Students relive historical events and discover what caused the Eureka Stockade
The Eureka Stockade is a key event in Australia’s history and, arguably, the only civil battle on our soil. It is seen by most as a key step on our path towards democracy and nearly all Victorian students study the cause and effect of the Eureka Stockade in History lessons. There is a complex chronology of events that led to the storming of the Stockade, and these can be viewed in the global context of the Chartist movement. Understanding the context, motives and emotions involved can be difficult.
Here at Sovereign Hill we want to commemorate the event with students by allowing them to engage with this historical story in a meaningful, accessible and memorable way. Late last year we developed a participatory reenactment experience for the students on the eve of the 157th anniversary.
Students from St Augustine’s Primary School (Frankston) and Ballarat Christian College joined us for the morning of Friday 2nd December 2011. Our costumed interpreters and education staff led the students on a journey through some of the key events that led to and followed the Stockade.
The students began by joining a meeting with their Licenses to hear the diggers complaints and the demands of the Ballarat Reform League. The students were then let loose in the museum to gather as many signatures as they could in support of the Charter. After our Governor Hotham dismissed the Charter and the petition the students burnt their licences in protest. They then witnessed a brutal licence hunt by the troopers on the diggers of Sovereign Hill. By this stage the students were so angry that our interpreters playing the Troopers felt the danger of the angry mob!
In reality the League’s Charter was drawn up and passed at a Monster Meeting at Bakery Hill on the 11th of November 1854 then presented to Governor Hotham. We took some fictional license in this regard as there was no petition in support of the Charter. There was, however, a petition by the diggers of Bendigo the year prior that was dismissed by the then Governor, Charles Joseph La Trobe. The real Charter and Petition show that the diggers tried peaceful methods to have their voices heard before the violence of the Stockade. They also illustrate how the lack of voting rights meant their opinion was not readily accepted.
The students did not engage in the battle itself, but were immersed in the horror of the carnage by listening to Samuel Lazarus retell his diary entry of the time. His words were both powerful and moving.
Finally the students were given a Miner’s Right, highlighting the positive outcomes of the rebellion. This Right was much cheaper than the original licence and it also afforded the bearer a vote!
Below is some footage from the day:
The experience was a powerful one for the students. We interviewed a group of students afterwards and their comments showed that they were passionate about the legacy of Eureka and had come to some profound understandings as a result of the experience.
For school groups not visiting on the anniversary of Eureka we run an education session called Gold Fever. The Gold Fever game immerses students in the daily trials of early diggers as they gambled on digging as a career and suffered the harshness of the Mining Licences and the Troopers who administered them with rough justice. By the end of the game students have experienced first hand the frustrations that sent the diggers on the path to rebellion!
Do you have any ideas or examples on how this or other historical events might be recreated in the classroom?
More on what caused the Eureka Stockade in our more recent post here.
If you are thinking of things to challenge your students on the subject of Eureka, don’t forget to go to Sovereign Hill’s Gold Museum across the road from the Outdoor Museum to see Noel Counihan’s fabulous painting ‘On Bakery Hill’. The painting is remarkable because unlike so many artworks on Eureka, this one includes women front and centre of the image. Historian Clare Wright explained in a symposium at the Gold Museum a coup,e of years ago that about a third of the population was women and children–they must have been more than passive observers. More than 10,000 people gaered on Bakery Hill at the monster meetings to express their views. And the people in the foreground have a look of uncertainty about the events swirling around them and what seems to me an ‘oh oh–what did we just do? Was that the right tng to do? Was it sensible? What next?’ It is an intriguing and important work.
At the start of Sovereign Hill’s sound and light show on Eureka, ‘Blood on the Southern Cross’, one of the protagonists asks ‘what kind of government fires on its own people?’ it is the key question to ask I relation to Eureka. It opens up an exploration of the role of governments and their proper relationship with the people from whom they derive authority.
Thanks Tim. Yes, a trip to the Gold Museum is definitely worth including in a visit to Sovereign Hill. A taste of what Claire Wright has published about the women of Eureka can been read in this past article from the Age.
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