Saturday, October 27, 2012

Author Q&A :: Eureka Stockade by Gregory Blake

From time to time, we'll be talking to great Australian authors about their local history and what inspired them to start researching and writing their stories.

This week we talk to Gregory Blake, author of Eureka Stockade - A ferocious and bloody battle. Gregory Blake was born in Melbourne in 1955. Since a very early age, he has had a keen interest in military history and has written numerous articles on the subject, for publications in Australian, the UK and the US. Greg is a secondary school teacher and tutor at the Australian Defence Force Academy. Greg served with the Australian Army Reserve during the 1970s and 1980s. He is an accomplished artist and in addition to illustrations in this book, has contributed his talents to magazines and instructional texts both in Australia and overseas.

Diggers swore their oath beneath the Southern Cross flag
Artist: Charles Doudiet | Courtesy of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery


IHM. Q. What inspired you to start researching and writing?
  • Greg: There are so many stories in Australia’s history that have remained undiscovered or remembered only as a collection of myths, legends and fallacies. One of these is the story of the Eureka stockade. I have always admired how similar stories to the Eureka Stockade have been portrayed in other national histories and around 2004 I stumbled across a little book that had within it a collection of firsthand accounts of what occurred at Eureka. I am a keen student of military history, especially that of the mid C19th. With this knowledge I began reading these accounts of Eureka and the penny dropped and I realised that there was a great deal about this conflict that we simply did not know. This excited me and so I began digging. Four years and a mountain of research later I had uncovered an amazing story which, unlike many of the commonly accepted stories, was based on hard evidence and logical informed deduction. This story bore little resemblance to the collection of myths and misunderstandings that have characterised the Eureka story for generations and it was a story that needed to be told.
IHM. Q. Which resources did you find most helpful?
IHM. Q. What resources did you come across when researching your books that hasn’t been widely used by others? 
  • Greg: The transcripts of the State Treason Trials for the accused Eureka diggers held by the Supreme Court of Victoria are a treasure trove of material for primary source material related to the military aspects of Eureka. I believe I am the first to have made use of this resource for the military information contained within it. 
IHM. Q. Was there any information you uncovered that stopped you in your tracks? Which stories affected you the most from your research? 
  • Greg: No one thing but more of an overall realisation that so many ordinary men were willing to take up arms, risk their lives and all they had to defend an ideal of personal independence and liberty they held precious. It made me wonder how many would do the same these days if faced with the same circumstances as the Eureka diggers.  
Which stories amused you the most in the course of your research? 
  • Greg: The sheer pomposity and arrogance of the colonial ruling classes and their utter unwillingness to accept that their world had changed. 
IHM. Q. If you could track down one thing you haven’t yet managed to find out, what would it be? 
  • Greg: The pre Eureka story of James McGill the leader of the Independent Californian Rangers Revolver Brigade. McGill was significant figure amongst the Eureka diggers at the Stockade and while his post Eureka story is well enough known but his pre Eureka story is a mystery.  
IHM. Q. What’s your best tip for people wanting to write a history book of their own? 
  • Greg: Be passionate about your topic, have a firm goal in mind to guide the direction your research takes, keep an open mind and follow leads that you may not have anticipated, have the patience to keep searching, be absolutely meticulous with your records, cite everything you use – so many ‘history’ books fail to do this. Let people know what you are doing; you will be pleasantly surprised by the interest and support they will show. 
IHM. Q. How did you go about bringing the characters to life? 
  • Greg: The characters really did this for themselves. These were passionate and colourful people living in a passionate and colourful time and all one needed to do was to tell their stories.
IHM. Q. How do you know when you’ve written a good book? 
  • Greg: Good reviews are nice. Pats on the back are nice as well. The best thing though is to know you have done the best you can, to have covered all the bases and presented an account that is readable and informed.

Image courtesy of Big Sky Publishing. Click to look inside or buy

"Eureka Stockade: A ferocious and bloody battle, is the epic account of the attle for the Eureka Stockade, an iconic moment in Australian history. On the chilly dawn morning of 3 December 1854 British soldiers and police of the Victorian colonial government attacked and stormed a crudely-built fortification erected by insurgent gold miners at the Eureka lead on the Ballarat Gold Diggings. The fighting was intense, the carnage appalling and the political consequences of the affair profound. This book, for the first time, examines in great detail the actual military events that unfolded during the twenty minutes of deadly fighting at Eureka. Many of the old assumptions about what occurred that day are turned on the heads, raising in their places provocative questions. Were the intentions of the Eureka diggers as pacific as tradition insists? How was it that men supposedly poorly armed and taken completely by surprise in their sleep were able to deliver ‘sharp and well directed’ fire on their attackers? How close, in fact did the assaulting infantry come to failing in their task, and why has the pivotal part played by the police in the battle been ignored in every retelling of the Eureka story? Why have the Americans, who played a decisive part in the defence of the stockade been all but ignored? The author argues convincingly that Eureka was not a wanton massacre of innocents, as it has been portrayed. Rather it was a hard fought military engagement. 

Eureka was a decisive moment in Australian history and in this book it comes alive in a rousing and original manner".

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