Remembering the birth of democracy

July 23, 2023 BY

Marking history: Geoff Hocking will be commemorating the 170th anniversary of Bendigo gold miners’ Red Ribbon Rebellion at the Eureka Centre Ballarat next month. Photo: STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA

AUTHOR, artist and designer Geoff Hocking will be at the Eureka Centre Ballarat next month to share his knowledge and mark the one hundred and seventieth anniversary of the Red Ribbon Rebellion.

The Red Ribbon Rebellion occurred in Bendigo in 1953 and involved miners peacefully protesting the cost of miner’s licences.

Mr Hocking has a wealth of knowledge on the subject with his book The Red Ribbon Rebellion, a Decade of Dissent published in 2001.

“The diggers took a petition up and it’s assumed they received about 30,000 signatures,” he said.

“They presented this to the Commissioner and he said he’d present it to the government.”

Mr Hocking said there were fundamental differences between life on the Bendigo and Ballarat goldfields which impacted why the Red Ribbon Rebellion remained peaceful and the Eureka Rebellion became an armed insurrection.

“Bendigo had a predominance of Cornishman and Ballarat had a predominance of Catholics who came from a particular part of Ireland,” he said.

“They were really fighting the troubles of the old country in the new country.”

The differences also extended to the miners’ trust of the government.

“The petition had no real effect except that the Commissioner acted on behalf of the diggers so even though they were armed, they walked away because it looked like the Commissioner was going to do something,” said Mr Hocking.

“In Ballarat it was so corrupt they didn’t trust the Commissioners and that’s when the Eureka Stockade was formed.”

However, Mr Hocking said the Red Ribbon Rebellion, despite being peaceful, did act as a catalyst to the events in Ballarat.

“It directly impacted the Eureka Stockade as the people of Ballarat knew what was going on and it took a couple of days to walk between Bendigo and Ballarat,” he said.

Ultimately, Mr Hocking argues it was the violence in Ballarat that meant it was the event to go down in history.

“I don’t really think British people understand that democracy was fought for and won in Ballarat and it really cascaded,” he said.

“I think sometimes Bendigo can be a little jealous, but a battle makes better history than a whole lot of names on a piece of paper.

“What we can learn is that if you push people hard enough and don’t do the right thing, they will stand up to you and rights will always win.”

To hear more from Mr Hocking, listen to his talk on Thursday 3 August at the Eureka Centre Ballarat at 5.30pm.