Eureka stockade – why did it happen?

In the early hours of 3 December 1854, the British Army attacked the Eureka stockade in Ballarat, Victoria with almost three hundred soldiers and police. It’s been widely argued as to whether the army or the miners in the stockade fired first.

But why did it happen? Why did the gold miners build the barricades in the first place?

If we learned about the Eureka Stockade in school I don’t remember it and I certainly didn’t remember what caused it until I began my research. Do you know why it happened?

Today, the 164th anniversary of the massacre, the basic facts are these:

  • In 1854 a mining licence rose to 3 pounds a month, which afforded you nothing but a claim, water and wood. In today’s money, and with inflation, that’s around $600. The police would raid the mines regularly and if you didn’t have a licence and didn’t carry it with you, you would be arrested in a very violent fashion.
  • The murder of a Scottish miner by a wealthy pub owner was another inciting moment, especially when that pub owner was acquitted after a kangaroo court hearing
  • Immigrants weren’t allowed to own land and had no voice in the legislature in which to argue their grievances

And with their requests landing on deaf ears, the miners burned their licences and barricaded themselves in the stockade.IMG_1501 2

The conflict itself lasted no more than thirty minutes, but in that time it’s said (although there is some discrepancy as to definite numbers) that approximately twenty-seven civilians and four soldiers were killed. Nine more soldiers and countless other civilians, including women and children, were wounded.

Over a hundred diggers were arrested and a group of thirteen miners were charged with treason. They were eventually acquitted and cheered on by thousands of Melbourne residents who had come to watch the trials and to condemn the actions taken by the British Government and military in the taking of the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat.

The diggers’ commander in chief, Peter Lalor, was shot and severely injured in the stockade battle and eventually had his arm amputated. In November 1855 he was elected to the Victorian Legislative Council as Member for the new district of Ballarat, a role he stayed in until March 1856.
IMG_1595The original Eureka Flag, damaged by the policemen who tore it down, is on loan from the Art Gallery of Ballarat and can be seen at the MADE Museum (Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka) in Ballarat, which sits on the site of the Eureka Stockade and well worth a visit.

Some say the constant petitions and battles by the immigrant miners were Australia’s first step towards an independent democracy.

As for the soldiers, who have often been portrayed throughout history in film and literature as the villains, twenty-two soldiers of Her Majesty’s service deserted between December 1854 and the early months of 1855. In total, one hundred and sixty-five soldiers threw back the Queen’s shilling in Victoria alone. Their living conditions in the government camp weren’t much better than the squalor of the diggers’ camps.

imageOf course, there’s more to it than that and if you want to learn more about those inciting events, well, you can buy my book “The Girl from Eureka”. Indy and Will’s story is a fictional one but it’s set during those volatile preceding months and culminates with the events of that morning in December.



Researching “Handpicked”

When I first began writing the third story in the Muller’s of McLaren Vale trilogy, I knew that it would be based around the grape harvest. Over the course of writing the books, based at the fictional winery of Muller’s Field, I have done a lot of research into how wine makes it from the grape to the bottle. It’s been a hard and exhausting few years of constant day trips down to the McLaren Vale wine region in order to get these stories absolutely correct. (Can you hear the sarcasm in my voice?) Nope, researching the wine regions was not a chore at all!

However, it wasn’t all about touring cellar doors and tasting as much wine as possible. As I write, the wine regions of South Australia are preparing for harvest 2017. Expensive machinery is being sourced, staff are working long hours and casual workers are being inducted to help with handpicking grapes the huge mechanical harvesters can’t reach.

Andrew, the youngest of the gorgeous Muller brothers, finds his love interest in childhood friend Taryn, who returns to Muller’s Field to help with the handpicking of the grapes. Taryn is a free-spirited drifter who follows the harvest trail around Australia, picking fruit in places like Kununurra, Gol Gol and Bourke.

To ensure I knew what my characters would be doing – in between fighting off their lust for one another – I dragged my friend (and Handpicked cover artist) Belinda out of bed before dawn in the cold March of 2014, and down to Yangarra Estate vineyard where they were mid-harvest. Yangarra Estate offers members the opportunity to be a part of the harvest and we joined the Yangarra crew and other volunteer members in handpicking several rows of the grenache. Yangarra Grenache bushes grow low to the ground, and can therefore not be picked by the mechanical harvester. Winemaker Peter Fraser and vineyard manager Michael Lane, gave great insights into the process of winemaking from grape to bottle as well as a tour of the winery. All in all, the day helped me to write “Handpicked” with as much accuracy as possible.

One of the best parts of the day, was being able to jump into a barrel of cold, sticky grenache grapes and do a little foot stomping. This fun, time-honoured vineyard tradition became one of my favourite scenes in “Handpicked”.

I know what you’re thinking: Yangarra are clever. Luring gullible city folk in to help them pick their grapes for free. Well that may be so, but the rewards for a few hours of picking included a fantastic brunch of locally sourced McLaren Vale morsels, and lots of lovely Yangarra Estate wines. And they had to endure my endless questions!

A year later, we were invited to return to Yangarra Estate and help bottle the wine made from the grapes we helped pick. We also got to sign the label as winemaker and purchase as much of the 2014 Small Pot Members Made Grenache as we wanted. Yes, sometimes research for an author can be arduous – this was not one of those times. Cheers! And below, enjoy some of the photos from the picking and bottling days and the links to buy my books are on the right menu of this page. Thanks!