Why was the Eureka Rebellion important and what was its contribution to democracy in Australia?
This page includes everything you need to answer this question- including an audio reading, democracy timeline, character chards, a debate and a fun chatterbox game!!
Also see below our essay “A Story Every Australian Citizen needs to know” from our experienced Educator explaining why Eureka Stockade was so important as one of the defining moments in Australian history in achieving representative democracy.
Audio Reading of the Eureka Stockade
The Eureka Stockade, written by Alan Boardman and illustrated by Roland Harvey and read by David Baldwin.
Play this video to hear and see the story of the Eureka Stockade.
Eureka Stockade Timeline:
Highlighting the events before and after Eureka to show its contribution to democracy in Victoria and Australia
Starting with the Chartist movement in England and the Charter of Rights written by the Ballarat Reform League, the miners at Ballarat were not just fighting against the violent police raids on Gold Licences. They wanted a fair go! This included the right to vote, the right to stand for parliament (and be paid for it) and responsible Government.
In less than 5 years after the skirmish, many of the rights and liberties that the miners fought for were granted. This included the Goldfields Act 1855, Electoral Act 1856, Payment of Members Act 1870 and finally the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1900.
Click the image or here to view the impact that the Eureka Stockade had on the development of democracy in Victoria, Australia and throughout the world.
Eureka Character Cards
Students can learn about how the Eureka rebellion saw the miners stand up to arbitrary authority. Research the events and people who were involved in this tragedy, examine different viewpoints and experiences during the Gold Rush and complete the Eureka Character Cards to for display in the classroom, or get the students to create a mini booklet.
The Eureka Debate
The colonial government struggled to provide basic services to the new communities, which were rapidly developing in number across the gold fields during the 1800s. Did the government have the right to impose fees and taxes on the miners at Eureka?
Was it fair to impose a licence fee when the miners could not vote or have a say in how they were governed?
This resource provides preliminary information to help students participate in the ‘Eureka Debate‘ and encourages students to identify and understand different motives and experiences of those involved in the Eureka Stockade.
John Basson Humffray played an important role in the Eureka Rebellion and the Ballarat Reform League’s Charter of Rights. He argued against violence and told the miners who tried to use force
“Put down your guns, mates. The government is more afraid of you with a newspaper in your hand than a revolver.”
Click here to download a factcard/activity sheet on Humffray.
The Eureka Chatterbox Game
The Eureka Chatterbox is a fun way to help your students learn about the events of the Eureka Rebellion including questions such as:
– when did the Eureka rebellion occur?
– what is democracy?
– who lead the rebellion?
Eureka Rebellion POSTER
The Eureka Rebellion represents a stand for individual rights, fair representation, freedom of speech, and equality.
Use this poster in your classroom to encourage your students to stand together for democracy.
Eureka Rebellion: Why is it so important?
A Story Every Australian Citizen Needs to Know
Eureka qualifies as one of the defining moments in achieving representative democracy
1. Australia’s origins as a Penal Colony with migrants from all over the world
On the arrival of the First Fleet to Australia in 1788, the British government understood the new settlement would eventually evolve from being a prison facility into a new society. British Home Secretary Lord Sydney provided a Charter of Justice to guide the inaugural governor through a new regime based on British rule. However, they didn’t expect this society to develop so rapidly in achieving democratic reforms that would quickly become the envy of London.
Over the first few decades, significant gains were achieved when the emergence of key ideas such as capitalism, socialism, egalitarianism, and nationalism took hold taking aim at the old world of imperialism. Democratic ideas and concepts quickly emerged, gaining influence throughout the colonies. It was a defining time for authorities to recognise democratic rights for all citizens. Today, we take our freedoms and rights for granted as it all comes so naturally, but they were hard fought on many occasions – as documented throughout Australian history. People arrived from different backgrounds, including farmers, explorers, and… political activists. Many colonists brought the values and ideas from Chartism, a movement which rose from the working class of Britain and involved ideas such as securing the vote for all adult men, implementing a secret ballot system, and annual elections for Parliament. The short and long-term impacts of these ideas helped fuel the desire for change to gain Australia’s independence from Britain. It didn’t take long before the values and ideals of Chartism reverberated throughout the Victorian goldfields.
2. Democracy Principles promoted by the Ballarat Reform League
The Eureka rebellion in 1854 made a significant contribution towards achieving true representative democracy in Australia. Gold miners took a stand against the authorities in refusing to bend to unreasonable taxes and demand their working rights. They formed the Ballarat Reform League, which penned a charter that reflected the very same values and ideals as those from the English Chartism movement, including:
- full and fair representation (in Parliament);
- male suffrage;
- the removal of the property qualification for Members of the Legislative Council;
- salaries for members; and
- a shorter duration of Parliament
Reforms were urgently needed across the Goldfields, including the abolishment of the Diggers and Storekeepers’ Licence Tax after the government demanded significant increases in taxes from the diggers, whether gold was found or not. The events that unfolded in Victoria during the 1850s brought about important reforms that limited power over the people and reminded the government of the significant principles of justice installed into Australia’s system of law since 1788.
3. Important legislation was introduced after Eureka Stockade
The Miner’s Right abolished the old licence system to grant a parcel of Crown land for a digger to live on and cultivate. Having the right to make a residential claim led to the development of towns across Victoria. The Gold Rush resulted in significant social and political growth. The economic boom built the city of Melbourne and benefitted the generations that followed. The Goldfields Law Act introduced local courts with its members elected by the public to resolve disputes and claims within the community.
4. Reform to the Electoral Process after Eureka Stockade
The Eureka rebellion led to significant reforms in the electoral process. The holder of a Miner’s Right removed the prerequisite of property qualifications for members of parliament, resulting in universal male suffrage in the Victorian Legislative Assembly. Disadvantage had been removed, thereby achieving equal rights for political representation over those more privileged and politically connected to the British establishment. The miners had achieved the right to be recognised and judged on merit, rather than by birth or past deeds. The secret ballot came into effect after the introduction of the Victorian Electoral Act in 1856. This significant development was to become a model for other fledgling democratic nations around the world, including Great Britain and the United States. Today, it is known as The Australian System.
5. Recognition of the need for laws to be made by the people
The miners had captured the government’s attention, and of the Australian people around the nation, in their struggle against an oppressive government. By the end of the decade, colonial authorities had finally begun to recognise that government needed to be run by the people, for the people.
Eureka was the moment a democratic movement seized control of the political agenda by asserting its rights. A time when the people demanded equal and fair treatment, and the right to take part in the democratic process. The key values that underpin Australia’s democracy have come from shared values and beliefs. Values such as freedom, equality, fairness, and justice in the Australian system of government – to be given the opportunity to have a ‘fair go’. Human rights are consistent with these values: respect, inclusion, civility, responsibility, and compassion.
December the 3rd is a date which should be remembered by all Australians. Eureka was a tragic event in history that ultimately benefitted everyone. The bravery and sacrifice of one group reinforced key values that are embedded into Australian society today. Future generations must have the opportunity to know the historical facts that surround these events and develop a deeper understanding of how much influence individuals can have in deciding how they are governed.
Representative democracy has been achieved in Australia, providing a system of governance that has been created to include principles based on the rule of law. Maintaining this system can only be supported through implementing effective civic education programs that promote active civic engagement and responsibility. This can highlight the importance of protecting equality and the individual freedoms that are a quintessential right for all Australians. Eureka was a time when Australian society struggled to recognise individual freedoms and rights. Little did they know their actions would help shape how a nation would be governed to this day.
Can you imagine for one moment… what state Australian democracy would be in now if the miners at Eureka simply packed up and left the goldfields because it was all too hard, instead of standing their ground against tyranny?
Daily Telegraph on 3rd December 2021 article by Kevin Donnelly AM ‘Learn from the Past’
The Australian Newspaper on 2nd December 2021 by Henry Ergas ‘Eureka’s Message more relevant than ever’
History Challenge essay winner in 2013 by Leah Murray ‘The Eureka Stockade: Birthplace of Australian Democracy‘
PHD Thesis in 2016 by David Llewellyn ‘Jeremy Bentham and Australian Colonial democracy‘