Page 248 - Week 01 - Thursday, 9 December 2004
Today, however, I want to focus on women. They were there at the Ballarat goldfields, all right. Researcher Clare Wright recently pointed out, to quote from her work, “as publicans, shopkeepers, teachers, prostitutes and military wives involved in family decision making, women were historical agents in their own right”.
Women on the goldfields performed the roles that women performed in society more generally in those days. They were wives, mothers and daughters. They worked as domestic servants, milliners, shoe binders, cooks, nurses, prostitutes, brothel keepers, storekeepers, hotel keepers and diggers. Apparently, they were not subjected to the licence fees that men were, but many were prepared to stand up against the injustice to their men.
So, if we are going to remember Eureka, let us remember everyone who played a part, including the humble but essential role of sewing that contentious flag—it was not the men who sewed that flag; in fact, one wonders whether it was the men who came up with the design—and providing food, for one is the symbol and the other the sustenance of Eureka.
In closing, I would like to say that, whilst we may fly the flag and otherwise commemorate Eureka as a result of this motion, I hope that we will not spend the Assembly’s time making speeches about it every year. This year, being the 150th anniversary and the spirit of Eureka being much needed in these political times, it is right to remember this colourful moment in our history. But we have important things to get on with here. Let’s put the focus of our discussions where they belong, on the issues of our times, perhaps bringing to those discussions that spirit of Eureka.
MS MacDONALD (Brindabella) (12.24): I thank Mr Gentleman for his motion, which I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to today. As Mr Gentleman has acknowledged, more than 200 Southern Cross flags have been raised over Canberra in the past week to mark the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. This government has been proud to participate in the celebrations for the Eureka anniversary. Along with sending students to Ballarat and flying the flags, we have included a representative in the national reference group coordinating the anniversary celebration.
At Ballarat’s Bakery Hill in 1854, a group of goldminers, fed up with corrupt officials and an unfair licensing system, took an oath: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend out rights and liberties.” The oath followed the formation of the Ballarat Reform League, which worked to reform the licensing system and demand annual parliaments, payment for members of parliament, abolition of the property franchise and its replacement by manhood suffrage and, finally, the removal of the property qualification for membership of the Victorian Legislative Council.
A few days after the Eureka oath was sworn, the miners erected a barricade to divide police and the army and a short battle resulted in about 22 deaths. But, as so often happens, defeat on the battlefield turned to victory, with all the miners’ demands eventually being met. Historian Anne Beggs Sunter has called the oath a rallying cry for all citizens, male and female, British or European, professional or labourer. The oath still resonates today, as the continued debate over Eureka has shown.