We take for granted the limited rights and liberties we enjoy in Australia, won through the massacre at Eureka at Ballarat on the Victorian gold fields in 1854 and the social forment of the time which continues to send out political and social ripples across our continent. The Eureka Oath from 1854 continues to be a powerful statement of solidarity and justice, "We swear by the southern cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties."
Many Australians have been lulled into a sense of consumerist safety and security, with the story of the Eureka Stockade relegated as just a small historical event, of little current importance to Aussie battlers of today.
But the meaning of solidarity and justice encapsulated in the Eureka oath is well understood by the West papuans who come and attend the Dawn vigil and march. For the last 3 years members of the West Papuan community have attended Eureka commemoration events. Everyday their brothers and sisters, neices and nephews fight to raise their Morning Star flag and have their right to self-determination and free speech recognised. We hear too often of atrocities committed by Indonesian police and officials in the suppression of the independence movement for West papua. The oath and spririt of Eureka has direct meaning for West Papuans and they recognise in Eureka the same spirit of solidarity and justice, something forgotten by most Australians.
So early this Monday December 3, people gathered at 4am at the Eureka Monument in Ballarat to remember those who fought and died under the Eureka Flag, the flag of the southern cross. When proceedings started there was over 40 people gathered on the grass between banners and candle lanterns. But more people kept on arriving expanding the circle until more than 80 people were present.
Dr Joe Toscano acts as a master of ceremonies to the Dawn vigil event providing a brief statement on the historical facts and an historical interpretation of the meaning of the Eureka oath and the events on that fateful morning 158 years ago.
The Dawn vigil is broadcast live on community radio 3CR, although this year there was no microphone and instead a mobile phone was passed around the circle. The circle has become important as each person is allowed to connect Eureka, it's meaning, to their life and current struggles they are involved in. The spirit of Eureka takes on a contemporary relevance, whether it be on questions of militarism, political corruption, environmental pillage, social equity and justice, or Australian independence.
Graeme Dunstan, who had made many of the stylised banners and lanterns, had prepared an effigy of Major General Michael Krause AM, door opener for the Marines in Darwin. Just before dawn the effigy was put to the match and burned.
"Without any agreement from the people, without any consultation with the people of Darwin or any Parliamentary debate, Major General Krause has allowed a foreign army to occupy Australian soil and an Australian army base," said Mr Dunstan who was in Darwin during July-August campaigning against the US Marine presence.
By 6am the light of dawn was all around and the ceremony came to an end, allowing people to retreat to Eureka Hall for breakfast, or to their car, cabin or motel room to rest before the march through Ballarat.
A smaller crowd regathered at 9am outside Eureka Hall for the march to Bakery Hill, where Eureka Australia Day medals are awarded each year. Eureka Australia Day medals have been awarded to recognise people who have given exceptional service in the spirit of the Eureka Oath fighting to defend rights and liberties.
"In a time and in a country of manufactured, celluloid, self-centred, celebrity seeking heroes, Eureka Australia Day Medals recognise the authentic stuff, the true service of the unsung heroes," said Dr Joe Toscano spokesperson for AMI.
"When you add the years these people have given to the community and the country for no financial reward over decades, the total is 215 years."
The awards these year went to:
Joan Rooke (Posthumously) - Nurse, mother, partner, community activist who weathered the worst of the Bjelke-Peterson era and continued political, social and community activity for over 40 years.
Peter Riley - Foundation member new Industrial Workers of the World in Australia, union, community and political activist for over 40 years. Involved in numerous political struggles in Victoria, Western Australia, Queensland and Great Britain. Member of the Wednesday Action Group, broadcaster, father, partner.
Sharon Firebrace - Broadcaster/Melbourne 3KND. Indigenous and community activist for over 40 years. Originally came from New South Wales, now lives in Victoria. Continues to be at the forefront of radical indigenous struggles in Australia. Mother to be, community and political activist.
Loretta O'Brien - Courageous, devoted activist for over 20 years. Although in poor health took over management of Community Radio Station 3CR during last critical few years.
Bill Deller - Independent Marxist who has been involved in workplace and community struggles around Australia for over 45 years. Partner and father. Broadcaster on Community Radio 3CR. One of the more astute political activists this country has produced.
Michael Smith - Living treasure at 3CR, humble hard working over 30 years experience with community activism. 3CR Broadcaster, a 3CR stalwart who almost single handily has provided the technical assistance for numerous outside broadcasts.
Ballarat City Council parks and gardens staff had done some beautifying of the Bakery Hill roundabout with a large rose garden through the centre which posed issues in taking away the natural amphitheatre of the site.
Just before concluding Peter Lalor, a descendant of the Eureka leader of the same name, congratulated us on keeping the spirit of Eureka alive today.
Then onwards through the main shopping mall with christmas bunting to the Ballarat Town Hall. Here we were met by Deputy Major Councillor Samantha McIntosh for an official flag raising ceremony. It is gratifying that Council has again reinstated a flag raising ceremony on the anniversary of the crushing of the Eureka Stockade - December 3. Last year there was no official participation by the Council. But in 2009 and 2010 Councillor Judy Verlin, as Mayor, carried out an official flag raising ceremony.
Joe Toscano made a speech that he would like to see the Eureka Flag flying from the top of the Ballarat Town Hall. Perhaps next year.
The march continued on to the Old Ballarat Cemetery to visit the Diggers Memorial and Soldiers memorial. We were treated to a bit of a concert at the Diggers Memorial. The West Papuans shared a song of freedom. (Watch on Youtube) And we had a rendition of Moreton Bay performed. And another song with a guitar accompaniement. Joe Toscano spoke on the significance and history of the Diggers Memorial. (Watch on Youtube).
And then the long walk back to Eureka Park with a stop at the Ballarat Fine Arts Gallery to view the Eureka Flag. I guess what first strikes you about the flag is it's size. It is a large flag! And then you notice all the missing bits - the pieces that were cut out and given to visiting dignitaries when it was stuffed in a cupboard before the Second World War. The Flag has it's own story to tell, but it remains an important icon today. The Eureka Flag is still not listed as an 'official flag' of Australia.
Back at Eureka Park the CFMEU picnic is in progress at the stockade site with entertainment for the kids. It is a long day, capped with dinner in the evening at the Eureka Stockade Hotel with a guest speaker from the Ballarat Reform League.
The day definitely has meaning for those that attend. As activists it replenishes our strength to continue the myriad struggles we are engaged in. It connects us deeply with the traditions of direct democracy, solidarity and direct action. And it keeps alive the meaning of the Eureka Uprising for the people and institutions of Ballarat.