THE miners involved in a seminal moment in Western democracy's history were likely most interested in lower taxes, a Bendigo historian and author says.
Thursday marked the 167th anniversary of the Red Ribbon Rebellion, when thousands of residents marched in protest against the exorbitant cost of mining licences.
It was the second in a series of major Victorian public events against a government that allowed most people few rights and kept Victoria's goldfields under a state of martial law, Geoff Hocking said.
"I talk about this quite often. People will argue with me and say 'everyone knows Britain is the birthplace of democracy'," he said.
"I say 'what history are you reading'? It had to be dragged kicking and screaming into allowing democratic reform.
"The imperial household had little interest in the common people. They saw them as cannon fodder and people didn't have any rights."
Mr Hocking has written extensively on central Victoria's history and focused in the protests in his 2001 book The Red Ribbon Rebellion! The Bendigo Petition, 3rd-27th August, 1853.
He said the third and final major event would explode in Ballarat at the end of 1854, when miners and soldiers fought a bloody battle that triggered sweeping democratic reforms.
Yet many of the miners who marched peacefully in Bendigo were probably not particularly passionate about democratic reform, Mr Hocking said.
"Diggers were quite happy with the idea of making a lot of money for themselves. They weren't particularly interested in grabbing parliamentary power," he said.
The government charged people 30 shillings a month to be on the goldfields, the equivalent of roughly $1000 in today's money.
Most protesters were reacting to those fees, which benefited a "squatocracy" of elite landowners whose wealth was threatened by gold seekers abandoning fields, factories and ships.
However, there were people within the movement who argued licensing fees were another example of taxation without representation, Mr Hocking said.
Common people also often felt a sense of freedom by the chance they might strike it rich and instantly improve their standing, which jarred with draconian military rule in mining camps like Bendigo's, he said.
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That helped shape the Red Ribbon demands, which included the right to vote and buy land, as well as law and order reforms.
The Bendigo Historical Society's copy of the petition contains at least 5000 signatures, president Jim Evans said.
"It runs to about 13 metres long. Our copy is on 13 large sheets," he said.