Review Blog

Jan 07 2014

The forgotten rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright

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Text Publishing, 2013. ISBN 9781922147370.
(Age 16+) Recommended. Many readers of Australian history know that women sewed the Eureka flag. Less well known is that they were at the forefront of the 1854 rebellion as activists and participants. Clare Wright may have rewritten the history of a significant turning point in Australia's political and social history.
The forgotten rebels of Eureka, is both an academic argument and a narrative history. The author's thesis is that women played a crucial role in transforming discontent over mining licences and access to land into a call for justice and the extension of democratic rights. The early chapters depict the journey to Ballarat from overseas and across colonial borders, the creation of homes in a tent city and the search for sources of income. Many of the women, including those who became influential leaders, are identified by name. Their experiences as wives, mothers, miners, shopkeepers, journalists, hoteliers, actors and prostitutes help to explain the dynamics of a community in crisis. Once readers are familiar with the fabric of Ballarat society, Clare Wright launches into a narrative of the rebellion and its aftermath, demonstrating that women were both present at the stockade and among its casualties.
The writing style emphasizes rather than understates the drama. Excerpts from newspaper articles and memoirs provide contemporary voices. An epilogue charts the post-Eureka lives of some of the principal participants and the large font eases the demands of digesting a wealth of information. Source notes and a bibliography will satisfy scholars. Explanations of some aspects of life on the goldfields may be confronting for young adults.
By including women in the story of Eureka, Clare Wright has redressed a longstanding gender imbalance in the telling of an iconic story, to reveal a community of people who challenged the existing order. In doing so, she has also illuminated many of the rebellion's larger themes including multiculturalism, the role of the press, the administration of justice, the use of armed force and the campaign for universal suffrage.
Elizabeth Bor

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