The Aboriginal History of Yarra

Batman's treaty with the aborigines

Batman's treaty with the aborigines [sic] at Merri Creek, 6th June 1835, John Wesley Burtt, picture collection, State Library of Victoria, Accession Number H92.196

4. Treaty

On 6 June 1835, John Batman, leader of the Port Phillip Association presented Wurundjeri Elders with a land use agreement. This document, now referred to as the Batman treaty, was later given to the British government to claim that local Aboriginal people had given Batman access to their land in exchange for goods and rations. Today, the meaning and interpretation of this treaty is contested. Some argue it was pretence for taking Aboriginal land in exchange for trinkets, while others argue it was significant in its recognition of Aboriginal land rights. The meeting between Batman and the Kulin Ngurungaeta (head clan-men) is believed to have taken place by the Merri Creek,[i] probably near modern day Rushall Station.[ii]

 


[i] Ellender and Christianson, People of the Merri Merri, 19

[ii] Meyer Eidelson, The Melbourne Dreaming: A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne, Canberrra, Aborignal Studies Press, 1997, 32

On 6 June 1835, just under two years before Melbourne was officially recognised as a settlement, John Batman, the leader of the Port Phillip Association presented Wurundjeri Elders with a land use agreement. This document, now referred to as the Batman treaty, was later given to the British government to claim that local Aboriginal people had given Batman access to their land in exchange for goods and rations. Today, the meaning and interpretation of this treaty is contested. Some argue it was pretence for taking Aboriginal land in exchange for trinkets, while others argue it was significant in that it sought to recognise Aboriginal land rights.

The exact location of the meeting between Batman and the Kulin Ngurungaeta (head clan-men) with whom he made the treaty is unknown, although it is believed to have been by the Merri Creek.[i] According to historian Meyer Eidelson, it is generally believed to have occurred on the Merri near modern day Rushall Station.[ii]

Opinions around why Kulin Ngurungaeta signed the Treaty (if in fact they did) are open to speculation.  One opinion is that “the clan-heads may have made a very informed decision” to “limit the number of settlers in Port Phillip” to Batman and his associates in an attempt “to at least curtail the destruction they had heard had happened elsewhere”.[iii]

In attempting to understand Batman’s intentions, it’s worth noting that the Association’s principal aim ‘was to depasture stock as profitably as possible’.[iv] The aim of the Association as given to the British authorities, however, was to establish a nucleus ‘for a free and useful colony, founded on the principle of conciliation, of philanthropy, morality and temperance…calculated to ensure the comfort and well being of the natives’.[v] It is unlikely that these two aims could peacefully coexist.

Batman’s treaty was deemed invalid. It was also noted that ‘if it was acknowledged that the Aborigines had the right to dispose of their land as they saw fit, then the Crown’s claim to all Australian lands would be in doubt.’[vi] Ultimately, Batman’s treaty had no legal significance in the European settlement of Melbourne and the taking of Aboriginal land. However, it was an important first step in this process, and also holds significant symbolism. It is symbolic of European relations with the Kulin, in that self-interest and deceit were central to colonisation. To this day, Batman’s treaty is the only land use agreement that has sought to recognise European occupation of Australia, and pre-existing Aboriginal rights to the land.

 


[i] Ellender and Christianson, People of the Merri Merri, 19

[ii] Meyer Eidelson, The Melbourne Dreaming: A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne, Canberrra, Aborignal Studies Press, 1997, 32

[iii] Ibid, 65

[iv] Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria, 25-26

[v] Ibid, 26

[vi] Ibid

On 6 June 1835, just under two years before Melbourne was officially recognised as a settlement, John Batman, the leader of the Port Phillip Association presented Wurundjeri Elders with a land use agreement. This document, now referred to as the Batman treaty, was later given to the British government to claim that local Aboriginal people had given Batman access to their land in exchange for goods and rations. Today, the meaning and interpretation of this treaty is contested. Some argue it was pretence for taking Aboriginal land in exchange for trinkets, while others argue it was significant in that it sought to recognise Aboriginal land rights.

The exact location of the meeting between Batman and the Kulin Ngurungaeta (head clan-men) with whom he made the treaty is unknown, although it is believed to have been by the Merri Creek.[i] According to historian Meyer Eidelson, it is generally believed to have occurred on the Merri near modern day Rushall Station.[ii]

Opinions around why Kulin Ngurungaeta signed the Treaty (if in fact they did) are open to speculation.  One opinion is that “the clan-heads may have made a very informed decision” to “limit the number of settlers in Port Phillip” to Batman and his associates in an attempt “to at least curtail the destruction they had heard had happened elsewhere”.[iii]

In attempting to understand Batman’s intentions, it’s worth noting that the Association’s principal aim ‘was to depasture stock as profitably as possible’.[iv] The aim of the Association as given to the British authorities, however, was to establish a nucleus ‘for a free and useful colony, founded on the principle of conciliation, of philanthropy, morality and temperance…calculated to ensure the comfort and well being of the natives’.[v] It is unlikely that these two aims could peacefully coexist.

Batman’s treaty was deemed invalid. It was also noted that ‘if it was acknowledged that the Aborigines had the right to dispose of their land as they saw fit, then the Crown’s claim to all Australian lands would be in doubt.’[vi] Ultimately, Batman’s treaty had no legal significance in the European settlement of Melbourne and the taking of Aboriginal land. However, it was an important first step in this process, and also holds significant symbolism. It is symbolic of European relations with the Kulin, in that self-interest and deceit were central to colonisation. To this day, Batman’s treaty is the only land use agreement that has sought to recognise European occupation of Australia, and pre-existing Aboriginal rights to the land.

 


[i] Ellender and Christianson, People of the Merri Merri, 19

[ii] Meyer Eidelson, The Melbourne Dreaming: A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne, Canberrra, Aborignal Studies Press, 1997, 32

[iii] Ibid, 65

[iv] Christie, Aborigines in Colonial Victoria, 25-26

[v] Ibid, 26

[vi] Ibid

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Batman's treaty with the aborigines

Batman's treaty with the aborigines

Batman's treaty with the aborigines [sic] at Merri Creek, 6th June 1835, John Wesley Burtt, picture collection, State Library of Victoria, Accession Number H92.196

The Batman deed

The Batman deed

The 'Batman Land Deed', between John Batman and Aboriginal 'chiefs' of the Kulin Nation, Port Phillip area, 1835, Museum Australia, Accession Number MS6832