Tony Palmer talks The Valley of Blood and Gold

Tony Palmer  Halfway between the Yarrowe Creek and the Eureka Monument in Ballarat there is an aging steel and iron footbridge across the railway line. It’s a bleak place, but I like it. 

‘Dad, how far is it?’ says my youngest daughter.

‘Not far,’ I say. ‘Just up these steps.’

‘It’s too hot,’ says my oldest daughter.

I listen to the clank of her high-heels on the metal treads.

‘Look,’ I say pointing southwards, ‘you can see theEureka flag from here.’

No one looks.

‘Just think,’ I add, ‘we are probably in the exact spot where the soldiers marched down from the Yarrowe towards the stockade one hundred and fifty years ago.’

‘I’m tired.’

‘I don’t know why we have to come here on the hottest day of the year.’

‘Wow. This is really where it happened,’ I say. ‘Up here on this bridge, you can taste the freedom.’

‘Freedom from what?’

‘Hatred.’

‘Yeah, Dad.’

‘Hey, this is important.’

‘Can we go now?’

The battle of the Eureka Rebellion was a brief encounter. The actual fighting only lasted fifteen minutes and the few miners in the stockade were soon overwhelmed by the vastly superior force of police and soldiers who arrived to remove the stockade and its defenders. In a way I’m glad it was so one sided. I can only imagine the bloodshed if all the thousands of miners in the region had been there that morning, assembled and ready to fight.

For me, those fifteen minutes aren’t the real story of Eureka. The real story lies in the day-to-day lives of the men, women and children who lived in the goldfields at the time, people who came from around the world to work side by side in all kinds of jobs and pursuits.

Today it’s easy to forget the bitter divides that existed on the goldfields. In the 1850s the division between Irish Catholic and English Protestant settlers was deep and full of resentment and suspicion. An Irish child would have had a keen sense of his inherited hatred for the English. And a child from an English Protestant background would have felt the same towards the Irish. These hatreds were passed from generation to generation, from parent to child. Sadly, this was the case up until the 1950s.

Why don’t we feel this tension anymore? I like to believe Australia is a place where people can make a fresh start and eventually forget the prejudices and biases of another age.  I believe the answer can be found in the friends we make, the friends we keep, and the friendships we hope for in the future.

This is what The Valley of Blood and Gold is about.

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