Reclaiming The 'Freedom' Heritage Of Eureka Stockade
Dr. Jim Saleam
December 3 2004 will mark the 150th anniversary of the 'Eureka Stockade Rebellion'. It would be fitting if the city of Ballarat was the site for a rally of patriotic and freedom activists gathered from across the nation, in order that the event is suitably commemorated. For 'Eureka Stockade' was a great moment in defining the inherited law of Australia, in applying that law, and articulating the charter principles of Australian Freedom and Sovereignty.
The Strategy has recently quoted the 'diggers' oath' sworn at Eureka on November 30 1854: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties". It is the matter of these rights and liberties that underlay the history of Eureka. We need to recall today the nature of those rights and liberties and appreciate why we must assert them to recover our country's freedom and sovereignty. If this notion of an independent and free Australia was present from the days of our colonial past, are we not struggling today - in the vein of a great heritage? Can we, should we, reclaim this heritage?
It is ironic indeed that Australian patriotic and freedom activists have hitherto ignored the Eureka heritage in setting forth their vision. Possibly, it was because the flag of Eureka, the Southern Cross, was (mis)used by some fake-republican elements in the late 1970's, although its practical use thereafter in the 1980's and 1990's was often, and more properly connected with, 'anti-immigration' activism. The Southern Cross was after all, the banner of the 'anti-Chinese' Seamen's Strike of 1878, and it was subsequently raised at Barcaldine in 1891 during the Shearers' Strike which had as one of its thrusts, the immigration question. Not least of all, the 1855 Royal Commission into the Eureka Stockade reported on the Chinese question as having some bearing on events in 1854, although that salient fact is seldom mentioned in politically correct historiography. It is time to go beyond our confused memories of some Gough Whitlam supporters who waved the Southern Cross whilst they decried the constitutional decisions of 1975; we would do better to simply acknowledge the proper place of the flag in the heraldry of our nation. It then follows, that the development of an indigenous application of constitutional law principles (a significant aspect of Eureka as we shall see), once considered a little presumptuous by some, should now be favourably investigated. Essentially, the Eureka Stockade affair can no longer be ignored as a sideline matter for those interested in securing Australian freedom and sovereignty.
The truth is the truth and no one has anything to fear from it. These days of New World Order driven authoritarianism and multicultural imposition call for a restatement of our Australian heritage and identity. When this involves Eureka Stockade, as it must, there is a strong democratic Australian spirit clearly visible. Indeed, the soul of our country as shown later at Gallipoli and Kokoda, was first consecrated in blood in a democratic rebellion in our own land..
If as some constitutionalist authors who write in The Strategy say, Australia inherited the Common Law tradition and its Constitutional Law heritage from Britain, there is nothing askew in locating how Australians applied it in their native land. As Percy Stephensen put it in his Foundations Of Culture In Australia (1936): we inherit all that Britain could give us, and we go on - to what?
Background And Essential Facts
The story of Eureka itself should inspire us, and since its bare-bones are common knowledge, let it be told for the lessons it imparts.
The gold-rush in Victoria beginning in 1851 added substantially to the population of the colony, bringing some 65,000 people to the diggings by 1854. The government, corrupt and venal, imposed a miners' license upon all who worked the new fields at Bendigo, Ballarat, Creswick and elsewhere. The 'tax' was robbery. Increased to three pounds a month it was a sizeable fee, and thence a hefty levy upon productive men. At this time, when the average worker in England was pressed to earn just beyond this amount by hard labour, it seemed to the miners a pure premium upon honest toil. In a game of cat and mouse, the Governor in 1853 reduced the license fee, but poured troops into the goldfields in fear of the people.
The licensing regulations were enforced by a particularly corrupt police force. "Sweeps" or "digger hunts" were organized on the fields, and miners who were not physically carrying their piece of license-paper (a foolish thing to do in mud), were arrested and fined. This legalized extortion enforced by corrupt police, fuelled a strong resentment. The Eureka Royal Commission found the police methods were "trenching very closely on the limits of human endurance, although a course sanctioned by the letter of the regulations."
The Royal Commission ultimately located the central issues: that the miners looked forward to the day when each could leave the diggings and purchase a small farm and manage a type of independence not possible in the Old-World. The diggers' dream was essentially that which has inspired Australians ever since: to own personal property, and manage a life which gave a return for labour, whether this employment was performed in his own service or another's enterprise. But the miners could not get land. It was locked up under the control of the squatters who 'owned' the Legislative Council. To get land, the miners needed to make honest money to purchase it, but to have it available they had to break the power of the colonial squattocracy over the one house parliament. They had to 'fight' those who represented these interests. A Petition organized in 1853 addressed these grievances, but the Governor refused to act. He offered an appointed miners' representative to his Legislative Council, but the proposal was scorned by the men. A nominal voice could not change the system.
In October 1854, the scene for rebellion was set when a miner was murdered. The evidence pointed to the publican of the Eureka Hotel as the culprit. He was arrested but acquitted by a corrupt magistrate. The miners burned the hotel in revenge. The scapegoat-arrests of some miners and their imprisonment convinced the men that government itself was corrupt and that mass action was the alternative.
The miners created the Ballarat Reform League to agitate for change.
The Constitutional-Democratic Demands
The men who produced the 'uprising', the Rebellion, were neither philosophers nor necessarily learned men. There were Germans who participated in the 1848 uprisings and Californian miners who learned their politics in the Mexican War. Importantly too, the English component were often familiar with the Chartist movement of the 1840's, a great democratic movement amongst the disenfranchised people of that country who, denied even a vote, had no say over the political conditions which governed their lives. Italian revolutionary, Raffaelo Carboni, who left us with an account of Eureka, mentioned the Chartist demands more than once, and this was not surprising. The idea of a new Great Charter (Magna Carta) for Englishmen shook industrial-revolution England with its undemocratic parliaments and rich-man's party system. But it was in a movement of ordinary people that the Eureka Stockade Rebellion brought these strands together. It was the undemocratic Old World that had come to Australia and which was fairly in the sights of the miners. Some talked of a charter for Australia, a people's constitution.
The leaders of the Ballarat Reform League put forward a raft of demands. These were adopted at a mass meeting of thousands of miners, and were best put in the statement of right issued for mass distribution:
"That it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in the making of the laws he is called upon to obey. That taxation without representation is tyranny … That it is the object of the League to place the power in the hands responsible representatives of the people to frame wholesome laws and carry on an honest government. That it is not the wish of the League to affect an immediate separation of this colony from the parent country, if equal laws and equal rights are dealt out to the whole free community; but that, if Queen Victoria continues to act upon the ill advice of dishonest ministers and insists upon indirectly dictating obnoxious laws for the colony, under the assumed authority of the Royal Prerogative, the Reform League will endeavour to supersede such Royal prerogatives by asserting that of the people, which is the most royal of all prerogatives, as the people are the only legitimate source of all political power."
The League then went on to demand democratic elections to parliament, with no property qualifications, manhood suffrage, short-term parliaments, and payment for members of parliament. These were the essential planks of Chartism.
Of course, there were demands, very precise ones relating to the administration of the police and the goldfields, but what is very obvious to us is the central democratic character of the Ballarat Reform League movement. Its platform for the composition of parliaments has long-ceased to have a 'radical' quality, but the philosophic basis of the movement, its belief that all power resided in the people, remains a most 'revolutionary' proposition for our unfree Australia.
The assembly of the miners, armed and in the mass, was an event of startling power. The miners placed their grievances now, no longer as a petition, but as demands. When rejected by a Governor lost to reason, the miners reassembled again on Bakery Hill on November 29 1854 and burned their licenses. The following day, police opened fire on miners and at a further meeting the Southern Cross flag was unfurled; the diggers' oath was sworn and Peter Lalor elected leader ('Commander In Chief') of a quasi revolution.
The understanding of the miners of their rights was exemplary. They were responding to arbitrary force and injustice. They had exhausted lawful redress and in the mass armed themselves. They asserted the "most royal of all prerogatives", that of the sovereign people.
The suppression of the Eureka Stockade by military attack on December 3 1854 killed four soldiers and some thirty miners. The Eureka men were not hardened revolutionaries but men who were groping for truth and willing to treat fairly with authority. Authority did not deal fairly with them. In revolutionary moments, an episodic defeat of such an authority may deepen the 'revolt'; in this case, the government was militarily successful and had thereafter only to deal with a strident, but not violent, public opinion. The system had to yield to reasonable demands since it was clear the threat could deepen.
The history of Eureka only recently revealed the massacre of wounded men at the Stockade. Yet the news of irregularities at the suppression of the Rebellion had spread throughout the colony and inspired nothing but sympathy for the miners. The battle lost became a battle won.
The Radical-Democrat Juries In Melbourne Acquit The Accused
With the arrests of the 'revolutionaries', trials were set down for Melbourne where it was considered that convictions would quickly result.
We have heard much of late amongst freedom activists that trial by jury has been under attack by the High Court of Australia and other courts. The Eureka case showed that juries should never be intimidated by 'the law' and that they are a powerful brake upon irresponsible power.
In 1855 these trials were held. However, juries repeatedly brought in verdicts of acquittal, to universal acclamation.
There could be no return to 'Governor in Council' government in Victoria. We may first thank the juries for this, not the 'properly instructed jury' of latter day fiction, but the voice of the common man exercised over a full judgement of the facts. We may thank the thousands who rallied throughout Victoria to ensure the juries knew the popular temper.
The State Power
It is clear to us now that the modern Australian state, a derivative as it necessarily is of the colonial system, cannot be perceived in the terms it would prefer us to understand it. It did not devolve from appointed government to formally-democratic government without bloodshed. The state retained its rough-boot character, concealed beneath the gloss of formal 'democracy'. Not that the trappings of representative government do not have a life of their own and manage to limit the authoritarian state impulse, but they are as they always were, 'concessions' - with which the state can learn to live. Indeed, some institutions can serve to fool us into believing that they are the substance of state power itself, and in that way further the deception that popular democracy - exists.
In addressing the matter of state power, the miners of Eureka Stockade left us a crucial lesson if we are prepared to learn it. Essentially, the Rebellion showed that power is exercised by the richest men and managed by noble-sounding figures and their lesser flunkeys whose ultimate sanction is the recourse to violence.
Throughout Australian history, if we look carefully, the story hasn't changed. Great names in our national story - P.R. Stephensen, D.H. Lawrence, J.T. Lang and others - were witnesses in their various ways, to the truth. The methods of violence have been modified over time into surveillance, media misinformation, selective use of police powers, restrictive legislation and regulation and so on, but freedom is something yet to be truly won in Australia, not something we once had and have had taken away. That argument, advanced by many, including many patriots, 'sounds' okay, but is historically flawed. It is more proper to say that a fine balance existed for a long time between the rival impulses of freedom and authoritarianism. In recent years, the scales have tipped ever more towards the latter.
The lesson of Eureka Stockade is lastly, a clarion call to develop the freedom struggle.
The Legal Basis Of Eureka's Freedom Demands
The demands of Eureka may be 150 years old, yet they are commonly heard today, expressed in a new way. Because we have today the pretence of freedom but not the substance, people want institutions that represent them and empower them; they want control over those who purport to exercise authority in their name.
Did Australians have the right to protest the colonial power? Purists might say they did not. But that is usually accompanied by the statement that any form of fulsome protests in our own times, something that might involve passive resistance, the infringements of petty laws and the organization of mass protests, is bad form, 'extreme', or alien to our system of government. In 1856, Victoria received its own parliament elected by manhood suffrage, in clear response to the Eureka rebellion, and for no little reason was Lalor elected years later as Speaker of the Victorian Parliament. One thing had led to the other in a specific historical context. It is clear that mass people's action - works!
The ultimate question lies in the question of the consent of the governed. This principle lies at that basis of the debates over constitutional law. It was the principle which guided every step in the British constitutional development inherited in various ways by both the Americans and the Australians. The resort to arms in Victoria was a last resort of free people. It was hardly the first option. In the case of Eureka Stockade, we know that is true, because even after the election of Lalor as leader of the military forces of the rebellion, moves were made to approach the Police chief to arrange further negotiations. We know now of course, that the police desired a violent outcome against "this democratic movement" (as the Police chief sneeringly dubbed it) and that the Governor was waiting the moment to use the military. If the people withdraw their consent to be governed in a certain way at a particular time, and this act is the clear will of the vast majority, constitutional arrangements are open to change. And that change is 'legal' whatever method induces it.
The Eureka miners withdrew their consent and were supported by the overwhelming mass of Victorians. Admittedly, it was a brief and limited matter. But in terms of law it could only be interpreted as the sovereign people asserting its rights. It was further a declaration of right carried out by an armed people.
Foundation Australians Knew Better Than We
Australians of yesteryear knew well that the Eureka Stockade was a watershed event in Australian history. For our national poets (Lawson, O'Dowd, Paterson) it was a great statement of identity and heroism; for Jack Lang, it meant the birth of a true labour movement and a local Australian patriotic sentiment; for justices of the early High Court it signified a true democratic movement that contributed to constitutional law; and even Menzies (whatever else we might think of him) thought it was a fine democratic moment that improved government in Australia.
We do not need to accept in full each aspect of these assessments. Rather, we should combine them and filter them and remember that other Australians of diverse political backgrounds understood the significance of Eureka Stockade.
We can and we should recall with pride the heroic band of men who rose in struggle. Lawson thought: "thirty minutes freed Australia long ago". He would be shocked to observe that the ordinary Australian has progressively surrendered whatever freedoms they had to a authoritarian colonial regime in service of the new empire of globalist capital.
But: recall our true heritage, apply its principles and lessons, then Australia will be freed - again.