Friday, December 03, 2004

History wars, Australian style 

Today in Australia, we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of an event, which though on its face insignificant in the greater scheme of things, has nevertheless over time acquired a symbolic status in Australia's history.

The 1850s was a decade of the gold rush in Australia. In fact, the Australian gold rush was at least in part
inspired by the Californian one of 1849, when Edward Hargraves upon his return from the United States was struck by the geological similarities between California and Victoria in southern Australia. He was right, and the rest is history.

But not all went well. In late 1854, self-employed miners and prospectors in the Victorian town of Ballarat rebelled against the government and set up an armed camp named the Eureka Stockade. Their grievances were oppressive and unfair taxation, heavy-handedness of the authorities, and lack of political representation. On December 3, 1854, in the early morning hours, the army suppressed the Stockade, killing 30 miners in the process.

Sounds similar to the Revolutionary demands of 1776? Yet the Australian left has completely succeeded in appropriating the Eureka legend, building a myth of the workers' struggle and turning the miners - small and proud capitalists themselves - into the forerunners of trade unionists. Imagine if the American left has done the same to the Founding Fathers.

On the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade, amongst the deafening backslapping by the Australian left, a few dissenting voices have risen calling on the right to reclaim the legend, most notably
Gerard Henderson on the opinion pages, and Senator Brett Mason inside the Parliament. As Senator Mason said (link in PDF, page 67 of 79):

"The Ballarat miners were revolutionaries... but just because you are a revolutionary does not mean you are a leftie. In fact, participants in all the successful revolutions - those of England's Glorious Revolution, the American Revolution and Eastern Europe's Velvet Revolution - were certainly not... were those people alive today they would vote for the Liberal Party- the party of small business, the party of enterprise, the party of less government intervention and the party of less regulation."
Australian unionists, the guard dogs of the stolen Eureka legend, have not been open to historical reevaluation. As Dean Mighell, the head of the Victorian branch of Electrical Trades Union put it charmingly, "anyone who thinks like Mr Mason does, I think it's best they stay in Queensland and leave those who love and hold the spirit of Eureka to those of us that'll be there today."

But the left-wing extravaganza celebrations are set to reach a new low, when one of the main events, a dawn lantern walk, will be led by
Terry Hicks, the father of the "Australian Taliban" David Hicks, currently held in Guantanamo Bay. Hicks Sr thinks his involvement in the event is appropriate - "I can see a similar line with what the miners fought for - they fought for their rights and their say and I can see a similar line with what I am fighting for now", i.e. that his son be tried in Australia instead by the American military authorities.

Whatever one may think of the Guantanamo legal proceedings, or indeed about whether David Hicks can be properly called a terrorist, there is no doubt whatsoever that he had trained with the Taliban and was captured as a "foreign combatant" in Afghanistan. To compare the struggle of the Ballarat miners those 150 years ago with Terry Hicks' work on behalf of his mudjahedin son would be laughable if it wasn't so serious. As it is, it's merely obscene.


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