Joanne Ryan MP
Federal Member for Lalor
Joanne Ryan MP

The Anniversary of Eureka and the role of women

 

I rise today as the member for Lalor, named after Peter Lalor, the leader of the Eureka Stockade. I welcome the opportunity to join what I note to be four female members speaking today in this debate. I would of course put on record that I forgive the member for Robertson not knowing how to pronounce Peter Lalor's name, as many in this place need a reminder. It is one of the reasons I am here today—to say it as many times as I can in this important debate.

My electorate of Lalor was named after Peter Lalor, the leader of the Eureka Stockade rebellion that called for democratic representation in the colony of Victoria. We have heard from other speakers that beyond the Eureka rebellion Lalor was then elected to the Victorian Legislative Council and into the Assembly, and he for some time acted as speaker. More importantly, for me as the member for Lalor and as I have reflected in this place before, the Eureka rebellion is noted not just as the birth of democracy of Australia but also as the birth of multiculturalism. It was our only armed struggle for change in Victoria.

The spirit of the oaths taken under the Southern Cross still lives in the seat of Lalor today. I would link that to the multicultural nature of my electorate that reflects again the diaspora that was there in Ballarat on the goldfields. Twenty nationalities were represented by or involved in the Eureka Stockade rebellion. I think that is an important point we should all understand—it was not an Anglo revolt. There were 20 nationalities. Of course, we should note that many of those rebels were Chinese. We should also note that many of the members of the Ballarat Reform League were Chartists wanting workers' rights acknowledged in their new country. The member for Ballarat has very eloquently outlined the Ballarat Reform League's charter.

What is not so well known about Eureka is the women who were involved in this rebellion. The names that are not as well-known as Peter Lalor's are those of the women who stood together with the men to fight to defend their rights and liberties. Women played a critical role in the Eureka Stockade, yet the story has always been told as if half of the participants were not there. In 2013 I was pleased to attend the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka to witness the launch of Clare Wright's book, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, a groundbreaking book that documents the role of women within the Eureka Stockade and the remarkably unbiddable women of Ballarat.

 

Wright spent the last decade researching the thousands of women who were in Ballarat in 1854; identifying and documenting the remarkable women who were leaders in the people's movement against government corruption and taxation without representation. It is also worth noting contributions of the women who were on the goldfields that day. One was Ellen Young, the self-proclaimed 'Ballarat poetess', who gave voice to the collective grievance of her community by publishing politically charged poetry and fiery letters to the editor in The Ballarat Times. Another was Clara Seekamp, an Irish single mother of three who became the de facto wife of Henry Seekamp, editor of The Ballarat Times. Clara, with her husband, ran a profitable printing and publishing business until Henry was jailed for sedition after the stockade, making Clara Australia's first female newspaper editor. She continued to fire off blistering editorials, prompting one startled Melbourne journalist to fret over 'the dangerous influence of a free petticoat government'.

I am proud to be the member for Lalor, to carry the traditions of the Eureka Stockade in this place and every day to ensure that I am the voice for the people of my electorate. And to ensure that women are never forgotten again in this country's history, to ensure that the fact that the four female members who spoke in this debate today are acknowledged. I recommend to everyone in this chamber a trip to Melbourne, a trip to Ballarat. Standing in the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka, below that Southern Cross flag, is an incredibly moving thing to do—to stand on that spot and remember that multiculturalism and democracy were born that day.


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