Opinion divided three ways on Ballarat’s public holiday

COULD Ballarat be sitting on a gold mine when it comes to Eureka Day?

Joseph Toscano, a member of the group Reclaiming the Radical Spirit of Eureka Rebellion Celebration, says Ballarat citizens have been ambivalent for too long about the meaning of Eureka.

Ballarat’s public holiday spot is up for grabs, and Mr Toscano has urged the City of Ballarat to seize its chance.

“You are sitting on a gold mine, a national gold mine,” Mr Toscano told councillors at a special council meeting last night.

“You should consider declaring a public holiday for the 160th anniversary of Eureka in 2014 and consider flying the Eureka flag on the Town Hall ... you could be the vanguard of a movement which stands at the very heart of who we are, what we are and how we’ve developed as a nation.”

Mr Toscano and Ballarat Trades and Labor Council president Brett Edgington, who suggested the Eureka Day holiday at a December council meeting, each stated the case for the unique public holiday on December 3.

Other submissions were divided between Ballarat Show Day and Melbourne Cup Day.  Traders heavily favoured the Melbourne Cup and families and agricultural sectors stood strong on the show’s country traditions.

Ballarat councillors heard 15 speakers at the meeting last night, which lasted just over an hour.

Eight-year-old Chantelle Backer seemed to win the hearts of councillors with an eloquent speech on how important Ballarat Show Day is for her, her brothers and friends.

“On Monday we all go to school and talk about the show. I especially love the animals, they are so cute,” Chantelle said.

“(Melbourne Cup Day) won’t stop Melbourne people’s fun. If we don’t have Friday to go to the show, it would stop Ballarat people’s fun.”

Ballarat Historical Society, cattle farmers, parents and a teacher were among those who spoke up for Show Day.

Ballarat Agricultural and Pastoral Society director Gerard Ballinger said that without a Friday public holiday, the event might cease to exist.

Mr Ballinger said the three-day event was very family-focused, free of alcohol and gambling, and drew out-of-town patrons and agricultural groups.

Traders, including hotelier David Canny, said penalty rates for a Ballarat Show Day holiday crippled business so close to the inevitable Melbourne Cup downturn.

Commerce Ballarat chairman Andrew Rowan said a drop in retail “was just the tip of the iceberg” in concerns for traders.

Mr Rowan said most businesses traded nationwide and were forced to do business on a Show Day holiday, and that most Show revenue left Ballarat. Commerce Ballarat delivered councillors a statement from 50 Ballarat traders.

Ballarat Turf Club chief executive officer Lachlan McKenzie joined the chorus for a Melbourne Cup Day holiday.

A country meet held simultaneously with the Melbourne Cup is up for grabs and Mr McKenzie told councillors Ballarat could be a front-runner for the high-profile event.

More than 2300 votes have been submitted to the City of Ballarat website (www.ballarat.vic.gov.au/haveyoursay) and by Twitter and Facebook.

The council will consider the issue on March 13.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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