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The 164th Anniversary of Australia’s Eureka Stockade Rebellion

My address below to the Rotary Club of Perth on the 4th December, 2020 can be heard as a podcast here.

I stole the title, but I will explain that later.  

My comments today are to commemorate the 164th anniversary of Australia’s Eureka Stockade Rebellion. We are within hours of the exact time, at dawn, when the cowardly act of the beauacracy & police occurred in Ballarat.

Some context is that sixteen years ago, our then Prime Minister, John Howard, was invited to Ballarat, to deliver the Keynote Address for the significant 150th anniversary celebration of the Eureka Rebellion (Stockade event), but he would not go.

His Advisers explained that the Eureka flag and the Eureka event had been ‘stolen’ (hijacked) by the CFMEU (union) and that they had planned to highjack the whole event, and it would be very embarrassing for the Prime Minister to be there in support of such an event.  So, he refused to go.

Well, then they invited me, and I did go.  You could not keep me away.  I accepted this invitation with enthusiasm.

Now, I will explain firstly, how I got to be invited and why I was proud to be giving that keynote address.

Secondly, and more importantly, we can look at the significance of the Eureka Stockade event, both then, and now 164 years later, and then ask ourselves, “are we due for another revolt?”

Will it be necessary to have another revolt to give us the kind of Australia that will enable us to fulfil our true potential?

The reason that I was proud to have been standing in Ballarat for that great occasion was that 12 years previously, in 1992, I had been in Ballarat, launching the book I put together about my grandfather, W.G. Manners. 

The book is called So I Headed West and it covers my grandfather’s journey west from Ballarat, where he was one of the first two engineering graduates from the Ballarat School of Mines.  He then worked on the Ballarat mines before moving westward, to Broken Hill and then subsequently to Kanowna and Kalgoorlie, where he started his mining consultancy business in 1895, which now, after 125 years, is still operating as Mannwest Group, in Subiaco.

I am honoured to have a copy of that book placed in the Eureka time capsule for opening in the year 2054 which is the 200th anniversary.

I put that book together as a way of getting to know my grandfather. He died 13 years before I was born so I was robbed of that privilege. I now feel as though I know him very well after having put ‘his’ book together.

His own father, my great-grandfather, William Manners, left school in Scotland at aged eight.  He became a ship builder and then at age 26 took a job as a ship’s carpenter, jumped ship, and went looking for gold at Ballarat in September, 1853, which is just about a year before the Eureka event.

Another reason for him jumping ship was that he fell in love with a young lady on board the ship and they eventually married, and she moved to join him in Ballarat, just nine days before the Eureka event.

On that fateful Sunday morning, of the Eureka Stockade, he was home (away from the Stockade) with his new bride (as you would), but he soon became involved in the general pandemonium and had some serious contact with the police and troopers which committed him to the official records of the event.

His wife’s family, later, downplayed his involvement because unless you were involved in the Goldfields of Ballarat, this was not something to be proud of, the skirmish with the police.  There was not a deep understanding, outside the Victorian Goldfields, of the issues and principles involved (one might say they ostracised him).

Now, with hindsight and contemplation, I am extremely proud of his involvement, and of this strange sequence of events of why I was asked to give the address at the 150th Anniversary of the Eureka Revolt.  It was as a direct descendant of one of the trouble-making Eureka Prospectors.  William Manners continued prospecting and producing gold from his Queen Victoria Mine which is now part of the Sovereign Hill Mine and later at the Smeaton Reserve Mine and lived out his life in Ballarat until his death in 1901.

Now, a few days, before I had to head off to Ballarat to give my speech, I started trembling, bordering on terror, because I realized that I was venturing into very dangerous territory.  it dawned on me that I had agreed to a dangerous mission.

A Western Australian, going to Victoria to give Victorians a lecture on the Eureka Stockade!  What? However, somehow I got away with it and survived!

I had a weird moment of deja vu at this event because it has been exactly 60 years since I spoke at the Rotary Club in Kalgoorlie.

The significance of the Eureka Rebellion, then, now and the lessons for us.

This was a noble revolution – against injustice (not to be confused with many of the current revolutions – mainly focused on vandalism and destruction.  This was very noble revolution.

Let me ask, how many of you are familiar with the details of the Eureka Stockade Rebellion?  Anyone?  One, one person…. Three.

How many of you learnt of it at school? Is it something that is still being taught in the schools? 

Are you aware of any of your children or grandchildren being taught any details in their Australian history classes?  Are there still any Australian history classes?  Why is it that the Eureka event has been removed from the education syllabus?   

Could it be that the intent of our education system is to produce continuing generations of compliant intellectual zombies?  Rather than, developing some rugged individuals, some independent-thinking individuals?

If any of you would like a refresher on the Eureka story you could watch either of the two movie versions (1949 version starring Chips Rafferty or the more recent 1984 version starring Bryan Brown). Worth watching because you will gain an insight into the sickening police brutality of that event.

It might even tempt you to accept the challenge of honouring the memories of these gallant prospectors and keep their dream alive. Those diggers were confronted with an insurmountable problem and they had to choose between doing something about it or do nothing.

For us to judge this event, we must train our eyes to see the world as it was back in 1854. The licence fee was collected by a bunch of armed thugs who were not paid a wage at all.  They were paid out of the licence fees that they collected and the process of doing that was to go around to the top of every shaft, shouting down the shaft “produce your licence.”  The digger had to then climb up the ladder, laboriously, produce their licence, go down the ladder.  Then about an hour later another armed thug would come along requesting “produce your licence”. The prospector would have to climb up the ladder again.  They were not getting any work done.  How long can you put up with this nonsense?

The monthly licence fee being extracted by force from the Ballarat diggers was equivalent to a week’s wages. That is a tax of about 25 per cent with almost nothing offered in return. They say that a fine is a tax for doing wrong; and that a tax is a fine for doing well. But this tax or fine was being forcibly extracted and it applied whether you found gold or not.

It has been said that “taxation is the price we pay for civilization”, but isn’t exactly the opposite really the case? Taxation is the price we pay for failing to build a civilized society. The higher the tax level, the greater the failure. A centrally planned socialist state represents a complete defeat of the civilized world, while a totally voluntary society represents its ulti­mate success.

So, there in Ballarat, back in 1854, we had an intolerable situation, being badly administered. It is difficult for anyone with an Australian sense of “a fair go” not to side with the diggers once you hear the facts: On my poster are two quotations; one from each side of the dispute and you can see how there was absolutely no possibility of meeting over common ground.

It is a little like Robert Gottliebsen in his current series of the Australian articles where he outlines The Australian Taxation Office’s declaration war on the productive class.  Again, there is no common meeting ground.

The two quotes, I refer you to, on the poster, are as follows:

“…We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” ~ Peter Lalor, Prospector – Ballarat Reform League.

Quite a noble statement.

On the other hand, in the other corner, is the quote from Robert Rede, the Chief Bureaucrat.  His quote was: –

“…. If law and order are to exist on the Goldfields…. I still believe that nothing but crushing the agitation movement can do it.” ~ Robert Rede, Chief Bureaucrat – Gold Commissioner.

Absolutely disgusting, isn’t it?

So, there was no common ground between those two and it was not going to end well.

There were other issues, beside the Gold Licence Fee, including the right to vote, the ability to purchase land, democratic reforms, and the blatant corruption of the administration. (All these concerns had been carefully assembled in the form of a petition by the prospectors and delivered to the administration who laughed them out of the room).

Religion too was always a powerful force on Australia’s goldfields and that was one of the reasons it was seen by all as a cowardly manoeuvre when at dawn on a Sunday morning up to 300 well-prepared troops and police (both mounted and on foot) attacked the Eureka stockade, in the dark, on the Sunday morning when many of the diggers were away with their families.

Only about 150 diggers were there in the stockade, many of them unpre­pared, and asleep, many with their wives and children when the troops attacked

The ratio of those killed – butchered actually —30 miners as opposed to 5 soldiers— represents the imbalance of the battle. Public sympathy in Victoria was such that the 13 arrested and charged with high treason were all found to be not guilty.

Two of them, in fact, were later voted in as Members of the Victorian Parliament and continued their good work with democratic reforms in the form of voting rights.  Until then, it was just a very very private club of people who had the vote. So, in a way the prospectors brought democracy to the colonies. 

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The prospectors may have lost that battle on that Sunday morning, but they certainly won the war.

A little more background: The influx of more than 100,000 miners, and a tendency toward violence, in those days. The influx of more than 100,000 miners to the Victorian Goldfields was an interesting mixture. Nearly half were Irishmen being brought up on the epic and heroic tale of the 1798 rebellion at County Wexford near Dublin where 20,000 people were killed from a population of 120,000. There were many Americans there also, mainly from the Californian Gold Rush (with a tradition of their War of Independence behind them), while the rest came from all over Europe, some with first-hand or family involvement in the then current Crimean and Sebastopol conflict (where 600,000 people died) and earlier memories of the French Revolution, 1789-1799 (25,000 deaths).

A small digression: one of my own early mentors explained to me, in 1978, that there are four main methods of bringing about change: –

One, is peaceful civil disobedience.

The second is education.

The third is through political influence.

The fourth is through war / violence.

I have pursued the education option because I can measure the lasting benefit.

These people at Ballarat had a tradition of achieving results through violence. That was their background.  They did not have the benefit of excellent communications, the internet, or democratic votes. There were almost no Australians at the Ballarat Revolt/Eureka Rebellion. In those days, we all came from somewhere else, all busy blending into the peo­ple we now call Australians. One hundred and sixty-four years later, the world is learning to appreciate us as a people, small in number, but who al­ways manage to “punch above our weight” and melding ourselves into this wonderful race called Australians. 

It is often constructive to accentuate the positive about what makes Australia different/special. Outside of the US, Australia is about the only country in the world where people can come from all over the world and become citizens of their adopted nation. You cannot go to Greece and become Greek, or go to Japan and become Japanese, or Switzerland and become Swiss. Not on!  However, you can come to Australia and become Australian – a real plus and I think that quality has been blended with the treasures we inherited.  We often forget the importance of the British Common Law and Property Rights.  We have merged that beautiful blend with the creativity and energy and initiative of such a wide mix of people.

The Eureka Rebellion memory and tradition has been very much a part of giving us this competitive edge. The incredible thing is that despite the Eureka Rebellion being almost completely ignored by the gov­ernment-controlled education syllabus, despite the union movement hijacking the Eureka flag and devaluing its memory by presenting it as a symbol of mob rule, despite the contemporary musical called Eureka! defining the Eureka Rebellion as a politically correct revisionist absurdity, despite all that…the overwhelming majority of ordinary Australians, intelligent Australians, who have familiarised themselves with the Eureka story, have understood the importance and the lasting significance of the Eureka Rebellion for the enduring nature of democracy in Australia—a country which is one of the oldest continuous democracies in the world.

The key to understanding and preserving democracy is to ensure that it does not degenerate into the “tyranny of the majority” where we allow pressure groups to impose their priorities on the rest of us. I think the philosopher-writer Ayn Rand put it well when she said:

“Individual rights are not subject to public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from op­pression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual).”

That is what she said and let me add that the individuals she spoke of are people like us, going about our business to build a better Australia.  There can be nothing more creative than that. Never underestimate the importance of what we all do, as part of Australia’s private sector, often described as the “power-house of Australia”.

We know that we must fight our own battles, that our concerns are responsibilities that rest on our own shoulders. As Thomas Paine once said: “those who expect to reap the benefits of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”

Another famous patriot, Thomas Jefferson, once said, “I hold that a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” (And that gave us the title for today’s talk.)

So, in conclusion, let me say there are not many trigger points, as we say in business, that acted as a catalyst for making Australians different. Let me suggest that the 1854 Eureka Rebellion is one of those occasions and the other is the 1915 Anzac Gallipoli experience, so let us take up the worthy baton in life’s relay race and get on with the job of defending our rights and freedom to conduct our lives and our business, with minimum interference.

We have the modern communication tools to continue that Eureka Revolt; without spilling any blood. We must work smarter at it, just as the enemies of industry are working smarter at closing industries and placing so many delays and hurdles in the way of anybody who wants to start something up in Australia. We have technology, economics, and morality on our side—so all we need is the physical courage and the moral courage to win. Our livelihood depends on us winning these battles, but it goes be­yond this. If Australia is to achieve its potential, it depends more than ever on people such as yourselves relentlessly becoming involved in keeping the Eureka dream alive.

I celebrated my part in the 2004 Eureka 150th event, with this poem: –

The Next Eureka Moment

“Put some words into the Eureka time capsule,” they said—

Me?—who already has a headful of stuff each time I go to bed!

“If you’re still around in two thousand and fifty four,” they said,

“you’ll be on the invite list.”

Well, that was an invitation, I simply couldn’t resist!

And so it got me thinking about splitting two hundred years into four— the last three groups of fifty years— and the fifty yet in store—

Eighteen hundred and fifty four to nineteen hundred and four— discovery dividends declared before the banking crash, Australia finding its feet again— brave moves were made—with some quite rash—

Then came the second quarter, 04 to fifty four, when the very bad overwhelmed the best—

Two world wars and a depression made it not just rough, but very tough for those who headed west—

1954 till now—bad start but hope towards the end— restrictive policies discouraged— some cautious experiments were made, and enterprise, to our surprise, was actually encouraged—

So the next quarter is the one for us to make a stance— and we’ll be in there fighting—

Yes! We still have a chance

Government’s lofty plans for us conflict with our own plan— so can we shape our future now? with time and thought and confidence, I reckon that we can!

So when they dig the capsule up in two thousand and fifty four,

I’ll come from the West, join Eureka’s best— and ready to write some more!


Well, that is the end of my Eureka comment.

I was going to continue with about an hour-long discussion of my major concerns about Australia right now.

The things that keep me awake at night!

However, I will not, I will take questions, but after concluding with my annual festive poem (if that is okay by you?).  I have titled this reflective poem, for this interesting year, The Gift of 2020.

The Gift of 2020

Who would have imagined,
the surprise of Coronavirus,
could be a golden gift,
of the rarest kind.

There we were,
going about our affairs
in the conventional way,
quietly completing our tasks.

We travelled here,
We travelled there,
sitting at airports,
pretending to achieve.

Then normality was stolen,
plucked from our plate,
robbing us of the ability
to rush, not to be late.

Now, as the year closes
we can pause and ponder.
Coronavirus gave the gift
of many precious hours.

How did we invest, or waste,
the gift of these hours?
Did we write that promised book?
Did we work on those many lists?

Or even take a serious look.
What did we learn?
How have we changed?
Did we fail as we watch the year’s setting sun?

The situation handled so differently.
Observed from near and far.
Some, not so fortunate,
with much still to learn.

Will we be happy, looking back,
on how we invested those lonely hours
or sadly realise we had only
pissed them up against the wall?

P.S. Re the podcast. Twice I refer to 1854 as 1954, but you know what I mean – 1854.

2021 Update:

Our friends at the Rule of Law Education Centre have created some excellent new resources motivated by a keenness for Australian students to value what occurred at the Eureka Rebellion, including the below audio recording of the classic book “Eureka Stockade”.

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