The need for social unity over the threats of disharmony was a theme reiterated by the speakers at the 19th dawn service remembering the events of the Eureka rebellion 167 years ago.
"You cannot exercise a right and liberty if you are dead," said organiser of the Reclaim the Radical Spirit of the Eureka Rebellion program Dr Joseph Toscano, who was critical of the movements which, he says, seek to use the flag of the Southern Cross as a right-wing symbol for 'freedoms'.
"The fundamental right is the right to life," Dr Toscano said.
"If people think it is revolutionary or radical to spread disease and endanger other people... I have seen COVID straight on, I have been conducting home visits during the COVID pandemic.
"Is it a right and liberty to spread infection? It's not about mandatory vaccination. It's about people being responsible. if you're not vaccinated, why shouldn't you wear a mask? Why shouldn't you practice social distancing? Why should you endanger other workers? That's the reality. To me - I don't have a right to endanger somebody else's life. That is not what the Eureka rebels fought for."
Dr Toscano welcomed the crowd of around 40 people, including a contingent of Ballarat Trades Hall and Labour Council representatives and affiliates, supporters of the Free West Papua movement, social activists and history buffs.
Braving the almost zero Ballarat temperatures and watching the fearless swimmers plunging into the Eureka Pool for their early laps, the assembled group at the Eureka Memorial listened to Dr Toscano speak about the background of the rebellion and the events of the fateful day in December 1854 when the miners, who had sworn 'by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties', were attacked by soldiers and mounted police, with many deaths on both sides and much violence after.
"This is our 19th year," Dr Toscano says.
"The main reason we did it is because in 2001, my late wife Ellen Jose and myself came up here to join the celebrations and there was nothing happening on the day. I felt that something needed to be done."
Dr Toscano says the true site of the rebellion may never be known, and the positioning of the obelisk was an arbitrary choice made in the 1880s.
"This is the spot that was chosen by the survivors of the Eureka rebellion in 1886," he says.
"In 1884 for the 30th anniversary celebrations, they had to find a spot where they thought the stockade was, and they wandered around this overgrown site full of holes in the ground, and they decided this was the spot between the high ground, (where the miners were waiting) for the British troops, the Victoria Police, to come up the road. But there are disputes amongst historians: some people believe it's down there at the Eureka Centre. But Eureka belongs to everybody and nobody."
Welcoming guests to the memorial, Dr Toscano made special reference to the attendance of Dr Jacob Rumbiak of the West Papuan Independence movement; and Clovis Muamba who, Dr Toscano says, fought corruption in the Katanga province of Congo, was sentenced to death and actually escaped from prison before he was executed, and now lives as a refugee in Australia.
Dr Toscano also referred to the split between the Peacebus movement, led by Graeme Dunstan, and the organisation of the Eureka Dawn service.
The Peacebus movement has in the past 11 years organised the burning of an effigy each service to represent the attempts to erase tyranny. The choice this year to represent Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews led to Dr Toscano distancing himself from Mr Dunstan's protest.
Mr Dunstan spoke passionately about the right to choose and the need to protect liberty, as he felt the miners had done.
"It is too easy to say, 'No, no, we've got community responsibilities here,' Mr Dunstan said.
"Always make it difficult. Always claim those rights and liberties. There'll be occasions when they must be surrendered, yes, but let's hold them firmly. My body, my choice. No-one forces me to vax.
"Truly I think it's very healthy when governments are afraid of the people. One story of the Eureka Stockade was about Governor Charles Hotham. He was the guy whose hard line created the revolt. When the delegation went down to Melbourne to talk to him, he thought they made the mistake of using the word demand, the people demand change. His reaction as naval officer was to say, 'No, you do not make demands on the Crown. The Crown makes demands on you.'
"After the crushing of the stockade, he was a pariah in the colony, no one would talk to him. He died within a year of pneumonia; he was a broken man, his career was in tatters. That was the power of the people."
Dr Toscano demurred, saying as a general practitioner of 45 years, he had seen the devastating impacts of disease, and so had the Eureka rebels.
"(The miners) came on ships to this country and they saw people die of infectious disease and their bodies were thrown overboard," he said.
"Then when they got to Port Nepean and Portsea: if you were sick, you went to the to the quarantine station. If your died, you died; if you survived, you went back into the general population. They knew about quarantine.
"Half of the children who were born on the goldfields died before the age of five. They knew about infectious disease. We are victims of our success. Polio, smallpox, diphtheria, whooping cough, cholera and I could go on and on and on. We are the victims of being successful. People do not know what is at stake."
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