We must remember the Eureka sacrifice and its legacy.


Herald Sun 2 December 2015

On 3 December this year, Australians should pause to remember the great sacrifice made at the battle fought at the Eureka Stockade at dawn on 3 December 1854 right here in Ballarat. As Mark Twain said, it was “a victory won by a battle lost”.

Sadly this won’t happen, unlike elsewhere in the world, where countries which had similar uprisings mark the anniversaries of these historic fight-for-freedom events with appropriate annual national commemorations and celebrations. Examples are Bastille Day on 14 July in France and Independence Day on 4 July in the USA.

Ballarat, as the custodian of Eureka, should be the passionate advocate for promoting 3 December as Australia’s national day to celebrate this country’s democratic freedoms.

The uniting symbol for Eureka is the Flag of the Southern Cross – the Eureka Flag – which was designed by Canadian miner “Captain” Henry Ross, a member of the Ballarat Reform League. With the central feature being the Southern Cross, Ross was inspired by the design of the Australian Federation Flag and incorporated the eight-star cross, which was a symbol of the Reform League.

The flag was stitched together by miners’ wives, and this new standard was first raised by the rebels at Bakery Hill on 29 November 1854. The following day the fired-up miners swore the following oath: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.”

Of course, three days later after the oath was sworn and the rebels marched to the Eureka Lead, we are all aware of the tragic event that occurred there on that fateful morning of 3 December 1854.

The Eureka Flag and the national heritage-listed Eureka Stockade Gardens, remain potent symbols of this battle, Australia’s only revolution.

Given this seminal event in Australia’s history, it would be fitting for the Eureka Flag to be flown at half-mast on 3 December each year as a mark of remembrance and respect. However, I’m sure you won’t see the Eureka Flag flying above the Parliament House of Victoria nor above any of the other eight parliament houses in Australia on 3 December 2015. It is regrettable that this doesn’t happen as it would be an appropriate gesture to honour the fallen at Eureka in their fight for fairness and a fair go for all.

In 2004, the then prime minister, John Howard, refused to fly the Eureka Flag at the Federal Parliament House for the 150th anniversary. However, the ACT government came to the rescue and flew dozens of Eureka flags along Northbourne Avenue leading up to Parliament House in protest.

Also on 3 December 2004, as a mark of respect, the NSW government flew the Eureka Flag above the Sydney Harbour Bridge and in the UK, the House of Commons displayed the flag to mark the importance of Eureka and its 150th anniversary.

However, despite his refusal to allow the Eureka Flag to be flown from Parliament House in Canberra, John Howard did say of Eureka that “the miners’ rebellion was central to the development of Australia as an independent, democratic country.”

Political luminaries have made significant comment on Eureka, including conservative prime minister Robert Menzies, who constantly wove the Eureka story into his speeches and declared that the uprising was “an earnest attempt at democratic government”.

Respected author Peter FitzSimons who has written many books, including Eureka – the unfinished revolution, said: “At Eureka, Australia became nothing less than one of the key ‘lights on the hill’ for democratic movements around the world.”

However, I believe that a major obstacle to there being respect for Eureka and a national annual commemoration is how the Eureka Flag has been hijacked over the years by left and right political groups in the pursuit of their own vested interests.

These groups range from communists, socialists and trade unions to nationalists, anti-taxation lobbies, racists and neo-Nazis. More recently, the Eureka Flag has been seen flying at the disturbing protests against the establishment of mosques in Bendigo and Melton, which is a totally unacceptable use of the flag.

I should point out that in 2004 the trade union movement made it clear that the Eureka Flag is not a union flag; they use it because they believe in what it stands for – fairness and a fair go for all.

Even the Australian Republican Movement has used the flag; however, I should also point out that the people of Eureka, whilst pro-republicans, were not anti-monarchists.

To satisfy both the left and right of politics, Eureka can be interpreted as a symbol of nationalism, the birth of Australian democracy or a middle-class tax revolt, but it was without doubt a defining moment in Australia’s history.

The Eureka Flag has become a symbol of free speech, basic rights, and a protest against unfair laws and regulations, as well as a symbol of democracy and defiance.

It is also listed as an artefact of state heritage significance on the Victorian Heritage Register and was named a Victorian Icon by the National Trust in 2006.

To introduce and mark a day of national remembrance for Eureka, I ask Council and MADE to create an annual Eureka Award to be announced on 3 December (Eureka Day) each year, which is presented to an Australian who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of Australian democracy, freedom and human rights.

Each year, the Premier of Victoria, with the Mayor of the City of Ballarat, would jointly announce the recipient of the annual Eureka Award. The criteria for this prestigious Victorian award would be based on the principles of the Ballarat Reform League Charter – the manifesto of Eureka – which was included in the 2004 UNESCO Australia Memory of the World Register.

The annual recipient of the award would then be asked to present that year’s Peter Tobin Oration.

Eureka is what sets Ballarat apart from any other city in Australia. It is at the heart of our proud history, heritage and our people, and is the foundation of much of our tourism attractions – Sovereign Hill, the Gold Museum, MADE and the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Eureka and gold were the inspiration for many of Ballarat’s heritage buildings and streetscapes – for example, our marvellous Lydiard Street – and our economic development. Our spirit of innovation, creativity and endeavour were all born from Eureka.

So today I call on the Ballarat City Council and the board of MADE to: first, grant free entry to all Australians to see the Eureka Flag and pay homage to those who lost their lives and to honour all the men, women and children of Eureka; second, ask the Federal Parliament to make the Flag of the Southern Cross – the Eureka Flag – a national flag; and third, create an annual Eureka Award to ensure that Eureka remains in the hearts and minds of all Australians.

And I leave the final words to Andrew Leigh, Federal Labor Member for Fraser, who said in his Eureka lecture: “The Eureka Stockade is Australia’s greatest story. It deserves to be acclaimed as a founding story, perhaps the founding story, of this nation.”

As a result of Eureka, Ballarat became the birthplace of the Australian spirit and was the wellspring of our democracy as we know today.

Eureka belongs to all Australians, and in 2015 we should commemorate with pride its 161st anniversary by pausing on 3 December to remember the men, women and children of Eureka.

Details on the 161st activities in Ballarat can be found at www.made.org .

Ron Egeberg, proud Eureka descendant


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