Eureka! We’ve Lost It…

[Ed Note: Greg Canavan here,

I’ll be away from my office and laptop for the next few days, so I don’t have any time to write. That may seem strange coming from the lockdown capital of Australia, but I’ll explain what’s going on next week.

For today though, you’ll read an edited essay from Joel Bowman. Joel is an expat Aussie living in Argentina. He works behind the scenes with Bill Bonner and Dan Denning. As you know, Bill and Dan are regular contributors to The Rum Rebellion, and co-edit The Bonner-Denning Letter.

Joel’s excellent essay below gives some historical context to today’s environment by looking back at the Eureka Rebellion, the second uprising in Australia’s history…the first being the Rum Rebellion of 1808, which this humble publication is named after.

For more on what we’re about, click here. Then read on for Joel’s essay, followed by Bill Bonner. Tomorrow, you’ll just hear from Bill. I’ll be back on board next week.

Cheers,

Greg]

Eureka! We’ve Lost It…
By Joel Bowman

This [Ballarat Reform League] is nothing more or less than the germ of Australian independence. The die is cast, and fate has cast upon the movement its indelible signature. No power on earth can now restrain the united might and headlong strides for freedom of the people of this country…the League has undertaken a mighty task, fit only for a great people — that of changing the dynasty of the country.

Henry Erle Seekamp, writing in his Ballarat Times
newspaper, 18 November 1854

What a brave band of men discovered at Eureka, more than a century and a half ago, remains more valuable today than all the gold ever mined in those rich fields: their freedom. The cost of not protecting that legacy now, when it is under direct and relentless attack, will ultimately be borne by those who let it pass from their hands.

For anyone keeping tabs on individual freedoms and civil liberties of late, it has been a worrying few months to say the least. State actors around the world have seized upon the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to smuggle in all manner of heavy-handed controls; from mass drone surveillance to warrantless searches to curfews, statewide lockdowns and wholesale curtailment of human movement.

Perhaps nowhere on planet Earth — with the possible exception of Communist China — has the response to the virus been more drastic than in the Antipodes. And perhaps no incident better exemplifies such overreach than the case of Zoe Buhler, a pregnant mother who was recently handcuffed and arrested in front of her children for making a post on social media.

***

Aussie school kids know the backstory well enough; or at least they ought to. Herewith, a brief recap of what one newspaperman called ‘the germ of Australian independence’.

Long before the ‘Lucky Country’ dared even call herself a nation, an intrepid cadre of gold miners made a definitive stand in the small Victorian town of Ballarat. The proximate catalyst for their rebellion was the age-old issue of ‘taxation without representation’, most notably through the imposition of a compulsory miner’s licence. In truth, however, discontent had long been simmering under the roughshod colonialist government, which often used its police and military forces to oppress dissent and enforce unjust laws.

Founded in 1853, the Ballarat Reform League encouraged acts of civil disobedience to protest the miner’s licences and to bring to justice various other causes (including the murder of Scottish miner, James Scobie, and the wrongful imprisonment of three men accused of burning down the Bentley Hotel). When a year later the miner’s pacifist tactics had still not achieved the desired ends, the men knew what they must do. They elected a leader, Peter Lalor, erected a makeshift stockade and took up arms against the government.

The subsequent confrontation in Ballarat, known thereafter as the Eureka Rebellion, came to be synonymous with the birth of Australian democracy. Although the miners lost the battle on that particular day — 3 December 1854 — with perhaps 60 diggers breathing their last on Eureka soil, they won for their countrymen a legacy well worth defending; one rooted in liberty, independence and self-determination.

Of the surviving rebels, more than 100 men and women were taken prisoner and marched off to nearby government camps, where martial law was imposed along with a strict 8pm curfew. Multiple independent reports from the camps tell of the brutality there, including the killing one night of a woman and her infant child in arms, along with several other men, during an episode of ‘indiscriminate shooting’.

Eventually, 13 of the rebels were brought to trial at Victoria’s Supreme Court on counts of high treason. By then word of the Eureka Rebellion had spread far and wide and a groundswell of public support had grown around their cause. Owing in no small part to this esprit de corps (and evidenced by the more than 10,000 people who thronged the pavement outside the courthouse), the defendants were each and all acquitted (the jury took less than half an hour to return its ‘not guilty’ verdict). In a display of civil unity, the freed men were even carried aloft by their supporters, who marched in triumphant jubilation through the streets of Melbourne.

A royal commission into the whole affair returned harsh criticism of the government’s administration over the gold fields, particularly its handling of the Eureka Stockade. Among several of the recommendations enacted in the months that followed were; the abolition of the gold licences (to be replaced with cheaper, fairer ‘miner’s rights’); the Legislative Council broadened to allow for representation in the major gold fields; the police presence, there and among the people, to be drastically drawn down. Reform momentum carried through to the Electoral Act of 1856, which granted suffrage to male colonists, an important first step toward the eventual representative democracy assumed as a birthright today.

***

Liberty or security…

Given Ballarat’s proud history, it is a particularly cruel twist of fate that in recent weeks, individuals around the world have come to know this sleepy town (pop: 100k) not as the bulwark of freedom it once was, but as the latest scene of egregious governmental overreach and practically unchecked, state-sanctioned bullying.

The details of Victoria’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been enumerated elsewhere; suffice to say that under Premier Daniel Andrews’ government, citizens of that once-free state have endured some of the harshest lockdown restrictions on the planet. Those already familiar with the draconian measures there will recognise the unsettling resurrection of the 8pm curfew, as well as the presence of military personnel on the streets; neither emblematic of a population at liberty.

And yet, despite relatively few (and precipitously falling) cases, the Andrews regime has coupled a campaign of fear with that hoary promise of safety to railroad through parliament an unprecedented rollback of civil liberties, extending Victoria’s ‘state of emergency’ a further six months (Andrews had proposed a full year).

The premier’s Health Minister Jenny Mikako actually warned parliament that failure to extend the emergency measures would mean ‘we would literally fall off a cliff’, (leaving us to wonder whether the minister understands what the word ‘literally’ means, literally), and claiming that those who dared vote against the Andrews administration would effectively be ‘voting for a third wave [of the virus].’

The ‘choice’ offered was a classic false dilemma: liberty OR security…NOT both!

Under the emergency designation, which squeezed through 20 votes to 19, Andrews’ government will continue to conduct warrantless searches, direct ‘health officials’ to detain individual citizens at will and generally restrict, surveil and track the public’s movement in any manner it deems ‘necessary’.

Predictably, not everyone welcomed such drastic measures, described by the Institute of Public Affairs as ‘the greatest incursion into our basic liberties ever on Australian soil,’ in the supine, unblinking manner Andrews must have had in mind.

***

In the aftermath of the Eureka rebellion, rebel leader Peter Lalor issued a statement to the colonists of Victoria.

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.

Beyond the degraded acts of the current day foot soldiers themselves, the real scandal here is that, to paraphrase Mr Lalor, the general public appears unable (whether through want of resolve, awareness or a little organisation), to inflict on the real authors of this outrageous #LockDownUnder the punishment they so richly deserve.

Faced with the prospect of surrendering their most hard-won liberties, Victorians must ask themselves whence those freedoms came and, more urgently, to what extent they will go to defend and preserve them. It would be a shameful irony indeed if the birthplace of Australian democracy was to serve as the battle ground in which it was ultimately interred.

Regards,

Joel Bowman,
For, The Rum Rebellion

PS: The day after the Eureka Rebellion — 4 December 1854 — newspaperman and owner of the Ballarat Times, Henry Erle Seekamp, was arrested in his office on charges of sedition. A staunch supporter of the Ballarat Reform League, Seekamp had written and published a series of articles that were critical of the government’s actions, in particular the manner in which the police harassed the diggers on so-called ‘licence hunt’ and their official response to the murder of James Scobie.

Seekamp’s trial was the first related to the Eurkea incident and the only one to return a guilty verdict. After a series of appeals, the journalist was sentenced to six months in prison, though he was released after serving three.

While in jail, Mr Seekamp’s de facto wife, Clara Seekamp, took over the business, and in doing so became the first female editor of an Australian newspaper. Speaking of the Eureka Rebellion later in life she was quoted as saying, ‘If Peter Lalor was the sword of the movement, my husband was the pen.

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