Friday, 15 April 2016

The ‘Southern Cross’

Given the symbolic importance of the Southern Cross and the Eureka Stockade to the later history of Australia, it is perhaps not surprising that both have been issues of controversy. The Southern Cross, first flown at Bakery Hill on 29 November and then over the Eureka Stockade until the assault on 3 December, was viewed by diggers as the symbol of their resistance to colonial authority. It was not the flag of revolution but an assertion by the people that their dignity and rights would be defended against an insensitive and despotic government. The design of the flag was taken by Charles Ross, one of Eureka’s miners from Canada to three women Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke and Elizabeth Hayes to sew in time for a large rally at Bakery Hill. There is no evidence who designed the flag, although Ross was known on the diggings as the ‘bridegroom’ of the flag and is often credited with having created its unique design.  
 
 
During the battle on December 3 1854, he was mortally wounded near the flagpole and the Eureka flag was torn down, trampled, hacked with sabres and peppered with bullets. It was retrieved by Trooper John King and the King family kept the flag for 40 years, until loaned to the Ballarat Art Gallery in 1895, where it remained in continued obscurity until it was ‘rediscovered’ by Len Fox during the 1930s. However, it took decades to convince authorities properly to authenticate it. [1] Final proof was found in the sketchbooks of Charles Doudiet, auctioned in 1996. Doudiet, a French Canadian artist-digger, had been prospecting at Ballarat in 1854 where he had befriended another digger, ‘Charlie’ Ross. When ‘Captain’ Ross, as the diggers called him, was severely wounded in the attack on the Stockade, it was Doudiet who took Ross to a hotel to nurse him.[2] Doudiet, eyewitness of these events, then recorded meticulously in his sketchbook the two major events of the Eureka story: the diggers taking the famous oath of allegiance beneath the flag and also the storming of the Stockade that he labelled, ‘Eureka Slaughter 3 December’. Both of his paintings show the flag flying, its design exactly as described by Len Fox’s research. The remnant of the original Eureka Flag remains today, preserved for public display in Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, along with Doudiet’s sketches.[3]

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