Updated: Dec 9, 2021
As the now familiar Prussian blue-coloured Southern Cross Flag flew over the Battle of the Eureka Stockade on December 3, 1854, it has become a symbol of defiance in the Australian mindset, even today.
The original, while it remains part of the Ballarat Art Gallery Collection, is on long term loan to the Eureka Centre Ballarat and is on display there. It once measured 260cm x 400cm and is made of fine woollen fabric. The white stars are made from a fine cotton lawn and the off-white cross from cotton twill. One of the women who sewed the flag was an English seamstress who had come to Tasmania as a convict in 1844. Her name was Anastasia Splane.
The original Eureka Flag stitched by Anastasia Withers now displayed in the Art Gallery of Ballarat. Courtesy Wikipedia.
At only five feet and two inches tall, Anastasia was around 20 years old, with a fresh complexion, brown hair and blue eyes. She married Samuel Edward Withers on 30 October, 1849 after receiving permission. Samuel had also arrived as a convict having been convicted of forgery of a ₤5 bank note. He was a painter and glazier by trade.
The couple moved to Victoria, swept up by the rush to the gold fields once the precious metal had been discovered. With their two children they moved to Bendigo in early 1853. Anastasia would have done her bit by hiding gold in small bags hung from a belt under her dress.
As the miners became more upset over the establishment of the payment of gold mining licences, a hastily built stockade helped rally the disgruntled men to fight the establishment. Four days earlier, a group of women which included Anastasia, under the cover of night and by candlelight, sewed the flag that would be unfurled on Bakery Hill at the stockade.
Twenty minutes after the skirmish began between the miners and the government troops, it was over and 27 men lay dead. The flag had been torn down but not destroyed.
The Withers continued at the gold fields and opened a tent inn at Milkman's Flat called the 'Hit or Miss' Inn. In 1858 they moved to the Ararat district where they bought land, built a house and established an orchard. By the 1870s Samuel opened the 'World renowned Wimmera Fruit Market' in Firebrace Street, Horsham, advertising all kinds of fruit.
Anastasia would transport the fruit by horse and dray from Moyston to Ararat, in preparation for sending to Horsham. She kept doing this until her two younger daughters took over.
Samuel and Anastasia Withers grave at Moyston cemetery. Courtesy Findagrave
All up Anastasia and Samuel had nine children and she sewed all her children's clothes. She used a Grover and Baker sewing machine which sewed double thread chain stitch.
In 1883 Samuel died at Moyston, aged 64. Six years later Anastasia followed him after being cared for by her daughter Alice. She was buried with Samuel in Moyston cemetery.
'Anastasia Withers - HerStory' as told by Anastasia WITHERS’ great granddaughters Edith LAWN and Ildie HOUSTON, Women's Museum of Australia and Old Gaol Alice Springs', accessed online 3rd December, 2021, WITHERS, Anastasia - 1825 | Women's Museum of Australia (wmoa.com.au)
'Anastasia Withers', Eurekapedia, accessed online 3rd December, 2021, Anastasia Withers - eurekapedia
'Eureka Flag', Wikipedia, accessed online 5th December, 2021, Eureka Flag - Wikipedia
'The brave women who stitched Australia's flag of unity and rebellion', Radio National, accessed on 5th December, 2021, The brave women who stitched Australia's flag of unity and rebellion - Bush Telegraph - ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)