Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Eureka Songs and Poems

What do the songs and poems tell us of the event? A pamphlet published on the first anniversary in 1855 contains the words of ‘The Mounted Butchers’. The title itself is an indication of the anonymous poet’s position towards the massacre. There is no hint here of the bravery of the company that stormed the stockade.

There go the “Troopers” that slaughtered our men,
When all fight and resistance were o’er:
They hovered around, like wolves on the plain
That had scented the carnage and gore.

By firing the tents, and cutting men down;
And mangling and maiming the dead
They bravely held up the old British Crown,
That our fathers had fought for and bled.

Women and children escaped not their fire,
Or old men that in sadness looked on:
Like demons they rode, and vented their ire,
When the “Red Coats” the skirmish had won.

In a tent, gasping, a wounded man lay;
Had pity been there, it were given;
No pity was there: “Fire the tent,” cried they,
And his soul through the tent went to Heav’n.

Great God! Should such deeds be done in thy name?
And be done in a Christian land?
Should the Crown, by injustice, first fan the flame?
Then by BLOODSHED, the peril withstand.

Hugh Anderson writes that this pamphlet survived “in what may be a unique copy in the National Library of Australia” and cites a note dated from 1957 in which historian Brian Fitzpatrick proposes that the poem is by Raphael Carboni as “an endpiece to his major work”. While there is no evidence that Carboni wrote that song he certainly wrote lyrical material about the massacre which he included in his book “The Eureka Stockade”. One was titled ‘Victoria’s Southern Cross’ written to the tune ‘The Standard Bearer’. The second of the three verses describes the rum imbued soldiers’ attack on the stockade, the Eureka flag torn from the flagpole and dragged through the blood of the wounded and dead defending miners,

Blood-hounds were soon let loose, with grog imbued,
And murder stained that Sunday! Sunday morning;
The Southern Cross in digger's gore imbrued,
Was torn away, and left the diggers mourning!

Eureka has had such impact over the years that it is hard to be sure just how many songs and poems about it exist. In a recent paper folklorist Keith McKenry writes that he has “come across over sixty ballads, poems and songs about, or referring to, Eureka”. One of the earliest examples he gives was published in the Age in Melbourne on 30 March 1855.

The acquittal, on 27 March 1855, of the last of the Stockaders charged with treason was an occasion for popular rejoicing, and the Melbourne Age published ‘A Song of Deliverance for the Release of the Ballarat Prisoners’, by a Caroline Eliza Gibbs. The first of her six verses sets the tone:

Hurrah! Hurrah! we shout Hurrah!
Once more again to see them,
Escaped the prison bolt and bar,
To breathe the air of freedom.
Hurrah! Hurrah! both loud and long
Shall be our joyous hailing.
The Right have overcome the Wrong,
The Oppressor’s cause is failing.
God save the People!

A year later, the second anniversary of Eureka was also commemorated in the Ballarat Times with the following eulogy and poem. This was then republished in another Ballarat newspaper the Star in December 1858 as part of a letter from a stockader under the heading ‘The Eureka Stockade’.

(From the Ballarat Times, 3rd Dec., 1856.)

Yes! weep for the martyrs, though lonely and lowly,
The graves where unheeding they slumber to-day,
Nor wake at the grief; or the tears pure and holy,
That fall on their tomb, while in silence we pray.

For the local Ballarat newspapers, at least, the lessons of Eureka are clearly that tyranny can be defeated even when those fighting for freedom are outnumbered.

Yes! weep for the martyrs, who bravely defying
The tyrant, his forces so boldly withstood;
Who surrounded, out-numbered, in Freedom's strife dying,
Our charter of liberty ''sealed with their blood."

Yes! weep! but while weeping remember the cause,
They defended to death, as in life they sustained
The right of a people to frame their own laws,
And to trample on those by a tyrant ordained.

One of the assumed rights demanded by the diggers and “defended to death” was the right to vote and consequently “The right of a people to frame their own laws/ And to trample on those by the tyrant ordained”, a reminder that there are essentially two laws operating, in common parlance - one for the rich and one for the poor - and that this situation can be remedied by concerted political action against tyranny.

Though the coward may censure, the traitor deride,
Their memory we'll honor, their doom we'll deplore;
And our children for ages will look back with pride
To the day when their blood was for Freedom outpoured.

On the second anniversary the poet is confident about the way Eureka will be celebrated by future generations, “our children for ages will look back with pride”. In the final verse the flag is remembered too as “the cross they upraised” and the need for vigilance against the future erosion of rights is stressed, “To resist with our lives each tyrannical claim,/ And as Freemen to live, or as Freemen to die!”

Oh! we swear, by their courage, their fate and their fame,
By the cross they upraised, by the graves where they lie.
To resist with our lives each tyrannical claim,
And as Freemen to live, or as Freemen to die! 

As we have seen, what happened at Eureka on 3 December 1854 was widely reported in newspapers of the time. It is not hard to discern the dialogic struggle for the public ear in these reports and the growing ideological gap between the rulers of the day and those they rule. Newspapers, especially local ones, were an important vehicle for vernacular, popular and dissenting opinion as well as the humourless official posturing of the often provocative edicts of the rulers. Under the heading ‘Government by Artillery’ the Argus of 28 November 1854 ran a leader that predicted what might be in train:

It has been the policy of England to challenge agitation among the disaffected as the evidence of their sincerity, and so provoke revolution as a trial of their strength. Can we then wonder that, in accepting the challenge, an exasperated body of men should overleap the constitutional limits of applying the necessary "pressure" and rush headlong into anarchy and rebellion?

The Victorian gold fields were renowned for lavish entertainments and a voracious appetite for newspapers and other reading material. Some of the earliest lyrical material about the diggings was written at the goldfields by William Coxon and Edward Overbury. Songs also come from the better known goldfields entertainer Charles Thatcher. These compositions were published in songbooks for sale at the time. A number have also been recently discovered in newspapers using the search tools offered by the National Library of Australia Trove Project. Some early compositions have entered the oral tradition and were noted or recorded by Australian folklorists a century after they were composed and first performed. Their transmission indicates a generational flow of lyrical material depicting and reflecting on the life and concerns of the nomadic workers and goldfield diggers. The vernacular style and use of language provides us with important cultural and political records of the time. The early public excitement of the discovery of gold can be found in reports published in newspapers of the day. As I stated earlier lyrical material about the goldfields can also be found in the Australian press as early as 1851:

Hurrah! for the diggins! come join in the cry–
Let us pack up our swag without bother–
With a-well temper'd pick and a cradle, we'll try
Our luck there as well as another.

Hurrah! for the diggins! come shoulder your spade ;
The secret we'll quickly unravel;
I doubt not we'll soon do a rattling trade,
When we're shaking our bowls full of gravel.

Hurrah! for the diggins! come hasten away,
You'll find there, priests, doctors, and lawyers!
Hutkeepers and shepherds, in goodly array,
And seamen, and splitters, and sawyers!

Hurrah! for the diggins! you'll find in the dirt
Some scions of high aristocracy,
Who are digging away in the humble blue shirt
In a mob of the lowest democracy.
A. R.

This selection of stanzas eagerly encourages people to take up the requisite tools, spades, pick axe and cradle, and join others in the search for gold. At “the diggings” we find all trades and callings, all classes of society, who don the “humble blue shirt” and enter the ranks of the  “mob of the lowest democracy.” It was ultimately the lack of democratic rights and the unstoppable demand for them that created a political upheaval. On the goldfields all men are considered equal. The hutkeepers, shepherds, seamen, splitters and sawyers, along with priests doctors and lawyers, were largely at the diggings having left ship and station to look for gold and perhaps offer some carpentry, legal advice and medical assistance as a sideline in the growing goldrush towns. Paying the onerous gold tax in advance of finding any gold was an imposition too hard for most to accept for long.

Early in February 1853 the following song titled ‘The Foreign Digger’s Song’ was published in the Sydney newspaper the Empire:

Though Wentworth may bluster, and Thomson look glum,
I care not for either one crack of my thumb;
But this I can tell them, their new license fee
Will never be paid, though an alien, by me,
In peace I arrived, and in peace I'll depart,
Should the land I have sought be no home of my heart.
But here while I'm one of a stout-hearted throng,
I'll submit to privations, but never to wrong.

How vain thus to plead in Australia's cause;
She attracts by her wealth, and repels by her laws.
"Come, come!" cries her gold, and lo! what a host!
"Off, off" say her laws, "from this tyrannous coast."
Her rulers are rocks which some tempest-toss'd tide,
That baulks as it rises, submerging, may hide;
For her men of the mines are deeply imbued
With the spirit of freedom, can ne'er be subdued!  

In this land of high hopes, where such fortunes are made,
By the diligent use of the pick and the spade,
To till their own acres poor men may aspire,
And reap the full sheaf of each honest desire;
Then heaven speed the cause of the gullies and glens,
And all who can aid, with their speeches or pens;
The battle of Labour had ne'er such a field,
Since tyrants were taught by the masses to yield.
Bathurst, February 7, 1853.

This song describes the attitudes prevalent among the diggers. It focuses on the unfairness of the license fee and the resolve not to pay it. “I’ll submit to privations but never to wrong” could be a line from the Tolpuddle leader Loveless, or any of the Chartists both transported and immigrant. It could equally be from the locally born as well as from the “foreign.” It speaks of solidarity among the diggers and the strength which that imbues: “I’m one of the stout-hearted throng” and “For her men of the mines are deeply imbued / With the spirit of freedom, can ne'er be subdued!” The song also raises the question of exploitation and the desire of the miners to escape from it by accumulating enough to buy land which may finally enable them “to reap the full sheaf of each honest desire.” The requirement is to unite in “the battle of Labour”, to make their demands known with the help of “speeches and pens” and use the window of opportunity presented in the decline of oligarchic hegemony in which mass action may civilise the nation following the example of the 1848 revolutions in Europe where “tyrants were taught by the masses to yield”.

The historian Manning Clark writes of William Wentworth and Deas Thomson mentioned in the poem:

By December 1853 all agreed that there should be two houses of Parliament. All agreed that the lower house should be wholly elective. The one contentious issue was still the composition and powers of the upper house. By then Wentworth was prepared to drop the proposal for a hereditary order of colonial nobility, provided the upper house was nominated by the Governor. … Having won that part of the battle for conservative principles Wentworth and Deas Thomson were chosen to act as watchdogs in London when the bill was introduced into the Imperial Parliament. While they were packing their bags Henry Parkes was telling the readers of the Empire that they must persuade Whitehall not to perpetuate squatting because that was the prime cause of barbarism in the Australian bush.
Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on the centenary of the popular revolt over Wentworth’s attempts to create an Australian aristocracy Rawling observes:

Organised opposition arose at once. To carry on the fight a public meeting at the Royal Hotel on August 3 appointed a Constitution Committee among whose members were 14 who were later to be elected to Parliament, including two who were to become Premiers: Henry Parkes and Charles Cowper. Anti-constitution meetings were held throughout the colony, Bathurst showing the way.

Bathurst NSW is also the town where the song above was composed and posted to the Empire. Rawling writes of the dramatic impact of a speech made by the twenty-five year old Daniel Henry Deniehy who ridicules Wentworth’s proposals with the phrase “bunyip aristocracy”. A public meeting had been called for “Monday, August 15, at 1 p.m., in the Royal Victoria Theatre” by the Constitution Committee, whose chairman was Wentworth, and Deniehy was “placed in that position to make way for the big men”:

He started uncertainly and there were cries for him to speak up. But soon he had his audience listening intently, as, carefully and methodically, and with great eloquence, he analysed the proposed constitution. Then he came to the proposed "House of Lords." His scathing comments on Wentworth and other "pigmies" who sought to establish a bunyip aristocracy won gusts of laughter, and, finally, a tremendous outburst of enthusiasm. As he sat down, cheer after cheer rang through the theatre. "The audience," … "felt unable sufficiently to exhibit their admiration of the powerful spirit that has given such a brilliant exposition of the intense feelings which had brought them together."

Deniehy’s two words, bunyip democracy, quickly spread through the colony – an example of the power of Bakhtin’s “guffaw from below”. The words stuck to Wentworth as the words “Little Digger” or “Win-the-War” would later stick to Prime Minister William Hughes and later still the words “Pig Iron Bob” would stick to Attorney General Robert Menzies.

Accounts of the growing independence and organisation of the gold diggers include another interesting poem ‘The Man Hunt (The Song of the Gold Commissioners)’ published in in the Goulburn Herald on 12 March 1853 and later reprinted in the Argus on 1 April 1853. The song gleefully describes British soldiers chasing a miner for not carrying his license. Initially, the song presents the military point of view as the troops dash after the man, excited by the chase, performing their tax collecting duty with pistols at the ready:

Hurrah! hurrah! He's started,
Now mount, men, and away;
With pistols cock'd and loaded,
We'll pounce upon our prey.

We'll seek within the tunnel,
And we'll search behind the mound;
For no unlicensed footstep
May tread the sacred ground.

The triumphal tone is maintained to the fifth verse:

Bring forth, bring forth the handcuffs,
Tho' his trembling lip be pale;
And we'll march him like a felon,
In triumph to the gaol.

He may pine within the prison
For the term the law hath said,
And his wife and little children
May starve or beg their bread.

In the sixth verse, the tone dramatically changes from the thrill of the chase to concern about what may happen to the reputation of the hunters, dialogically undercutting the perception set up earlier, that it is sympathetic to the mounted troopers.

Oh! the tale will reach Old England,
And will she glory then,
When she hears how British soldiers
Go hunting British men?

Oh never! she will rather
Place shame's eternal brand
On every man who lent his voice
To curse this golden land.

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