THE legacy of the Red Ribbon rebellion has been celebrated 160 years on from the movement that united Bendigo’s gold miners.
Wednesday marked the anniversary of the 1853 agitation rally against mining licence fees.
About 600 adults and school students gathered at Rosalind Park to join in the Bendigo Historical Society’s re-enactment.
The enthusiasm for history was clear in the primary and high school students, who dressed as diggers and soldiers.
Dozens more adults wore costumes to mark the occasion - including this reporter who was given the call-up after an untimely run of injuries and late withdrawals.
My cameo as commissioner Joseph Panton was met with a chorus of boos. It was a reception entirely warranted by my lack of acting ability.
But I was kindly told afterwards the majority of booing was part of the performance.
Panton, I have learnt, was about as popular as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd explaining the Resource Super Profit Tax to mining bosses.
The commissioner defied the angry miners and told them bluntly they would be paying three times their previous fee for a mining licence.
He and the other commissioners eventually agreed to a one-month concession with no fees but the angst continued to grow and spilled over to the 1854 Eureka Stockade.
It was hard to imagine how the confrontation might have played out in the context of today’s federal election campaign. Labor would instinctively side with the miners and the unions.
But Kevin Rudd may well argue the miners should pay their royalties fee and the wealth should be spread. What we can take away from it is that the lessons of one period of history continue to inform the next.
Historical Society president Jim Evans said it was as much about the history we could learn from the events as the enduring legacy it left.
He described it as a celebration of democracy.
“It was a major chapter in Bendigo’s history that led to democratic change in Victoria,” he said. “It’s great that so many students, and adults are still interested in that history.”
Mr Evans said the period of social upheaval was an important period to reflect on.
“It’s interesting we’ve got this celebration of democracy, and then two weeks we’ve got the federal election. Of course both parties now would be arguing for democracy... But we have got more taxes now than then.”
Mr Evans said it was the highest crowd ever to attend the re-enactment.