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Bonzer Words!: Women Behind The Southern Cross

...As the fighting at the stockade ended a trooper tore down the Southern Cross flag and trampled it into the blood stained dirt, fragments of the flag were ripped off leaving it in tatters...

Paula Wilson tells of the three women who made the flag around which more than 8,000 miners rallied in the Ballarat goldfields of Victoria, Australia, in 1854 to protest against injustice.

In 1854 more than 8000 miners gathered on the Ballarat goldfields of Victoria to swear allegiance to a new flag. Led by Peter Lalor they were protesting against an unjust system. The authorities summoned armed troops and on December 3 they attacked the miners. The fierce battle only lasted twenty minutes but when the gunfire stopped and the smoke cleared twenty-five miners were dead. All the time the Southern Cross flag flew high and proud over the Eureka Stockade.

This flag of a silver cross and five stars upon a blue background was sewn by three women. Although there is no official documentation it is believed they were Anastasia Withers, Anastasia Hayes and Anne Duke. It is their handiwork that has become a symbol of freedom, democracy and independence throughout Australia.

Anastasia Withers was born in Bristol, England in 1825 and married Samuel in 1841. They sold their shop in Manchester to sail to Australia, arriving at Melbourne in 1851 with their baby daughter. Anastasia then gave birth to a son before travelling to Bendigo’s goldfields. At first she was the only woman on the diggings where she worked alongside her husband.

By 1854 they were on Ballarat’s goldfields. Before long Samuel became involved in the miners' fight for a fair deal and Anastasia was sewing the flag. With the battle over and police hunting down those involved, the Withers fled Ballarat finally settling in Moyston. They ran an orchard called 'Bristol' and sold the harvest from their shop in Horsham.

The Withers continued to invest in mining around Ararat and Moyston but never did strike it rich. Anastasia died in 1889.

Anastasia Hayes was born in Kilkenny, Ireland in 1818. She arrived in Melbourne with her husband Timothy and five children in 1852. Once on the goldfields Timothy formed a partnership with Peter Lalor and was one of the leaders of Eureka. Anastasia herself was also a vocal opponent to the conditions and treatment of the miners.

Having survived the Irish potato famine the hardships of the goldfields were nothing she could not handle. There she lived in a calico tent, cooked on a campfire, and gave birth to another child. Anastasia also taught at the local Catholic school to supplement the family income.

She was probably the push behind Timothy becoming a rebel leader, and many of his words and ideas possibly stemmed from her. When the gunfire and violence died down Timothy was in custody. To the arresting trooper she asked 'Did you capture him?' when he replied 'Yes,' she told him 'I wouldn’na been taken by the likes of you.'

In the days that followed Anastasia assisted with amputation of Peter Lalor’s arm and maybe his escape. She visited Timothy in gaol and was present at his trial in Melbourne where she would have kept him up to date with news of the evasive Lalor.

Timothy was acquitted like all of those arrested and allowed to return to his family. But he soon left Anastasia to bring up her six children alone. She died in Ballarat in 1892.

Anne Duke was born in Armagh, Ireland in 1838. Her family arrived in Melbourne in 1839 where they lived before going to Mount Franklin to work on the Aborigines Protection Station. From there they went to Bendigo’s goldfields and opened a general store where Anne met George Duke.

Together they travelled to the Ballarat goldfields where Anne was asked to help make the flag. She accepted and sewed on the five stars.

When the fighting started Anne was in the stockade. With another woman she hid behind a pile of logs near her tent. Bullets ripped through the calico leaving everything inside full of holes. The battle over she searched among the dead for her husband, eventually finding him still alive.

Anne and George returned to Bendigo. Along the way her first child was born, just ten days after she lay in the dirt avoiding troopers’ bullets. They eventually settled at Woodend and had twelve children. Anne died at Echuca in 1914.

As the fighting at the stockade ended a trooper tore down the Southern Cross flag and trampled it into the blood stained dirt, fragments of the flag were ripped off leaving it in tatters. The trooper’s family kept the remains for a number of years before handing them to the Ballarat Fine Arts Gallery, where it remains today a permanent reminder of the men and women who were involved in the Eureka Stockade.


© Paula Wilson

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Paula writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au

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