Eureka!

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Eureka! Nearly four decades after the events at Eureka Stockade, Henry Lawson marked the death of the battle's leader, Peter Lalor, with an anti-establishment piece of verse, 'Eureka!'. In this and other poems such as his first, 'The Republic', 'The Fight of Eureka Stockade' and 'Freedom of the Wallaby', Lawson may well have been trying to light the fire of Australian nationalism and a move to independence with our own flag, The Southern Cross. To many, the Eureka rebellion of the 3rd of December 1854 is a defining moment in Australian history. It is not surprising that the legendary Australian poet, Henry Lawson (1867-1922), wrote about an event of such national trauma - as many others have in the years since - more than 100 works according to one source (Austlit website). He wrote 'Eureka!' (Lee 25) in 1889, to mark Eureka hero Peter Lalor's death, and also penned 'The Fight of Eureka Stockade' (Cronin 115) the following year. Both could be described as anti-establishment, as were many others of his poems such as the first published verse, 'The Republican' (Cronin 39), and 'Freedom on the Wallaby' (Cronin 146) about the Barcaldine (Qld) shearers' strike. As we shall see below, Lawson was trying to light the fire of Australian nationalism and a move to independence with our own flag, The Southern Cross. At the Victorian mining site of Eureka, Lalor led miners in battle against government troops over the cost of licences and other issues. Thirty-four miners and six troops died at Eureka Stockade, in what is seen by some as a battle for the 'concept of fair play and equal opportunity' (Heritage website). Some get more passionate: the National republicans describe it as a 'patriotic struggle bathed in Australian blood' (alphalink website). The miners also carried a blue and white Southern Cross flag which has become an important anti-establishment symbol. Lalor, who lost an arm, and the other survivors were acquitted. He went on to become a Member of the Legislative Council and was its Speaker when he died in 1889. Henry Lawson was born 13 years after Eureka in 1867 in a tent on the Grenfell (NSW) goldfields, his father a former Norse sailor and his mother from a Kentish gypsy family, according to Wright (viii) in a foreword to a Lawson anthology. He goes on to say that 'at 21, Lawson was probably the most remarkable writer of verse in Australia' (ix).
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