The Fight at Eureka Stockade
Henry Lawson, 1890
"Was I at Eureka?" His figure was drawn to a youthful height,
And a flood of proud recollections made the fire in his grey eyes bright;
With pleasure they lighted and glisten'd, tho' the digger was grizzled and old,
And we gathered about him and listen'd while the tale of Eureka he told.
"Ah, those were the days," said the digger, "twas a glorious life that we led,
When fortunes were dug up and lost in a day in the whirl of the years that are dead.
But there's many a veteran now in the land old knights of the pick and the spade,
Who could tell you in language far stronger than mine 'bout the fight at Eureka Stockade.
"We were all of us young on the diggings in days when the nation had birth -
Light-hearted, and careless, and happy, and the flower of all nations on earth;
But we would have been peaceful an' quiet if the law had but let us alone;
And the fight let them call it a riot was due to no fault of our own.
"The creed of our rulers was narrow they ruled with a merciless hand,
For the mark of the cursed broad arrow was deep in the heart of the land.
They treated us worse than the negroes were treated in slavery's day
And justice was not for the diggers, as shown by the Bently affray.
"P'r'aps Bently was wrong. If he wasn't the bloodthirsty villain they said,
He was one of the jackals that gather where the carcass of labour is laid.
'Twas b'lieved that he murdered a digger, and they let him off scot-free as well,
And the beacon o' battle was lighted on the night that we burnt his hotel.
"You may talk as you like, but the facts are the same (as you've often been told),
And how could we pay when the license cost more than the worth of the gold?
We heard in the sunlight the clanking o' chains in the hillocks of clay,
And our mates, they were rounded like cattle an' handcuffed an' driven away.
"The troopers were most of them new-chums, with many a gentleman's son;
And ridin' on horseback was easy, and hunting the diggers was fun.
Why, many poor devils who came from the vessel in rags and down-heeled,
Were copped, if they hadn't their license, before they set foot on the field.
"But they roused the hot blood that was in us, and the cry came to roll up at last;
And I tell you that something had got to be done when the diggers rolled up in the past.
Yet they say that in spite o' the talkin' it all might have ended in smoke,
But just at the point o' the crisis, the voice of a quiet man spoke.
" 'We have said all our say and it's useless, you must fight or be slaves!' said the voice;
" 'If it's fight, and you're wanting a leader, I will lead to the end take your choice!'
I looked, it was Pete! Peter Lalor! who stood with his face to the skies,
But his figure seemed nobler and taller, and brighter the light of his eyes.
"The blood to his forehead was rushin' as hot as the words from his mouth;
He had come from the wrongs of the old land to see those same wrongs in the South;
The wrongs that had followed our flight from the land where the life of the worker was spoiled.
Still tyranny followed! no wonder the blood of the Irishman boiled.
"And true to his promise, they found him the mates who are vanished or dead,
Who gathered for justice around him with the flag of the diggers o'erhead.
When the people are cold and unb'lieving, when the hands of the tyrants are strong,
You must sacrifice life for the people before they'll come down on the wrong.
"I'd a mate on the diggings, a lad, curly-headed, an' blue-eyed, an' white,
And the diggers said I was his father, an', well, p'r'aps the diggers were right.
I forbade him to stir from the tent, made him swear on the book he'd obey,
But he followed me in, in the darkness, and was shot on Eureka that day.
" 'Down, down with the tyrant an' bully,' these were the last words from his mouth
As he caught up a broken pick-handle and struck for the Flag of the South
An' let it in sorrow be written the worst of this terrible strife,
'Twas under the 'Banner of Britain' came the bullet that ended his life.
"I struck then! I struck then for vengeance! When I saw him lie dead in the dirt,
And the blood that came oozing like water had darkened the red of his shirt,
I caught up the weapon he dropped an' I struck with the strength of my hate,
Until I fell wounded an' senseless, half-dead by the side of 'my mate'.
"Surprised in the grey o' the morning half-armed, and the Barricade bad,
A battle o' twenty-five minutes was long 'gainst the odds that they had,
But the light o' the morning was deadened an' the smoke drifted far o'er the town
An' the clay o' Eureka was reddened ere the flag o' the diggers came down.
"But it rose in the hands of the people an' high in the breezes it tost,
And our mates only died for a cause that was won by the battle they lost.
When the people are selfish and narrow, when the hands of the tyrants are strong,
You must sacrifice life for the public before they come down on a wrong.
"It is thirty-six years this December (December the first*) since we made
The first stand 'gainst the wrongs of old countries that day in Eureka Stockade,
But the lies and the follies and shams of the North have all landed since then
An' it's pretty near time that you lifted the flag of Eureka again.
"You boast of your progress an' thump empty thunder from out of your drums,
While two of your 'marvellous cities' are reeking with alleys an' slums.
An' the landsharks, an' robbers, an' idlers an' ! Yes, I had best draw it mild
But whenever I think o' Eureka my talking is apt to run wild.
"Even now in my tent when I'm dreaming I'll spring from my bunk, strike a light,
And feel for my boots an' revolver, for the diggers' march past in the night.
An' the faces an' forms of old mates an' old comrades go driftin' along,
With a band in the front of 'em playing the tune of an old battle song."
* Editor's Note: The 1st of December was the date that the diggers swore an oath by the Southern Cross to defend their liberties; the date of the battle at the Eureka Stockade was the 3rd of December, 1854.