A pleasing feature of the recently published volume of plays by Louis Esson, The Southern Cross, is that the Eureka flag is correctly drawn in the design on the jacket.
To most people the design may look wrong. We’ve been accustomed to think vaguely of the Eureka flag as simply four or five silver stars on pale blue silk—with no cross except for the cross implied in the position of the stars.
But research about eleven years ago by Melbourne artist Rem McClintock, led him to suspect that this idea was wrong; also that the original Eureka flag exists today, hidden away in a drawer in Ballarat; that it is not silk, not pale blue; and that the stars are not separate (as on the Australian flag), but joined by a solid white cross.
Last year the Australian Communist Party determined to solve the mystery. At first. research merely deepened the mystery of the exact design of the flag. The rare first edition of Carboni Raffaello’s book, The Eureka Stockade, carries an engraving of the flag showing five stars at the centre and ends of a curiously shaped cross. Some experts swear by this design. But there is not one piece of evidence to corroborate it, and the more you look at it the more it seems certain that the engraver let his artistic feelings run away with him a little—that is not an exact drawing of a flag, but an artistic variation of a rough sketch probably drawn by Raffaello from memory.
This was confirmed when further research revealed a different design on the flag on the cover of the 1870 edition of Withers’ History of Ballarat. This also has five stars at the centre and ends of a cross, but the cross is plain and much wider than in the Raffaello design, with 12-pointed stars in place of the 8-pointed stars of the Raffaello design.
Both these, it seemed, must be variations, drawn from memory, of the real flag. What had happened to the real flag?
We found such a mass of contradictory evidence that the task of tracing the flag at first seemed hopeless. But certain facts emerged: The, flag was torn down and roughly treated by police and military. It was produced at the trial, where the defending barrister suggested it was the same kind of flag, perhaps the very same flag, which the members of the Anti-Transportation League hoisted when they first visited this colony from Van Diemen’s Land. In 1888 Alexander Sutherland in his book, Victoria and its Metropolis, stated that the flag had been taken from the flagpole at Eureka by Trooper John King, and that king’s family still retained the flag.
In 1871 King offered the flag in his possession to the Melbourne Public Library. The flag was sent to Peter Lalor, who wrote: ‘I have seen the flag and believe it to be the right one.’ (Later he became doubtful, seemingly because of a description by Withers, which Withers later admitted was incorrect.)
This King flag was then lent to the Ballarat Art Gallery, but because of doubts that had been cast on its authenticity, it was locked in a drawer in a dark room—and is still there.
The doubt, it seemed, would always remain. But a piece of luck has now ended all reasonable doubt. Research by the Communist Party revealed that, thanks to the work of Ballarat writer Nathan Spielvogel, there is a newspaper cutting in the Ballarat Historical Museum which shows that the King flag was submitted to an acid test—and proved to be authentic.
In brief, the facts are these. A fragment of the Eureka flag was picked up on the battlefield by Dr. Carr and given to the daughter of Commissioner Rede. The article in the Ballarat Historical Museum shows that Ballarat historian Withers secured this fragment and compared it with the King flag—and a textile expert declared the two were identical material in warp and weft and in every other way.
If the King flag had been a fake it could never have passed that test.
So we can now accept it as the genuine Eureka flag. In design it is as on the dust-jacket of the book of Louis Esson’s plays, except that the blue is much darker. The cloth is not silk as Raffaello related from memory, but a coarse material woven from cotton and mohair. The flag is considerably torn, with two stars and about a quarter of the flag missing, and many holes which a ballistics expert has stated to be gunshot holes. The flag is slightly more than 12 feet by 8 feet. The first exact drawing of the design appeared in The Tribune of July 17, 1945, accompanied by a full-page article giving the facts at greater length than has been possible here.