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Dec 3, 2007

Anniversary, Eureka; Australia’s Declaration of Independence.

Picture; Left, the Eureka Flag,  Centre, Peter Lalor (the leader),  Right, painting of The Battle.
By JimFryar
On the 3rd of December 1854 a battle was fought which remains part of the Australian psyche and helped establish the character of a nation, Eureka.
From “The Bulletin”.
‘Australia began her political history as a crouching serf kept in subjection by the whip of a ruffian gaoler, and her progress, so far, consists merely in a change of masters. Instead of a foreign slave-driver, she has a foreign admiral; the loud-mouthed tyrant has given place to the suave hireling in uniform; but when the day comes to claim their independence the new ruler will probably prove more dangerous and more formidable that the old’. 
Rather than 'the day we were lagged', Australia's national day should be December 3, the anniversary of the Eureka rebellion, 'the day that Australia set her teeth in the face of the British Lion'. 
British rule in Australia From the latter part of the 18th century through to the mid 19th century was a corrupt dictatorship. The country was a group of colonies, each ruled by Governors appointed by the British crown who had absolute power including life or death, over the population.
These were backed up by British troopers, under the charge of dissolute and corrupt officers, who, having unlimited power tended to use it to further their own ends. A military dictatorship is bad enough in its own right, but when you add to that the British class structure with its belief that ‘Colonials’ were inferior, rebellion is the only way out.
In this political climate, all sorts of toadies and shysters find advantage in cozying up to the state apparatus to advance their own interests at the point of a gun, and of course this happened here. The authorities victimized the general population to further the interests of these people as well.
In 1853, gold was discovered an event which sparked massive waves of immigration. Miners from all over the world descended upon Australia bringing with them ideas of liberty, and equality into an environment where, as a totally foreign concept it was bound to inflame the existing resentment into rebelliousness.
The authorities, however in their arrogance treated the new arrivals in the same manner they had been treating the existing population. They levied a crushing license tax on the prospectors and troopers used whips, musket butts and bayonets to collect it. Mounted troopers would engage in "Digger hunts" through the goldfields where prospectors would be ridden down in front of their comrades.
Open rebellion was sparked when a publican murdered James Scobie a miner, and despite the evidence of other diggers the subsequent inquiry deemed that the evidence was inconclusive. Those who pressed for the arrest of the publican were themselves arrested, as were the miners who burned down the hotel to avenge their mate.
Peter Lalor, roused the diggers to build a stockade for their defense and raised the Eureka Flag. Raffaello Carboni, called on the crowd, "irrespective of nationality, religion and color", to salute the Southern Cross as the "refuge of all the oppressed from all the countries on earth".
The stockade lasted only a short time, within an hour against overwhelming odds it was all over. No ruling class has ever regarded its downtrodden with anything but contempt, and this attitude leads to savagery when that class stands up and cry “No more”. The resistance was crushed with the utmost brutality, but as is the case in such events, only at that place, and only for that moment in time.
The diary of Samuel Lazarus describes the events: -
I entered (the stockade) and a ghastly scene lay before me, which it is vain to attempt to describe — My blood crept as I looked upon it. Stretched on the ground in all the horrors of a bloody death lay 18 or 20 lifeless and mutilated bodies — some shot in the face, others literally riddled with wounds — one with a ghastly wound in the temples and one side of his body absolutely roasted by the flames of his tent. 
Another, the most horrible of these appalling spectacles, with a frightful gaping wound in … his head through which the brains protruded, lay with his chest feebly heaving in the last agony of death. One body pierced with 16 or 17 wounds I recognized as that of a poor German whom I have often joked with. 
Newly-made widows recognizing the bloody remains of a slaughtered husband — children screaming and crying around a dead father — surely the man that polluted the early dawn of a Sabbath's morning with such a deed of blood and suffering must have a stony heart if he does not think with keen remorse on the desolation of many a widowed heart his merciless work has left. 
But this sanguinary carnage, revolting as it is to the mind, is not half so sickening as the savage wanton barbarity of the troopers. Did not turn their swords on armed men, but galloped courageously among the tents shooting at women, and cutting down defenseless men … 
A trooper galloped up to Mr. Naslam (reporter for one of the papers) and ordered him to join the government force. He … gave an excuse (which was strictly true) that he was unwell, when the wretch at once leveled his carbine and shot him in the side. Not content with this wanton barbarity he handcuffed him and left him on the ground weltering in his blood. 
Another man … awoke by the firing, went out of his tent in his shirt and drawers and seeing the savage butchery going on cried out in terror — "for God's sake don't kill my wife and children". He was shot dead."
The battle in all of its futility, made the British realize that they were seeing the beginnings of what happened in America. They were up against an entire population aggrieved to the point of rebellion, and were aware that more armed resistance was on the way.
Fortunately they had the sense to back off, caving in to the miners demands. Those arrested were not prosecuted, and Peter Lalor who managed to escape after loosing an arm in the battle was subsequently was elected to parliament.
British colonial attitudes are well portrayed in Bruce Beresford’s excellent movie “Breaker Morant”, made on the subject of the execution of two Australian soldiers during the Boer War. Lt Harry (Breaker) Morant and Lt Peter Handcock. From the evidence I can find the film appears to be remarkably accurate historically.
A mate of mine who saw it before me said, “ It made me want to go out and find a Pommy."


  1. I have linked to this.

    As for Breaker Morant: the movie was good but it was just a movie and left out more facts than could be fit into 2 hours.

    Morant himself was a Pommy who enlisted in the Boer war as a way of getting back to England (and he did return to the UK for 6 months during the war).

    He was quite a fantasizer and his motives were not pure but there's no doubt that he was used as a scapegoat by Lord Kitchener to cover up for British bungling.

    He was demonized by the Poms in South Africa and his story was presented as a way of showing how "fair" the Poms were to the Boers which was utter crap and most of us Afrikaners knew that.

    After I saw the movie, I also wanted to "go find a Pommy." But then I never much cared for Pommies.

  2. Morant was no angel, and was certainly guilty, and in this era would have been charged with war crimes.

    Australians tend to forgive him this, owing mainly to the way the issue was handeled by the poms.

    Kitchener did issue a no prisoners order, which was denied at the trial, which was conducted in secrecy to the point that even the Australian government was not informed of it until after the executions.

    The trial transcripts disappeared immediately after the trial, and have never been sighted since.

    British officers arrested at the same time in relation to this matter were allowed to resign, and were not charged, making it obvious that the Brits had decided to throw a couple of colonials to the wolves to appease the Boers.

    Add to this that while Morant was born in England he had lived and worked across the country for quite a while and in that time if a person fitted in he was considered Australian. We had only been in the place for 70 years. First settlement was in 1788.

    He was also a fine horseman and skilled horse breaker, and to cap it all was one of our bush poets, published in the Bulletin under the by-line 'the Breaker,'

    He was also a thief con artist drunk and rabble rouser, but the above attributes tended to cause this to be overlooked.

    Apart from the anglophiles Kitchener was intensely disliked in this country, not only because of this but he was regarded as a butcher, tending to use massive force as a blunt instrument, to achieve victory. He was a hero to the Poms but was careless with the lives of troops, and contemptuous of their welfare.

    When I was a kid on Anzac day songs from the wars were played on the radio including one I thought was fun, along the lines of "One staff officer jumped right over another staff officers back"...etc, the chorus being, "They were only playing leap frog.....

    I realized later in life that it was black humor for the British habit of sending division after division, over the top of the ones that had been mown down before them.

    Back in the first half of last century, many local light horse units existed, and ours had a team which carried out very skilled horsemanship including jumping and shooting on the move. A couple of my great uncles were part of it.

    One told me of Kitcheners visit in (I think)1910, when they were asked to put on a display for 'the great man'. All refused on the basis that they would not risk life and limb for the amusement of "that pommy bastard'

    Says it all, really.

  3. I take your point about Morant being more Aussie than Pommy and understand the veneration in which he is held in Australia.

    Kitchener is just as despised by the Afrikaners. No doubt the Poms don't mention him in school history anymore as he is no longer PC.

  4. Sorry Patrick I was thinking of Eureka, when talking about the Boer war, the figure should have been around 110 years.

  5. Kitchener was of course the originator of the Concentration Camp. The heartless nature of these camps during the Boer War was unimaginable, as was the death toll inside. Kitchener could not have cared less as it furthered his war aims.

    What does "Pom" or "Pommies" mean? I know I've heard the terms before but I cannot place them.

  6. Benning; Nice to have you over here.

    Actually I was surprised when Patrick used the term, as I thought only Australians used it.

    Pom, Pommy, or Pommy bastard, are terms for the English. There is a great deal of speculation as to the origin of it. One theory is that they have pink faces like a pomegranate, however that doesn't ring true to me.

    Another is that it stems from the convict days, when new arrivals were Prisoners Of His Majesty, or POHMs.

    The main thing against the second explanation is that a great many convicts were Irish, and as a general rule the term pom doesn't refer to Irish, Scots, or Welsh.

    Probably something like the American term Limey.

    Now just to throw some confusion into the mix, the term can be friendly or derogatory, depending on the voice inflexion or the pom. G'day you pommy bastard can be a friendly greeting.

    I am reminded of the words of 'Bazza McKenzie, (Patrick might remember him): -
    "Where the beers all crook,
    and the sheelas look,
    like you, you pommy bastard."

  7. Jim, Pom or Pommy is used commonly in South Africa. I guess there was quite a bit of cross-fertilization between the the sub-equatorial colonies.

    Benning, those first concentration camps were used to imprison my ancestors. I wrote about them here:

    Why the Afrikaners hate the British.

  8. Patrick; I just followed the links from this to "concentration camps".

    I have known for a long time of the horrors of these camps, but without the commentary these pictures could be mistaken for the Holocaust.