Last modified: 2001-04-06 by jonathan dixon
Keywords: australia | eureka flag | southern cross | stars: southern cross |
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by Jorge Candeias
The Southern Cross, those five stars which were shining over this land before it was even formed, featured in literature as early as the 13th Century, when the Italian writer Dante (1265-1321) mentioned it in his work: Purgatorio, which was part of the Paradisio-Inferno-Purgatorio trilogy.
Dante must have been told of this cross in the South and it must have been so low on the horizon, because the fifth star now known as Epsilon, the faintest of the five, was not mentioned.
Amerigo Vespucci recorded having seen "four magnificent stars'' in 1502 and then in 1515, Antonio Pigafetta, who sailed with Magellan on mankind's first voyage around the world, wrote of "a wonderful cross, most glorious of all the constellations in the heavens".
The cross was finally defined as a separate constellation in 1679 when French astonomer Augustine Royer first coined the term: Crux Australis - Southern Cross.
To the four brightest stars of this Southern Cross, Dante in Purgatorio, attributed the admirable virtues of Justice, Prudence, Temperance and Fortitude.
The names of the stars as featured on the present Australian flag, are the spectacularly-imaginative: A, B, C, D and E, the first five letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon.
That Italy's most famous writer should name the stars, continues the remarkable multicultural history of The Eureka Flag _ Eureka being Greek for the exclamation "I have found it!".
It was designed by a Canadian digger called Lieutenant Ross (who died defending the Eureka Stockade on Sunday, December 3, 1854) and it was made, according to German Frederick Vern (who first moved the diggers burn their licences) by "two English ladies".
The leader of the diggers at the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat in December, 1854, was an Irishman called Peter Lalor (MLC 1855-56, MLA 1856-57, 1874-89, Speaker 1880-89).
The first digger to be acquitted in Melbourne after the Eureka stockade battle was a black American named John Josephs.
Members of the Independent Californian Rangers' Revolver Brigade helped defend the stockade and the six recognised leaders at Eureka (apart from Lalor and Vern), were Irishman Timothy Hayes, Welshman John Humffray (also elected to Parliament), George Black, an Englishman and Kennedy, a Scot.
Italian Raffaello Carboni, later elected a Member of the Local Court at Ballarat, was one of the 13 Eureka prisoners.
Henry Lawson later wrote "20 minutes freed Australia at Eureka long ago" and American writer Mark Twain, described this lost struggle against tyranny as "another instance of a victory won by a lost battle".
In the dark, early hours of that Sunday, when only 120 of the previous night's 1500 volunteers were still present at the stockade, the English Queen's soldiers and police troopers attacked and 22 diggers were killed, more than 100 were imprisoned and the bullet-ridden Eureka flag was torn down and dragged through the dust.
This same flag is now at the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery.< P>It must be about the only original flag in the world.