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Presented by historian Michael Cathcart, Australia on Trial is a thought‐provoking three‐part series recreating the historic trials that throw light on the Australia of colonial times. These high‐profile and controversial court cases raised major issues of national identity at a time when Australia was evolving from the dominion of the British Empire into a more autonomous federated nation in the late 19th century. But they also raised universal themes and concerns that still resonate in modern‐day Australia.
|S01E01||The Mount Rennie Outrage||05/04/2012||It's 1886 and in Darlinghurst Courthouse nine young men glare down from the dock as an apprehensive but determined young woman is called to the witness box. This is 16-year-old orphan Mary Jane Hicks, and these 'larrikins' stand accused of serially raping and possibly torturing her in a crime that has obsessed Sydney since the story broke. Miss Hicks, a stranger to Sydney, was looking for work when a cab driver stopped and offered to take her to the registry office. The driver then took her to Waterloo where he tried to assault her. When she screamed, some youths — whom she believed to be her rescuers — came to the cab. This gang, members of a group known as the Waterloo Push, then led her to nearby bushland on Mount Rennie (now Moore Park) and repeatedly raped her. Presided over by Justice Windeyer, the trial attracts unprecedented press coverage. As it plays out, colonies all over Australia erupt into a whirl of passionate debate and fevered accusation. Mary Jane Hicks is either a strumpet or an innocent girl; the young men are savages or they are virile Australian-born men; the judge is incompetent or his verdict will stamp out the plague of sexual violence once and for all.|
|S01E02||The Eureka 13||12/04/2012||In February 1855, the Supreme Court of Victoria is the scene of the historic trial of 13 Eureka rebels. These 'diggers', representing an array of nationalities and races, had come to seek their fortunes on the goldfields of Victoria — now they find themselves charged with 'making a war against her Gracious Majesty, the Queen of England'. It's an antiquated, arcane charge — treason — that will puzzle jurors and galvanise the colony. If the 'diggers' are found guilty, they'll be executed — and they're being prosecuted by one of the most powerful men in the colony of Victoria, Attorney General William Stawell, the author of the new Victorian constitution. When the trial begins, Stawell thinks he's suppressing an illegal uprising and foreign agitators, but to his shock, the agitation becomes domestic. Stawell is determined to hang these men as an example and cement his newly written constitution. But he hasn't bargained on the emergence of 'radical Melbourne'. Whipped into a frenzy by the press, the mood of the people turns to support the rebels in the dock; and the jury of popular opinion is repelled by the antiquated notion of treason. As the trials of the 13 men unfold, people begin to understand there was no Eureka uprising — just the appearance of a revolt engineered by the authorities in the colony of Victoria. And as blame for the uprising turns on the government — with accusations of its heavy-handedness in managing the goldfields situation — the case against the 'diggers' falls apart most spectacularly. By the time all 13 are acquitted, Stawell's new Victorian constitution has been changed and the people have demanded popular democracy. The events that unfolded during the Eureka trials changed our notions about democracy, our status as a nation and the very notion of justice in Australia.|
|S01E03||Massacre at Myall Creek||19/04/2012||In Episode Three, Massacre at Myall Creek we see the trials in 3838 of seven European settlers involved in the killing of about 30 unarmed Aborigines in northern NSW. The massacre was sadly indicative of the white peoples aggressive attitudes towards Indigenous people in the region and raised major questions about the settlers relationship with Aborigines in general.|