My dream has always been for one Ballarat, a united Ballarat, with all our tourist and cultural attractions working together interdependently, supporting each other, producing prosperity for all. Reading the advertisement in The Courier last Saturday 12 May 2018 has turned my dream to a nightmare.
Can I ask people to consider where would Ballarat be without Eureka and our gold rush? There wouldn’t be one of the best galleries right here in town as we know it today, there wouldn’t have been a wealthy founder (James Oddie) without gold, nor would there be one of the best tourist atttractions – Sovereign Hill – because the heady days of the 1850s wouldn’t have happened and that tremendous wealth that created both Ballarat and Melbourne would not have existed and there would have been no great story to tell. Can you imagine Ballarat without its marvellous streetscapes and heritage? We would have had no significant point of difference and how would we have been able to stake our claim and on what?
Let me get back to reality. Eureka is Ballarat’s point of difference, therefore, there is not only a place for our gallery and Sovereign Hill, but there must be a significant place for the Eureka Centre to have its pride of place at the very location of the seminal event of the Eureka Rebellion, with the flag as its centrepiece.
Remember, the gallery originally put forward a proposal to operate the original Eureka Centre in 1997. Sovereign Hill, however, got the gig but failed to make a go of it. The issue was that stage one of the Eureka Centre was flawed, with half its exhibition display missing due to budget issues. At the time the powers that be just didn’t care, nor did we as a community! The second iteration of the centre – MADE – was a disaster in the making. The then Council didn’t care, nor did we, and allowed $14 million to be spent on what? And there was a $3 million overrun in cost to boot. Who cares? Well, I do, and I know many others do, too.
Where were all of you when this refurbishment was happening to ensure that MADE was the best it could be? There are no excuses, I can't wait for the letters to the Editor
Sadly, I repeat most, frankly, didn’t care. Mind you, MADE did one good thing; it had the flag fully restored rather than as the gallery did in the 1970s when it had the flag washed in a swimming pool.
If all the people listed in The Courier advert on 12 May had put their energies towards getting the Eureka Centre to be the ultimate centre for the commemoration and celebration of the Eureka story and its legacy, we wouldn’t be having this divisive discussion. As the ABC's Jon Faine said in an interview I did with him, ‘the problem is does Ballarat really care’?
Let me also state that it was mooted within the gallery some months ago that it wanted to operate MADE and that it didn’t want the flag back. When it did have it previously, it did little to promote it or our unique story. Visit the former website if you don’t believe me.
Eureka deserves an international standard interpretive centre (not a museum) that simply does that – interprets, commemorates and celebrates Australia's founding story at the place where it happened. Eureka and the flag must serve as the foundation that celebrates Ballarat as the birthplace of the Australian spirit and and its legacy, which is fairness and a fair go for all.
To add insult to injury during my time involved with the gallery, it saw itself as being purely concerned about art and it didn’t consider the flag to be truly a piece of artwork – it was an artefact.
It's time for all of us to pull together and work collaboratively for Ballarat’s sake! United, there is room for a successful Eureka Centre with the flag located at the place where the battle occurred, not at what was the government camp. The flag is a national treasure, Ballarat, not the gallery. We are the custodians of our Flag of the Southern Cross for the nation, and there must be free entry at the Eureka Centre for all to experience the Eureka story or the Australian story.
I still think dreams can come true. By being united and working together interdependently, we can create the best possible outcomes for Ballarat not only as a vibrant tourist city but also to finally fix the one issue that has been avoiding us – increasing overnight and extended stays and thereby creating further prosperity for all.
We must unite beneath the Southern Cross and stand truly by each other or, divided, we will be the laughing stock nationally and internationally.
Ron Egeberg, is a Eureka descendant and former director of the Eureka Centre