In a new twist to Australian history, a leading historian has suggested that the Eureka Stockade was a deliberate police set-up so the government could use force to crush the protesting Ballarat gold miners.
Australian National University (ANU) Emeritus Professor John Molony outlined his Rethinking Eureka conclusions at an ANU conference on Wednesday to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Stockade.
“In the past Eureka has been looked at as a rebellion of the diggers, but I have now concluded that it was an event deliberately engineered by the Government,” he said.
Professor Molony said the theory is supported by an 1854 letter from Gold Commissioner Robert Rede to Governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Hotham, saying it was essential to come upon the diggers “with arms in their hands”.
That way he could legally “crush them and the digger agitation at one blow”.
“The Government made up its mind to provoke the diggers into making a stand. On three occasions the diggers attempted to negotiate and each time the Government refused to do so,” Professor Molony said.
Conference Convener Dr David Headon said the event has brought together many of Australia’s leading experts to provide a fresh perspective on one of Australian history’s most symbolic events.
“The Eureka Stockade has assumed almost mythical importance for this nation,” he said. “Arguably, it represents the only time Australia has experienced civil unrest in protest against government policy that has resulted in so many deaths.
“When you look at the political spectrum, the two major parties have both claimed ownership of the Stockade.
“The Coalition regards it as an economic protest over mining licences and nothing more. Whereas the Labor Party, along with the great majority of those passionate about Eureka, see it as something much more important than that.”
The ‘Eureka’s Significance, Then and Now’ conference is sponsored by The ANU Research School of Humanities and the Arts, and The ANU Centre for the Study of Australian Politics.