The Eureka Rebellion - Australia's only armed uprising - was a crucial stepping-stone towards democracy for the country. It stemmed from a build-up of grievances on the gold field related to the licensing of mining permits and lack of political representation, and resulted in one of the greatest victories for equity and fairness in Australia’s history.
The Eureka Rebellion marked the breaking point for miner’s frustrations. Although the battle was lost, and 22 lives with it, the war for greater equality for the miners was won. The miners' demands included the abolition of the License and Gold Commission and the vote for all males.
All the miner’s demands were met. The 1854 bill to extend the elective franchise in Victoria required miners to pay 8 pounds for a 12 month mining licence, and to maintain consistent residency for six months before voting registration could be considered. It was replaced with a scheme that allowed miners to buy a licence for one pound and immediately be eligible for voting. There was a vast impact on the implementation of the Victorian Constitution, which had been approved by British parliament, as miners were given eight representatives on the Legislative Council instead of the one promised previously.
The Eureka Stockade is now viewed as the birthplace of Australia's political system. With the benefit of hindsight, it is possible to see the full extent of its impact. Freedom of speech, the right to vote and political equality are the hallmarks of the historic uprising. As Robert Menzies later said: "The Eureka revolution was an earnest attempt at democratic government."
Although a political triumph for the miners the Eureka Rebellion also kick-started the initial stages of the White Australia Policy. Increased Chinese immigration to the goldfields created an atmosphere of xenophobia. The goldfield reformation commission viewed the influx of "a pagan and inferior race" to the goldfields as a serious problem. As Australia developed, this issue gave rise to the country's greatest immigration embarrassment, the White Australia Policy.
As the dust settled on the on the site of the Eureka Stockade, those involved had no idea of the impact they had made on Australia’s history at a crucial point of its development. It was suddenly obvious that the government could no longer ignore the voice of the popular opinion and our fair democracy.
by Guy de Winton
Robyn Annear, Nothing But Gold, The Text Publishing Company, 1999.