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Eureka flag (Australia)

Last modified: 2010-09-03 by jonathan dixon
Keywords: australia | eureka flag | southern cross | stars: southern cross |
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[Eureka Flag] image by Jorge Candeias

See also:

The Eureka Flag

The Southern Cross, those five stars which were shining over this land before it was even formed, featured in literature as early as the 13th Century, when the Italian writer Dante (1265-1321) mentioned it in his work: Purgatorio, which was part of the Paradisio-Inferno-Purgatorio trilogy.

Dante must have been told of this cross in the South and it must have been so low on the horizon, because the fifth star now known as Epsilon, the faintest of the five, was not mentioned.

Amerigo Vespucci recorded having seen "four magnificent stars'' in 1502 and then in 1515, Antonio Pigafetta, who sailed with Magellan on mankind's first voyage around the world, wrote of "a wonderful cross, most glorious of all the constellations in the heavens".

The cross was finally defined as a separate constellation in 1679 when French astonomer Augustine Royer first coined the term: Crux Australis - Southern Cross.

To the four brightest stars of this Southern Cross, Dante in Purgatorio, attributed the admirable virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude.

The names of the stars as featured on the present Australian flag, are the spectacularly-imaginative: A, B, C, D and E, the first five letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon.

That Italy's most famous writer should name the stars, continues the remarkable multicultural history of The Eureka Flag _ Eureka being Greek for the exclamation "I have found it!".

It was designed by a Canadian digger called Lieutenant Ross (who died defending the Eureka Stockade on Sunday, December 3, 1854) and it was made, according to German Frederick Vern (who first moved the diggers burn their licences) by "two English ladies".

The leader of the diggers at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat in December, 1854, was an Irishman called Peter Lalor (MLC 1855-56, MLA 1856-57, 1874-89, Speaker 1880-89).

The first digger to be acquitted in Melbourne after the Eureka stockade battle was a black American named John Josephs.

Members of the Independent Californian Rangers' Revolver Brigade helped defend the stockade and the six recognised leaders at Eureka (apart from Lalor and Vern), were Irishman Timothy Hayes, Welshman John Humffray (also elected to Parliament), George Black, an Englishman and Kennedy, a Scot.

Italian Raffaello Carboni, later elected a Member of the Local Court at Ballarat, was one of the 13 Eureka prisoners.

Henry Lawson later wrote "20 minutes freed Australia at Eureka long ago" and American writer Mark Twain, described this lost struggle against tyranny as "another instance of a victory won by a lost battle".

In the dark, early hours of that Sunday, when only 120 of the previous night's 1500 volunteers were still present at the stockade, the English Queen's soldiers and police troopers attacked and 22 diggers were killed, more than 100 were imprisoned and the bullet-ridden Eureka flag was torn down and dragged through the dust.

This same flag is now at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.

It must be about the only original flag in the world.
Sue Flavel, 4 November 1998

In The Courier on 13 April 2004 (see this site), Catherine Best reports that the flag should move to Eureka Centre, also located in Ballarat. This potential move is one of the conclusions of a $70,000 study on the future viability of the Centre. Another $4.5 million should be spent "to enhance the attraction and improve patronage". Among the conclusions of the study, it is stated that "The absence of the Eureka Flag from the centre (and its location elsewhere within Ballarat) adds to the perception that it is not a serious institution". It seems that the relocation of the flag form the Gallery to the Centre is an old matter of contention, especially because current display facilities of the Centre are not appropriate.
Ivan Sache, 16 April 2004

Modern Usage

The Eureka flag has had significance to sizeable groups of various political persuasions in Australia in more recent decades, albeit in a modernised form.
Jonathan Dixon, 19 February 2005

The Electrical Trades Union flag features the Eureka flag. Many ETU shirts and jumpers can be seen at the ETU shop, and many have the Eureka flag on the chest or shoulder, providing more examples of the use of this flag by the Union movement in Australia.
Jonathan Dixon, 23 January 2006

There has been a move to standardise the modern Eureka Flag which involves the creation of a small blue fimbriation around the stars which does not exist on the original, and it is frequently made in the modern Australian flag proportions of 1x2.
Ralph Kelly, 14 February 2005

Rob Raeside forwarded a link to a flag for sale on eBay. It definitely appears to be a modern celebration of Ned Kelly. I am not sure why it is being produced as a flag, because it doesn't look like it should be.

Perhaps the most interesting vexillogical aspect of it is the use of the Eureka flag. Ned Kelly and Eureka are both often used as examples/symbols of the same Australian rebellious spirit, but I don't think there is anything to suggest that Ned Kelly ever associated himself with the Eureka flag.
Jonathan Dixon, 27 July 2007

The logo of the University of Ballarat, visible at , consists of a seal depicting the Eureka flag with added red and yellow stripes at the top & bottom edges.
Eugene Ipavec, 18 March 2009

Official status?

The official web site for the Eureka Centre Ballarat (, the official organisers of this year's 150th anniversary celebrations for the Eureka Flag includes 6 pages devoted entirely to the Eureka Flag, including a press release announcing the presentation and first reading in the Commonwealth Parliament of Australia of a Bill to amend the Flags Act 1953 to recognise the Eureka Flag as an official flag of Australia. This Bill was presented to Federal Parliament on the 2 December 2003 (House of Representatives) and the again in March 2004 (The Senate), and is sponsored by the Federal Member for Ballarat, Ms. Catherine King, M.H.R.
Ralph Bartlett, 16 April 2004

It should be pointed out that the private members bills seeking recognition of the Eureka flag have zero chance of being successful under the present Liberal-National Party coalition government.
Ralph Kelly 14 February 2005

In the lead up to the 150th anniversary of the Eureka Stockade incident the Ballarat Courier reported on the opposition to officially recognising the Eureka flag. The position of the Liberal Party is that plans to officially recognise the Eureka flag are 'politically motivated'. The Australian Flag Society featured in a number of Courier articles. The Society argued that according to established orderly processes and the traditions of Australian heraldry only flags in 'current use' should be registered under the Flags Act, pointing out that such learned men as former High Court Chief Justices Sir Harry Gibbs and Sir Ninian Stephen also support this view. The Australian Federation flag is another historical flag from Australia's colonial past which is still used in Australia today as a flag of historical significance - the society questioned why the Eureka flag deserves a superior status to this equally important historical flag. In one report a spokesperson for the Society was quoted as saying: "I also think that flags of Australia should be appointed by the Governor-General as head of state. I don't think Ms King's private member's bill, aimed at inserting the flag into the Flags Act, is the right way to address the matter." (The Courier, Eureka flag proposal puts critics in a flap, 22 July 2004) One interesting issue that this proposal does raise involves the design of the Eureka flag. If the Eureka flag was going to become a 'flag of Australia' then surely the official design must be based on the specimen hanging in the local museum in Ballarat. Of course the 1854 design is not nearly as attractive as the modern one.
Raymond Morris, 12 Feb 2005

[Ed: The issue of who is the head of state of Australia is a matter of much debate at times and depends on the definition of "head of state". The idea that it is the Governor-General, rather than the Queen, is most often publicly put forward by monarchists, and it has been explained to us that this is case here. However, it should be noted that the issue is not directly relevant to the argument being made by the spokesperson.]

The opposition to the proposal is because the Eureka Flag was originally used in an anti-government riot, and also because it is used by both the far-left and the far-right nowadays.
Miles Li, 12 February 2005

Raymond Morris adds more reasons why he is opposed to the proposal:

Summary of post by Raymond Morris, 18 April 2005

It is interesting to note that in 1949 - not that long ago - a movie entitled the 'Eureka Stockade' was made, which starred Chips Rafferty a famous Australian actor of the day. The Eureka flag used by the producers of this film was not 5 stars arranged on a white cross - it was the Southern Cross from Australia's flag! How could that happen? I understand that the producers even went to Ballarat to do research for this film. If this film is treated as an important historical record then this oversight makes me think that not too many Australian people knew what the famous 'Eureka flag' looked like in 1949.
Raymond Morris, 18 February 2005

Raymond Morris points out that the Eureka flag makes some Australians very unhappy, and it has even been said that there was 'violent opposition' to this proposal from some MPs. Although the proposed amendment would not make the Eureka flag Australia's national flag, it has been suggested as an alternative national flag in the past. This became an issue during the 2004 federal election, as shown by this ABC news report contributed by Raymond Morris:

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson has made the Eureka flag a federal election campaign issue.

He says Labor leader Mark Latham, while the mayor of Liverpool in the early 1990s, declared the current Australian flag had outlived its usefulness and should be replaced by the Eureka flag.

Mr Anderson says he believes most Australians want the current flag to stay, and he is also not in favour of flying the Eureka flag at Parliament House in Canberra to mark the 150th anniversary of the rebellion.

"I think people have tried to make too much of the Eureka Stockade - I think that, you know, you're trying to give it a credibility and standing that it probably doesn't enjoy.

"Now the left wing's always adopted the flag as their symbol, the union movement in this country, I think it would be just interesting to know whether Mr Latham has changed his view since 1992 because I can find nothing on the record that he says that he has."

Mr Latham and the federal Labor Member for Ballarat, Catherine King, were both unavailable for comment.

ABC, 10 Sep 2004.

The Eureka flag is a brilliant flag design, and for that reason has been taken up by many sorts of groups, some calling themselves nationalistic and some not, in the 150 years since the Eureka stockade. So, in some sense because of its wonderful design, it has obtained a lot lot of other connotations which mean that it will not be accepted by all the people as just a beautiful Australian flag design, at least in the near future.
Jonathan Dixon, 2 March 2005

Unidentified variant

I saw on a top of an hotel near Central station in Sydney a flag which is identical to the eureka flag except for a white southern cross in the canton.

Its symbolism is a bit baffling, the flag itself is a strictly Australian affair and what more, the basic design is itself meant to represent the southern cross meaning this particular item contain 2.

So what could it be? an Australo-australian ethnic flag? an Australian republican political banner?
Marc Pasquin, 29 January 2005

"Icon" status

The Courier, 2 March 2006, reports:

The Eureka Flag has been named a winner of the inaugural Victorian Heritage Icons Awards.

The flag, nominated by Ballarat Mayor David Vendy, was one of six icons selected for the first National Trust awards.

It was chosen from a list of hundreds as a symbol of nationalism, democracy and a "fair go".

Eureka Centre operations manager Ron Egeberg said the flag was an important symbol for all Australians. The award, announced at Melbourne's Young and Jackson Hotel yesterday, recognised the flag's significance in Australia's history, Mr Egeberg said.

"All of us associated with Eureka will be delighted that the flag has been recognised in such a prestigious way.

"It's a fitting tribute to Eureka and it recognises the flag's significance in Australia's history.

"It's an important symbol for all us Australians as the flag of freedom, fairness and a fair go for all."

Planning Minister Rob Hulls, in announcing the winners, said the awards aimed to reflect public opinion on popular concepts of heritage. He said the Eureka flag was the emblem of the country's most significant rebellion.

Comedian Rod Quantock, media commentators Neil Mitchell and Jill Singer, historian Professor Graeme Davison, Heritage Council Victoria chair Chris Gallagher and National Trust chair Dianne Weidner made up the judging panel.

Ivan Sache, 7 March 2006