September 2006


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Peter Lalor & Raffaello Carboni

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

When Peter Lalor's moment in history arrived, it caught him by surprise. He'd come to Australia to strike it rich, not to lead a rebellion. The 27-year-old Irishman had shown no interest in politics in his native country. A Catholic from a once-prosperous, famine-bankrupted background, he spent his days down a mineshaft, eking gold from the Eureka reef. Joining the Ballarat Reform League was no more than a reaction to the heavy-handed methods of arbitrary officialdom.

When 12,000 of his fellow diggers gathered on Bakery Hill in November 1854 to hoist the Southern Cross and burn their licences, Lalor proposed they elect a committee.

At 34, Raffaello Carboni was an experienced rebel. An anti-clerical member of the nationalist movement Young Italy, he'd been wounded in one of the early battles of the Risorgimento. Exiled in London, he had succumbed to gold fever and temporarily forsaken his career as a linguist and writer. Like Lalor, he had been in Australia for just over two years.

Events in Ballarat were moving quickly, drawing in the cautious Irishman. When mounted soldiers charged a group of diggers, open rebellion erupted. In the angry mill of the mob, Peter Lalor mounted a stump, ordered the men into ranks and told them to choose their captains. Carboni stepped forward to offer his services. Lalor grasped the red-haired Italian's hand and pointed to the non-English-speaking diggers. "I want you, Signore, to tell these gentlemen that if they can't provide themselves with firearms, let each procure a six-inch long piece of steel. Attached to a pole, that'll pierce the tyrant's heart."

When the ranks of diggers formed around the flagstaff and Lalor led them in vowing by the Southern Cross to defend their rights and liberties, Carboni believed he was witnessing something momentous.

The captains gathered to elect a commander-in-chief. Lalor demurred, pleading that he had no military expertise. Carboni's name was put forward, his battle scars cited as evidence of his experience. The Italian insisted that Lalor had a cool head and the confidence of the men. He nominated the Irishman, who was duly elected.

The assault on Eureka cost Lalor his arm and put Carboni in the dock for high treason. But popular sentiment prevailed, and both men were eventually rewarded with public office. Peter Lalor was elected to parliament; Carboni was appointed a local court official. He used the time to pen a pacy chronicle of the rebellion.

Lalor died at 62, an esteemed elder statesman. Carboni returned to Italy, rejoined Garibaldi's campaign, wrote plays and novels, and died in obscurity and poverty aged 55.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

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