The Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) is an Australian museum, which engages visitors in the compelling story of democracy. The stories are told of the ordinary men and women, past and present, which have fought for the democratic freedoms we enjoy today.
Located on the historic site of the 1854 Eureka Stockade, M.A.D.E explores the powerful story of Eureka as a significant part of the struggle for peoples’ rights in Australia and around the world. M.A.D.E commemorates the pivotal role of the Stockade in shaping Australia’s democracy. This is where a group of largely young people fought injustice, and won some of the first democratic rights in the world.
M.A.D.E’s permanent exhibition uses innovative digital immersion to engage visitors with the questions: What is democracy and why do we care? Why has it been fought for, yesterday and today? What does it feel like to be without power?
Combining contemporary technology with historic objects, the role of the people as the centre of democracy is explored. How are decisions made? Who are they made for? What influence do you have in our contemporary democracy today?
Iconic historic objects are also on display including the Flag of the Southern Cross, which is generously on loan from the Art Gallery of Ballarat. The flag is exhibited for the first time since 1854 on this historic site.
Through a series of exciting public programs and temporary exhibitions, visitors are inspired to explore diversity, creativity and the hidden stories of the past and present. As a centre of discussion on contemporary democracy, M.A.D.E has been proud to host some of Australia’s most creative thinkers.
M.A.D.E will be a recognised state, national and international cultural organisation. It provides a compelling context for the display of the Eureka Flag as well as a wide range of innovative and changing physical, digital and interactive exhibits. It also promotes Australians’ understanding of the impact of the Eureka story and encourages increased participation with contemporary Australian democracy.
The Eureka Stockade 1854
Inspired by the lure of gold and the promise of a new life in a new land, miners from around the world flooded into Victoria in the early 1850s. With them, many carried the hope of a new democratic world, where class and money were secondary to hard work and character.
But they found transplanted in this new country the same class oppression and the same rejection of basic democratic rights. One piece of paper came to embody all that was wrong with the old way, the miner’s licence. All land was proclaimed Crown land and miners had to pay a monthly fee to dig on the Queen’s land. The fee was unrealistically high for the miners. Squatters on much larger farm holdings paid far less for much more. Miners felt they were being unfairly penalised for having the audacity to leave their jobs, work for themselves and expect decent government treatment.
To the colonial government the miners were an unruly mob who constantly presented problems. The huge numbers of arrivals into the Victorian colony demanded new services, more roads, more police, more administration. Faced with huge government debt to pay for these services, and as a way to force miners back to their jobs to restore proper social order, the licence fee was introduced.
Gold miners around Victoria protested the licence fee right from its introduction in 1851. It was in 1854 though that a series of events highlighted the unfairness of the administrative system, and the long brewing tensions between the miners and the government erupted in the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat.
The Ballarat Events
On 7th October 1854 a young miner James Scobie was murdered outside the Eureka Hotel. The hotel’s owner James Bentley was acquitted by the magistrate, with whom he was friends. On 17th October outraged miners burnt down Bentley’s hotel, with three of the crowd arrested and charged with arson.
A series of mass meetings were held on Bakery Hill as the miners attempted to petition their case to the government. The Ballarat Reform League, influenced by the ideals of British Chartism, drafted their own charter calling for a number of democratic reforms including the right to vote for all men regardless of property owned stating “that taxation without representation is tyranny.”
As tensions mounted, the government sent in more troops to Ballarat, a miners’ revolutionary flag was stitched and licences burnt at a mass meeting. After a provocative licence hunt, the miners met again on Bakery Hill. At this meeting on 30 November 1854, Peter Lalor made his, now iconic, speech. Miners swore an oath of allegiance to the Eureka Flag. “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” They then spent the next few days building a defensive enclosure on the Eureka Lead in anticipation of another provocative licence hunt.
At dawn on the morning of 3rd December 1854, troops from the 40th and 12th regiments attacked the stockade. In a short but intense battle, at least 22 miners and 6 soldiers were killed. A subdued community were shocked by the deaths and the government response, British troops had fired on and killed British subjects.
In 1855, thirteen miners were tried for high treason, a hanging offence. No jury in Melbourne would convict them and they were all acquitted. Lieutenant-Governor Hotham was critised by both public opinion and his own superiors, who believed democratic change could be managed peacefully. The government’s own commission of enquiry recommended a number of changes including a fairer, cheaper miner’s right which also gave the holder the right to vote. Soon after, the right to vote was given to all men over 21 regardless of property.
The diggers’ call to action had become a reality.
Image source: Mount Warrenheip and Eureka, Artist: Marlene Gilson, Source: Art Gallery of Ballarat.