The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka

Written by Clare Wright
Review by Marina Maxwell

The Battle of the Eureka Stockade is a legendary milestone, the birth of Australian democracy. It took place on 3rd December 1854 in gold-rush Ballarat when police and British soldiers fired on miners protesting against the injustices of the government’s licences and fines. The death toll isn’t precise – around 22 miners and five troopers, with others dying later of wounds – but this work had its genesis when historian Clare Wright read a first-hand witness account of how a young woman was bludgeoned to death by a soldier, yet she remains anonymous and unrecorded on any list of casualties.

The Colony of Victoria was still a long way from being an ordered and stable society, ill-equipped to deal with the thousands who came in search of fortune. Most people lived in tents but, as Wright says, “there was no more exciting place to be in late 1854 than Ballarat” with its “heady mix of anxiety, restlessness, disaffection and disregard for authority”. It was a powder keg that had to blow.

This enthralling and immensely readable book is a long overdue acknowledgement of the women who were at Eureka and whose personal histories are as equally important as those of the men in this famous episode that forged the future nation of Australia.