Monday, January 27, 2014

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright

At this point, it is very difficult to write a book about Eureka that says something original. The familiar narrative can be done for either a serious audience or a popular one, but will generally only vary in the level of detail - not in the focus or the accepted facts.

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka finds new ground by focusing specifically on the people who were excluded from the popular narrative. The story usually tends to focus on Lalor, Carboni, Rede, Hotham, and a few others - individual white males who tend to get a large share of the credit - along with the others who stood in the Stockade on December 3 who generally go nameless. Wright has cast her net much more widely than most, so that she includes the many people who agitated for change and fought for their democratic rights in the months leading up to that boiling point. This means that you get a much better sense of how much of a massive popular movement this was - not the work of a brave few who took up arms, but the result of a whole community banding together.

This means that included in the narrative are men whose contributions are rarely recognised, including those whose race doesn't fit the profile. But more so, the book focuses on women's contribution to the movement and general influence on goldfields life. This took many forms.

Some was what might be called the traditional method of female persuasion - indirect power through the patriarchal hierarchy - whereby Lady Hotham wielded political power because of the influence she held with her husband Charles Hotham; and whereby the women were expected to be a civilising force to the uncouth men of the diggings (not that they necessarily were).

Some was the material support they provided for the men. The analogy Wright draws is that of men chasing gold in the same way gambling addicts chase their next win, with the odds of success being in the same range. In a very real sense, the main breadwinners in most of the households were the women who stayed out of the mineshafts and ran businesses, and this kind of support is not to be underestimated - the Maori Musket Wars were as much about the introduction of potatoes as the introduction of muskets, and for exactly the same reason, none of the lauded men of the Stockade would have been able to do anything without the financial and gastronomical support of the goldfields women.

Some of this was simply the same sort of contributions men were making before the conflict came to a head - for example, petitioning the government and writing pro-democracy articles in the papers. Though there were fewer of them than the men, these women were no less important and no less talented, but their contributions tend to be largely glossed over in popular accounts.

In addition to bringing into focus the stories of the historically-marginalised, Wright looks at the words and actions of the key men from a feminist standpoint, as part of a larger attempt to get inside their heads and better understand their decisions. As I remarked in my review of Peter FitzSimons' book on Eureka, the motivations of the key players is often missing from popular accounts, beyond simplistic notions of Goodies and Baddies. FitzSimons gave some space to it, but what I love most about Forgotten Rebels is how much time is spent analysing the motivations of the key players, and how much more you understand the events with that context informing you. She considers not only the power dynamics between the sexes but also between classes and races - a very intersectional and comprehensive viewpoint.

I came into this having read FitzSimons' incredibly comprehensive book about a year ago, so I was a little skeptical that there was enough material left for Wright to turn into another 500-plus page book. Having finished it, I think there was, but I also think that it might be a bit much for the casual reader - it is incredibly detailed and a little repetitive, so only real Eureka-philes or people especially interested in feminist or revolutionary history should bother with it. If you fall into one of those categories, though - it is definitely worth the effort.



    How did Wright "ascertain" there were 5,165 women on the Ballarat goldfields in 1854? This figure contradicts the 1854 census data, overestimating the number of women on the goldfields by 1,142. Wright states that Geelong and St Kilda were devoid of menfolk, women generally were not mining for gold. This is an inauspicious start for a gender biased "nonfiction" title and it gets worse! In the marketing and promotion her book, Text Publishing inflates the number of women present to half, 6,330. For anyone who is familiar with the Eureka Stockade story, it is a very hard slog to read through Wright's book without a large red pen. Anyone not familiar with Eureka could be deceived and misled by Clair Wright's speculations.


    At page 409 of The Forgotten Rebels Wrights states "There was another reason why so many men inside the Stockade might have gone home. There was a full moon. According to the principles of synchrony, women are "designed" to ovulate on the full moon" 8. The major reference for this is W.B Cutler and C.R. Garcia The Psychoneuroendrocronology of the Ovulation of Women. A very small scale study of just 29 subjects. The references given for the principles of synchrony are two small scale, out-of-date unsupported studies from 1979 and 1991, but good research requires the replication of results by other researchers. Wright also quotes a novel by Lara Owen which is a major inspiration for menstrual activists, but it is a personal account, not a scientific research based study. Her Blood is Gold (1993). This theory has not been championed by any serious scientists at all. Wright continues " Female biological blueprint is to release eggs when there is a full moon in the night sky. Bleeding times correspond to the new moon. The invention of electricity has changed this pre-modern prototype of human behaviour now not only do women menstruate at different times in the lunar cycle, but at different times from each other. However most females are aware that when they live in close proximity their menstral cycles start to coincide. With only candles and campfires for nightly illumination womens' menstral cycles very probably have synchronised.

    Wright looks to have taken her theory and even some of her sentences and punctuation from the Menstral Lunar Asychrony Moonsong, a website based on The School of Shamanic Midwifery first published in 2011, which states:

    "The blueprint for women's menstrual cycles is to be in synchrony with the moon, the lunar cycle. Women are "designed" to ovulate with the full moon". "Prior to electricity, in the late 1800's, all women ovulated according to their physiological and hormonal response to the amount of light in the night sky. Our biological blueprint is to ovulate when there is the most light in the night sky - the full moon".

    Wright continues, "When H.R Nicholls visited Ballarat at the end of November 1854 and felt that the place was electric, could he have been reading the hormonal magnetism of the goldfields five thousand ovulating women, a community in heat. The record is silent, Martha Clendinning was far too reserved to discuss her bodily functions. Hobart Town Poll who might have been relied on to to call a %@#* a %@#* didn't write her memoirs". Never is it mentioned by Wright that literacy was the exception and not the rule, many females and males in 1854 could not read or write, the story Wright is really telling is the personal story of the few best educated women.

    Some reasons why the Stockade was relatively deserted on the night of the attack are well know. Father Smythe urged the Catholic miners to go home and attend Mass the next day, an attack was not expected and the Americans may have deliberately left after a tip-off. Why did Wright even bring up this mystical folklore theory? It can only be a personal feminist view she has and it demeans men, making them mere servants of female ovulation times. None of the Eureka women or men spoke or wrote about it. Not even a shred of evidence is presented for this ovulation theory which Wright copied, almost word for word from a teacher of the Women's Mysteries and Shamanic practices Jane Hardwicke Collings As Jane says, she's working for the Goddess. Perhaps Jane is a friend or mentor of Clair Wright's. What else can explain this fiction randomly thrown into an award winning nonfiction research based book? Wright seems to be a feminist misandrist who puts women front and center and demeans men? The record is not silent at all as Wright claims, if what Wright wrote was true, birth dates of humans before electricity was invented would all be clustered around the same dates.

    1. I have neither the time nor the inclination to do the research it would take to debunk half of what you've said here, although even if I accept your factual claims, the assertion that this means Wright is a "feminist misandrist who demeans men" does not really follow.

      Incidentally, having had a bit of a look through the website you linked to, you are far more guilty of selectively quoting people to push your agenda than Wright is.

      If you want to make a serious attempt to respond to Wright's work, go right ahead. If you put something together that's comprehensive, rigorous and well-researched, I'm sure people will read it. But the comments section of my blog isn't really the forum for it.