keelty burnings under the Souther Cross until they do.
Blessed by the ancestors, Eureka spirit will prevail.
28 November 2008