The Eureka Stockade was a memorable event in Australian
history. Valiant and rebellious men came together to fight against injustice.
The Eureka Stockade is considered a key event in the development of Australian
Trouble began for the gold diggers of Ballarat when Governor
Hotham came to power in June 1854. Hotham wanted to strictly enforce the
licensing laws and set up licensing checks twice a week. This only led to
increasing opposition of the licenses from diggers.
The policing system at the time was also corrupt. When a
digger was murdered in October of 1854, his friends believed they knew who the
culprit was and burned down their business. These men were arrested but when
the murderers went to trial, they were released because one was a friend of the
magistrate. This was the event that sparked rebellion in the hearts of the men.
On the 11th
of November, men rallied together in protest of the licenses, fair rights to
vote and for the release of the three men unfairly put in jail. This protest
led to the Ballarat Reform League being formed. On the 29th and 30th
of November, this league decided to have a public display of license burning.
At the burnings, the Southern Cross flag (the Eureka flag) was proudly displayed.
Led by Peter Lalor they declared:
“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to
defend our rights and liberties.”
For the next 2 days, preparations were made for a stockade,
the Eureka Stockade. They made a fortress of timber slabs with pikes surrounding
it. It enclosed about an acre of the goldfields and was very crudely made.
Firearms were also gathered, making the rebellion Australia’s only armed
rebellion in history. Early on the 3rd
of December, armed authorities launched an attack on the Eureka Stockade, as
they knew the diggers were dwindling in number and were vulnerable. The attack
was over in 20 minutes. The diggers were vastly outnumbered by soldiers, and 22
of them were killed. 5 soldiers were also killed in the process. The Eureka
stockade was a lost battle.
However, the Eureka Stockade was not all for nothing. The
Eureka Stockade garnered public sympathy, and led to the abolition of unjustly
expensive mining licenses. Not only this, it made entry into politics fair to
‘men without property’ with eight diggers entering the Legislative Council in
1855. It also caused the introduction of
the secret ballot even though only 1 in 8 diggers ever bothered to vote. Victor
Daley, an Irish nationalist wrote a ballad on the Eureka Stockade; “Ere the
year was over, Freedom rolled in like a flood/ They gave us all we asked for-
when we asked for it in blood.” The Eureka flag is now a potent symbol for
Australian freedom, justice and democracy.
The Eureka Stockade now stands in Australian folklore as the
day of the ‘Good Fight’. Mark Twain said of the Eureka Stockade: “It was a
revolution, small in size; but great politically; it was a struggle for
principle, a stand against injustice and oppression.”