Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blood on the Southern Cross

March 6th 7 pm

This is the name of the evening show that describes the events leading up and including the Eureka Uprising. Much has been written about this, and I will endeavor to write a brief synopsis.

To curb absolute lawlessness and mayhem that would ensue in any ungoverned gold rush town, the Victorian government issued licenses to miners to pay for administration, construction, and to try and keep any Tom, Dick or Harry from walking off their jobs (some of them quite important) to seek their fortune in the gold. These licenses were overpriced, and penalties for not having them were stiff. The under-funded and under-manned police force soon became corrupt and began to resemble uniformed thugs rather than the rule of law. They would go on license hunts and abuse miners ("diggers", now a common term for Australian soldiers) until it became intolerable. The miners organized under the Ballarat Improvement League whose banner was a deep blue flag with a large white cross tipped in stars - the flag of the Southern Cross. They demanded their human rights as well as representation in the government that made the laws they were governed by. This was not a cry for republic, despite the fact that many of the ringleaders were from America (a fact I took great delight in), but instead for justice.

Meetings of up to 10,000 were held on Bakery Hill (home now to McDonalds and a roundabout). Naturally this would upset the police and local government. Both sides anticipated trouble, with the miners at the Eureka diggings acting first by building a stockade around their camp. The commander of the police was on orders to pick a fight, and in the wee hours of the morning roughly 300 soldiers and police raided and burned the camp, which was also home to many of the miner's wives and children. Over 30 miners and 4 solders were killed. Once the main battle was over, soldiers continued to fire towards the hill causing several more casualties. 13 ringleaders were arrested and tried for treason. A year later, in Victoria’s highest court, all 13 were pronounced innocent to cheering crowds in Melbourne and Ballarat.

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