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Friday, November 24, 2006


December 3 2004 marked the 150th anniversary of the uprising of Gold Diggers at Ballarat. It as always been a controversial issue in Australian history. Our prime minister John 'The Evil Dwarf' Howard made perfectly clear that he had no desire to participate in its commemoration.

I take pride in one of my old unions’ The BLF making the Eureka flag known as part of their union colors, my other old union was the Ship Painters and Dockers, during the 3 month strike/occupation of Sydney's Cockatoo Island Docyard in 1989, we flew the Eureka flag. Both unions were put out of action by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating’s ALP governments. The BLF was deregistered, a nice word for being outlawed. The Painters and Dockers went of existence with the ALP’s murder of Australia’s Ship building and repair industry.

It’s a good thing to see a lot of unions using the Eureka flag as their colors today. But I’ll never forget that fellow teacher having an arrogant dig at me over my BLF past with this quote from Tony Wright’s book, Turn Right at Istanbul, A walk Along the Gallipoli Peninsula

“The battle of the Eureka Stockade, where perhaps 22 miners and five soldiers were killed in a hillside skirmish that lasted a quarter of an hour, deposited within the Australian heart a legend of ordinary folk standing against ruthless authority, and gave us the finest flag we’ll never have, the Southern Cross of Eureka. The flag was appropriated in the 1970s by a union, the Builders Labourers Federation which managed to disgrace itself through thuggery and corruption, effectively placing the flag off limits for any group that might want to revive it.”

As some one who had relations at Gallipoli as well as the Western Front, I found the dig at me, as well as Wright’s book offensive. Tony Wright was wrapping the Gallipoli ethos around the so called War on Terror. Anyone with half a sense of decency sees Gallipoli as bloody tragedy that was repeated in larger numbers on the Western Front.

When I saw the television coverage of the 150th anniversary from Ballarat, in the Katoomba RSL Club, after my bushfire brigade’s Christmas party, Chanel Nine zoomed in the Eureka flag that belongs to the BLF stalwarts. It has name of many of my old Victorian Comrades who passed away, and John Cummo/Cummins former state president of the Victorian Construction Division of the CFMEU, was added to it this year. Over 3,000 people marched behind Cummo’s coffin at his funeral in Melbourne, that was adorned in the Eureka Flag.

For me the Eureka flag represents the underdogs in Australian history, the battlers. The following quotes and articles below prove it. And I will add further quotes in the next few days. And please feel free to post a comment.

John/Togs Tognolini

"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties"
– Oath taken by 500 miners on the Eureka goldfield, November 30, 1854

"The source of pauperism will be settled in Victoria by any quill-driver, who has the pluck to write the history of public-houses in town, and sly-grog shops sellers on the gold-fields."

"‘Your licence, mate,’ was the peremptory question from a six foot fellow in blue shirt, thick boots, the face of a ruffian armed with a carbine and a fixed bayonet. The old ‘all right’ being exchanged, I lost sight of that specimen of brutedom and his similars, called as I learned, ‘traps’ and ‘troopers’.
Inveterate murderers, audacious burglars, bloodthirsty bushrangers, were the ruling triumvirate, the scour of old Europe, called vandemonians, in this bullock-drivers’ land."

Raffaello Carboni 1820-1875
The Eureka Stockade Melbourne 1963

"At Melbourne, in a long veranda giving on a grass plot, where laughing jack-asses laugh very horribly, sit wool kings, premiers and breeders of horses after their kin"d. The older men talk of the Eureka Stockade, and the younger men talk of the ‘shearing wars’ in North Queensland, while the traveller moves timidly among them wondering what under the world every third word means."

Rudyard Kipling 1865-1936,
On the Melbourne Club, Letters of Travel (1892-1913) Kipling stayed at Melbourne Club in November 1891.

"By and by there was a result; and I think it may be called the finest thing in Australian history. It was a revolution-small in size,but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for a principle, a stand against injustice and oppression. It was the Barons and John over again; it was Hampeden and Ship-Money; it was Concord and Lexington; small beginnings, all of them, but all of them great results, all of them epoch making.

It was another instance of a victory by a lost battle. It adds an honourable page to history; the people know it and proud of it. They keep green the memory of the men who fell at Eureka Stockade, and Peter Lalor and his monument."

Mark Twain [Samuel Langhorne Clemens] 1835-1910 Following the Equator 1897

"Lalor used to say that however rash and foolhardy his had been, it was one of which any honourable man might be proud. The mass-vote of later generations has been in overwhelming agreement."

Alan Geoffrey Serle 1922- The Golden Age 1963

[In November 1938 Port Kembla wharfies/dockers declined loading up 23,000 tons of pig-iron for Japan. There action was in solidarity with the Chinese who had been invaded and occupied by Japan. but were forced to by legislation drafted by the commonwealth/federal attorney general Robert Gordon Menzies. Darwin was bombed by japan in 1942 and Menzies was nick named Pig Iron Bob.]

"I believe that the mount Kembla with the sturdy but peaceful and altogether disinterested attitude of the men concerned, will find a place in our history alongside the Eureka Stockade, with its more violent resistance of a less settled time, as a noble stand against executive Dictarship and against an attack on Australian Democracy."

Sir Isaac Issacs 1855-1948, first Australian to become governor-general, Australian Democracy and Our Colonial System 1939

Eureka the Brave

1 December 2004

Dean Mighell

I’ve been attending the Eureka celebrations in Ballarat for many years. Historians and academics — and even left-wing activists, some of them in the trade union movement — often argue about the aims and motives of the miners who built the stockade.

Too often, armchair critics seem to forget that in taking up arms against an army of redcoats these miners faced either death or hanging for treason. These were men with strong views about justice. So too were the women who sewed the Southern Cross flag at night under candlelight and discussed the licence issue and the vote with husbands and brothers committed to human rights and democracy.

The Electrical Trades Union (ETU) is very proud that two of its members, Fintan Lalor and Glenn Withers, are direct descendants of the Eureka rebels. Fintan is the great-great-grandson of Eureka leader Peter Lalor. He’s named after James Fintan Lalor, Peter Lalor’s brother. James was an Irish political activist who was jailed for his political beliefs. Glenn Withers is the great-great-great-grandson of Anastasia Withers, one of three women who sewed the Eureka flag.

Peter Lalor came from a political family deeply engaged in the Irish land wars of the 1840s. Raffaello Carboni, Frederick Vern, Timothy Hayes and their comrades were unflinching political activists. Conservative politicians and reactionary historians, the same mob who scoff at the idea of an Indigenous stolen generation or the proposition that blacks were massacred by white invaders, won’t have a bar of Eureka. It’s far too political for their purposes. That’s why Prime Minister John Howard has shunned the celebrations and refuses to talk about the rebellion. It’s time trade unionists and activists helped Eureka take its rightful place in our history.

Just because the miners were violently opposed to the gold licence fee doesn’t mean they were self-serving small capitalists. Whatever we think of capitalism in 2004, it was an unforgiving beast 150 years ago. The Great Starvation (famine) in Ireland had caused millions to either die or emigrate, and the world was a grim place.

Although Karl Marx wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, it was hardly compulsory reading on the goldfields and there was no broad working-class or political movement in Melbourne or Ballarat. We need to put the miners’ politics in the context of the times. Even so, in 1855 Marx described the rebellion as “an economic crisis, with the ruling British monopolies trying to shift the burden on to the working people”. It’s no wonder Howard won’t talk about Eureka.

The miners didn’t just argue against the licence fee. They cried out for political reform. And even if the constitutional changes that would give people the vote were already in train, they wanted it sooner rather than later, and without restriction. The Ballarat Reform League, formed at Bakery Hill on November 11, 1854, espoused all the political principles of the Chartist movement. It might not have been revolution, but it was radical for the times.

The campaign against the licence hunts bears so many similarities to our opposition to the Howard government’s building industry taskforce. The ETU wouldn’t mind a Carboni, Vern or Lalor in the workplace when the stooges turn up!

In his book The Eureka Stockade, miner Raffaelo Carboni wrote: “The maiden appearance of our standard, in the midst of armed men, sturdy, self-overworking diggers of all languages and colours, was a fascinating object to behold. There is no flag in old Europe half so beautiful as the Southern Cross of Ballarat.”

There was nothing jingoistic about the flag. The miners might not have been “workers of the world” uniting to crush capitalism, but nationality was not a barrier to unity. Among the dead miners were men from Ireland, England, Scotland, Prussia, Goulbourn in NSW, Canada and Nova Scotia. Eureka was a melting pot for political unrest from all around the world.

At the ETU we subscribe to the catch cry, “Touch one, touch all”. Above our Queensberry Street office and on our shirts and letterheads we proudly display the flag of the Southern Cross, made famous at Eureka. For the ETU it’s a symbol of independence and our commitment to a fair go.

The miners at Eureka refused to cower when it came to a fair go. And like us they wanted more. They wanted political reform and control of their affairs. That’s why our union is inspired by the stand they took. On December 2, 150 years after the miners bedded down in the stockade, the ETU will be hosting a night of stories and music at Eureka. We’ll try to imagine what it must have been like knowing troopers, armed and mercenary, might storm the stockade when day broke. And in the morning we’ll remember the more than 30 diggers who lost their lives fighting against a corrupt and elitist goldfield administration.

[Dean Mighell is the ETU branch secretary.]

From Green Left Weekly, December 1, 2004. Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.

From: Archives, Green Left Weekly issue #608 1 December 2004.

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