Gold was first discovered in New South Wales at Bathurst in 1851 and this heralded the beginning of a new era in Australia's history. Later that same year, gold was also discovered in Victoria at Bendigo and Ballarat. The discovery of gold brought a rush of immigrants to Australia in the search for their fortune. Many of these came from the Califorian gold rush while many Chinese also came seeking either gold or business opportunities by serving the miners in the fields. The population grew rapidly as did the mining industry of Australia which was created with the subsequent discovery of Silver, Copper, and Tin. As a result, a licensing system was introduced by Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe.
The licence fee introduced by La Trobe, required that miners were to pay 30 shillings a month if they were to mine for gold. Miners also had no right to buy land and they had no right to vote. Needless to say, by December of that same year, unrest was alredy beginning to appear and the first mass meeting of miners was held at Castlemaine where the licence fee was condemned as an illegal taxation.
Unrest continued to grow among the gold fields and in 1853, miners from the Bendigo gold fields delivered a petition to La Trobe, signed by 30,000 of the miners. When their grievences had failed to be heard peacefully, the miners elected a small group, led by Irishman Peter Lalor, to lead them in the fight for their rights. Lalor convinced the miners to build a stockade, take up arms, and defend their rights.
It was 3am on Sunday 3 December 1854, that soldiers attacked the stockade while many of the miners had left for the Sabbath to attend church and those that remained were sleeping. It was 100 horsemen and 176 infantry that attacked the stockade that was manned at the time by only 200 miners. Twenty minutes later, 22 miners, five soldiers, and their commanding officer, had been killed while many others had been wounded. Some 120 miners were arrested for high treason.
Australian's are who we are today, much as a result of those events in 1854. After the climax of the Eureka Stockade, in which 30 men were killed, a new Australian identity was born. The oath of the Eureka miners was: We swear by the southern cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties. The southern cross flag of the stockade still lives on today and symbolises unity and a national pride.
However, the Eureka Stockade battle not only resulted in a national identity. Licences were reduced to one pound a year, miners were given the right to vote, and Crown land was opened for purchase by small land holders. All charges of high treason were dropped and the arrested miners were freed. Government reforms followed and to this day, the Eureka Stockade stands as a great contribution to the Australian character.
Another major turning point in Australian identity came with the great Shearer's strikes of the 1890's.
In the 1850's, unionism began to flourish and was aided by the fact that many convicts had been transported for union activities. The Mining Worker's Union was formed in 1872 and was followed by a Seamen's Union in 1874 and the Sydney Wharf Labourer's Union in 1882. However, the attempts by shearers to form a union had so far only failed. It was 1890 when shearers attempted to strike if the pastoralists didn't hire only union members. This attempt also failed because of the depression and widespread unemployment. Queensland shearers refused to give up their attempts, striking again in 1891 and 1894, using the southern cross flag of the Eureka Stockade as its symbol. The result was the formation of the Australian Labor Party in 1891 and the Australian Worker's Union in 1894.