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The Eureka Flag fragments held by the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

The Eureka Flag was flown at the battle of the Eureka Stockade, which took place on 3 December 1854 at Ballarat in Victoria, Australia. An estimated crowd of over 10,000 demonstrators swore allegiance to the flag as a symbol of defiance at Bakery Hill on 29 November 1854. Twenty-two miners were officially listed as killed at the Eureka Stockade, along with seven troopers and police. Around 120 miners were arrested and many others badly wounded.

The field is Prussian blue measuring 260 cm × 400 cm (2:3.08 ratio) and made from fine woollen fabric. The horizontal arm of the cross is 37 cm tall and the vertical arm is 36 cm wide. The central star is slightly larger (8.5%) than the others being about 65 cm tall from point to point and the other stars 60 cm. The white stars are made from fine cotton lawn and the off-white cross from cotton twill.

The flag is listed as an object of significance on the Victorian Heritage Register and was designated as a Victorian icon by the National Trust of Australia in 2006. It is part of the collection of the Art Gallery of Ballarat, which is responsible for its care and conservation and is on long-term loan to the Eureka Centre Ballarat, where it is on public display.

The disputed first report of the attack on the Eureka Stockade also makes reference to a Union Jack being flown during the battle that was then captured, along with the Eureka Flag, by the foot police.


Eureka stockade battle
Eureka Stockade Riot by J.B. Henderson (1854).

The Port Phillip District was partitioned on 1 July 1851, as Victoria gained autonomy within the British Empire after a decade of de facto independence from New South Wales. Approval of the Victorian constitution by the Imperial parliament was pending, with an election held for a provisional legislative council consisting of 20 elected and ten appointed members subject to property-based franchise and membership requirements.

Gold prospectors were offered 200 guineas for making discoveries within 320 kilometres (200 mi) of Melbourne. In August 1851 the news was received worldwide that, on top of several earlier finds, Thomas Hiscock, outside of Buninyong in central Victoria, had found still more deposits. As gold fever took hold, the colony's population increased from 77,000 in 1851 to 198,496 in 1853. Among this number was "a heavy sprinkling of ex-convicts, gamblers, thieves, rogues and vagabonds of all kinds." The local authorities soon found themselves with fewer police officers and lacking the infrastructure needed to support the expansion of the mining industry. The number of public servants, factory and farm workers leaving for the goldfields to seek their fortune led to a chronic labour shortage that needed to be resolved. The response was a universal mining tax based on time stayed, rather than what was seen as the more equitable option, being an export duty levied only on gold found, meaning it was always designed to make life unprofitable for most prospectors. Licence inspections, known as "digger hunts," were treated as recreation and carried out by mounted officials who would receive a fifty per cent commission from any fines imposed. Many recruits were former prisoners from Tasmania and prone to brutal means, having been sentenced to serve in the military. Miners were often arrested for not carrying licences on their person because of the typically wet and dirty conditions in the mines, then subjected to such indignities as being chained to trees and logs overnight.

In the years leading up to the Eureka Stockade, several mass public meetings were held to address the miner's grievances. The Bendigo Petition received over 5,000 signatures and was presented to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe by a miner's delegation in August 1853. There were also delegations received by the Ballarat gold commissioner Robert William Rede and La Trobe's successor Charles Hotham in October and November 1854. However, the ever-present "physical force" faction of the mining tax protest movement would gain the ascendancy over those who advocated "moral force," including John Basson Humffray, after a judicial enquiry into the murder of miner James Scobie outside the Eureka Hotel. There was no finding of guilt regarding the owner James Bently, who was deeply suspected of involvement, with the case being presided over by a police magistrate accused of having a conflict of interest. Then there was an uproar over the arrest of the Catholic Father Smyth's disabled Armenian servant Johannes Gregorious. He was subjected to police brutality and false arrest for licence evasion even though it was revealed he was exempt from the requirement. Gregorious was instead convicted of assaulting a constable and fined 5 pounds despite the court hearing testimony to the contrary. Eventually, the discontent would begin to spiral out of control when a mob of many thousands of aggrieved miners put the Eureka Hotel to the torch on 17 October 1854. On 28 November, there was a skirmish as the approaching 12th Regiment (East Suffolk) had their wagon train looted in the vicinity of the Eureka lead, where the rebels ultimately made their last stand. The next day the Eureka Flag appeared on the platform for the first time, and mining licences were burnt at the final fiery mass meeting of the Ballarat Reform League – the miner's lobby. The league's founding charter proclaims that "it is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called upon to obey" and "taxation without representation is tyranny," in the language of the United States Declaration of Independence. On 30 November, there was further rioting where missiles were once again directed at military and law enforcement by the protesting miners who had henceforth refused to cooperate with licence inspections en masse. That afternoon there was a paramilitary display on Bakery Hill. The oath swearing ceremony took place as the military companies formed were gathered around the Eureka Flag. In preceding weeks, the men of violence had already been aiming musket balls at the barely fortified government camp during the night.

The rebels under their commander-in-chief Peter Lalor, who had left Ireland for the goldfields of Australia, were led down the road from Bakery Hill to the ill-fated Eureka Stockade. It was a crude "higgledy piggledy" battlement erected between 30 November and 2 December that consisted of diagonal spikes and overturned horse carts. In the ensuing battle that left at least 22 rebels and seven soldiers and police dead, the stockade was besieged and captured by the advancing government forces. They briefly wavered, with the 40th Regiment (2nd Somersetshire) having to be rallied amid a short, sharp exchange of ranged fire lasting around 15 minutes at dawn on Sunday, 3 December. The Victorian police contingent led the way over the top as the forlorn hope in a bayonet charge.

Origin and symbolism

Henry Ross
Portrait of Henry Ross, one of the seven captains of the rebellion, who may be the designer of the Eureka Flag.

The earliest mention of a flag was the report of a meeting held on 23 October 1854 to discuss indemnifying Andrew McIntyre and Thomas Fletcher, who had both been arrested and committed for trial over the burning of the Eureka Hotel. The correspondent for the Melbourne Herald stated: "Mr. Kennedy suggested that a tall flag pole should be erected on some conspicuous site, the hoisting of the diggers' flag on which should be the signal for calling toge-ther a meeting on any subject which might require immediate consideration."

In 1885, John Wilson, whom the Victorian Works Department employed at Ballarat as a foreman, claimed that he had originally conceptualised the Eureka Flag after becoming sympathetic to the rebel cause. He then recalls that it was constructed from bunting by a tarpaulin maker. There is another popular tradition where the flag design is credited to a member of the Ballarat Reform League, "Captain" Henry Ross of Toronto, in Ontario, Canada. A. W. Crowe recounted in 1893 that "it was Ross who gave the order for the insurgents' flag at Darton and Walker's." Crowe's story is confirmed in that there were advertisements in the Ballarat Times dating from October–November 1854 for Darton and Walker, manufacturers of tents, tarpaulin and flags, situated at the Gravel Pits.

It has long been said that women were involved with constructing the Eureka Flag. In a letter to the editor published in the Melbourne Age, 15 January 1855 edition, Fredrick Vern states that he "fought for freedom's cause, under a banner made and wrought by English ladies." According to some of their descendants, Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke and Anastasia Hayes were all involved in sewing the flag. The stars are made of delicate material, consistent with the story they were made out of their petticoats. The blue woollen fabric "certainly bears a marked resemblance to the standard dressmaker's length of material for making up one of the voluminous dresses of the 1850s" and also the blue shirts worn by the miners.

In his seminal Flag of Stars, Frank Cayley published two sketches he discovered on a visit to the soon-to-be headquarters of the Ballarat Historical Society in 1963, which may be the original plans for the Eureka Flag. One is a two-dimensional drawing of a flag bearing the words "blue" and "white" to denote the colour scheme. Cayley has concluded: "It looks like a rough design of the so-called King Flag." The other sketch was "pasted on the same piece of card shows the flag being carried by a bearded man" that Cayley believes may have been intended as a representation of Henry Ross. Professor Anne Beggs-Sunter refers to an article reportedly published in the Ballarat Times "shortly after the Stockade referring to two women making the flag from an original drawing by a digger named Ross. Unfortunately no complete set of the Ballarat Times exists, and it is impossible to locate this intriguing reference."

The theory that the Eureka Flag is based on the Australian Federation Flag has precedents in that "borrowing the general flag design of the country one is revolting against can be found in many instances of colonial liberation, including Haiti, Venezuela, Iceland, and Guinea." Some resemblance to the modern Flag of Quebec has been noted, that was based on a design used by the French-speaking majority of the colony of the Province of Canada at the time Ross emigrated. Ballarat local historian Father Tom Linane thought that women from the St Aliphius chapel on the goldfields might have made the flag. This theory is supported by St Aliphius raising a blue and white ecclesiastical flag featuring a couped cross to signal that mass was about to commence. Professor Geoffrey Blainey believed that the white cross on which the stars are arrayed is "really an Irish cross rather than being [a] configuration of the Southern Cross."

Cayley has stated that the field "may have been inspired by the sky, but was more probably intended to match the blue shirts worn by the diggers." Norm D'Angri theorises that the Eureka Flag was hastily manufactured, and the number of points on the stars is a mere convenience as eight was "the easiest to construct without using normal drawing instruments."

Oath swearing at Bakery Hill

Doudiet Swearing allegiance to the Southern Cross
Swearing Allegiance to the Southern Cross by Charles Doudiet (1854).

Before the oath swearing ceremony at Bakery Hill on 30 November 1854, another recorded hoisting of the Eureka Flag occurred that day. In his open letter to the colonists of Victoria, dated 7 April 1855, Peter Lalor said that he heard the news that shots were fired on miners at the Gravel Pits. Along with an armed mob, he then headed towards Barker and Hunt's store on Specimen Hill. It was here the Eureka Flag "was procured and hoisted on the flagstaff belonging to Barker and Hunt; but it was almost immediately hauled down, and we moved down to the holes on the Gravel Pits Flat."

John Wilson claimed to have enlisted the help of prisoners to procure the flag pole on Bakery Hill. He said that it was 60 feet (18 m) long and felled from an area known as Byle's Swamp in Bullarook Forest. Then it was set into an abandoned mineshaft and his design of "five white stars on a blue ground, floated gaily in the breeze."

The Ballarat Times first mentioned the Eureka Flag on 24 November 1854 in an article about a meeting of the Ballarat Reform League to be held the following Wednesday where, "The Australian flag shall triumphantly wave in the sunshine of its own blue and peerless sky, over thousands of Australia's adopted sons." There are also other examples of it being referred to at the time as the Australian flag. The day after the battle, the Age reported that: "They assembled round the Australian flag, which has now a permanent flag-staff." The Geelong Advertiser stated "The following remarkable scene at the inauguration of the 'Australian flag,' and the organisation of the first 'rebel army' in these colonies" and that "The 'Australian Flag,' it appears, has been captured from the volunteers." In a despatch dated 20 December 1854, Lieutenant-Governor Charles Hotham said: "The disaffected miners...held a meeting whereat the Australian flag of independence was solemnly consecrated and vows offered for its defence."

In the subsequent Ballarat Times report of the oath swearing ceremony, it was stated that:

"During the whole of the morning several men were busily employed in erecting a stage and planting the flagstaff. This is a splendid pole of about 80 feet and straight as an arrow. This work being completed about 11 o'clock, the Southern Cross was hoisted, and its maiden appearance was a fascinating object to behold. There is no flag in Europe, or in the civilised world, half so beautiful and Bakery Hill as being the first place where the Australian ensign was first hoisted, will be recorded in the deathless and indelible pages of history. The flag is silk, blue ground with a large silver cross; no device or arms, but all exceedingly chaste and natural."

Lalor, armed with a rifle, took the initiative by mounting a stump and proclaiming "liberty," then called for rebel volunteers to form themselves into companies. Near the base of the flagpole, Lalor knelt with his head uncovered, pointed his right hand to the Eureka Flag, and swore to the affirmation of over 10,000 demonstrators: "We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties." Raffaello Carboni recalls that Henry Ross was the "bridegroom" of the flag and "sword in hand, he had posted himself at the foot of the flag-staff, surrounded by his rifle division."

In 1931, R. S. Reed claimed that "an old tree stump on the south side of Victoria Street, near Humffray Street, is the historic tree at which the pioneer diggers gathered in the days before the Eureka Stockade, to discuss their grievances against the officialdom of the time." Reed called for the formation of a committee of citizens to "beautify the spot, and to preserve the tree stump" upon which Lalor addressed the assembled rebels during the oath swearing ceremony. It was reported that the stump had "been securely fenced in, and the enclosed area is to be planted with floriferous trees. The spot is adjacent to Eureka, which is famed alike for the stockade fight and for the fact that the Welcome Nugget. (sold for £10,500) was discovered in 1858 within a stone's throw of it."

The modern-day address of the oath swearing ceremony is likely 29 St Paul's Way, Bakery Hill. As of 2016, the site is a car park and was for a hundred years a school, with plans to develop it into an apartment block.

Customary use

Since the 1854 miner's revolt, the Eureka Flag, born out of adversity, has gained wider notability in Australian culture as a symbol of democracy, egalitarianism, white nationalism and a general-purpose symbol of protest. Whilst some Australians view it as a symbol of nationality, it has more often been employed by historical societies, re-enactors and trade unions such as the former Builders Labourers Federation. More recently, far-right organisations and political parties have adopted it, including the Australia First Party, National Action, and some neo-Nazi groups, much to the frustration of more established socialist and progressive claimants. Depending on their political persuasion, these groups either see it as representative of the miner's efforts to free themselves from political or economic oppression or their sentiments favouring restricting non-white immigration and the eventual 1855 Chinese poll tax.

Construction union boss Kevin Reynolds, and the Northern Territory's nomination for Australian of the Year, Warwick Thornton, both raised fears in 2010 that the Eureka Flag could "become a swastika-like symbol of racism." Professor Greg Craven said that 20 years prior, the Eureka Flag rivalled the official Australian flag. However, it had become so tainted through appearing on bumper stickers with racist slogans that "The Southern Cross is becoming a symbol not of unity but of exclusion." According to Craven, the union movement has also politicised the Eureka Flag as "The Eureka Stockade was not exclusively about the working class but also the middle class."

In a 2013 survey about national symbols, McCrindle Research found the Eureka Flag eliciting a "mixed response with 1 in 10 (10%) being extremely proud while 1 in 3 (35%) are uncomfortable with its use."

The City of Unley refused a request to fly the Eureka Flag at the local civic centre to commemorate the 166th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade in 2020. Councillor Jennifer Bonham noted the flag's place in the "struggle for democracy." However, she said it must be acknowledged that "the Chinese were persecuted on the goldfields" and "The Eureka flag can also be a symbol of that persecution." Councillor Jane Russo said that it had become symbolic of "white supremacy."

Late 19th century – present

Domain 19751124
Australian Labor Party policy launch before a huge crowd in the Sydney Domain on 24 November 1975. Eureka Flags can be seen in the crowd and on the tribune.
NSW Parliament Building, Macquarie Street, Sydney
NSW Parliament Building, Macquarie Street, Sydney, 3 December 2004.

There is an oral tradition that Eureka Flags were on display at a seaman's union protest against the use of cheap Asian labour on ships at Circular Quay in 1878. In August 1890, a crowd of 30,000 protesters gathered at the Yarra Bank in Melbourne under a platform draped with the flag in a show of solidarity with maritime workers. A similar flag was flown prominently above the camp at Barcaldine during the 1891 Australian shearers' strike.

After the first world war and the Great Depression, the Eureka Flag once again returned to the public domain, being adopted by the New Guard and "the radical left wing of the Australian Labor Party and the Communist Party" in the 1930s.

In 1948 a procession of 3,000 members of the Communist affiliated Eureka Youth League and allied unionists led by a Eureka Flag bearer marched through the streets of Melbourne on the occasion of the 94th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade. The same year, headlines in the Melbourne Argus stated "Police in serious clash with strikers" and "Battle over Eureka flag" following a violent clash between about 500 strikers and police during a procession on St Patrick's Day in Brisbane. The marchers were singing "It's a Great Day for the Irish" and "Advance, Australia Fair" whilst carrying shamrock-shaped anti-government placards and a coffin with the label "Trade Unionism." Readers were also told that: "Conspicuous in the procession was a Eureka flag, a replica of the flag Peter Lalor's followers carried at the Eureka Stockade in 1854." It was reported that two protesters were injured and five arrested "In a fight for the Eureka flag" where the "strikers resisted, and blows were struck. Police, caught up in the melee, drew batons and used them."

The Eureka Flag was also used by supporters of Gough Whitlam after he was dismissed as prime minister. In 1979, the Northcote City Council began flying the Eureka Flag from its Town Hall to mark the 125th anniversary of the uprising, and continued until at least 1983.

During a 1983 royal tour, a republican supporter informally presented a small Eureka Flag to Diana, Princess of Wales, who did not recognise it. The event prompted a cartoon of the royal couple with Charles, Prince of Wales, observing "Mummy will not be pleased."

Eureka Flag flying on HMAS Ballarat October 2021
HMAS Ballarat flying the Eureka Flag and other flags in 2021.

To commemorate the 2004 Eureka sesquicentenary, the Eureka Flag flew at every state and territory parliament; the federal senate; City Hill, Canberra; and from the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson made the flag a federal election issue that year. He was opposed to flying it at Parliament House, Canberra to mark the occasion, stating: "I think people have tried to make too much of the Eureka Stockade ... trying to give it a credibility and standing that it probably doesn't enjoy."

The Eureka Flag has been adopted by a variety of civic and political organisations, including the City of Ballarat and Federation University, which use elements or stylised versions of the flag in their official logo. Several trade unions use it, including the CFMEU and ETU. It is also often informally flown on-site by crews on building and other construction sites as a symbol of the construction, forestry, maritime, mining and energy unions to associate themselves with the values associated with the stockade, that of fairness, equality and a struggle against authority. The flag flies permanently over the Melbourne Trades Hall and the Ballarat Trades Hall. The Prospectors and Miners Association of Victoria use it as their official flag. In 2016 it was formally incorporated into the official logo of the Australia First Party.

Sporting clubs have also made use of the Eureka Flag, including the Melbourne Victory and Melbourne Rebels. Melbourne Victory supporters adopted it as a club flag for the foundation year in 2004. However, it was subsequently briefly banned at A-League games by the Football Federation of Australia but rescinded in the face of criticism from the Victorian general public. The Football Federation of Australia claimed that the ban was "unintentional."

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