THE PROTEST FLAGS OF THE 1850s VICTORIAN GOLD RUSH
Here we tell the story of the flags that the gold diggers flew at their three major protests against the colonial government’s gold licence system in the Victorian goldfields in the 1850s. The Diggers’ flag at Forest Creek in 1851, the Red Ribbon Banner at Bendigo in 1853 and the Eureka flag at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat in 1854.
The gold diggers on the Victorian goldfields in the early 1850s flew many flags and banners. Some were flown to celebrate their nationality, others to advertise their wares, such as at a general store. Others were flown to show their support for a cause, such as the anti-transportation movement. Most are now lost and forgotten.
But we still remember the three flags that were created and flown to show the gold diggers’ opposition to the colonial government’s gold licence system. The first was flown by the Diggers in December 1851 at their Monster Meeting at Forest Creek. Then the Diggers of the Red Ribbon Movement flew their new banner at Bendigo in August 1853 and a year later the Eureka flag was flown above the Eureka Stockade at Ballarat in December 1854. The Eureka flag is a well known national icon. But the two flags of the earlier protests that led up to Eureka are not so well known.
The Red Ribbon and Eureka flags we fly today are the same design as those the Diggers flew at their 1853 and 1854 protests. Sadly the original 1851 Diggers’ Monster Meeting flag has not survived. So in 1995 it was recreated by Robyn Annear as an interpretation of the Diggers’ flag based on what can be seen in David Tulloch’s on-the-spot drawing of the 1851 Meeting and what was known about the Central Victorian goldfields of the time. Like the later Red Ribbon Banner, it shows the crossed pick and shovel representing the gold diggers’ labour, the kangaroo and emu for Australia, a tied bundle of sticks representing the diggers’ solidarity and a set of scales representing the social justice they sought.