National Heritage List inscription date 8 December 2004
We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.
Eureka Oath 1854
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The Eureka Stockade Gardens commemorate the Eureka rebellion—one of Australia's defining political and social moments and an event that gave rise to Australia's unique tradition of a 'fair go'.
Ingredients for a rebellion
At daybreak on 3 December 1854 a government force of British soldiers and Victorian police attacked a group of aggrieved gold miners at Ballarat, Victoria.Goldmining at the Eureka Lead, in Ballarat, commenced in 1852. By 1854 fortunes on the Eureka Lead were at a low ebb. Diggers had to dig deeper and spend more to find gold, but still they were limited to claims that were too small to be viable and were required to take out an expensive monthly gold licence, payable in advance whether they found gold or not. Those without a licence were remorselessly 'hunted' by gold commissioners and police, many of whom were tinged with petty tyranny and corruption.
The Eureka rebellion was fuelled by discontent with the mining licence, which the gold miners—or ‘diggers’ as they were known— claimed was taxation without representation and a tax upon labour. Miners were also unhappy with what they regarded as an unjust and corrupt colonial government.
Discontent brewed amongst the diggers and protest meetings were held. They chose an Irish digger, Peter Lalor, as their leader and several hundred diggers took up arms, vowing beneath the Southern Cross flag to fight together for their rights and liberty. A rough stockade built of mining timbers was constructed on a hillside at Eureka Lead. Within it diggers drilled and gathered weapons for the purpose of repelling the next licence-hunt. Emissaries were sent to nearby goldfields, to call more diggers to the fight.
On 3 December 1854 a government force of British soldiers and Victorian police stormed the stockade and a battle lasting less than an hour ensued. By the end of the conflict 33 miners and five soldiers were dead.
The rebellion led to a fairer goldfields system with the licence replaced by the cheaper Miners Right, giving miners the right to vote. Many see this act as the first steps on the path to Australia's democracy.
During the battle Peter Lalor was wounded and lost an arm. He subsequently entered the Victorian Parliament where he made a major contribution and subsequently served as Speaker almost until his death. His life reflected the Eureka story – of brave opposition to an oppressive government administration, and success in accessing the power of government for the good of his fellows.
The legacy of Eureka
The Eureka Rebellion as an historical event is well known among Australians. The principles that the miners at Eureka stood for – equality, fair treatment by government, and the right of those governed to take part in the democratic process – have become sacred to Australians. The Eureka spirit is often invoked as a by-word for democracy, and the Eureka or Southern Cross flag is an enduring symbol of Australian democracy and social empowerment. Eureka is ingrained in Australian culture through its representation in prose, poetry, art, theatre and film.
The rebellion also witnessed the now famous Eureka Oath spoken by rebel leader Peter Lalor in his speech to miners in the Eureka Stockade, under what was the very first appearance of the Southern Cross flag: `We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties’
Few events in our history can match the Eureka Rebellion for the political and social changes it wrought and for its embodiment of core Australian characteristics of a ‘fair go’ for all and ‘mateship’.
While there is little or no above-ground evidence of the event that took place at Ballarat, and while the exact location is not agreed upon, the Eureka Stockade Gardens are of outstanding heritage value to the nation for their association with this uncommon and highly significant event in the nation’s past. The place also has potential to yield archaeological evidence of the 1854 rebellion.
The inclusion of Eureka Stockade Gardens in the National Heritage List ensures that a unique and important moment on Australia’s path to a liberal democracy is remembered and understood by future generations of Australians.