THESE pieces of worn and faded navy and white fabric come together to make one of Australia’s oldest treasures.
This is the flag of the Southern Cross, or what’s left of the material more than 160 years after it was created, with the banner born on the Ballarat diggings during the boom years of the Australian Gold Rush to serve as a symbol for miners banding together to fight for better conditions.
The flag flew over the Eureka Stockade during the 1854 rebellion – for those that don’t know, it was a bloody fight prompted by the introduction of a mining license and the uprising that marked the first step towards Australian democracy – and the fabric came to be seen as a uniting symbol for the fledgling nation.
Legend has it the flag was handmade by miners’ wives working in shacks dotted around the diggings, with the women toiling in secret to hide their work from authorities looking to stamp out the simmering unrest, with a Ballarat policeman snatching it from the stockade flagpole in the chaos after the battle.
He would bring it out during dinner parties and barbecues to show family and friends, and cut small pieces from the flag to hand out as souvenirs, with later generations hiding what was left away until wrapping the tattered pieces in brown paper and mailing it to the Art Gallery of Ballarat.
Today it hangs in a dark room at MADE – the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka – after a long restoration program secured it to a sturdy background in an effort to consolidate the remaining fragments.
This museum, dedicated to telling the story of not only Australian democracy but the first for democratic rule in other parts of the planet, is built on what many claim to be the original location of the Eureka Stockade.
The flag could have hung in any number of museums, galleries and libraries around Australia but it seems appropriate that it’s back here now so many years after flying above the action that claimed so many lives on both sides of the struggle.
I’m travelling around regional Victoria with Scenic, getting a sneak peak at the company’s newest Australian itinerary Victorian Discovery, and we’re seeing MADE before venturing into the heart of town to visit the Art Gallery of Ballarat which is another institution with roots in the Gold Rush.