Hijacking Eureka

Written by:
17 April 2018
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Originally Appeared In

The Queensland Teachers’ Union decision to decorate every classroom in the state with the Eureka Stockade flag is blatant indoctrination and propagandising, which has no place in our public school system.

In retaliation against a puzzling move by the Australian Building Construction Commission, which has banned the use of the flag, as well as other union logos from construction sites, the union has decided to take the fight to where it clearly does not belong and distorted historical fact to suit its narrative.

The Eureka Stockade is one of the most significant protest movements of nineteenth century Australia. It was essentially a revolt against higher taxes and big government and it should be celebrated and taught as such.

The fact that Karl Marx, who was in London at the time, closely followed the unrest on the goldfields tells you everything that you need to know about why the movement has adopted this particular historical event and the flag.

Marx even contributed an article about Eureka Stockade to an American publication, casting the rebellion on the goldfields as a failed attempt by the working classes to free themselves from the yoke of the political elite.

Let’s look at the facts. In the 1850s, around 500,000 people paid their own passage on a fast ship to Victoria to seek their fortunes. When they finally arrived after weeks at sea, they had to buy their own equipment and then walk to Ballarat from either Melbourne or Geelong.

The diggers were actually risk taking, independent workers who used their own money to look for gold.

At the goldfields, each person was allotted a piece of land about the size of a bedroom. The government then taxed each miner in the form of a licence which had to be paid whether gold was found or not. The licence fee was exorbitant.

By September 1854, the aggressive hunt for gold mining licences by the authorities increased tensions between the diggers and the colonial government. Some of the diggers formed themselves into a Ballarat Reform League, led by Welshman Basson Humffray, in order to counter the injustices and official corruption on the goldfields.

They presented the government with a list of demands, taken directly from a British reform movement called Chartism. Many chartists ended up in the Australian goldfields, and applied the same principles, claiming “an inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey – that taxation without representation is tyranny”.

The Ballarat Reform League demanded universal male suffrage, the abolition of the requirement that to become a member of parliament you had to own land, payment for MPs, voting by secret ballot, short-term parliaments and equal electoral districts. In Victoria’s 1856 general election, nearly all of these demands had been granted.

The protests also led to a re-writing of Victoria’s mining laws and taxes. The expensive miner’s licence was replaced by a cheaper licence, and the tax collected from the goldfields now came in the form of a tax on gold actually found.

If you didn’t find any gold, you didn’t pay any tax. The modern equivalent would be that if you don’t make any profit, you don’t pay any tax. This is one of the basic rights for which the miners fought, and which appears to be missed by individuals who proudly display the Eureka flag as their Twitter display photos.

One of the labour movement’s greatest heroes Peter Lalor, went on to become the member for the new district of Ballarat in 1855 and famously told parliament that “if democracy means opposition to a tyrannical press, a tyrannical people or a tyrannical government, then I have ever been, I am still, and will ever remain, a democrat.”

What is more, Lalor refused to be guided by a collective but rather extolled the virtues of a society governed by free people and liberal institutions which were embodied in British constitutional procedures. He was extremely sceptical of both a powerful working class and an overbearing tyrannical government.

The move by the Queensland Teachers’ Union to introduce into the classroom militant unionism through the deliberate distortion of what actually happened during the Eureka rebellion is wrong and it’s doing Australian children a disservice.

Teachers should be concentrating their energies on the job at hand, which is to impart knowledge, rather than to radicalise and politicise the children in their charge through the teaching of fabricated history.

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