The Eureka Flag / Southern Cross
“It is the 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.”
- Ballarat Reform League Charter, 11 November, 1854
The words of the gold miners of Ballarat, Victoria, Australia expressed in their organizing charter document was meant to be transparent in their appeal to the colonial, Australian government. It clearly drew upon concepts of liberty written by Thomas Jefferson and other Americans close to 80 years earlier, half way around the world from Australia. The idea of representative government was sweeping the world by this point as republican forms of government began to take hold in many countries. New Australians were among those people who latched on to this spirit of autonomy in the face of oppression.
Much like Australia today and the colonial government of America in the late 1700’s, the colonial government of Australia in the mid 1800’s issued capricious, arbitrary, and onerous laws to the men and women seeking to make a living as miners during Australia’s gold rush. Ultimately, the government continued to overplay its hand requiring more and more money for licenses to mine while refusing to engage the miners in the administration of the law. Further, the government encouraged mistreatment of the miners with hefty incentives for law enforcement to issue fines. Evidence and documentation of harm and harassment of the colonists spread like wildfire among the mining camps, creating more and more resentment between the two groups.
It is not a surprise that the miners eventually had enough after their peaceful petition contained in the Reform League Charter fell on the deaf ears of the government of Sir Charles Hotham, governor of Victoria. With peaceful means exhausted, the miners elected Peter Lalor, an Irishman, a more forceful leader who immediately set about organizing the men into brigades and appointing leadership among the thousands of miners who were ready to move more directly against the government.
To forge the miners resolve, Lalor proposed the “Eureka Oath” which declared “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” The Southern Cross flag or the Eureka Flag was created by “Captain” Henry Ross, a Canadian miner, who was inspired by the Australian Federation flag but used five, eight-pointed stars as a symbol of the Reform League within a white cross on a blue field.
The name for the Eureka Flag comes from the area that the battle took place. Peter Lalor and the relatively small force which followed him gathered at the Eureka lead (a 'lead' being a streak of gold in the ground) and formed what became Lalor’s “headquarters”, ultimately the location of the Battle of the Eureka Stockade on December 3, 1854. The stockade was about an acre of pitifully constructed defenses which ‘fell like a deck of cards’ when Victorian forces mounted their attack, the battle lasting less than half an hour. The skirmish cost the lives of 22 miners and 7 colonial lawmen. The miners suffered a sweeping defeat due to poor provisioning, training, and lack of armament.
But the rebellion was not for nothing. Mark Twain described the Eureka Rebellion as “….another instance of victory won by a lost battle.” The government decided to hold an inquiry shortly after the miners who were brought to trial were acquitted with much public pressure. Nearly all of the Ballarat Reform League grievances were addressed and implemented as a result of the inquiry, including the representation of the miners in the local government. Peter Lalor and John Humffray, the first, more passive League leader, both went on to hold prominent positions within Victorian government advancing the cause of representative leadership among the Australian colonies.
The lessons we can learn from the history of the events bringing the Southern Cross or Eureka Flag to life is best summed by Peter Lalor himself. He penned to the colonists:
"There are two things connected with the late outbreak (Eureka) which I deeply regret. The first is, that we shouldn't have been forced to take up arms at all; and the second is, that when we were compelled to take the field in our own defence, we were unable (through want of arms, ammunition and a little organisation) to inflict on the real authors of the outbreak the punishment they so richly deserved."
Never give up your right to self-defense or the means to that defense. Never yield to tyrants who rule by fiat. Never forget your heritage and never forget your rights purchased with blood. Look to the Southern Cross or Eureka Flag patch as one of many reminders of that charge.
- Hook backing
- Release: 9/30/21