The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag)
The flag of the Southern Cross, known as the Eureka Flag, came
to the Gallery from the family of Trooper John King, who was a
member of the Victoria Police when he tore it down from its
flagpole at the Stockade on Sunday 3 December 1854.
The flag was the symbol of the Ballarat Reform League, formed
by Ballarat diggers to make representations to the Colonial
Government about serious grievances about the
treatment they were receiving at the hands of the
Government and its officals on the goldfields.
The Flag is reputed to have been designed by a Canadian member
of the League, Captain Henry Ross. Local legend claims that the
Flag was sewn by three local women - Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke
and Anastasia Hayes.
The Flag was first flown at a 'monster meeting' held by the
League at Bakery Hill on 29 November 1854, at which up to
12,000 diggers swore allegiance to it. At that meeting, the miners
decided to take a path of armed resistance to the Government. The
Flag was then flown at the Stockade which the resisting
miners erected at the Eureka diggings, beside the Melbourne
After battle and the removal of the Flag by John King, it was
taken back to the Ballarat Government Camp, where it was shown to
the curious and pieces cut from it as souvenirs. King presented it
at the Eureka trials in 1855, after which he was allowed to keep
James Oddie, founder of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, heard
about its ownership after attempts by the King family to sell it to
the Melbourne Public Library and the City of Ballaarat. In 1895,
Oddie asked the Gallery Secretary James Powell to write to
Trooper King's widow asking her 'for the very interesting relic as
a gift… or failing your family's willingness to part with it
altogether, to lend it for a specified term..' Mrs King agreed
to lend the flag to the Gallery on the condition that she or
her son Arthur could get it at any time.
Even after its arrival at the Gallery, there was a debate
as to whether it was the original flag or
a replica. Comparisons of the fibres of
the Flag itself with those of a significant fragment,
known to have been cut from the flag on the 3 December 1854,
put the authenticity of the flag in the Gallery beyond doubt as
they were found to be identical.
As was common practice for interesting 'relics' of this kind
before museums properly understood their role as preservers of
heritage items, mementoes continued to be taken from the Flag in
the early part of the 20th century. It was not until the late
1940s that serious attempts were made to protect the Flag were
made, led by Communist jourmalist Len Fox, who mounted a 20-year
long personal campaign to have its importance recognised.
The Flag was first put on public display at the Gallery on 3
December 1973, when it was conserved by local fabric conservator
Val D'Angri and unveiled on the Gallery stairwell by Prime Minister
Gough Whitlam. It remained on display at the Gallery, except for a
brief period in the late 1980s when it was lent to to the Gold
Museum while the Gallery was closed for extensions. Its latest
home at the Gallery was a purpose-built exhibition space, the
Selkirk Family Room.
The Flag was finally and formally gifted to the
Gallery by the King family in 2001. It was the centrepiece of a
major exhibition, Eureka Revisited: the contest of
memories, which the Gallery presented in 2004, during the
Eureka 150 celebrations.
In 2010-11, specialist art conservators, ArtLab, were
commissioned to undertake a new conservation treatment, which
involved repositioning the flag on a new support and the
construction of a purpose-built movable case, prior to its going on
long-term loan to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka
(M.A.D.E) in 2013.
As part of the Gallery Collection, the Flag remains under the
care and custodianship of the Gallery. The Gallery continues
to collect works of art which relate to the events of Eureka
and which reinterpret the Flag's imagery.