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Unlikely Chain of Events
It seems amazing that the death of a Scottish miner in a Ballarat hotel in October 1854 could trigger such a dramatic turn of events that would shape the history of the Australian Nation. It would lead to one bloodiest and shortest battles ever fought on Australian soil. It was over in fifteen minutes, in which time thirty miners and five policeman were killed. The basic cause of the conflict was the miners resentment to pay the huge cost in licensing fees and the bullying tactics the police used to collect the fees. It was getting harder to find gold and many miners were barley making ends meet after paying the huge license fee.
Murder at the Eureka Hotel
The story starts late one night at the Eureka Hotel , where late one night James Scobie, a Scottish miner got into an argument with James Bently, the publican. Bently hit Scobie with a shovel and killed him instantly. Bently was arrested, but was rumoured to be bribing the magistrate and was acquitted of any crimes. Unpopular with the miners they turned up to his hotel, ransacked it and burnt it to the ground The Governor of the colony, Hotham responded to this by sending extra police to Ballarat and arresting the so called ring leaders of the miners for trial in Melbourne. On 11 November a meeting of miners formed the Ballarat Reform League. Its aim was to stand up for the miners right and called for the abolition of the unjust miners licenses. It was also resolved that it is the right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws which he is to obey and that taxation without representation is tyranny. Karl Marx was to observe that it was not difficult to observe that these issues were the same reasons which led to the declaration of independence of the United States of America. Peter Lalor, a natural leader and a commanding figure was a natural leader in the miners causes.
After Governer Hotham jailed the prisoners and sent more troops to Ballarat, tensions reached boiling point. At a meeting on 29 November, the rebel Southern Cross flag was unfurled and the miners burnt their licences. The next day Peter Lalor led the rebels to Eureka where they built their stockade. Ballarat was said to be in an open and undisguised rebellion.On the morning of December 3rd the trooper attacked the 150 miners, who were mostly sleeping. After a brief but bloody conflict 30 diggers and five troopers were killed. In 1855 the Eureka rebels were put on trial in Melbourne but no jury would convict them. A royal commission was held was recommended sweeping changes to the goldfields administration, included the end of the license system and the introduction of the miners right. A right which finally gave the miners a right to vote in the colony elections.
Many historical commentators agree that the events of the Eureka Rebellion is a central part of the story of how the Australian people became citizens through the achievement of representative and responsible government. Eureka is seen as a fight for freedom and a democratic protest against arbitrary government. Eureka is now a significant tourist attraction, as well as a a national symbol. On of Australia's most precious icons is the tattered remain of the original Southern Cross Flag. Like the Eureka legend itself the flag has became a symbol for diverse causes ranging from the Communist Parties Youth League and the Builders Labourers Federation to the National Front and many small business organisations.