On Thursday evening 28 November 2019 I had the pleasure of attending the 165th Anniversary commemorating the Eureka Rebellion at Bakery Hill Ballarat that took place on November 30 1854. The event organised by the Spirit of Eureka Victoria was hosted at the MUA. The speech transcribed below was given by the nights master of ceremonies Dirk Van Dalen. I thank Dirk for allowing me to publish his speech here on Connecting the Dots. “Ladies and gentlemen, comrades and friends. It is my great pleasure to welcome you all to the 165th anniversary of the Eureka rebellion. My name is Dirk. I am one of the co-convenors of Spirit of Eureka in Victoria. I’d like to start tonight by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which we gather tonight, the Wurundjeri people, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. We are gathered on stolen land, sovereignty of this land has never been ceded. And the Spirit of Eureka stands in solidarity with First Peoples in their long struggle for justice and self-determination and against ongoing colonisation that continues today. Firstly just a few words of thanks. Thanks to the MUA for hosting us here again tonight. Thanks to our 3 guest speakers, who we will here from shortly, for agreeing to be a part of tonight’s event. With a special mention to Clinton Fernandes who has made the trip down from Canberra to present for us tonight. And an absolutely huge thank you to our caterers, Vicki and Romina who have been slaving away in the kitchen all day to prepare dinner for us tonight. It’s a massive effort to prepare food for this many people, and Vicki and Romina have volunteered their time today, which we are very appreciative of because it means we are able to keep costs down and make this event accessible to as many people as possible. And lastly thanks to everyone who has come along tonight. You could have chosen to be anywhere else, but instead you are here, with us, to mark and celebrate the anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion. An historical event whose legacy CONTINUES to play such an inspiring role in the many struggles of Australia’s working people for justice, democracy and a more egalitarian society. The theme we chose for tonight’s event is “Continuing the struggle for an independent Australia, and the fight for workers’ and democratic rights” The connection to the ongoing fight for workers’ and democratic rights is probably pretty obvious – Eureka was an inspiration in the formative years of the trade union movement and its values of solidarity, defiance and militant struggle continue to resonate in Union and workers struggle today. Eureka also played a pivotal role in the formation of Australian democracy, and the legacy of the rebels’ fight against injustice and unjust laws remains just as relevant today, as our democratic rights are slowly being eroded by a creeping police state. But what about Australian independence? It will be 165 years ago tomorrow, on November 29 1854, that over 10,000 gold miners and their supporters from some 20 different countries and cultures, gathered at Bakery Hill on the diggings near Ballarat in a mass meeting. They met in protest and rebellion against the gross injustices of the miners licences and the harsh and undemocratic conditions imposed on them by the brutal and oppressive British colonial government.
And on that day A FLAG was raised for the first time. THAT FLAG today we know as the Eureka Flag, but it was not immediately called that. Henry Seekamp, the editor of The Ballarat Times and a voice of agitation for the demands of the miners at the time, referred to it as the “Australian ensign”. In other word, the Australian flag. In a report to his superiors back in Britain, Sir Charles Hotham, then Lieutenant-Governor of the colony of Victoria, called it “the Australian Flag of independence”
And so it was. The rebels were in open defiance against the British colonial government. The general thrust of their actions and demands was for an independent republic that gave rights and liberties to the ordinary working people. That was then. 165 years on, Spirit of Eureka continues to organise around the idea of a genuinely independent Australia. But independence from what and for whom? And what might an independent Australia look like? Certainly, it would be a REPUBLIC – with a new constitution that does away with the historically outdated British monarchy as the head of the Australian state – and a new flag. But that alone would not be enough to make us independent. Because the power that dominates this country is no longer British. We are now part of a different empire – the U.S. empire. An independent Australia would not be integrated into and subordinated to the U.S. military and its plans for imperialist wars around the world. It would have an independent and peaceful foreign policy based on the principles of self-defence and mutual respect between sovereign countries. It would end the U.S. – Australia alliance, remove U.S. Marines from Darwin, remove U.S. military bases from Australian soil – such as Pine Gap in the Northern Territory and North West Cape in Western Australia. Our governments, both Liberal and Labor would not be falling over themselves to pay tribute to Uncle Sam and our “joined-at-the-hip” relationship with America. A truly independent Australia would be independent of all big powers. An independent Australia would have a government that does not abandon, but protects its people and citizens like Julian Assange. Of course, his only “crime” has been to expose the war crimes of the U.S. and allow ordinary people around the world the chance to learn the truth behind the actions of the world’s governments and major corporations. Julian Assange should be greeted as a great Australian, but instead our government ignores his democratic and legal rights – because the U.S. demands it. Economically, Australia is dominated by foreign capital and multinational corporations, most of which pay little or no tax. Take our huge mining and resources sector as just one example. It’s about 90% owned by foreign investors. Australia is currently the second biggest exporter of liquified natural gas in the world. Qatar in the Middle East is the biggest. The single largest producer of Australia’s gas is the American energy giant Chevron. Then there’s ExxonMobil and Shell and a few other climate destroying criminals. These multinationals export so much of our gas, that there are now plans underway to IMPORT gas because apparently, WE HAVE A GAS SHORTAGE! I’ll say it again – Australia, the world’s second largest exporter of LNG, is about to start importing LNG because we don’t have enough gas to meet the needs of the Australian people. Does this sound like the logic of a country that is independent? In 2018, Qatar made over $26 billion from the taxes on the sale of its gas. Australia exported a similar amount of gas, but received less than $1 billion. What does that mean for people like you and me? It means billions and billions of dollars that we don’t have to spend on public schools, hospitals, teachers, nurses, apprentices, infrastructure, public transport, public housing, pensions, Newstart – the list of services for the Australian people that we could fund with that money is huge. But we can’t. Because we don’t own this country. The multinationals do. And who would benefit from a truly independent Australia? Us. The working people of this country. An independent Australia that’s run to serve the interests of the people, NOT to maximise the bottom line of the multinationals. This control of Australia by the multinationals distorts our economy. It has practically turned Australia into a giant quarry. We sign Free Trade Agreements that sell out local workers and industries, and strip away our national sovereignty. It has meant the loss of our manufacturing base, and the destruction of our local shipping and maritime industry – something that is quite remarkable when you consider that we are an island nation that is now almost completely dependent on foreign flagged vessels to supply us with fuel and other goods. And our friends at the MUA could tell us about that! So that’s why we say continuing the struggle for an independent Australia is just as relevant as it was 165 years ago when the Eureka rebels first raised their flag. I just want to say one final thing about the struggle for an independent Australia, and in many ways, it’s probably the most important. In 1788, this country that we call Australia was invaded by the British. What followed was a genocide and dispossession of the First People’s who have lived on this land for tens of thousands of years. The massive amount of natural resources and wealth that this country possesses has been stolen from the First Peoples. We can not change the past. But to create the future we must face up to and recognise that past. And that’s why the struggle for an independent Australia must stand in solidarity with the First Peoples struggles for justice, self-determination, and against colonisation. Because genuine Australian independence can never be achieved without the sovereignty of Australia’s First Peoples. Our struggle and vision for an independent Australia cannot be a racist one. It must be a multicultural one that takes to heart the TRUE spirit of Eureka – the spirit expressed so clearly by Italian miner Rafaello Carboni when he called on his fellow diggers “irrespective of nationality, religion, or colour, to salute the Southern Cross as the refuge of all the oppressed from all countries on Earth” Those are the sorts of values and principles that the Spirit of Eureka fights for, and that’s the kind of vision of Australian independence that the Spirit of Eureka organises towards. Dirk Van Dalen.