The Eureka Rebellion was an event which changed the fabric of Australian society. Liberty, equality and human rights are ideals which born from the protest at Ballarat’s Eureka Stockade in 1854, as well as democracy itself. The miners rebelled against oppression and paved the way for future generations of Australian’s to defend their rights and liberties. It came at a cost — 30 diggers and bystanders were killed, as well as up to six soldiers – but although the miners lost the battle they won their rights. This chapter from Heroic Misadventures delves into and was written in 2004, to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion.
I understand that our prime minister, Mr John Howard, was invited to address this significant 150 celebration of the Eureka Rebellion but that he couldn’t come. Well, I was invited and did come. As I’ve said to your president, Rita Bentley, “you couldn’t keep me away”, and over the next 30 minutes I want to give you something of value to take away with you.
This is what I’d like to cover with you today:
First, I’m going to share with you the three reasons why I’m proud to have been chosen to give this keynote address. Then, secondly at president Rita’s request, I’ll tell you why I’ve enjoyed being a prospector since the early 1960s and how this has led me into a deeper involvement with Australia’s mining industry. I’ll mention why I feel that access to land is one of the major challenges facing us all. Then thirdly, we can look at the significance of the Eureka event, both then, 150 years ago and, more importantly to us, today, and then ask ourselves “are we due for another revolt?” Will this be necessary to give us the kind of Australia that will fulfil its true potential?
These are the reasons that I’m proud to be here today:
In 1992, in Ballarat, I launched the book I put together about my grandfather, W.G. Manners. On December 4, 2004 the book was placed in a time capsule at the Eureka Centre by the Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria to provide a snapshot of our time. It is to be opened December 3, 2054 by those continuing the tradition of prospecting and mining.
I’m honoured to have a copy of this book go into the Eureka time capsule for opening in 2054. The book is called So I Headed West and it covers his 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 consulting business in 1895 which, after 110 years, is still operating.
His father, my great-great grandfather, William Manners, left school in Scotland at age 8, became a shipbuilder and at age 26 took a job as a ship’s carpenter, jumped ship and went looking for gold at Ballarat in September 1853, about a year before the Eureka event. Another reason for him jumping ship was that he fell in love with a young passenger on the ship and they eventually married and she moved to join him in Ballarat just nine days before the Ballarat Rebellion.
On the fateful Sunday morning of the Eureka Rebellion he was home with his new bride, but then became involved in the general pandemonium and had some contact with the police and troopers. His wife’s family downplayed his involvement, as there was not a deep understanding outside these fields of the issues and principles involved. Now, with hindsight and contemplation, I’m extremely proud of his involvement.
William Manners continued prospecting and producing gold from his Queen Victoria Mine and later at the Smeaton Reserve Mine and lived out his life in Ballarat until his death in 1901. My other grandfather, Pietro Tamo, from Switzerland, who also left school at age 8, became a builder and built the church in the Swiss town of Sonogno before leaving Switzerland at age 19 to search for gold. It took him 18 months to get to Ballarat, arriving in 1856, just too late for the Eureka event and too late for the early Ballarat opportunities. However, he worked hard at prospecting from 1856, but found only sufficient gold to subsist and raise a family until he died of a heart attack aged 43.
As a commentary on the hardships of those times, these two Ballarat families of my great grandfathers produced a total of 15 children, of which six (more than a third) died at age 18-months or younger.
All this tells you is that I’ve got some very deep roots planted over here at Ballarat and that those pioneers really “did it tough”. These are the reasons I am honoured to commemorate the memory of all the Ballarat pioneers. This is where I’m to mention how I got interested in prospecting and how things developed from there.
That’s easy, I was born in Kalgoorlie, the WA centre of vigorous prospecting, so I just grew up with it. I lived in a home full of rocks, where most visitors arrived with a rock in their hand, so they would have something to talk about. My mother was the first female student to study geology at the Kalgoorlie School of Mines, so she, of course, knew much more about rocks than me or my mates.
Prospecting became my passion from the mid-1960s (predominantly in gold), then along came the nickel boom of 1968-70 where everything simply went into “fast-forward”. Ever since then, it’s been a series of booms and busts in rapid succession, and I’m fortunate to have survived these extreme cycles. My prospecting and joint-venturing developed into Croesus Mining in 1986 when we commenced with a staff of two, including myself. Now, after almost 20 years, we’ve survived both good and bad periods, employ around 400 people and Croesus Mining has developed into Australia’s third largest Australian-controlled gold producer, approaching 300,000 ounces of gold per annum.
I’m fortunate to be working alongside such a fine bunch of enthusiastic young people and I enjoy trying to keep up with them. More recently, in 2000, I also become chairman of DeGrey Mining, a company formed by my long-term prospecting mate, Denis O’Meara. Denis started drilling these DeGrey prospects the day before listing in July 2002. From the continuing exploration success of so many companies we rely on new discoveries being made to contribute to our nation’s prosperity.
Now that all sounds fairly positive, but I’m finding that more and more often we are being obstructed by multi-levels of bureaucracy in our pursuit to gain access to exploration ground. So I’d like to raise my concern with you about the attack on our property rights and land access. I see this is a growing impediment which calls for a battle into which we must all throw ourselves before it grinds us to a halt.
Land access is one of the major challenges facing us all.
I’ve been adversely affected by governmental attacks on Property Rights, both as a farmer in Esperance (where the problem was rezoning and the multiple approvals process), and as an explorer in Australia, particularly since the advent of what is mistakenly called Native Title. As I’ve mentioned before, when the eminent economist, Hernando de Soto, visited Fremantle’s Notre Dame University in 2003, he pointed out that such unclear and unreliable property rights are the essence of ‘third world’ status.
Do I see this situation getting better? No, not without a struggle, mainly because we haven’t got enough votes between the lot of us to strike terror into the hearts of politicians, and because neither Liberal nor Labor politicians are willing to risk upsetting the Greens and their fellow travellers. However, these land access problems are not exclusive to the exploration and mining industries. They equally affect farmers, fishermen, hunters, prospectors and property developers.
Their mutual concern is that another major threat, environmental fundamentalism, is denying them all their access rights, their property rights and their water rights. Now I should also mention that 25 per cent of my time is spent running the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation in Perth and that, on November 9, 2004, we gathered a bunch of these concerned people together at a land users symposium.
If I thought the problem was bad before we organized this symposium, I now realise that it’s worse than we could ever have imagined. There are so many people in Western Australia being crippled by excess regulation and destruction of their property rights that our very own State Government launched an inquiry into this and the executive summary of their findings, consists of 683 pages—that’s how serious the problem is!
Is the Western Australian Government going to do anything about it? No, because there is no political pressure to do so. That’s the way the system works—they’ve had their inquiry, there’s the information, the problem is really serious but there is no pressure to do anything about it.
The information we gathered from our Perth symposium was part of the national input to the inaugural Eureka Forum held in Ballarat yesterday. Yesterday’s forum was organized by the Institute of Public Affairs. It saw 150 separate land user groups come together to identify the size of the problem right around the nation. An agenda for action and the sheer number of people involved has become obvious. This push is gaining momentum and if we all get behind it, we can make a difference.
Let me explain why we chose Tuesday November 9, 2004 as the date to hold our land users symposium in Perth. That date was declared World Freedom Day, as it was the 15th anniversary of the day that they tore down the Berlin Wall, without bloodshed. As the late president Ronald Reagan had a lot to do with demolishing that particular wall, we started our symposium with a quotation from Ronald Reagan, and I’d now like to share it with you as it’s as relevant today as it was 15 years ago. He said:
“You and I are told increasingly that we have to choose between left or right, but I would like to suggest that there is no such thing as left or right. There is only an up or down —up to man’s age-old dream—the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order—or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism, and regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
If Ronald Reagan were still alive, he’d identify today’s environmental fundamentalists and our over-aggressive bureaucracy as those who were steering us on a downward course towards the ant heap. The challenge is for us all to learn more about our property rights and the vital importance such rights play in the very survival of our wonderful and exciting prospecting and mining industry. In short, we must become activists for our own industry. This is a very worthy cause.
The significance of the Eureka Rebellion, then, now and the lessons for us
If we accept the challenge of honouring the memories of those pioneers, we must keep their dream alive. Those diggers were confronted with an insurmountable problem and they had a choice: do something about it, or do nothing.
For us to judge this event, we must train our eyes to see the world as it was in 1854. The monthly licence fee being extracted by force from the Ballarat diggers was equivalent to a week’s wages. That’s 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 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 for the civilized world, while a totally voluntary society represents its ultimate success.
So here 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 they hear the facts:
- There were other issues, beside the Gold Licence Fee, including the right to vote, the ability to purchase land, democratic reforms and, in particular, the blatant corruption of the administration.
- Religion was always a powerful force on Australia’s goldfields and it was seen as a sneaky manoeuvre when up to 300 well-prepared troops and police (both mounted and on foot) attacked the Eureka stockade at dawn on the Sunday morning when many of the diggers were away with their families.
- Only about 150 diggers were in the stockade, many of them unprepared.
- The ratio of those killed—30 miners as opposed to 5 soldiers— represents the imbalance of the battle. Public sympathy was such that the 13 arrested and charged with high treason were all found not guilty.
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, 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).
These people had a tradition of achieving results through violence. They didn’t have the benefit of excellent communications, the Internet or democratic votes. There were almost no Australians at the Eureka Rebellion. In those days, we all came from somewhere else, all busy blending into the people we now call Australians. One hundred and fifty years later, the world is learning to appreciate us as a people, small in number, but who always manage to “punch above their weight”. Our own prime minister, John Howard, was a classic example of that when he represented us on the world stage.
It’s always constructive to accentuate the positive about what makes Australia special. Outside of the US, it 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 can’t go to Greece and become Greek, or go to Japan and become Japanese, or Switzerland and become Swiss. Think about this and the many qualities that we have blended together by combining British law and property rights with the creativity and energy 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 Eureka! defining the Eureka Rebellion as a politically correct revisionist absurdity, despite all that…the overwhelming majority of ordinary, intelligent Australians 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 doesn’t 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’s what she said and let me add that the individuals she spoke of are people like us, members of the creative class who are “turning ideas into gold”, and there can be nothing more creative than that. Never underestimate the importance of what you are doing as part of Australia’s resource industry, often described as the “power-house of Australia”.
The small band of people in the Australian resources industry is vital to Australia. We account for 27 per cent of the nation’s exports (and considerably more if we include the finished products of mining). We are responsible for eight per cent of Australia’s gross national product. But despite that, we don’t even rate a dedicated Minister for Resources either in Canberra or in any State Government. We have a long way to go in making our presence felt.
Through your leadership and clear understanding of the problems confronting us, your Prospectors and Miners Association is an example for the rest of us. You have devised a focused strategy and it shows through in your excellent publication The Eureka Echo.
You know that you have to fight your own battles, that your concerns are not the concerns of the giant mining companies. I know the majors are not as concerned about the issues of land access as we smaller companies are, as access to land is our very life blood. Each of us carries this responsibility 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.”
That’s exactly why we built the $25m Australian Prospectors and Miners Hall of Fame in Kalgoorlie – to be an effective and easily recognized symbol and icon for your efforts. Prospecting and mining have given this country such wealth and opportunity in raising the standard of living for all Australians, we felt it fitting that this symbol should be created to celebrate the past, the present and future of our industry. The Hall of Fame would benefit from your support, just as you would benefit from creating a two-way link with the Hall of Fame. In that way, we can be part of keeping the Eureka legend alive.
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 and the 1915 Anzac Gallipoli experience predominate, so let’s take up the worthy baton in life’s relay race and get on with the job of defending our rights and freedom to prospect, our freedom to explore and our freedom to produce, with minimum interference.
We have the modem tools to continue the Eureka Revolt; without spilling blood. We have to work smarter at it, just as the enemies of industry are working smarter at closing us down. 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 pursuing these strategies to keep the Eureka dream alive.
The Next Eureka Moment – by Ron Manners
(Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion)
“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!
A variety of opinions on the Eureka Rebellion can be found: