Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Eureka Stockade (1949)

Eureka Stockade is one of the films made in Australia by Ealing Studios in the late 1940s. Telling the true story of events surrounding a rebellion by gold miners in 1854, it was written by director Harry Watt, Ralph Smart (who later directed Bitter Springs) and British author Walter Greenwood, best known for his 1930s novel of unemployed life in northern England, Love on the Dole.
The events portrayed in the film are seen by many as being a key turning point for the development of Australian democracy and identity, with the film makers equating this with the Magna Carta or the American Declaration of Independence.
What is so impressive is that the film makers did not simply present the miners as the downtrodden masses, struggling to make a living. Instead, the story is balanced. The impact of the 1851 Gold Rush, which saw people abandoning their homes and farms ...
... in search of fortune, is shown to the viewers. The scenes of dead animals, empty towns, rat infested shops and abandoned ships ...

... gives the audience some sympathy for the authorities who are trying to quell the rush to the goldfields. The balance between the need for stability and the attempts to prevent new arrivals being fully integrated into Australian society is not overplayed and the audience aren't preached at. Instead, they are allowed to understand the situation for both the miners...
... and the authorities:
Jack Lambert as Police Commissioner Rede
The balance of views is also shown by the relationship between miners leader, Peter Lalor (Chips Rafferty) and his future wife Alicia Dunne (Jane Barrett). When she talks about the actions of the gold miners in abandoning everything in the search for gold she says: "The decent things in life have been abandoned."
Jane Barrett & Chips Rafferty
The audience is also shown the struggle of the miners as they are forced to pay for licences to mine and tells how recent arrivals, eager to settle down and start farming, are refused permission to buy land. The exploitation of the miners is also balanced by showing the brutality of the mob as they burn down a hotel with its staff inside.
Police confront the mob
The story follows miner Peter Lalor (played by Chips Rafferty) ...
Chips Rafferty
... as he struggles with the system, wanting nothing more than to make some money until such a time as he can buy some land of his own. His personal qualities thrust him into the limelight as the miner's grow increasingly rebellious. At first he desires nothing more than reform of the laws. It is only following the extreme reaction of the authorities, and the arrival of the army, that his is forced to take the path of armed rebellion.

The rebellion sees the miners defeated but those arrested (including a bearded Peter Finch) ...
Peter Finch
... are acquitted by a jury. The events lead to changes in law and see Peter Lalor finally able to settle down with his wife and establish their farm.
The real Peter Lalor went on to become the only one of the rebels to win a seat in the Australian parliament.
The film is currently available in Volume 7 of the Ealing Studios Rarities Collection:
For more details on the real events surrounding the rebellion at Eureka Stockade, click here.


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