Eureka Stockade

Australian Workers Film Guide


Produced by English Ealing Studios and shot on location in New South Wales, this 1949 version of the Eureka Stockade was a big budget and well-crafted film, reportedly the most expensive film made in Australia at the time.[1] Based on extensive research by Rex Rienits, [2] the film strives to present a factual account of the rebellion, which was one of the most significant historical events in Australia’s journey to independence and democracy. 

Framed as a people’s struggle against British ruling class oppression, the film opens by comparing the rebellion to England’s Magna Carta, as well as the French and American revolutions. This is set against a backdrop of contrasting great wealth and poverty in the Colony of Victoria, and a global gold rush that brought with it an influx of immigrants demanding better rights, as well as an economy crippled by the desertion of local labour from other industries to the goldfields. 

With the scene set, the film attempts to faithfully recount the events that lead to the rebellion, which revolves around the Government’s unjust imposition of increasingly expensive mining licenses – designed to force miners off the goldfields. The reluctant leader of the rebellion, Peter Lalor, arrives on the fields where he bands together with other freedom loving newcomers to form the Ballarat Reform League and agitate for a better deal. 

The final spark is the murder of miner James Scobie and the subsequent acquittal of the police-protected murderer James Bentley, which results in a mob attacking and burning down his hotel.  With the arrival of the British Army, the miners build a defensive stockade, swear an allegiance to the Southern Cross flag and vow to fight for freedom. While the miners were participating in Sunday mass, the soldiers launch a surprise attack, defeating the miners in a bloody battle in which many are wounded and killed. A wounded Peter Lalor manages to escape the battlefield and remain at large while a trial in Melbourne finds the instigators of the rebellion innocent. Lalor emerges to buy property and is destined for parliament. Despite the large budget, a talented director and solid script, the film did poorly at the box office. This may have been attributable to the miscasting of Australian accented Chips Rafferty as Peter Lalor, which seemed incongruous given the historical figure was Irish Catholic and came from a well educated and politically active family in Britain. The casting of Rafferty was against the wishes of the director, but Rafferty was under contract to the producers.[3] The film was also released at a time of significant anti-communist fervor in Australia, which saw a national coal strike and the election of the conservative Menzies Government in 1949. As Byrnes notes, the director Harry Watt was a noted left-wing filmmaker and a film about working class rebellion and revolution may not have been ideal timing to a largely forgotten episode in the nation’s history. [4]

[1] The ABC Weekly (1950), [newspaper], Sept 23, 1950, p30.

[2] The Mercury (1950), ‘Plan To Make One Film Yearly In Australia’ [newspaper], 16 Nov 1946, p2, viewed 31 Jan 2023 <>

[3] Byrnes P. (n.d.), Eureka Stockade, Australian Screen [website], viewed 31 Jan 2023 <>

[4] ibid.

Special Notes/Achievements

The film was released in the United States with the title Massacre Hill.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 98 mins

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Film Writer: Harry Watt, Walter Greenwood, Ralph Smart,

Film Key Cast: Chips Rafferty – Peter Lalor, Jane Barrett - Alicia Dunne, Jack Lambert – Commissioner Rede, Gordon Jackson – Tom Kennedy, Peter Illing – Rafaello Carboni,

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