Mark Hornshaw & Zac Gorman: Australia’s Violent Enforcement of Lockdowns Sparks Memories of the Eureka Rebellion

2020 is looking eerily similar to 1854 for the people of Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state. This footage reveals a little of the current scene, with Aussies protesting against draconian lockdowns, and police in riot gear arresting them in large numbers. More on this below.

First let us wind the clock back 170 years… Australia is not yet an independent nation, Victoria is still a British colony. Established as penal colonies for convicts under the guard of British soldiers, the Australian settlements were government projects from the outset. Historian Robert Hughes described the convict experience as producing “an attitude to authority in which private resentment mingled with ostensible resignation.”

But the ‘gold rush’ of the mid-1800s brings in a new aspirational class of workers, including Americans, Irish, British Chartists, and people involved in various European revolutions. The Australian diggings were notably more lawful and organized than those in California. People were well behaved and generally unarmed—they just wanted to get on with digging in the hope of striking it rich. It would take an especially egregious assault by those in power to drive these otherwise lawful men into rebellion.

Government at this time consists of an appointed Governor and a legislative council containing some appointees and some elected members, but voting is mostly limited to landowners—so miners are not represented. With urban employers and wealthy landowners worried about a labor shortage and an exodus of workers to the diggings, the colonial government comes up with a scheme to coerce the entrepreneurial miners back into structured employment.

Their scheme was a ‘license fee’ similar to a poll tax, initially set at 30 shillings a month. Miners were forced to pay it whether or not they found gold. As gold became harder to find, the license fee became increasingly burdensome and resented.

The police were not neutral law enforcers, but would engage in “digger hunts” with accusations of extorting money, taking bribes, and imprisoning people without due process. Diggers were often asked for their licenses several times in one day. As testified by Peter Lalor “the diggers were subjected to the most unheard of insults and cruelties in the collection of this tax, being in many instances chained to logs if they could not produce their license.”

The miners moreover had no neutral court of law to appeal to if they were unjustly treated—their cases would be heard by the taxation administrators who were themselves “parties to the case.” Miners tried sending delegations to appeal to Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe regarding the fees, but to no avail.

On October 17, 1854, some 5,000 miners gathered over what they felt was an injustice, as a hotel owner and friend of the local magistrate was said to have bribed his way out of a murder charge. In an unfortunate spill-over of fury, the Eureka Hotel was burned down. This was the catalyst for what was to become a more organized resistance movement.

On November 11, the Ballarat Reform League was formed under the direction of Chartist John Basson Humffray. Their demands were the release of three miners charged with the Eureka Hotel fire, and a Chartist inspired program of “no taxation without representation.”

But when delegates tried to negotiate with the Victorian government, Governor Charles Hotham felt affronted by the fact that they made “demands” rather than the traditional “petition.” As a rebuff to their apparent insolence, he instead sent 150 soldiers to Ballarat to bolster the police presence.

Then (as now) the situation was moving from petty despotism to organized tyranny. Authorities threatened to use the riot act to essentially ban gatherings of twelve people or more.

On November 29, as the miners hear Hotham’s response, they collectively decide to burn their licenses in outright defiance. The police respond with an even more aggressive “digger hunt” the next morning. From this point, to use an Australian expression, it was on.

The land we now know as Australia had previously seen a coup d’etat by the military, and scattered uprisings by Aborigines, Convicts, and Outlaws, which had all been swiftly quelled by those in power. There had never been a George Washington-type character or a popular uprising. But on November 30 that year, the miners at Ballarat came the closest.

Led by Irish immigrant Peter Lalor the miners hoisted their own Southern Cross flag and made a pledge: “We swear by the Southern Cross, to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.”

With Lalor elected as a pseudo-military leader, the miners built a ‘stockade’ (a crude fort) and started engaging in military drills. But not for long. Almost immediately, on Sunday December 3 (when the predominantly Catholic Irish would be at Mass) government troops attacked and quickly obliterated their makeshift fort, killing 22 diggers and five soldiers.

The police arrested and detained 113 of the miners while many others went into hiding. Eventually 13 were taken to Melbourne to stand trial for high treason, including John Joseph—an African American man from Baltimore. The trials were held in the capital rather than Ballarat to avoid any local attachments.

The miners must have known that they never stood a chance militarily. But the real battleground, both then and now, lay with public opinion. People in the capital were initially fearful of a full-blown rebellion, but news of the government’s heavy-handedness and of the miners’ courageous stand against such brutal treatment, gradually started to win the sympathy of the general public.

Large crowds would gather outside courtrooms, with juries frequently taking less than an hour to throw out the case. Given that the accused probably were guilty of what they were charged with, it was a form of jury nullification of unjust laws. Anybody interested from a legal point of view can read about the trials here.

In the end, the accused were released and a general amnesty declared for those still in hiding, including Lalor. The license fee was removed, replaced by an export duty and a nominal £1 per year miner’s right. Half the police on the goldfields were sacked and one warden replaced the multitude of gold commissioners.

The Victorian Legislative Council was expanded to include eight members elected by diggers who held a miner’s right. One of these elected members was Peter Lalor who had survived the stockade as an amputee after being shot in the shoulder.

Former Justice of the High Court Michael Kirby states:

Eureka stands as a warning to indifferent politicians, judges and other officials. In the ultimate, the law is not obeyed because it is made in this or that way or even because it is declared in courts of the highest authority. In the end it depends upon the community’s acceptance of it.

This brings us to the present day.

At time of writing, the state of Victoria is facing perhaps the developed world’s most oppressive and mean-spirited overreaction from the government in response the COVID virus. Police in riot gear are forcefully clearing out farmers markets, harassing elderly women for sitting on a park bench, snatching infants in strollers from fathers, and fining people for catching a bus without a ‘work permit.’ In the modern town of Ballarat, a pregnant woman in her pajamas is handcuffed and arrested in her own home over a Facebook post promoting a peaceful protest, in a town not even under the severest level of lockdown. She was charged with ‘incitement’ similar to a terrorism charge, and could face 15 years in jail. People are being threatened with fines for merely ‘liking’ a Facebook post.

Meanwhile parliament has voted to suspend itself, giving dictatorial powers to the Premier under a so called “state of emergency”. The people are under an 9:00 p.m. curfew, and are only allowed out of their homes to exercise for two hours a day in their local neighborhood. Comparisons to dystopian novels can sound trite, but are fitting in this case.

Readers might be thinking that ‘the virus’ must be pretty bad in Victoria to elicit such an authoritarian response. Guess again. At time of writing there are 12 people in ICU in the entire state—check the latest figures here if you like. What makes Victoria different is the impossible threshold set by the Premier—as though viruses can be made to obey human laws.

The Premier has iterated that the lockdowns will remain in place until there are no new cases for 14 consecutive days. The number of new COVID cases is reported every day almost like a taunt to the public, while every other statistic—like suicides, business closures, bankruptcies, cancelled weddings, undiagnosed cancers, lonely deaths from other causes, etc, etc, is ignored. It is zero tolerance for a virus, or innocent people will be punished in countless other ways in perpetuity.

This excessive level of restriction goes against the advice of doctors, epidemiologists, lawyers, legal experts, the World Health Organization, and even Federal government medical officers. The modelling that provoked it has been shown to be wrong. Public policy experts have made the seemingly obvious point that a pandemic requires different responses from different sections of the public using dispersed knowledge, so any ‘one rule for all’ response is doomed to fail.

And since any reported case means prolonged lockdown and suffering for everybody, people are increasingly reluctant to report infections or admit to having left their homes. As a result, contact tracing is failing in Victoria, while working well in other states.

Of course, the Premier has his paid staff of experts who naturally say that the emperor has clothes on this. But even his own chief medical officer backed away from the Premier’s most excessive dictates, leaving him grasping for scapegoats. Apparently people will only sell so much of their soul.

C.S. Lewis famously wrote: “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive… those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Perhaps the Premier really believes he is doing good by doing evil. Or perhaps he is just doubling down on past mistakes to save face. But with so little intellectual support, it is hard to see this as anything other than a ruthless social experiment to see just how compliant Australian people can be.

Politics always divides and this present case is no exception. Those supporting the Premier are generally those with a more comfortable work-from-home existence. The ‘pajama class panickers’ as they are sometimes called, just want a strong leader to ‘do something’ that seems like it might work, even if it doesn’t, having no concept of the cost—since the cost of their perceived protection generally falls onto others.

Worse, there are some who, Gillette ads notwithstanding, seem to think that violence against women is totally fine when it is carried out by ‘law enforcers.’ They cheer and gloat when people are arrested for simply living their life, because it apparently ‘serves them right.’ Some elements of the media are quick to smear any protesters as crazy conspiracy theorists, while the brother of the pregnant Facebooker mentioned above has reportedly received death threats for trying to raise funds for her legal defense.

But on the brighter side, just as the general public turned against the excesses of the police state in 1854, the same is happening today. When the government, in the name of saving lives, criminalizes actually living your life, people start to realize what libertarians have been saying for a long time: the state is them not us. The state is not on the side of peaceful individuals that make up society, and there is no aspect of your life that they won’t step on to show you who is boss.

States can usually rely on corporate CEOs and celebrities to tow the politically correct line—but thankfully not in this case. Business leaders are pointing out absurdities—like how municipal workers can work in groups but private contractors are prohibited from even mowing a lawn by themselves.

Those with a public voice are lambasting the Premier, like this football player whose father (also a famous footballer) died alone, saying “I lost my 78-year-old father, Premier… He wasn’t dying from this, he was dying from the isolation and the loneliness.” The general public is realizing it has a voice, that the medical experts (besides courtiers on the Premier’s payroll) are on our side, and the tyrants in charge are increasingly fumbling for excuses.

It would be nice if the police could have some backbone at this time—to say to their bosses, “We are not doing this anymore. We refuse to be degraded in this way, being sent to war against the people we are supposed to protect.” But that is unlikely.

More realistically, in the Australian political system, State Premiers can be ousted within days without parliament even sitting, if their own party room turns against them and calls a ‘spill.’ A deputy leader or cabinet minister who was ‘fully on board’ with the agenda five minutes ago, can suddenly come out as being diametrically opposed to it, and take the top job.

That is the most plausible way out of this nightmare for the people of Victoria. Viruses are not going away, but Premiers can be sent packing pretty easily. The backbenchers of the ruling Labor party need to fear for their own re-election more than they crave the favor of their failed leader.

All that is required is enough of a groundswell of support for peaceful coexistence with sensible, contextually appropriate safeguards, and the removal of support bullies and thugs. Resolute Victorians stood up to tyranny at least once before, and will stand up once again.

Mark Hornshaw

Mark Hornshaw

Mark Hornshaw is a lecturer in Economics, Entrepreneurship and Management at The University of Notre Dame Australia.

Zachary Gorman
Zachary Gorman

Dr. Zachary Gorman is a professional historian and an Adjunct Fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs. He has been published widely on the history of Australian classical liberalism, including a 2018 biography of New South Wales Premier Sir Joseph Carruthers.

This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.

This entry was posted in COVID-19, Guest Post, Oppressive government. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to Mark Hornshaw & Zac Gorman: Australia’s Violent Enforcement of Lockdowns Sparks Memories of the Eureka Rebellion

  1. NoFixedAddress

    See you at Premier Dan Andrews election victory celebration November 26, 2022

  2. Annie

    That is a brilliant article. Thank you for publishing it.

  3. Makka

    Great article. Thanks guys.

  4. cuckoo

    And if you dare to launch legal proceedings against the Emperor, you will immediately be outed as a ‘Liberal Party member’ by the lapdog media. ABC last night gave a six-second soundbite to Michelle Loielo, and the screen caption gave just her name and the tag ‘Liberal Party member’. Not ‘Cafe Owner’ not ‘Class action litigant’. I look forward to them following suit with every ALP stooge they interview from now on.

  5. thefrollickingmole

    Emergency powers are the modern democracies version of the Romans electing a dictator in times of crisis. Even they saw it as a huge danger in itself to give unfettered power to one chap.
    Dan saw the enacting of emergency powers as an opportunity and its very telling his biggest political move has been to lengthen it as long as possible.

    The disease itself is not dangerous enough to warrant any emergency powers.
    It’s a global, easily spread flu which impacts those with significant health issues.
    Pretending a easily spread flu is containable and those restrictions are in any way compatible with a functional society is just crap.
    Burn the village to save the village is Mong thinking.

  6. Damon

    The Zoe affair is a disgrace to the Victorian police, but don’t be fooled. Not even they have the ability (or interest) to monitor Facebook 24/7. Somebody shopped her, so she should be taking a close look at her ‘friends’.

  7. Spurgeon Monkfish III

    I look forward to them following suit with every ALP stooge they interview from now on.

    The interviewer would also be an ALP/Greenfilth stooge and would need to be identified as such.

  8. mem

    I’m writing to my local sitting member ALP to give him a serve and let him know that I will be coordinating a group of local residents to campaign against him because of Andrew’s failures and bully boy tactics that have been a disaster for our community. I have already spoken to many people on my exercise and doggy walks and am getting the heads up for my campaign. I am not a member of a party although once worked for the Labor Party a long time ago. Our local member will not get back with Andrews in charge given the word on the street. I recommend that everyone that reads this does the same.

  9. Pedro the Loafer

    Bravo. Outstanding article.

  10. I’m pretty sick of the ineffective campaigning by the anti Andrews forces to date. This article is a case in point – romantic and inspiring talk of Eureka, gets me interested, and ends with a whimper talking of party room revolts. Is there nothing more effective to be done?

  11. Speedbox

    Wow. Outstanding article.

  12. Anna Blainey Warner

    Glad to see the Chartists are mentioned. They are somewhat underappreciated in popular understandings of Australian History

  13. nb

    Eureka was also a battle between those who sought democratic change by peaceful means, and those who sought change by violence, a discussion that had been going on in England for decades prior. Humffray was a moral force Chartist. Lalor promoted change by violence. Out of roughly 50,000 people around the Ballarat district only 2,000 signed up to the rebellious force, and only about 150 showed up on the day. Meantime, 5,000 miners worked with the police at a town near Ballarat to protect the gold storage from the rebels. Most people eschewed violence.
    The immediate changes were as described. Eureka, however is often claimed as the event that brought democracy to Australia. This is not the case. The draft constitution was in the UK for approval, approval that was assured. The electoral laws were to be in the hands of the colonists under that constitution. The electoral laws implemented under the new constitution were the most advanced in the world. They were the product of years of theoretical work and peaceful agitation. There was co-operation from sympathetic people in the colonial office and in the higher echelons of the Victorian community, including the influential Buller and Molesworth in the UK and Chapman in Victoria.
    The whole point of the democratic campaign, apart from a few hotheads, was the rejection of violence as a means for change. It would serve the people of Victoria well to remember that violent change most often brings on the horrors of the French revolution, USSR, China, Cambodia, to name just a few disasters.
    As was noted by the authors, the ALP has the means to make change. That they do not wish to do so rests with the ALP. The people will have their opportunity to express their point of view via the ballot box in due course. They may also choose to protest in the meantime, who knows, but using violence is not the way forward.

  14. nb

    Oh, note also that similar democratic reform was made in South Australia and Tasmania at the same time as in Victoria. No-one ever attributes those changes to Eureka, for good reason.

  15. John A

    mmamster #3587931, posted on September 17, 2020, at 12:01 pm

    I’m pretty sick of the ineffective campaigning by the anti-Andrews forces to date. This article is a case in point – romantic and inspiring talk of Eureka gets me interested and ends with a whimper talking of party room revolts. Is there nothing more effective to be done?

    According to the Constitution (the part which the Premier has not abrogated), the Parliament cannot debate a vote of no confidence in the government in the first three years of its term.

    I see in my emails that the Opposition has put up a “No Confidence in the Premier” webpage to register dissent from the latest insanities.

    A petition to the Governor to withdraw the Premier’s commission was shut down within two days.

    Since the idea of the rule of law is that we are theoretically able to change governments without violence or bloodshed, what would you recommend?

    As I posted on another thread, I have written directly to my local MP backbencher urging a backbench revolt and directly calling for the Premier to be deposed.

  16. Spurgeon Monkfish III

    using violence is not the way forward

    At this point, I’m not seeing any other alternative, unless those in Disasterstan want to exist under these restrictions well into 2021, while being continually subject to arbitrary state sanctioned violence into the bargain.

    Even if labore do depose that incompetent grotesque jug eared imbecile, why on earth would you expect any radical change from any equally incompetent imbecile likely to succeed him?

    Trying to pin all the blame on Disasterstan Dan would be letting shitheads like sutton, coatsworth, van diemen, patton and planet cornelius off the hook. They need to held accountable as well (as does that fat greek woman and no doubt a whole host of equally incompetent others).

  17. John A – something that will work. I don’t know what. Ideas welcome.

  18. Glenn Ellis

    Just something I have been thinking about to really annoy our “chicken little” pollies and supporters.

    Place signs on your front yard, on the back windows of your car and get tee shirts made with your protest on them, interesting to see what you are charged with. If all who disagree with what is happening are willing to do this we can flood the courts and poli-police cells or perhaps reveal the real undemocratic nature of the whole situation to those who are currently on the fence.

  19. Glenn Ellis

    Another thought (bloody head is aching!)
    Create D.I.D. Use these as a campaign on stickers, red arm bands etc and widely let it be known on Social Media that it stands for Democracy Is Dead. Cheaper and just as “in their face” as the other idear.
    Easy to organise, not breaching any laws and gets the message across.

  20. The right people to do this would be the Union by saying their members on the ground are not happy at all.
    Local residents speaking to cops should make their strong feelings known. Writing to local MP’s as mentioned by 2 above should be a given, emphasising what is being discuses with other locals. Also write to local police Union rep and or police station officer in charge. Anything to maintain the pressure.

    However what I think is likely to happen will be a very generous police pay rise for a job well done.

    If Andrews steps down it would give new Premier opportunity to move his cabinet around including dumping the Health Minister and others as appropriate. It will be an insult to all Victorians if he remains in the job much longer.

    “It would be nice if the police could have some backbone at this time—to say to their bosses, “We are not doing this anymore. We refuse to be degraded in this way, being sent to war against the people we are supposed to protect.” But that is unlikely”.

  21. nb

    Spurgeon Monkfish III, #3588012: ‘At this point, I’m not seeing any other alternative’
    (a) The ALP has allied itself with China.
    (b) Nothing could give China more pleasure than seeing Australia ripped apart by violence.
    Contemplation of these two facts might produce important conclusions in relation to the current behaviour of the Victorian ALP government.
    To succumb to the temptations laid before you is to play into the hands of those who would destroy you.

  22. stevem

    Andrews will remain premier. Were Labor to appoint a new premier she would be tainted with the fallout of the chaos that would continue. They will wait until the chaos has abated somewhat and replace Andrews with great fanfare.
    The new premier will be a woman because that’s what Labor has always done when trying to present a softer, friendlier face after a massive failure.

  23. Hay Stockard

    Andrews holds his job thanks to the Chinese diaspora.
    Good luck changing their minds. Their orders come from Beijing like the hunchbacks.

  24. duncanm

    No need for violence. Just civil disobedience.

    The rozzers would have a hard time coping with even 10% of the population walking around the streets ignoring the lockdown. As long as they’re willing to cop the paperwork for the fine (then I suggest tearing it up in front of them and telling them you’ll await the summons and see them in court)

  25. Alex Davidson

    The people will have their opportunity to express their point of view via the ballot box in due course. They may also choose to protest in the meantime, who knows, but using violence is not the way forward.

    I don’t find that assertion convincing at all. Thanks to the ballot box and unrestrained democracy, Australia has moved away from freedom and towards socialism. It has led to a society where many citizens are treated as subjects compelled to obey untold thousands of rules and regulations decreed by an out-of-control political class, where government acts as if it is the paramount owner of everyone and everything. We need a different approach, but I don’t know what that could be.

  26. nb

    Alex Davidson, #3588173: ‘I don’t know what that could be.’
    If you are reading this site it is likely you have at least partly moved on from relying on the mainstream media for information about the world in which you live. It is likely you also do not rely upon the algorithms of Google, Facebook, Twitter etc to provide you with reading material. Many people still live in the world of the legacy media, enmeshed in the world of the algorithm, or a combination of both. It will take time and effort to move them beyond those worlds. Change will happen, but more slowly than we might want. I don’t know the way forward either. One thing is for sure, leaping to violence before every other solution has been considered and tested is a product of the dominance of the left-wing narrative in our society. Violence is not the answer to this problem. We mustn’t buy into their game.

  27. nb

    A further note:
    Remember the dialectic. Their game is not just violence, but to create extremes, extremes where violence seems to make sense. Conservatism is about the middle, the rational, the debatable, the contest of the new with the old with a deep respect for the old. Just one example: the dominant discussion of Eureka leaves out almost all relevant context. It elides the story of moral force Chartists, of Brougham’s saying ‘The schoolmaster is abroad’, the role of the classical liberals in democratic reform including their authorship of the 1838 Charter, the role of British and Australian parliamentarians, public service officials, judges, economic and political theorists of the calibre of John Stuart Mill, and so many others who argued for peaceful change. If we find ourselves drifting towards an extreme we are being manipulated and controlled by the left. Our first resistance must be to deny them the choice of ground upon which to fight.

  28. JohnL

    The sheep in Australia will never rise against the oppressor and achieve “We the people…”

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