Opinion: Ron Egeberg

Eureka a day and a flag to to be proud of

Today the 3rd of December marks the 162nd anniversary of the Battle at the Eureka Stockade.

COMMEMORATE; December the third marks a vital day in the histroy of Austrlia and the evolutioon of the democracy we can too readily take for granted

COMMEMORATE; December the third marks a vital day in the histroy of Austrlia and the evolutioon of the democracy we can too readily take for granted

To my mind and that of many Eureka should be marked as Australia’s national day to celebrate our democracy.

Australian’s should pause today to remember the great sacrifice made at the battle fought at the Eureka Stockade at dawn on December 3, 1854. As Mark Twain said, it was “a victory won by a battle lost”.

But it won’t happen, unlike elsewhere in the world, where countries with similar uprisings mark the anniversaries with annual national commemorations and celebrations. Two examples are Bastille Day on July 14 in France and the US’s Independence Day on July 4. Ballarat and Victoria, as the custodians of Eureka, should be the passionate advocate for promoting December 3 as Australia’s national day to celebrate our democratic freedoms.

The uniting symbol for Eureka is the Flag of the Southern Cross — the Eureka flag — designed by Canadian miner “Captain” Henry Ross, a member of the Ballarat Reform League. The flag was stitched by miners’ wives, and the new standard was first raised by the rebels at Bakery Hill, Ballarat, on November 29, 1854.

The following day the fired-up miners swore the following oath: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” We are all aware of the tragic events three days later after the oath was sworn when the rebels marched to the Eureka Lead. December 3 should be Australia’s national day to celebrate our democratic freedoms.

The Eureka flag and national heritage-listed Eureka Stockade Gardens remain potent symbols of the battle, Australia’s only revolution.

Given this seminal event in our history, it would be fitting for the Eureka flag to be flown at half-mast on December 3 each year as a mark of remembrance and respect, to honour the fallen at Eureka and their fight for a fair go for all.

But I’m sure you won’t see the flag flying above Victoria’s Parliament House tomorrow nor above any of the other eight Parliament Houses in Australia.

Political luminaries have made significant comment on Eureka, including conservative prime minister Robert Menzies, who wove the Eureka story into his speeches and said the uprising was “an earnest attempt at democratic government”.

But I believe a major obstacle to there being greater respect for Eureka and a national annual commemoration is how the flag has been hijacked over the years by Left and Right political groups in the pursuit of their own interests.

Those groups range from communists, socialists and trade unions to nationalists, anti-taxation lobbies, racists and neo-Nazis. More recently, the Eureka flag has been seen flying at the disturbing protests against the establishment of mosques in Bendigo and Melton. 

Last week our federal member Catherine King MP introduced a bill to challenge the Australia First Party's use of the Eureka Flag as its official logo.The bill if passed will add much needed protection to our Eureka Flag – the Flag of the Southern Cross. Interestingly the Australia First Party received just 3005 votes for its two senate candidates in this year’s federal election!

I should point out that in 2004 the trade union movement made it clear the Eureka flag is not a union flag; they use it because they believe in what it stands for — fairness and a fair go for all. Even the Australian Republican Movement has used the flag; however, I should also point out that the people of Eureka, while pro-republicans, were not anti-monarchists.

To satisfy both the Left and Right of politics, Eureka can be interpreted as a symbol of nationalism, the birth of Australian democracy or a middle-class tax revolt, but it was without doubt a defining moment in Australia’s history.

The Eureka flag has become a symbol of free speech, basic rights and a protest against unfair laws and regulations, as well as a symbol of democracy and defiance.

To introduce a day of national remembrance for Eureka, the State Government should support the creation of an annual Eureka Award to be announced on December 3, Eureka Day, each year.

It should be presented to an Australian who has made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of Australian democracy, freedom and human rights.

The criteria for the award would be based on the principles of the Ballarat Reform League Charter — the manifesto of Eureka — which was included in the 2004 UNESCO Australia Memory of the World Register.

Eureka is also what sets Ballarat apart from any other city in Australia. It is at the heart of our proud history, heritage and our people, and is the foundation of much of our tourist attractions — Sovereign Hill, the Gold Museum, MADE and the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Eureka and gold were the inspiration for many of Ballarat’s heritage buildings and streetscapes and our economic development. Our spirit of innovation, creativity and endeavour were all born from Eureka.

Ballarat City Council and the State Government should do three things. First, grant free entry to all Australians to see the Eureka flag and pay homage to those who lost their lives and to honour all the men, women and children of Eureka; second, ask the federal Parliament to make the Eureka flag a national flag; and third, create an annual Eureka Award to ensure that Eureka remains in the hearts and minds of all Australians.

And I leave the final words to Andrew Leigh, federal Labor member for Fraser, who said in his Eureka lecture: “The Eureka Stockade is Australia’s greatest story. It deserves to be acclaimed as a founding story, perhaps the founding story, of this nation.”

Ron Egeberg is a Eureka descendant and the former director of Ballarat’s Eureka Centre, now the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka