‘“A victory won by a lost battle”: What Eureka means to Australians today: Eureka Lecture, Ballarat, Tuesday, 3 December 2013‘, Andrew Leigh Blog, 3 December 2013
Was Eureka a youth movement of an 1850s clash of generations? A revolt of free-enterprise against the tyranny of the British Empire? An uprising of the proletariat against the Australian bourgeoisie? The first explicit flowering of republican sentiment in the colonies of the Southern Ocean? Was it small business owners protesting against unfair taxes and red tape? Was it miners demanding more efficient resource rent taxation? Or did it go deeper: a protest against burdensome taxation without representation – a bona fide Boston Tea Party on Australian shores?
The author says Eureka meant more to previous generations than to the current one and quotes Mark Twain in 1895 and more recent eminences such as Chifley, Evatt, Whitlam and others on its perceived importance. He compares Eureka with Anzac.
The Eureka Stockade is Australia’s greatest story. It deserves to be acclaimed as a founding story, perhaps the founding story, of this nation.
For tens of thousands of years, Australians have been constantly updating our dreamtime – our national legends – to reflect new information, new speculations, new interpretations. As the commemoration of World War I takes place over the next four years, we will see much of this discussion take place in the middle of the public arena.
But I defy the pages of our history to uncover a moment of similar transcendence as the Eureka Stockade. Of similar power and suitability. 26 January is Australia Day but also, in the words of Paul Keating, the point from which “We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the diseases. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We failed to ask – how would I feel if this were done to me?”
ANZAC day, Australia’s dominant founding legend, lacks both the purity of motivation and moral authority of the Great War’s conclusion, or even the balm of ultimate military success that characterises every other nation’s heroic military moments.