An Australia guided by the spirit of the Eureka Tradition as symbolised by the diggers' flag and oath:
"We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties"
Notes to speech given by Rodney Cavalier, former N.S.W. Minister for Education, at launch of Bob Walshe's book -
THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN GOLDRUSH & EUREKA STOCKADE
(A radical re-interpretation)
at Gleebooks, Glebe, NSW. 2/12/05.
In the floor of the Parliament of Victoria is a trap-door which opens into a secret passage which will enable the inhabitants of the building to make their exit to an unobtrusive pagola nearby.
High in the roof of the ornamental facade of the same Parliament, entered by a secure balcony, are sniper holes in which marksmen can hide in the event of a disturbance in Spring Street below. At eye level are long vertical slits through which a rifle can train on what it wants for close to 180 degrees. Under a statute which remains law, in the event of a decision by a ranking police officer that a situation is out of control, the marksmen may open fire.
I know about the holes because I have stood in one, I have looked out, I have contemplated the possibilities.
The threat from the goldfields was the first time that the colonies lost their balance because of worries about the unknown. It was not to be the last time that political leaders sought to mine electoral gold about pandering to those fears. In the next 150 years the sense of threat has come from bushrangers, Sinn Fein, anarchists, communists, terrorists. 150 years on, Eureka is the one instance where the threat manifested itself and that only because the Governor ordered his troops to storm the stockade. In all those years of threats, Eureka is the sole instance where the accused shot back.
That we are here tonight in Glebe to celebrate the launch of Bob Walshe's ongoing work on the events outside Ballarat at the Eureka Stockade in 1854 says much about why that event takes its place in the popular memory along with Gallipoli.
We do not celebrate the achieving of responsible government in 1856.
Nor Federation on 1 January 1901.
Nor the passing of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act in 1941 by which Australia asserted its sovereignty and independence from Britain.
Nor the passing of the Australia Act in 1975 by which Australia cut the vestigal links with the United Kingdom.
We remember Gallipoli but not Villers-Brettoneux - epicentre of Ludendorff offensive in 1918 - first coordinated land and air battle.
We vaguely remember Alamein but not Milne Bay when conscripts and volunteers inflected the first defeat on land in the history of the Japanese Empire.
If Eureka is at the forefront of popular consciousness it is because its symbols live. The flag was created by Australians straight out of the night sky, one of the many startling contrasts with Britain and Europe. The flag they created was one of rare visual power. It can be labelled of the instant by any Australian who ever sees it.
If Eureka.........it is because of writers like Bob Walshe who has never let it go. Bob was there 50 years ago at the centenary and he has backed up last year and now this collection of his writings and lectures a year on. He is in every sense a part of the Eureka tradition, the autodidact who had the good fortune to survive the War and be able to enrol at the University of Sydney under the auspices of the postwar reconstruction and retraining scheme that was the centre of Ben Chifley's vision of a more equal Australia. Bob has never let this subject go.
This book brings together fugitive materials. Its illustrations are a credit to the printers and the presses they employed, there is a richness to the detail not often seen outside the more expensive cloth-bound.
Bob laments tha failure to carry forward the ideal of direct democracy. One suspects that was not possible in colonies so influenced by England and English common law and forms of administration. When a Westminster system was debated by the political class before 1855, they disagreed on details like the composition of the lower house and the need for a bicameral legislature, they were in agreement about the concept of constituencies for which individuals offered themselves for election by local electors.
Eureka had demonstrated the wretched folly of denying men a say in their government. The discovery of gold had brought so many new settlers to Australia that the public services across the land were not coping. Arrival was a nightmare, the roads were scarcely passable, the postal services could not cope with the wirght of mail. A failure to establish local representation on the goldfields and elsewhere made lawlessness more likely and encouraged authority in the form of the constabulary to be corrupt. Yet the colony was much richer, a critical mass of additional people had attained serious wealth, things could not be the same again.
I think that Michael Cannon puts it well when he states:
If the gold rushes had not occurrred, Australia would probably have become an outright oligarchy with aristocratic pretensions; since gold was discovered, it became a diffused oligarchy tempered by a pragmatic radicalism.
Who's Master? Who's Man?: Australia in the Victorian Age (Thomas Nelson 1971,217)
The miners resented the licences - though one can understand why the governments needed to know how many were out there and what they were doing - they did not need to cost so much or anything. The registering was the control measure.
The checks seem to have been oppressive, designed to reinforce the status of the licencing authorities. Calls from the top of the shaft to men working below was deliberately provocative.
It says much about the men who settled on these fields that they adopted cooperative methods of mining and extended that approach to their agitation. These were very different. Less violent fields than in California.
The aims of the Ballarat Reform League Charter were all achieved. Every one.
It is a peculiar form of ungenerosity in the study of any area for those on the sidelines to assail those who study and write on what they think is important rather than waht the sidelines think you should be studying.
Having been at the Sydney Cricket Ground this day, forgive me for reflelcting that the military in Victoria moved on the miners at Ballarat on the express instructions of the Governor while the political leadership in NSW was sanctioning the use of precious military resources building a cricket ground in the scrub to the south of Victoria Barracks, a cultivated acreage which would become the world's finest cricket ground.
We know that the political leadership in the NSW Parliament visited the goldfields around Bathurst. The new electoral map after 1856 would show a number of seats on those fields so intense was the population there.
The practice of holding public meetings to express grievances and to empower represenatives to carry them forward was an excellent preparation for the limited democracy that came to pass in 1856 and then grew apace in the decades following.
Legend or hard reality, Eureka is a part of the Australian historical consciousness. Given our history goes largely uncelebrated, that Eureka continues to inspire gooks and lectures is surely a cause for celebrating. Few other celebrations have taken place in the absence of official encouraging and public funding. Eureka is what it is because the people of Australia insisted that it is a part of our story.