Giles Pickford

The Sesquicentenary of Eureka

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A report from Giles Pickford and Don Dwyer of the ANU Emeritus Faculty

Part One – The Journey

We (Cecilia and Giles who will henceforth be identified as C&G) set out from Canberra on Thursday with the aim of getting to Holbrook for the night. On Friday we set off for what was quite a long drive through Albury, Violet Town, Murchison, Rushworth, Bendigo (what a magnificent town and lunch to match) Castlemaine, Daylesford, Creswick to Ballarat.

Ballarat in its approaches is a jumble of streets, which we saw a lot of because the Motel was well off the main drag, and we were lost for a while. Finally we found our Motel on ‘Main Road’, which it might have been once, but is now definitely not.

Our other Expeditioners arrived one by one (Tim Curtin, Pam Swadling, Jill Waterhouse, Peter Pearson, Don Dwyer, Ray Aitchison, Stan and Julie Cronin) and we dined in the Motel that night.

The next day C&G went into town to look around. Standing on the corner of Sturt and Lydiard, Ballarat is seen in all its magnificence. The bells were pealing as the campanologists worked away on the day of the Diggers March. The buildings all had that grace and power so typical of the gold towns of the 19th Century. We visited Craig’s Hotel on Lydiard, a fine old pub with ornate ceilings and a carved oak bar with a dungeon underneath it which can be hired for Birthdays. We visited the Mining Exchange and the Gold Shop, where the attendant would not tell us the value of the largest nugget on display.

Part Two – The Diggers’ March

Then we walked back to Bakery Hill, set apart from the power centre of town. It was here that the Diggers met to discuss their injustices. It was here that they convened on Thursday 30 November 1854 to marshal themselves for the march to the Eureka Lead where they would build their fateful Stockade.

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The gathering 150 years later was interesting, large and diverse. While most of the people present were what you could call ‘main stream democrats’, there was a significant number of fringe groups, some of them clearly uninterested in democracy.

We were handed Vanguard, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist Leninist) which contained within its earnest pages an article complaining that the trial of Slobodan Milosovic was being conducted by a Kangaroo Court. We have never come across a kangaroo court which took fours years not to reach a conclusion. Normally such courts take less than an hour to finish their business.

The Communist Party of Australia (Maoist) was not present at Bakery Hill. The memory of Tienanmin Square may have had too many parallels to Eureka for its members to bear the thought of participating.

Another broadsheet came from the Anarchists, whose philosophy could be expressed as ‘my freedom is more important than yours’. The banner said that it was published by the ‘Anarchists Media Institute’. I accosted the anarchist, asking how an organisation which did not believe in institutions could have one of its own. He waved me away. Some questions are too hard.

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A third broadsheet Green Left came from the Socialist Alliance. In these pages it was claimed that ‘The US and Israeli rulers’ worst nightmare is coming true – a unified Palestinian leadership.’ Has not Palestine had a unified leadership for the last 20 years? Will the next one, or the nightmare, be any different?

 

Rising up over all this moronic babble, John Molony’s voice called us to remember what really happened at Bakery Hill 150 years ago and to apply this knowledge to our present day situations.

The day was hot and the march was long. Here are excerpts from the speeches made at the four points of memory along the way. The full text is published in Eureka Stockade Diggers’ March by John Molony, Eureka’s Children, Ballarat.

Bakery Hill

"During October and November 1854, the diggers of Ballarat, and many of their women, stood on Bakery Hill in their thousands at a series of four ‘Monster Meetings’. Today in our imagination, we can still look across the valley of Yarrowee and see the Government camp on the other side. In late 1854 the Camp stood out clearly to the diggers. The Camp, where military and police were sworn to uphold good laws and a just order, was in fact a den of oppression, injustice and corruption".

Catholic Church and Hayes’ Tent Site

"The most tightly knit national group at Ballarat in 1854 was that of the Irish Catholics whose young, learned and devout priest, Fr Patrick Smyth, was much esteemed… On 18 October, the priest’s crippled Armenian manservant was arrested for the non-possession of a miner’s licence. The charge was changed and the Armenian was fined five pounds, paid by Fr Smyth, for assaulting the arresting constable. A respectable witness swore that, in truth, the constable had assaulted the cripple and allowed his horse to trample on him…"

Melbourne Road & Bentley’s Eureka Hotel

"On 7 October, two young Scottish Diggers, James Scobie and Peter Martin, arrived at the hotel late at night. Both were with drink taken, but they were still thirsty. Their request for further refreshments was refused; a scuffle followed leaving Scobie dead from a head wound. Despite the widespread conviction that Bentley was responsible, he was exonerated by Magistrate D’ewes. Public outrage in the Community was immense and on 17 October, the hotel was burnt to its stumps. With the arrest of three innocent diggers, the final events of Eureka had begun."

The New Stockade

"On Sunday morning at dawn on 3 December 1854 a hundred or so diggers were asleep in the Stockade. None of them expected that the Christian forces of the Queen would attack them on the Sabbath Day. No Riot Act had been read, martial law was not proclaimed and no chance to surrender was offered. The well-armed military and police, 296 in number, fell on the diggers who struggled to take up their weapons, many of which were primitive pikes. Within 20 minutes resistance had ceased, but the sadistic retribution and bloody vengeance continued in and out of the Stockade."

Eureka Stockade Monument

"The painful march to a democratic Australia, first undertaken by the diggers on Thursday 30 November 1854, had taken its first halting steps. When reform began in the wake of Eureka, Peter Lalor mourned that nothing had been done to rectify matters ‘before this bloody tragedy took place’. He went on ‘Is it to prove to us that the British government can never bring forth a measure of reform’ without baptizing it in ‘a font of human blood’."

Part Three – the Dawn Lantern Parade

Don Dwyer has contributed these thoughts on the Dawn March, as C&G had a paralysing attack of existential dread and were unable to get out of bed at 3.00 am.

"The one thousand-strong Dawn Lantern Parade travelled four kilometres from the centre of Ballarat to the Eureka Stockade.

It commemorated the 1854 march of three hundred troops who attacked the rebel diggers at the Eureka Stockade where thirty rebels and six soldiers died.

In the modern Aussie way, the 2004 marchers were a motley crew with one woman in evening dress who was wheeled in a shopping trolley by her male companion.

Marchers included Terry Hicks who was both booed and cheered. His supporters included a descendant of Eureka leader, Peter Lalor. Peter Lalor Philp said he saw parallels between the injustices his ancestor had fought and Terry Hicks’s struggle to ensure that his son, David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay, was given a fair trial.

Some marchers declared that Terry Hicks should be acclaimed as ‘Father of the Year’ for his efforts on behalf of his son.

ANUEF participants Peter Pearson, Jill Waterhouse and I, saw the sun rise on a splendid Central Highlands day – a far cry from the floods which hit Ballarat the following weekend.

After the march and the speeches we were treated to yet another ‘hands-on’ sausage sizzle by the Shearers and Rural Workers Union."

Part Four – The Eureka Sesquicentenary Luncheon.

After the dawn tumult, the peace of noon prevailed in the heart of the Mining Exchange Building in central Ballarat.

A huge crowd occupied every table, and every book on Eureka except (inexplicably) John Molony’s, was on sale, along with other memorabilia.

Once again John Molony was the Master of Ceremonies. He spread the program out so that it covered lunch and the rest of the day.

The fare was excellent: Minestrone or Lentil Soup, Pollo di Cacciatora or Arrosto di Vitello and Tira-misu or Fragole alla crema. The menu seemed to be in honour of Carboni, one of the leaders of the uprising in 1854.

We were welcomed by Cr Jamie Sleep, President of the Old Colonialists Association; and Frank Williams, Chair of the Eureka Stockade Memorial Association (ESMA). Mrs Beverley Pratt said Grace.

There was a power point presentation of all the people on the Honour Roll of ESMA, many of whom were amongst the guests. And then the newest member was inducted into the Honour Roll: Mr Frank Williams, the Chair of ESMA, who had so steadfastly maintained on the TV News some days before that Terry Hicks, the father of David Hicks, should lead the Dawn Lantern March.

It seemed to us that whether you thought David Hicks was guilty or not, it seemed fairly clear that he was not getting a fair trial. The presence of his father at the head of the March had been most controversial in the media. But Terry Hicks is not on trial. On the contrary, it is us who are on trial in there with David Hicks in Guantanamo Bay.

After lunch we were regaled by an excellent address from Gough Whitlam who spoke sitting at his place at the dining table, being too frail to mount the Dias. His talk was peppered with memories and observations of events and people long ago.

Kathy King followed with a toast to the women of Eureka, and she was followed by a talk from Professor Weston Bate, a historian of Eureka.

We sorely missed our own Al Grassby who was to have spoken next, but who was ill with pneumonia and could not attend: but a letter from him to all of us was read out.

The final speaker was The Hon. Giovanni Sgro, a local politician and a countryman of Carboni’s, continuing the association of the Italians with Ballarat and with revolution.

Conclusion

We (The Emeritus Faculty members and guests) had many debates in the pub and out of it on the question of the rights and wrongs of Eureka. We agreed that in the 150 years since Eureka, the sympathisers with the Diggers had sought to excuse the folly of an armed resistance to an overwhelming force. And that those who usually side with Law and Order had sought to excuse the Government forces on the grounds that someone has to be in control. Hence, there has never been an apology for the massacre, and there has never been an acceptance that the diggers could have won their war without first losing a battle.

We make no apology for using the word ‘massacre’. The diggers were surrounded at dawn by a force which outnumbered them by three to one. The force was better armed. The diggers were unprepared because they had assumed that, being Sunday, the Government forces would be at prayer. The Government forces broke the law of the land by not waking the diggers first and reading them the Riot Act. Instead they opened fire on them. It was a kangaroo shoot, it was a cull. There is no other way to describe it. Calling it a massacre is actually a piece of masterly understatement.

There is not doubt that after the massacre, faced by juries that would not condemn any defendant brought before them, the Government began to realise that it had been wrong. Conciliatory gestures were made, everything except an apology.

Whatever we think, the events of 1854 are deeply worrying and must never be forgotten. We rest confident in the knowledge that the good citizens of Ballarat, and the rest of Australia, will never allow that to happen.

 
Giles Pickford | Website created by Michael Pickford