Today we commemorate the Eureka Stockade – the rebellion on the goldfields in 1854.
In 1851 gold was discovered in Victoria, transforming it into one of the most sought-after destinations in the world. Migrants came from all across the globe seeking their fortune.
But reality did not always match expectations. Miners on the gold fields, the diggers, were soon disaffected by colonial rule.
The miners could not claim the land that they worked and were at constant threat of eviction.
They were forced to purchase expensive licenses and were often extorted by the police who issued them. To make matters worse, they were denied the right to vote.
In October 1854 a miner was killed by the owner of the Eureka hotel in Ballarat. When Eureka’s owner was let off, enraged miners burnt the hotel to the ground.
On 30 November 1854, after a police raid to enforce the licensing laws, 500 miners gathered at the goldfields near Ballarat.
They burnt their mining licenses and swore an oath:
“We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties”.
The stockade they built stood as a physical sign of their defiance.
On the 3rd of December an attack from colonial military forces put an end to the uprising. 22 miners were killed in the assault. But the rebellious spirit of Eureka endured.
13 of Eureka’s leaders were arrested, but all were released by a jury.
The rebellion spurred democratic reform in the colony of Victoria, and changes to the mining license and the right to own land.
Eureka is an important part of Australia’s tradition of popular protest and transformative change.
The Australia union movement has always been proud of our connection to the rebels at Eureka, and to continue the tradition of sticking up for working people against injustice and oppression.