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Eureka Stockade remains mystery, 150 years on -

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Eureka Stockade remains mystery, 150 years on

Reporter: Heather Ewart

KERRY O'BRIEN: At dawn tomorrow, hundreds of people will gather in Ballarat to commemorate a battle
that has assumed almost mythical proportions in Australian history.

One hundred and fifty years ago, 267 troops consisting of companies of the 12th and 40th Regiments,
plus police attacked an improvised fort known as the Eureka Stockade, manned by about 120
goldminers who were refusing to pay licence fees.

At the end of that short but explosive engagement, about 30 men were dead, most of them miners.

Yet while the miners' militant stand was tragic and short-lived, the causes and effects of their
rebellion remain a matter of passion and argument to this day.

Heather Ewart reports.

GEOFFREY BLAINEY, HISTORIAN: I think Eureka was important in Australian history in the first place
because, in the 19th century, people argued that a nation couldn't have a history unless there was
an battle in it.

And since Australia had no real military history, the Eureka Stockade was a godsend to the
nationalism of the time.

RON EGEBERG, DIRECTOR, EUREKA CENTRE: I believe Eureka was the birthplace of the Australian spirit
and, in saying that, I'm saying that spirit of the want for fairness and a fair go.

TOM HARLEY, CHAIRMAN, AUSTRALIAN HERITAGE COUNCIL: We've got all our major politicians saying, "I
want a fair go for X or Y", and I think that's what the miners were really on about.

They felt unfairly dealt with by the colonial administration and were really protesting against

HEATHER EWART: For almost a week now, Ballarat has been in the grip of Eureka fever.

This city proudly declares itself the catalyst for Australian democracy, all because of a rebellion
by gold diggers over hefty licence fees imposed by the colonial administration exactly 150 years

On this anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, the re-enactments and the impersonations of rebellion
leader Peter Lalor are going on at every turn.

The Eureka flag is flying high.

There's even a celebration of Eureka-inspired art.

GORDON MORRISON, BALLARAT FINE ART GALLERY: Really, what we're able to show is that Eureka has
inspired artists of all sorts over that 150-year period because we've got work here that's
literally still sticky.

HEATHER EWART: The Federal Government has now declared it will place Eureka on its National
Heritage List, forever preserving the site where more than 30 diggers lost their lives at the hands
of the Queen's men and six troopers died in the name of duty.

TOM HARLEY: It's a dramatic flashpoint.

It was from Eureka that you can trace many of the experiments that were introduced by the colonial

Universal manhood suffrage - that's one man, one vote - not having to own property to be able to
vote, and eventually granting women the vote.

Australia did this before most other countries in the world.

HEATHER EWART: The Heritage Council argues it's the legacy of Eureka that matters just as much as
the rebellion itself.

But that legacy means different things to different people and always has.

GEOFFREY BLAINEY: It's one of the most argued about events in Australian history and, to some
people, it symbolises a demand for a fair go.

For others, it highlights the importance of revolution.

For others, it highlights the danger of an interfering, regulating government.

I mean, this is one of the reasons why it lives - because it's got so many messages.

HEATHER EWART: One hundred and fifty years on, controversy still surrounds Eureka.

There's the lingering debate over where the stockade really took place, the dispute over where the
Eureka flag should be housed and, now, disquiet over why the Prime Minister isn't taking part in
any of the anniversary celebrations.

The organisers were told that John Howard's busy timetable didn't allow it.

Nor is the Eureka flag flying over the Federal Parliament this week, in contrast to every State and
Territory Parliament choosing to commemorate the anniversary.

The flag will be draped inside Federal Parliament foyers tomorrow, leaving us all to guess why it
won't get any further than that.

GEOFFREY BLAINEY: I think the event is seen as - in an era when the republican issue is important,
the flag is a favourite amongst republicans.

I'm not a republican, but it really is a very handsome flag, isn't it?

TOM HARLEY: Some of the unions have been very clever in appropriating the Eureka flag.

I think the Eureka flag belongs to all of Australia and not to any one particular movement.

HEATHER EWART: The flag has become the favourite of some left-wing unions during their various
campaigns, though it has also been used on occasions by the right-wing National Front.

The original is displayed in the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery and, it seems, is the subject of great
devotion by all who work there.

GORDON MORRISON: I think one gets the sense that you almost have the need to genuflect when you go
into the room where it's kept.

I call it "my precious"!

HEATHER EWART: The tattered flag was restored in the 1970s by a woman whose great-great-grandmother
helped make the original.

She also created a replica for the gallery.

And that's the other thing you learn about Eureka devotees - many have some historic connection to
the event.

Was it a well-made flag in the first place?

VAL D'ANGRI: Oh, beautifully made.

The seams are only five milimetres in thickness and the stitching is perfect.

I really feel we must salute those ladies for what they did on the goldfields while still bringing
up children and feeding their miner husbands.

HEATHER EWART: But the site of the uprising - down the road at the Eureka Centre - is where some of
the miners' descendants say the flag should be, and here we find another connection.

RON EGEBERG: Well, my great-great-grandfather was at the Eureka Stockade.

HEATHER EWART: But the centre's director, Ron Egeberg, is ever so diplomatic about the latest

RON EGEBERG: We would love to see the flag housed here but unfortunately we don't have the space
nor the conditions to house the flag.

HEATHER EWART: The Eureka Centre offers education to students nationwide on the build-up to Eureka
and the battle and has helped organise part of this week's celebrations, but perhaps it still has
some way to go.

And do you know anything about the flag you're holding?

STUDENT #1: It's the Southern Cross.

Because of, um - because of God.

And God died on a cross.

STUDENT #2: The blue's what they wear, the stars are the Southern Cross and the white's the, um,


The symbolism of Eureka really can be however you choose to see it.