EUREKA 1854 V "EUREKA" 2005: THEN AND NOW
By Geoff. Muirden
On December 3rd,2004,in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia,- occurred the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade massacre, and comments at the Eureka celebration were made by the father of David Hicks, the man arrested and held without trial at Guantanamo Bay.
Despite heckling from a demonstrator, who objected to his "politicising" Eureka (something which many other speakers, before have done and, no doubt will do again in future) he made the valid point that there were injustices at the Eureka Stockade and injustices continue today. In the circumstances, his speech was moderate, not calling for "revolution" but for a proper understanding and appreciation of his son’s plight at the hands of US martial law and the need for reform.
This raises the issue, inadequately considered at the time, what would happen if anything like Eureka were to happen in 2005? Would such "rebel forces" be crushed with the same force and get a better or worse deal that the Eureka rebels did in 1854?
In that era, the Eurekans had "right" on their side. The miners were fully justified in protesting against the injustices of the system, which demanded that they have a license which must be shown on demand to thuggish ex-convict police officials.
As the "Gold Rush" developed and the population rushed into the goldfields, gold near the surface was soon mined and it was necessary to resort to expensive methods of deep lead mining in shafts where miners risked "cave-ins" that could trap or kill diggers. The equipment was expensive and involved burrowing further underground to find ever more-elusive gold, a hot, sweaty and dangerous task. The Victorian government demanded that they get a license and the difficulties were enhanced when it was necessary to clamber out of deep pits after possibly hours of search that might produce nothing, only to have a license demanded by brutal police.
Even before discontent at Ballarat, a warning was given at Bendigo in 1853 as a petition submitted by thousands of miners presented to Lieut.-Gov. La Trobe, demanded a change to this iniquitous system. Governor LaTrobe bowed to pressure at Bendigo in 1853 by halving the miners’ license fee, but still could not force all the miners to take out the reduced fee.
In 1854 the new Governor, Sir Charles Hotham arrived. Before he left England, Hotham had been told by the Duke of Newcastle, Queen Victoria’s minister-in-charge of colonies, that the colony of Victoria was near bankruptcy and that he must not yield to digger demands for financial reform.
Victorian government policy favoured the squatters who refused to pay the main burden of taxation and thrust it onto the miners.
Matters were made much worse by financial scandals and racketeering. The diggers were in the position of the American colonists who had called for "no taxation without representation." They included Americans in their midst as a factor making discontent, but many different races and nationalities took up miner oppression and grievances.
These grievances were enhanced by Hotham’s policy of increasing license hunts from once a month to twice weekly. In addition, as the yields of payable gold went down, there was less chance that miners could even pay the license fee, let alone profit from the goldfields.
1848 had seen the "year of revolutions" in Europe and the government was concerned to nip possible rebellion in the bud. But its brutal policies of repression made things worse.
The incident in which a hotel proprietor, Bentley, killed a popular digger, James Scobie stirred up resentment when Bentley was exonerated by a corrupt magistrate, D’Ewes. After the irate miners burned down the hotel, the government tried Bentley again, and this time found him guilty. The matter might have ended there, but Hotham, determined to impose his rule, seized three diggers and accused them of burning the hotel.
On 11th November, 1854, a massive public meeting in Ballarat led to the formation of the Ballarat Reform League. Many miners came because of the Bentley incident. The League generated a political programme calling for an end to goldfields abuses of power and greater political representation.
The demands for democracy were mainly of Chartist origin (a democratic peoples’ movement active in England). Humffray, the president, was a Chartist.
The League demands were rejected by the government.
While the miners tried to have the diggers released, Hotham increased the license hunts and reinforced the military garrison at Ballarat. On Bakery Hill, Ballarat, 29th November,1854, 12,000 diggers gathered. The Eureka Flag was raised for the first time and the diggers pledged to burn their licenses and protect one another against the police. The famous Eureka Oath was sworn: "we swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties."
Since Bakery Hill was within sight of the Government Camp, a decision was made to erect a Eureka Stockade, out of sight of the soldiers, a defensive structure where the rebels could drill.
The government forces attacked in the early morning of Sunday, 3rd December,1854, at a time when government spies determined that there would be few people in the Stockade. Some people felt at the time that the government would not profane the Christian Sabbath by attacking on a Sunday, but the soldiers had no such qualms. The diggers in the Stockade were few in number, poorly armed and surprised. The battle lasted only about a quarter of an hour. About thirty diggers and give soldiers were killed but, even after having killed the miners, the police went berserk, and started attacking bystanders in a bloody massacre. About 120 diggers were imprisoned in the Government Camp and thirteen were sent to Melbourne for trial under charges of High Treason.
Popular support for the diggers was so strong that juries acquitted all the accused of the charges. License hunts almost ceased.
Hotham called for the Gold Fields Royal Commission whose report gave the diggers almost all they asked for. The diggers’ license was replaced by a miners’ right costing one pound a year. This gave the miners the right to mine gold and vote in elections.
(Most comments above from John Molony’s Eureka. Melbourne, University Press, 2001.)
Fulsome comments have been made of the significance of the Eureka Rebellion. The famous American author, Mark Twain, said of Eureka, "it was a revolution-small in size, but great politically; it was a strike for liberty, a struggle for the principle, a stand against injustice and oppression ... it is another instance of a victory won by a lost battle. It adds an honourable page to history; the people know it and are proud of it. They keep green the memory of the men who fell at the Eureka Stockade." (Cited in Historical Studies: Eureka Supplement. Carlton, Melbourne University Press, 1965, p. 94) Indeed, it has been remembered ever since.
The last living member of the Eureka Stockade, John L. Potter, who died in 1931 commented that "though the diggers were defeated in battle, their cause was won. The gold license was modified, Parliamentary representation was granted, and Ballarat entered upon a new era of progress." (op. cit.,p. 126)
Historian Geoffrey Blainey claimed, in a talk to the ABCF on 26th November, 2004,that by 1857 "Victoria had close to the most democratic system in the world", but he also mentions that "South Australia won democracy at the same time without a shot being fired." In fact, he believes that South Australia was really the leader in democracy. He remarks that about the only thing in which Victoria trumped S.A.was in the secret ballot.
But certainly a case can be made that the Eureka Rebellion, in which a largely Anglo-Saxon-Celtic population called on the English heritage of "democratic freedoms", was successfully in promoting democracy.
Let us "fast forward" to 2005 and see what would happen if something like a Eureka rebellion or demonstration against the government took place now. It need not, of course, be about mining or be in Ballarat, but let us imagine some kind of rebellion against intolerable conditions in 2005 Australia, with armed men talking of rebellion, and imagine what could happen. Some who mention the way the Eureka rebellion brought "democratic relief" have stopped at that point, and implied that the democracy achieved then is still alive and well and in place in this year of grace 2005 as if the gains made were still firmly in place.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It is like saying that President George W. Bush is faithfully implementing the plans of the American Founding Fathers and the inalienable rights embodied in the US Constitution. Anyone who seriously imagines that has lost touch with reality. He has ignored the decline of American freedom even before 9/11 and the way, since 9/11, that such abominations as the USA Patriot Act, have tried to impose a form of martial law and abolish all the attempted freedoms the US Founding Fathers worked for.
What would any "rebels", whether of Eureka or some other threat to government authority, meet with today? First of all, they would be labelled "terrorists", which would bring them under legislation passed by the Federal Government, notably in the ASIO Bills and Australian Federal Police laws, which give draconian powers to the government, according to which the magic words "national security" need only be pronounced to "justify" whatever the security forces feel like doing. If it suited the government to do so, any act of political suppression including the arrest or assassination of "rebel" leaders, named "terrorists" could take place without media coverage. However, if the media did cover it, spin doctors would state whatever lies were topical at the time to "discredit" the cause, however just, that motivated the uprising or protest.
Admittedly, Eureka’s championing of a republic would be fashionable nowadays in many circles but, as Flint’s book, "Twilight of the Elites" makes plain, it is not because it offers better "democracy" but because it serves an "elite" who want to force it on the people by surreptitious means and manipulation, and who choose to ignore a public referendum rejecting the idea. They are not concerned to promote greater personal freedom.
Assuming that the government does not like attracting multicultural forces that rebel against government authority, (although, of course, to object would be "racist"), nevertheless any kind of (Eureka?) "Rebellion" now with the multi-national groups that the Eureka rebels had in the 1850’s would create a problem. It would call them "terrorists"
A major reason why the Eureka rebels, despite being accused of High Treason and sent for trial, were nevertheless acquitted, is that public opinion was backing them, against the government, which was discredited. Now that trial by jury is almost extinct, and banned by ASIO and AFP laws, no such public exposure of the injustices that lay behind the rebellion would be permitted nor would there be any effective moves for reform, such as existed after the 1854 Eureka Rebellion. Vital evidence would be withheld to protect "national security" against "terrorists." Arbitrary arrests would be common, including those "suspected" of knowing about "terrorist activities." Few appreciate just how totalitarian "anti-terrorist legislation" is, especially since 9/11, which provided the excuse to unleash draconian controls on citizens, initially in the United States and then, around the world.
9/11 was followed by the USA Patriot Act, which virtually suppressed all freedoms under the US Constitution and tried to create a martial law situation. It was rushed through Congress so fast that virtually no Senator had a chance to assess it properly. Its creation seems to be based on the assumption that since terrorists threaten "democratic freedom" we might as well create an autocracy to "safeguard" democratic freedoms, rather like the general that said he had to destroy a village in order to "save it".
This was followed by the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, both allegedly "terrorist" states. To stop their "terrorism", the US and its allies resorted to war, the supreme act of terrorism, in order to "rescue" the world from terrorism. Iraq was accused of having Weapons of Mass Destruction, strange coming from the United States, which has the biggest stock of Weapons of Mass Destruction in the world. It neglected to cast a massive mote out of its own eyes first. And discovering that Iraq did not have WMD did not lead to admission of government fault or withdrawal.
Draconian legislation based on these lunatic principles has been imposed around the world, including U.S., UK and Australia, mostly with supine acquiescence, as long standing principles of democracy, including trail by jury, "innocent until proven guilty", freedom from arbitrary arrest, and compensation for unjust arrest, are thrown into the trash can.
The Guardian Weekly, vol. 172# 5, Jan.21-27,2005, article headed "US accused of setting bad example over human rights", cites a report from the New York based Human Rights Watch, commenting that ‘US abuses have provided a new rallying cry for terrorist recruiters, and the pictures from Abu Ghraib have become the recruiting posters for Terrorism, Inc."
The report says that America’s disregard of human rights has encouraged other countries to follow suit,including Egypt, who has defended renewing "emergency" laws by referring to US "anti-terror" legislation; Malaysia justifies detention without trial by invoking Guantanamo; Russia cites Abu Ghraib to blame abuse in Chechnya on low-ranking soldiers.
The US Senate overturned legislation imposing restrictions on extreme interrogation methods. Condoleeza Rice, National Security Advisor, complains that "it provides legal protection to foreign prisoners to which they are not now entitled."
EU Human Rights Watch warns that the British government refuses to rule out information from torture. Steve Crawshaw, the London director of Human Rights Watch said:
"It was dismaying that it needed a law lord’s judgement (Lord Hoffman) to rule that detention without trial was not acceptable in a democracy..It is even more dismaying that the British government seems reluctant to concede this."
Human Rights Watch also sees shortcomings in security laws in Iraq proposed by the U.S.which let defendants be detained without judicial warrants and without access to a lawyer. (The Guardian Weekly, vol. 172#5, 21-27 Jan., 2005, front page.)
It was refreshing, if uncommon, to read the English judge, Lord Hoffman, commenting on Blair’s attempt to destroy the Human Rights Act by allowing imprisonment of foreign terror suspects without trial that "the real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these...this case calls into question the very existence of an ancient liberty of which this country (U.K.)has until now been very proud: freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention."This is part of our heritage which few people seem to understand or care about, so corrupted have we become.
This repressive legislation has been used as a pretext to "defend freedom" whereas it kills freedom by its provisions and establishes a totalitarian state system.
An example of how the system works is that of Mahmoud Habib, released from confinement in Guantanamo Bay for three years without trial, now released, but with John Howard refusing to allow an apology or compensation. Attempts on Habib’s part to write a book documenting his experiences have been crushed by Minister Ruddock, with the claim that any proceeds from such a book would be seized by the government. It may be supposed that Mr Ruddock does not want details of Habib’s possible torture as well as draconian conditions to get around.
The Eureka rebels paid with their lives for the freedoms that were won, but this "democratic heritage" is under attack now in a way that it was not in 1854. The Eureka rebels saw their grievances remedied, but any such revolt in 2005 against the government would see total suppression, no public trial and no remedying of abuses. The democratic gains made at Eureka have been destroyed, and the way is being prepared for the public to accept obedience under "Star Chamber" rules in which totalitarian control is imposed under the mask of "democracy". The "anti-terror" laws make the State itself a "terrorist", an evil "god" to be obeyed. Let no one imagine that "democratic principles" have been preserved. They are under attack and in the process of extinction in the West as the world moves towards a totalitarian autocracy. Nevertheless the myth of "freedom" will remain, and it will spoken of as if it really existed when it becomes extinct. In the meantime, it is our task to keep the flame of freedom burning as long as we can.
And another thing
From: Geoff Muirden
To: THE AGE NEWSPAPER-LETTERS
Sent: Sunday, February 27, 2005 10:45 PM
Subject: Cornelia Rau case needs compassionate handling
Letters to the Editor,
The Age newspaper,
Spencer Street, Melbourne, Vic. 3000
The Cornelia Rau case, and the recommendation of her sister, Sydney journalist, Chris Rau, who wanted a full public enquiry into the reasons for her sister's detention, deserve consideration, not only for her sake, but also other prisoners denied proper care and treatment.
Cornelia Rau was a schizophrenic patient found wandering around Cape York, after leaving the Manly psychiatric ward and being on the missing persons list.
Instead of police checking the missing persons listing, she was arrested as an illegal immigrant and held at a prison then an immigration detention centre for months with no medical help.
According to a report, Ms Rau was in great distress, "she often wept, eating dirt and crying out that she wanted to die and was held by herself in a locked room for 18 to 20 hours a day. Immigration officials refused two expert psychiatrists permission to make an independent assessment of her mental illness because she was unable to give written permission". The Age, Feb. 6, 2005.
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone's reaction to the Rau case has been a crackdown, demanding mandatory fingerprinting of suspected illegal immigrants and immigration officials must tell Canberra if they cannot confirm someone's identity within 28 days.
This is a bureaucratic measure to restrict periods of detention beyond that, except in exceptional circumstances and thus prevent another Cornelia Rau situation, but a public enquiry would better reveal problems in the system that need correction, including the need for proper consultation of missing persons in data base systems.
The concern shown by her family is understandable, but its greater significance would include, not only the immigration system, but also why a deluded patient was let out of Manly and why the Queensland and NSW police acted wrongly in this case.
Research Officer, Australian Civil Liberties Union,
PO Box 1137, Carlton, Vic. 3053
c-free 2005 Adelaide Institute