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The dog at the Eureka Stockade

2016 November 2

screenshot-eurekaI have recently finished a revised draft of a chapter for the book I am editing with Philip Howell for Routledge on animal-human histories. It includes discussion of a restored statue of a dog I came across in Ballarat when I was last in Australia in December 2014. I had known about the importance of the town in early mining days and the stand taken by the diggers against the authorities.The workers were obliged to pay taxes to dig – rather than on what was found – and had no political representation.Breaking point was reached in early December 1854 and it was resolved to resist physically oppressive state forces.  A barricade (or stockade) was erected around the workers’ camp and was defended by diggers against attacks by the military.  As a result 30 diggers were either killed outright or later died of their wounds. Although some of the leaders were brought to court for treason there was found to be no case to answer and all were acquitted.

This event has taken on mythic qualities and is highly contested and debated both by socialist and conservative historians.However, despite the plethora of academic articles re-interpreting this event for the present there has, to date, been scant acknowledgment or analysis by such experts of the presence of a small terrier dog at the stockade even though his existence was recorded at the time. A contemporary account acknowledged as credible by many historians notes: A little terrier sat on the breast of the man I spoke of, and kept up a continuous howl: it was removed , but always returned to the same spot ; and when his master’s body was huddled, with the other corpses, into the cart, the little dog jumped in after him, and lying again on his dead master’s breast, began howling again.

However, public historians have acknowledged the dog’s presence – hence the statue that I photographed a couple of days before its unveiling on the 150th anniversary at the museum on the site of the Eureka stockade.  The role of the dog is important in showing the strength of the animal-human relationship even in moments of crisis. It also helps raise questions about the way in which other animals have been ignored in the past but recently brought to light especially in situations of warfare.

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