The 2007 Peter Tobin Oration Delivered by Ron Egeberg at the Old Ballarat Cemetery Saturday 1 December 2007
In the presence of the Irish Ambassador His Excellency Máirtín O'Fainín
I am delighted to present the 2007 Peter Tobin Oration.
As many would be aware Peter Tobin was a respected member of the Ballarat Community, and prominent Funeral Director.
He was one of the main local figures responsible for raising the profile of the Eureka Stockade.
He formed the Eureka Celebrations Committee in the 1970s with the objective to ensure that the Eureka uprising was recognised as a nationally significant celebration of the struggle for democracy in this country.
Peter was awarded the Order of Australia in 1999.
He died at Ballarat on 29 March 2000 and is today remembered as ‘a true ambassador for Ballarat’.
In the January prior to his death Peter and I had lunch and he asked me to keep the Eureka spirit alive, Peter let me say I’m doing my best. And due to many, your legacy is being realised.
My maternal Great Great Grandfather Morgan Lee came from Moycullen near Galway in the west of Ireland to Ballarat to find a new beginning following the death of his first wife and son during the Potato Famine of the late 1840s.
Morgan was at the Eureka Stockade, he was a successful miner, a major shareholder in the Band of Hope and Albion Mine here in Ballarat, he became Ballarat’s first millionaire, unfortunately to due the recession in the 1870s he lost much of his wealth due to this, his generosity to people and some poor investments.
He was I am told a good man, he had a wonderful sense of caring with that generosity to boot.
Morgan is buried in the New Cemetery, many who participated in the pursuit of their rights and liberties at Eureka are at rest here in this the Old Ballarat Cemetery and the New Ballarat Cemetery.
And today I pay tribute to the Men, Women and Children of Eureka and the people who have made a contribution to the development of our community and that of our Nation.
To me some of the most precious traits Australia has are its freedom, its democracy and its spirit of endeavour.
I’m sure like you coming home from trips overseas I am always reminded that Australia is still the lucky country.
It wasn't always like that though. Let me take you back 153 years to the early 1850's in Victoria. The lure of gold was a magnet drawing people from all parts of the world to the Victorian goldfields
This was a period post European revolutions particularly those of the late 1840s – influenced by the Chartist Movement - again their want of freedom and democracy. Like Enniscorthy 1798, Culloden, the Boston Tea Party and the Bastille.
Arriving at Ballarat the Goldfields community was confronted with similar conditions to those of the overseas revolutions where an administration was unjust, brutal and corrupt. We still hear of this today in other parts of the world and say how does it happen, it happened right here in Ballarat.
Enough was enough, the men, women and children sought change.
Many believe that Eureka was just a skirmish, a tax revolt. What many don’t know is that the people of the Goldfields sought a peaceful resolution to their claims for a ‘fair go’.
These were intelligent, well educated people from many parts of the world.
Ballarat became the first multicultural community in Australia, a fabulous melting pot of cultures, where people banded together and formed the Ballarat Reform League.
Following many Monster Meetings where over 10,000 people attended, a third of the population of the Ballarat region at the time, they developed the Ballarat Reform league Charter – their Bill of Rights, their Magna Carta.
The first principle of the charter reads:
“It is the inalienable right of every citizen to have a voice in making the laws he is called on to obey … and the last, the people are the only legitimate source of all political power”
The Charter had been ratified at Bakery Hill in Ballarat on the 29th of Nov 1854 and was presented to the then Governor Hotham who ignored it, he was their last chance with reason, and therefore they had no choice and on the 30th of November they swore the oath
‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties’
…. and then marched to establish the Eureka Stockade.
Then at dawn on Sunday the 3rd of December the diggers were out numbered by 3 to 1 by a surprise attack by troops and police, it was a slaughter, over 22 diggers were killed fighting for their rights and liberties and 7 soldiers buried here doing their duty. Many others were wounded some unaccounted for.
The Eureka uprising was a revolt of independent free enterprise individuals (the diggers were, in effect, self-employed business people)
Eminent historian Professor John Molony said “The influence of the Ballarat Reform League Charter on the development of Australian democracy was decisive.
The Constitutions of all the colonies in the Nineteenth Century, which later became the States that formed the Australian Commonwealth in 1901, contained the fundamental rights outlined in the Ballarat Reform league Charter, as did the Constitution of the Commonwealth itself.
He states: Whenever Australians to this day enjoy the rights and freedoms granted to them by their Constitutions, they can look back to Eureka, to the Ballarat Reform League and to the Charter of Bakery Hill as the wellsprings of their democracy”.
Ballarat is the custodian of Eureka for the nation.
How do we remember, commemorate and celebrate Eureka?
In the 1870's the people of Ballarat set aside the Eureka Stockade Gardens
Although there were some community additions, the gardens stayed basically the same for over 100 years.
It wasn't until 1996 that the Kennett Government granted $3mill to establish The Eureka Centre Stage 1 - an interpretive centre telling the Eureka Story.
The Eureka Centre is about the promotion and celebration of Eureka and the Australian spirit - fairness, fair go for all.
In 2000 Council undertook an extensive Conservation Analysis of the historic Eureka Stockade site and developed a Landscape Masterplan which Council adopted the plan in 2001.
In 2002 the Bracks Government provided $500,000 with a further $500,000 from Ballarat City Council for the implementation of the Masterplan.
In 2004 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of Eureka, with a national commemoration and celebration of the legacy of Eureka – our democracy and the Australian spirit funded jointly by Council and the State Government with the bipartisan support of the Victorian Parliament.
In 2006 the Bracks State Government promised $5 million toward Stage 2 of the Centre, The Eureka Centre For Australian Democracy, with the aim to extend the Centre so that ‘Eureka’ is seen as a focal point of democratic change in Australia.
Council is now actively seeking further funding support from Government, business and philanthropic organisations to realise a the National Centre for the celebration of Australian democracy.
Eureka is about an ideal of making a difference. We must celebrate our past and awaken our future.
I believe Eureka was the birthplace of our democratic freedoms and of the Australian spirit – the spirit of fairness and a fair go for all.
Stage two of The Eureka Centre is essential to create a place of national and international significance. I believe the business of the Centre should be to interpret, commemorate and celebrate Eureka, the Australian spirit and Australian Democracy.
It is vital that we recognise the historical significance of the ground to Australia as Culloden is to the Scots, as Gettysburg is to the Americans, as Gallipoli is to Australia. In short what the Australian War Memorial is to War, so shall The Eureka Centre be to peace and democracy.
And finally I ask our newly elected Federal Government to recognise the Eureka Flag as a National Flag under the Federal Flags Act
With all that in mind, I leave you with an Irish Blessing
May there always be work for your hands to do,
May your purse always hold a coin or two,
May the sun always shine on your window pane,
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain,
May the hand of a friend always be near to you,
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you,
And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand
Morgan Lee, Peter Tobin, and the men women and children who have gone before us, thank you for giving us our Australia, may you rest in peace and be assured we will maintain the fight for our rights and liberties.