A request to fly the Eureka flag has been rejected by a South Australian council amid concerns it has come to represent “white supremacy”.
Spirit of Eureka (SA) convener Peter Harpas put in a request to fly the flag at the Unley Civic Centre to commemorate the 166th anniversary of the Eureka Rebellion, starting on November 22 and continuing for almost two weeks.
“It can be argued with some justification that the Eureka Stockade was the birthplace of Australian democracy,” Mr Harpas wrote in a letter to council.
He also said it had become a defining moment of Australian multiculturalism because there were people of colour, including two black men, among the 21 nationalities of those who participated in the riot.
But members of the City of Unley, which includes affluent suburbs in Adelaide’s inner south, did not agree, the Adelaide Advertiser reported.
During Monday’s council meeting, Councillor Jennifer Bonham noted the flag’s link to the “struggle for democracy” but said the council needed to “acknowledge the Chinese were persecuted on the goldfields”.
“The Eureka flag can also be a symbol of that persecution,” Ms Bonham said.
Councillor Jane Russo said the flag, which features an image of the Southern Cross constellation, had come to represent “white supremacy”.
The Eureka Stockade took place on November 30, 1854 in the Victorian town of Ballarat, fuelled by discontent among miners about substantial licence fees they were being charged by the colonial government.
The miners swore allegiance to the flag near the Eureka diggings and built a blockade in protest.
The flag has since been used by unions including the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union and is a common sight on construction sites.
However, a similar Southern Cross image was also used by those protesting against the presence of Chinese in the goldfields, which culminated in the worst anti-Chinese riots in Australia history at NSW’s Lambing Flat in June 1861.
During these riots Chinese miners were beaten, had their pigtails cut off, tools destroyed and their tents, clothing and furniture set on fire.
Over the years, the Eureka flag has been adopted by groups including the Australia First Party, which is led by Jim Saleam, a former member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Party of Australia, and seeks to abolish multiculturalism.
The Southern Cross also became a symbol of racism after it featured prominently during the 2005 Cronulla riots, which erupted after tension with members of the Lebanese community.
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In a 2010 interview with The West Australian, Professor Greg Craven, vice-chancellor at the Australian Catholic University, said the true meaning of the Southern Cross had been tainted by racism.
He said the Southern Cross had been about dignified rebellion but was now appearing on bumper stickers with racist slogans.
“The Southern Cross is becoming a symbol not of unity but of exclusion,” Prof Craven said.
Originally published as Is this flag racist? One council thinks so