One hundred and fifty six years after the Eureka Rebellion was drowned in a sea of blood in Ballarat on the 3rd December 1854, diverse opinions are still held about the Rebellion's significance. Opinions have varied from Karl Marx's observations in 1855 "we have to distinguish between the riot at Ballarat (near Melbourne) and the general revolutionary movement in the colony of Victoria. The former will have been suppressed by now; the later can only be suppressed through complete concessions". Mark Twain, in 1897 in his whirlwind Australian tour believed "Eureka... is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle." While Robert Menzies in 1946 stated Eureka was "an earnest attempt at democratic government".
The Eureka flag has always played a prominent role in the Trade Union movement. It was flown at the first May Day parade held in Australia at Barcaldine in 1891 and continues to be used as the flag of the more militant elements of the Trade Union movement. Interestingly pockets of the white supremacist movement in Australia have recently adopted the Eureka flag as their flag, while many outlaw motor bikers have used the Eureka flag as their flag for decades. Even Howard's culture warriors got in on the act during his term as Prime Minister downplaying the significance of the Eureka Rebellion describing it as a small business tax revolt the same position that had been advocated by many new left Australian Marxists in the 1960's and 1970's.
The Eureka Rebellion has taken on a mythical quality in Australian folk lore. Different groups ranging from Young Australian Communists in the 1930's to white supremacists in the 1990's have adopted the Eureka Rebellion and flag as their symbol of revolt giving the events surrounding the Rebellion a significance that is based on manufactured myth, not reality.
Anyone looking for the meaning of the Eureka Rebellion only has to look at the Eureka Oath to understand the ongoing significance to Australians of the Eureka massacre. On the 29th November 1854 nearly 2,000 armed diggers, realising their dispute with the colonial authorities had reached a point of no return, took the Eureka oath at Bakery Hill, Ballarat - "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties".
Those men and women who took part in the Eureka Rebellion believed they were born with inalienable human rights which no government could legislate away. They believed ultimate political authority rested in the hands of the people, not the government of the day, the crown or the state. The mining tax which was originally introduced to stop people leaving their jobs and going to the goldfields to find their fortune soon became a catalyst for a much more important and significant struggle that is as important today as it was in 1854.
The four central elements of the Eureka Rebellion are Direct Democracy, Direct Action, Solidarity and Internationalism. The Ballarat Reform League, the organisation behind the Rebellion was established on that important day to many Australians, 11th November 1854. Ned Kelly was hanged on 11th November 1880, The Armistice was signed on the 11th November 1918 ending a war that had claimed over 60 thousand Australian lives and the Whitlam Labor government was dismissed on 11th November 1975.
The Ballarat Reform League, with the aid of a free and radical press, called a number of mass meetings at Bakery Hill which were attended by over 20,000 miners. The miners and their supporters made decisions and elected delegates with specific mandates to carry out those decisions. Instead of giving a signed blank cheque to a representative every three to four years to make decisions on our behalf as we do in local, state and federal elections, the Ballarat diggers and their supporters made decisions and elected or appointed delegates to carry out those decisions. They used direct democratic methods to ascertain the will of the people.
The diggers in the Eureka Rebellion were split between those who believed they needed to take up arms to press their struggle and those who took a pacifist position. Those who believed Direct Action was needed to pursue and win their claims against a government that had stopped listening and had mobilised its police and military to impose its will by force took the ascendancy in Ballarat in the days leading up to the establishment of the Eureka Stockade.
Faced with overwhelming military force, the diggers understood that solidarity was central to their success. If the diggers did not work together to achieve their aims they knew they had no hope of defeating the colonial authorities. Internationalism played a critical role in the Eureka Rebellion. Men and women from all corners of the globe of all religions, races and nationalities took part in the Eureka Rebellion. Two black men, John Joseph and Afro-American from New York and James Campbell a black man from Kingston Jamaica, were two of the thirteen miners charged with High Treason who were acquitted of all charges in 1855. John Joseph, the first of the thirteen acquitted of High Treason by a Melbourne jury on the 22nd February 1855 was chaired through the streets of Melbourne by a crowd of over 20,000 when he was acquitted.
The Eureka Rebellion although a military disaster marked a significant turning point in Australian history. The colonial authorities, faced with the very real prospect of a revolution in Victoria because of the wide spread community support the Ballarat miners enjoyed in part as a consequence of the massacre that occurred at Eureka as the newly formed Victoria Police force (1853) rioted once the Stockade was over run and slaughtered and maimed participants and witnesses up to a mile from the Stockade, were forced to concede to most of the miners' demands.
Within a year of the revolt Peter Lalor, the elected leader of the armed rebellion and the leader of the "Peace Party" on the goldfields, and John Humffray were elected to the Victorian Legislative Assembly. The reforms which were passed by the Legislative Assembly in the next two decades including free, secular and compulsory education that put Victoria on the cutting edge of reform in the English speaking world were, to a large degree, due to the legacy of the Eureka Rebellion.
One hundred and fifty six years later the central elements of the Eureka Rebellion, Direct Democracy, Direct Action, Solidarity and Internationalism, are once again at the forefront of the struggle for reform and radical change. In an era when there is increasing disillusionment with representative democracy and working up the right channels because parliament in Australia has, to a significant degree, been hijacked by that small section of society that owns the means or production, distribution and exchange, when individual pleas for reform are ignored and Australia is home to a cosmopolitan population that has come to this country from all corners of the globe, Direct Democracy, Direct Action, Solidarity and Internationalism are fast becoming the currency of political, social and cultural change in Australia in the first decade of the 21st century.
Joseph Toscano - Anarchist Age weekly Review - Number 909
22nd November - 28th November 2010
RECLAIM THE RADICAL SPIRIT OF THE EUREKA REBELLION
Come along to participate in the activities on the day
4am- 10pm FRIDAY 3rd DECEMBER 2010
156th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
AT EUREKA STOCKADE SITE
(Corner Stawell & Eureka Streets, Ballarat, VICTORIA)